Someone who thinks about climate change and markets the way I do (3 of 3).

The third piece on water, June 17th, is called California Drought, the “Bigger Water Crisis” & the Consumer Economy.

Frankly, you can scroll past the first half, because the first half is about the Colorado River and I have long since filtered out any readers who care about the Colorado.  Scroll down until you get to this picture:

Gaius Publius writes “With climate, things are never as good as cautious people say they are.”  Publius is talking about attributing drought to climate change, but that same reasoning is why I estimate that three million acres of irrigated ag will go out of production.  The sensible experts are saying one million, but I have never seen a climate change prediction be underestimated.  So I’m overcorrecting on the high side and in fifty years we’ll know who was right.

Then Publius writes something that I had never seen expressed so plainly:

If We Try to Have Both “Growth” and Climate Solutions, We’ll Have Neither

The meme of the wealthy is that (a) climate proposals are a threat to “growth” — by which they mean literally GDP, but also by implication they mean “your big-screen, smart-phone lifestyle.” And (b) losing “growth” is a line no consumer will want to cross; not the rich, not the poor, no one. …

In response, climate solution advocates counter with an argument that says, in effect, “But wait … we’ve got a way to keep ‘growth’ and also fix the climate problem.” To which I say, “Not a good answer” …Saying “we can have (consumer) growth and a climate solution” is only true … if it’s actually true. What if it’s not true at all? Then what’s the solution on offer? (Hint: There is none.)

Exactly. We are entering a climate that provides much less wealth.  Modifying our infrastructure to be comfortable in that climate will cost additional money.  Adaptation is not going to involve growth.  Smart adaptation will mean managed retreat.  No adaptation will mean even more retreat and more pain in the process.  We start from a rich baseline and are using water in some real dumb ways, so there can be comfort and enjoyment of water for Californians for a long ways to come.  But I don’t believe in any solutions that propose both growth and managing water resources in the climate we enter now.


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8 responses to “Someone who thinks about climate change and markets the way I do (3 of 3).

  1. Steve Bloom

    Although the suggested upshot —

    “Government dithering and the increase in social conflict will delay real solutions until a wake-up moment. Then the real market will kick in — the market for agricultural land and the market for urban property. Both will start to decline in absolute value. If there’s a mass awareness moment when all of a sudden people in and out of the Southwest “get it,” those markets will collapse. Hedge funds will sell their interests in California agriculture as bad investments; urban populations will level, then shrink; the fountains in Las Vagas and the golf courses in Scottsdale will go brown and dry, collapsing those populations and economies as well.”

    — is largely off the rails, neglecting as it does the scale of urban water needs relative to water supply in even very low precipitation years and the very limited degree to which the overall economy is dependent on agriculture.

    • onthepublicrecord

      Yeah. I don’t expect to see caravans leaving cities on the west coast. We are too cross-plumbed, with too many sources and like you say, urban water is small. Sometimes I wonder about the east coast though. Atlanta has one reservoir serving one city. If that goes dry, I don’t know what choices they have.

  2. diane livia

    The trick is to determine WHICH millions of acres go out of production, and then to make sure those acres are not developed.

    • onthepublicrecord

      Well, they’re developed now. But it’d be better to retire them in chunks than piecemeal. Irrigation districts can’t afford to have intermittently farmed laterals.

      I think we know which acres they will be; the ones in deficit now. The ones relying only on saltifying groundwater.

  3. Elon Musk and Tesla are trying to keep that comfort barrier for behavior change low when it comes to moving from conventional to electric vehicles. $35,000 sticker tag (less with tax credit), easy refueling, safer, less maintenance,cheaper fueling, long range – boyo why wouldn’t you buy that car if you were a rational actor in the market for a new car? Keeping the same amount of comfort and familiarity or wild restructuring from outrage/disaster are the only ways I see any behavior change in any field actually happening.
    Unfortunately, there is no way to use a technological advance to slide water behavior over to sustainable use. Efficiency is great, but not enough. We can’t switch from a Humvee to an electric. We’re just going to crash and the survivors will point fingers in traffic court. You’ve been writing about it nearly 7 years now – cutting losses and retreating is going to happen at crisis time when everybody is banged up, bruised and bloody.

    • onthepublicrecord

      No, c’mon K-zo. Please let me keep thinking that we will actually plan the transition before a crash. If I warn people and point to evidence, surely they’ll want to take the easy way instead of the hard way.

    • onthepublicrecord

      That is very nicely reported. I mourn the loss of the pristine pasture more than the loss of the golf course.