Tuesday, February 28, 2017

I Don’t Want Your Stinkin’ Facts!

We’ve been here before. The Middle Ages were permeated with mysticism, superstition and rather complete reliance on faith. At least in Europe, the writings of the ancient Greco-Roman thinkers were either burned or relegated to the vastly more advanced libraries in the Islamic world or cultures farther east. God and only God explained it all. Without science and scientific inquiry, needless to say, Western culture simply stagnated as China and the Islamic world accelerated forward. The rather dramatic failure of the Crusades against the technologically advanced Islamic world (which believed in God but then also accepted and nurtured science and mathematics), which enjoyed its military supremacy, invading the West for hundreds of years, is a rather powerful example. Yeah, that’s the way it really happened.
Western modernity really did not begin to pass these eastern civilizations until quite a bit later, when thinkers and scientists rose in prominence, most particularly in the mid-1700s, with the dawn of the Age of Reason in the West.  The Age of Reason represented a genesis in the way man viewed himself, the pursuit of knowledge, and the universe. In this time period, man’s previously held concepts of conduct and thought could now be challenged verbally and in written form; fears of being labeled a heretic or being burned at the stake were done away with. This was the beginning of an open society where individuals were free to pursue individual happiness and liberty. Politically and socially, the imperial concepts of the medieval world were abandoned. The Age of Reason included the shorter time period described as the Age of Enlightenment [at the tail-end of the Age of Reason]; during this time great changes occurred in scientific thought and exploration. New ideas filled the horizon and man was eager to explore these ideas, freely…
The Age of Reason was fraught with attacks on basic Christian beliefs, rejection of God and denial of miracles. In an attempt to divorce himself from the mysticism of the Middle Ages, man during the Age of Reason, applauded intellect and disdained spirit. God was believed to be unknowable, if He existed at all, and certainly there was no need for divine communication or revelation. Nature was revelation enough, showing all that needed to be known of God. Man was now free to postulate his own theories of existence and ideas about earth and its relation to the sun.  AllAboutHistory.org.
The revolutions in the United States and France happened during the Age of Enlightenment. But the seeds of revulsion at the Age of Reason/Enlightenment were sprouting, percolating as early as the 1770s that exploded with the ultra-violence of the bloodiness of the French Revolution in 1789. By 1800, the Age of Reason/Enlightenment was all but dead. Even in France, you had the rise of a very undemocratic Napoleon. Religion and faith rose in importance as did the resurrection of strong monarchical rulers. It took opening up the New World plus the resulting Industrial Revolution to get the West back on its track of explosive growth. Steam replaced sails and horses.
Although serious doubts were raised about the Enlightenment prior to the 1790s (e.g. in the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in France and J.G. Hamann in Germany in particular), the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution fueled a major reaction against the Enlightenment, which many writers blamed for undermining traditional beliefs that sustained the ancien regime, thereby fomenting revolution. Counter-revolutionary writings like those of Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre and Augustin Barruel all asserted a close link between the Enlightenment and the Revolution, as did many of the revolutionary leaders themselves, so that the Enlightenment became increasingly discredited as the Revolution became increasingly bloody. That is why the French Revolution and its aftermath was also a major phase in the development of Counter-Enlightenment thought.” Wikipedia.
Scientists and deep thinkers (especially those philosophers who did not anchor their writings in Christianity) were suddenly suspect, “out of touch” elites, whose power faded into oblivion. Strongmen rose to control. With science still in its nascent stages, it was not particularly difficult for its critics to relegate that pursuit of the true scientific nature of the universe into a corner (not good for your health, career or even your life to be a pragmatic expert).
What seems to unite all of the Enlightenment's disparate critics (from 18th-century religious opponents, counter-revolutionaries and Romantics to 20th-century conservatives, feminists, critical theorists and environmentalists) is a rejection of what they consider to be the Enlightenment's perversion of reason: the distorted conceptions of reason of the kind each associates with the Enlightenment in favour of a more restricted view of the nature, scope and limits of human rationality.” Wikipedia. God was the explanation, not
If all this sounds all-too-familiar – the echo of neo-Evangelical Trumpism with parallel European movements – we seem to be experiencing a historical cycle that is simply repeating itself. Writing for the February 17th Poynter.com, Alexios Mantzarlis, former Managing Editor of Pagella Politica and FactCheckEU, respectively Italy's main political fact-checking website and the EU's first multilingual crowd-checking project, explains:
“For populists on both sides of the Atlantic, ‘expert’ is now an expletive, a synonym for out-of-touch elitists swindling the common man… This was perhaps most obvious during the Brexit referendum campaign, when the UK Justice Secretary and ‘Leave’ advocate Michael Gove told a stunned interviewer that ‘the people of this country have had enough of experts ... from organizations with acronyms saying that they know what is best.’…
“If expertise really is moribund, then fact-checking must at least be down with a heavy flu. The journalistic endeavor of adjudicating the veracity of public claims on the basis of the best possible evidence cannot be sustained if no one trusts expert sources… In an increasingly narcissistic society, people don't like to use the term expert because it is an exclusive term. Once upon a time, people were comfortable with that. It wasn't a denigration of anyone else's capabilities. The fact that it has become that is due to a very extreme reinterpretation of what democracy means. Democracy does not denote a state of actual equality among all human beings, it is a state of political equality… At some point we got it in our heads that every opinion is worth the same.” Will college-educated Millennials (and younger) be able to reverse this trend?
With the rise of faith to the exclusion of science, when minds are closed to the kinds of pragmatic achievement that are possible when truth and knowledge are cherished, societies that embrace the negation of true expertise have experienced a relative slipping away in competitive advantage against those societies that have no such predilection. It happened to Japan, the Islamic world and to the entire Western world before. When the West “got over it,” they soon dominated the rest of the world that still was uncomfortable with science and engineering.
Simply, societies that rely more on faith and decry science generally fade in power and importance. While science and faith would seem to be compatible, extremism tends to make that combination exceptionally difficult. And if this neo-populism across the West continues, it seems to be an open invitation to other countries, not so restrained, to pass if not entirely replace us in the hierarchy of powerful nation states.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I have to admit that it is vastly easier to study past pernicious historical cycles than having to live through one.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Unions, Workers and Government

In 1768, journeymen tailors went on strike in New York to protest a wage reduction. And so the labor movement, in what was soon to become the United States of America, began. The formal beginning of American unions can be traced to shoemakers in Philadelphia in 1794 with the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers. The union movement accelerated in the nineteenth century, but while routinized labor in factories exploded, most unions were focused on the most skilled of the lot. The late nineteenth century erupted into armed assaults between unionized workers and big companies who hired goons to break the back of this growing labor movement.
The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was founded in 1886, based on an amalgamation of Marxist socialism and a desire to balance a new labor market – which fueled the industrial revolution – against the rise of mega-capitalism and monopolistic conspiracies at the top of the American business ladder. By World War I, ten percent of our work force was unionized, but the movement was accelerating. Unions had begun to move away from raw socialism to using their political clout to promote sympathetic candidates, but the outbreak of the WWI stalled the union movement, which still favored the highly skilled workers over the ordinary workers in the giant factors.
Later, the Great Depression slammed into the labor movement. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) arose to protect the ordinary factory workers, moving into steel manufacturing, coal mining, tire and rubber manufacturing, and other comparable industries. The New Deal redefined the American workplace as the nation struggled to right a very severely listing economic ship. World War II reignited economic growth that continued after the hostilities had ceased. But when the war ended, there were 12 million American trade unionists.
Labor laws were developed, the National Labor Relations Act was enacted and the National Labor Relations Board created, as unions became a powerful political force in every aspect of American politics. The civil rights movement was enabled by candidates supported by powerful unions. In 1955, the AFL and the CIO merged into one massive union organization. Half a century ago, a third of American workers were members of unions, but times have changed. One in ten workers is a member of a union today, heavily concentrated in the public sector, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that a mere 6.3% of American workers in the private sector are union members today. What happened?
According to History.com: “From the early 1970s onward, new competitive forces swept through the heavily unionized industries, set off by deregulation in communications and transportation, by industrial restructuring, and by an unprecedented onslaught of foreign goods. As oligopolistic and regulated market structures broke down, nonunion competition spurted, concession bargaining became widespread, and plant closings decimated union memberships. The once-celebrated National Labor Relations Act increasingly hamstrung the labor movement; an all-out reform campaign to get the law amended failed in 1978. And with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, there came to power an anti-union administration the likes of which had not been seen since the Harding era. Between 1975 and 1985, union membership fell by 5 million. In manufacturing, the unionized portion of the labor force dropped below 25 percent, while mining and construction, once labor’s flagship industries, were decimated. Only in the public sector did the unions hold their own. By the end of the 1980s, less than 17 percent of American workers were organized, half the proportion of the early 1950s.
As unions faded from power in private industry, the issues that were once covered by collective bargaining either were relegated to hi-tech industries that simply paid well and provided good benefits simply to get the best possible workers or were pretty much left to dangle in the wind, hoping that government could step in and provide the relevant safety nets and benefit protections. Until the 2016 election, socialism, often equated with Soviet-era communism, was a dirty word in the United States, even as that notion found traction globally post-WWII, even among our European allies.
But government protection for workers, from occupational safety and working conditions to retirement and medical plans, moved from overall union protection to the government itself. Pro-business versus pro-labor movements ebbed and flowed depending on which party was in power. Wage protection all but fell by the wayside. The current federal minimum wage, a very paltry $7.25/hour, was last set in 2009. Many states set local minima that are higher, but the debate over raising the federal rate was one of the many dividing lines in the 2016 election.
Despite the populist forces – including many of the working class, often unionized, displaced by foreign competition, changing consumer demands, relatively minor impacts from federal regulations and automation, bringing a virtual house-cleaning election of state and federal Republicans to power – the pendulum is swinging wide and far away from governmental benefits and protections for working class Americans. More than ever, those with old world blue-collar skills are left with little or no-one to speak for their cause. Republicans believe in simply unleashing market forces to fix the labor market, and Democrats have yet to develop any focused, realistic and concrete plans to reemploy this market segment into higher paying jobs.
Even the notion of equal pay for equal work between men and women has become bitterly polarized as the above February 17th letter to the local Wasatch Wave (Utah) newspaper, from one of the two local party chairmen in Wasatch County, explains. The changes in global economic and political forces, the impacts generated by climate change in agriculture and water availability and the impact of artificial intelligence/automation have changed and will continue to change and redefine our labor market with hype-accelerating devastation… and opportunity.
There are no easy answers, but I see nothing on the horizon from either major American party (or major faction of such party) that even begins to deal effectively with the changes in the American labor landscape in a way to negate growing income inequality and political polarization. We are no longer simply a house divided; we are a house cracking apart at the seams. I no longer see “Americans,” but “___________ - Americans,” focusing on the differences and avoiding facing reality with concrete plans and viable social compromises. Unless we start reuniting and get real, this simply isn’t going to end well. We really need to start caring about each other.
I’m Peter Dekom, and to begin even thinking about the Re-United States of America, we need to spend a whole lot more time listening to those opposing points of view that we find distasteful with an eye to understanding the other perspectives.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Automation and Fossil Fuel Extraction

While the global economy is pretty uniform in weaning itself from the dirtiest fossil fuel on earth – coal – demand for the other such extractions (oil and gas) is still high, a likely scenario for the foreseeable future… until, one day, “alternative and renewable” energy sources command the energy market. “Clean” coal electrical generation from burning that black mineral seems to be little more than shoving really nasty effluents underground for future generations to deal with.
Sorry coal miners. Other than you, miners, there are very, very few people, especially not savvy business/energy analysts, who truly believe that your moribund industry, littered with bankrupt mines and coal processers, will reignite simply by revoking environmental rules that make the world safer for the rest of us. What’s worse is that natural gas is incredibly cheaper, vastly more accessible, incredibly abundant and burns much cleaner than even the highest grades of coal.
So if you are betting person, you might think to place your money on the massive numbers new jobs (or old jobs restored) that we expect will come back as oil and gas prices rebound. The drop in the price of fossil fuels hit the states that produce these energy-drivers very hard. Companies went under in our oil and gas states; jobs were lost in droves.
Roughly 163,000 oil jobs were lost nationally from the 2014 peak, or about 30 percent of the total, while oil prices plummeted, at one point by as much as 70 percent. The job losses just in Texas, the most productive oil-producing state, totaled 98,000.” New York Times, February 19th. But oil and gas prices are rising again. Are oil and gas workers celebrating? Clearly, a bunch of them are returning to the fields, ready to rebuild what has already made the United States the largest producer of oil and gas in the world, overtaking the Middle Eastern nations as well as Russia.
But as much as automation has taken over manufacturing – such that bringing back (“re-shoring”) that market sector to the U.S. overwhelmingly enriches the owners of automated equipment at the expense of the workers no longer required to do the work – it is having an equal impact on decreasing the need for workers in oil and gas. Roughnecks, oil-workers in general, have been one of the highest paid groups of blue collar workers on earth. Hard and dangerous work, volatile chemicals and often grueling working conditions combined with a need for incredible strength, amazing skills and powerful endurance meant high pay for those able to rise to the task. But that was then. Can we really restore all of those lost jobs and high pay rates today?
“[The] West Texas oil fields, where activity is gearing back up as prices rebound, illustrate how difficult it will be to meet that goal. As in other industries, automation is creating a new demand for high-tech workers — sometimes hundreds of miles away in a control center — but their numbers don’t offset the ranks of field hands no longer required to sling chains and lift iron.
“So while there is a general sense of relief in the oil patch that a recovery is gaining momentum, discussions at company meetings and family kitchen tables are rife with aching worries, especially among those who are middle-aged with no more than a high school education…
“‘People have left the industry, and they are not coming back,’ said Michael Dynan, vice president for portfolio and strategic development at Schramm, a Pennsylvania manufacturer of drilling rigs. ‘If it’s a repetitive task, it can be automated, and I don’t need someone to do that. I can get a computer to do that.’
“Indeed, computers now direct drill bits that were once directed manually. The wireless technology taking hold across the oil patch allows a handful of geoscientists and engineers to monitor the drilling and completion of multiple wells at a time — onshore or miles out to sea — and supervise immediate fixes when something goes wrong, all without leaving their desks. It is a world where rigs walk on their own legs and sensors on wells alert headquarters to a leak or loss of pressure, reducing the need for a technician to check.
“And despite all the lost workers, United States oil production is galloping upward, to nine million barrels a day from 8.6 million in September. Nationwide, with a bit more than one-third as many rigs operating as in 2014, production is not even down 10 percent from record levels.” NY Times. This makes oil and gas extraction even more efficient and cost-effective. Sorry oil workers.
Thus, coal extraction is not only uneconomic for the reasons noted above, but its mining processes have been so relatively idle for so long that cutting-edge automated technology has not even begun to be applied to this resource. Even if coal mines were to come back on line, an exceptionally unlikely scenario under any circumstances, you’d have to believe that robotic mining, computer-controlled extraction and processing, would apply equally to coal as well. It couldn’t work any other way in the modern global marketplace. Even under a scenarios of a return of coal as a major energy source, the returning jobs would just be a trickle… and even then, mostly sophisticated and well-trained automation experts.
In a world where the President has built his campaign on job retention/creation, his fellow billionaires are completely committed to replacing routinized labor by robots, and are eyeing artificial intelligence as a replacement even for high-end, white collar, college-educated workers. As quickly as manufacturing and resource extraction/cultivation are returned to this country, automation is being deployed to insure that manual labor is edited out of the system. The machine-owners – the one percenters – are scoring big as workers lose their hold on our economy.
Further, if Trump allows U.S. companies to bring their off-shore profits back to the U.S. under a lower tax scheme, as we learned in Reagan era, that cash will most likely stimulate mergers and acquisitions, not new job creation. And we also know what happens when companies merge… to improve efficiencies, they merge operations and cut costs. Layoffs! Fewer jobs!
If Donald Trump is equally successful in pushing those lower-end undocumented immigrants out of our country, knowing that mainstream “legal resident” workers have simply not been willing to do that marginal work at any price, we can expect to see automation take over those sectors as well. And if his tax scheme is all about cutting corporate taxes, then the machine owners will benefit, and the lost taxes that used to be generated by workers at higher rates… will simply vaporize. Where will the next tax base come from? Taxing Mexico to pay for the Wall?
The issue behind all of this looms particularly large. What happens in a world where even educated workers cannot find work as we are dominated by self-learning robots imbued with massive levels of artificial intelligence? What is the socio-political system that keeps us from becoming a nation where there is wealth for the top five percent and nothing for most of the rest of us? Who really has to own and benefit from a world of super-automated intelligent machines? That, my friends, is one of the biggest questions of the 21st century.
I’m Peter Dekom, and as you can see, this entire economic plan for America has been woefully under-thought, and we are saddled with slogans that are catchy but rather short on realistic solutions.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Little History: Late Twentieth Century Republican Immigration Policies

From Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and running through the two Bush Presidencies, the GOP has faced the question of undocumented aliens from Mexico and points south.  As the number of undocumented workers swelled over the years, the notion of doing “something” about the issue slowly rose in importance. In 1970, there were only an estimated 760,000 undocumented Mexican workers in the U.S. according to Census estimates. Over 35 years, that number increased steadily and dramatically, 15-fold by as many as 500,000 a year.
While estimates have ranged from those provided by the Pew Research Center above to demographics from other sources suggesting a greater number, the above chart only addresses Mexican nationals. If you add non-Mexican workers from around the world (most from Latin countries), the 2007 total of undocumented workers reached 12.8 million. In 2014, Pew reported roughly 11.3 million undocumented workers in total. It’s pretty clear that numbers fell dramatically during the Great Recession and continue to fall into the present. Just looking at the above chart, you can understand how concern over immigration across our southern border has changed over time. The reaction of the political forces paralleled that change. Here is the Republican track record.
In the early 1970s, Nixon knew that the flow of workers seeking economic opportunity was chaotic, but given the small numbers of actual undocumented workers, it was an issue that was not particularly pressing. Still, he urged Congress to pass legislation that would grant “A higher percentage of immigrant visas for professionals, needed workers and refugees. [And provide for] Additional visas for the Western hemisphere, with special provisions for our nearest neighbors, Mexico and Canada.” Gerald Ford (president from 1974 to 1977) did little more than press for “More southern border patrol to stop heroin traffic.”
But by the time Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, there was a rising cry both in the body politic and Congress to address the issue. Ronald Reagan rose to the occasion. Here’s what he wrote and released on July 30, 1981:
• We have a special relationship with our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico. Our immigration policy should reflect this relationship.
• We must also recognize that both the United States and Mexico have historically benefited from Mexicans obtaining employment in the United States. A number of our States have special labor needs, and we should take these into account.
• Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force. Those who have established equities in the United States should be recognized and accorded legal status. At the same time, in so doing, we must not encourage illegal immigration.
• We shall strive to distribute fairly, among the various localities of this country, the impacts of our national immigration and refugee policy, and we shall improve the capability of those agencies of the Federal Government which deal with these matters.
• We shall seek new ways to integrate refugees into our society without nurturing their dependence on welfare.

The result was the Immigration and Control Act of 1986, which reformed United States immigration law. The Act
·         required employers to attest to their employees' immigration status;
·         made it illegal to hire or recruit illegal immigrants knowingly;
·         legalized certain seasonal agricultural illegal immigrants, and;
·         legalized illegal immigrants who entered the United States before January 1, 1982 and had resided there continuously with the penalty of a fine, back taxes due, and admission of guilt; candidates were required to prove that they were not guilty of crimes, that they were in the country before January 1, 1982, and that they possessed minimal knowledge about U.S. history, government, and the English language.
At the time, the Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated that about four million illegal immigrants would apply for legal status through the act and that roughly half of them would be eligible.Wikipedia.
George H.W. Bush (1989-1993), a border state governor (Texas), actually signed the Immigration Act of 1990 that actually increased the legal influx of immigrants, including a new category of super-skilled immigrants (the coveted H-1B visa), provisions for relatives of Americans and a greater number of immigrants across many categories, introducing the lottery system for countries with lower admissions rates (including Mexico and points south).
By the time H.W.’s son, George W. Bush (also a Texas governor), was elected president in 2001 with pretty solid support from the Latino community, the U.S. was almost at that peak of undocumented aliens. But he simply failed to get Congress behind a comprehensive immigration reform bill; given the large number of Latino voters in Texas, Bush was viewed as sympathetic towards undocumented workers. Bush described his failed goals in 2008 as, “What to do with the approximately twelve million illegal immigrants in the country? [He outlined] a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant and a program of mass deportation…
“[Still,] Bush ended ‘catch and release,’ the practice of picking up illegal aliens from countries other than Mexico and then releasing them on their own recognizance until their deportation hearing, for which most never showed. Bush thought it encouraged contempt for law. So he expanded the facilities to hold these illegals until deportation hearings. In 2000, it took nearly a hundred days on average to process someone out of the country. When Bush left office, it took less than twenty.” OnTheIssues.com. He also upgraded border fencing and bolstered the Border Patrol.
Even though the numbers of undocumented aliens in the U.S. are falling on their own, there’s a new sheriff in town, one who seems to want to go to the extreme that no Republican, even when the numbers were significantly higher, was willing to pursue. As I have blogged before, even as Texas GOP lawmakers and border residents think that the Wall is a waste of taxpayer money, even as the big city mayors, the state legislature and the governor in California oppose the harsh policies proposed by Mr. Trump, we appear to be in a new era where middle ground – the same middle ground championed by GOP stalwarts like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush – is a vestige of a bygone era. Meanwhile, decent Americans from both parties are at each other’s throats over immigration. The fight is just tearing us apart.
            I’m Peter Dekom, and as much as Donald Trump tries to tell us he is a Republican in the mold of Ronald Reagan, nothing could be farther from the truth, but then truth seems to be another vestige of a bygone era.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Water We Talking About Again?

As I sit here writing this blog in Los Angeles, we have just experienced the heaviest rain in years, mudslides, falling trees and powerlines, flash flooding and several deaths as a result. Our reservoirs are full, the Oroville Dam in Northern California – which supplies some of our water down here – is suffering what could become a catastrophic fail from too much water, and the entire San Joaquin basin is maze of hundreds of miles of feeble earthen dams and levees that weren’t built for rains like this… or the potential of a well-directed major earthquake. Is our drought truly over? Is global warming just another cycle that simply requires patience until God/nature implements a big fix? Not exactly.
The un-ending drought in Syria and Iraq loosed over a million of once-productive farmers – almost all Sunnis, now abandoned by their Shiite leaders in Damascus and Baghdad – many of whom were seduced by the protective cries of extremists like ISIS and al Nusra and triggering one of the most massive migration of human beings into Europe. That migration took the UK out of the European Union and has led to a massive rise in Continental populism, very much mirroring the anti-immigration populist policies we are witnessing here in the United States.
“The Horn of Africa has become a literal hotbed of misery as well. War and natural disasters are joining forces to put millions of people in danger of starvation across the Horn of Africa and South Sudan, where millions are on the verge of famine.
“More than 10 million people in Ethiopia need food aid, a figure the UN warns could double within months – leaving 20 percent of the population hungry… The crisis in Ethiopia is driven by drought, in Somalia by drought and war; in South Sudan, it is driven exclusively by war.” DW.com (August 2016).
Drought still lingers all over the American Southwest even as flooding impacts other parts of the United States. But drought is killing some pretty important regions in major economies everywhere. Australia is burning up. The Antarctic is melting(as well as the Arctic), some species of penguins have lost 85% of their population, and oceans are rising. Northeast China (the nation’s largest grain producing area) is experiencing the worst drought in six decades, and even next door, water shortages just might push even more migrants northward, Great Wall of America notwithstanding.
Bottom line: Greater Mexico City – population 25 million – is running out of water. As bad as air pollution is in that area, its water problems are worse. If the United States has a lot of failing infrastructure, Mexico has an even more difficult task and lacks the economic capacity to make the fix. Not only is it running out of ordinary water, but this has also resulted in a rather massive failure of the sewage system that was supposed to make this urban area livable and created structural issues that should scare its residents into leaving… fast.
“When the Grand Canal was completed, at the end of the 1800s, it was Mexico City’s Brooklyn Bridge, a major feat of engineering and a symbol of civic pride: 29 miles long, with the ability to move tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater per second. It promised to solve the flooding and sewage problems that had plagued the city for centuries.
“Only it didn’t, pretty much from the start. The canal was based on gravity. And Mexico City, a mile and a half above sea level, was sinking, collapsing in on itself.
“It still is, faster and faster, and the canal is just one victim of what has become a vicious cycle. Always short of water, Mexico City keeps drilling deeper for more, weakening the ancient clay lake beds on which the Aztecs first built much of the city, causing it to crumble even further... It is a cycle made worse by climate change. More heat and drought mean more evaporation and yet more demand for water, adding pressure to tap distant reservoirs at staggering costs or further drain underground aquifers and hasten the city’s collapse.
“In the immense neighborhood of Iztapalapa — where nearly two million people live, many of them unable to count on water from their taps — a teenager was swallowed up where a crack in the brittle ground split open a street. Sidewalks resemble broken china, and 15 elementary schools have crumbled or caved in.” New York Times, February 18th.
In the end, ignoring a huge and progressive problem or using Band-Aids to kick the can down the road almost always results in massively greater damage, a multiple in the hard dollar costs to deal with the consequences than would have been required to treat the problem in the first place. Pretending climate change does not exist and pointing to exceptions as the rule just won’t work. As I have said before, Nature just doesn’t care; she will continue to follow the laws of physics whether we like it or not. I am thinking about all those ancient civilizations that simply withered and died, some inexplicably. How many of those are we creating today?
I’m Peter Dekom, and I am incredibly ashamed at what my generation is leaving future generations to clean up… if that is even possible.