The way wealth is accumulating through farming on the west and south San Joaquin Valley is not new. The recent almond and pistachio profits are astonishing and call new attention to that wealth. But even with the new populism built on the Occupy and Sanders’ movements, I still don’t see mainstream think tanks willing to directly address it. I see Delta advocates pointing it out, because it helps their advocacy. I see WaterFix proponents dancing around the issue. (On Michael Krasny’s show the caller asks, what about unsustainable farming in Kern County? Secretary Laird answers by talking about Santa Clara.) But I have not seen mainstream environmentalists (who have worked for years on environmental justice) publically make a value judgment along these lines.
For example, Dr. Gleick’s recent editorial:
In California, even in an average rainfall year, demand outstrips supply by several million acre-feet. There is no polite way to say it: The unsustainable use of groundwater and the excessive diversion of water from our rivers is stealing from our children and grandchildren in order to satisfy today’s wasteful demands.
The unsustainable use of groundwater by whom, Dr. Gleick? By the birds of the sky? By the beasts of the field? No. Are all unsustainable uses of groundwater and excessive diversions morally the same? Can we get greater societal leverage by focusing on a few egregious ones? If they are not morally the same, what values would you use to rank them? By some combination of the damage done by the extraction and the virtue of the wealth gained in return? And if you would use values to rank them, then why not make public explicit value judgments about the observable extreme end of the spectrum*?
Or this, from Capitol Weekly’s description of Mr. Baldassare and the PPIC:
Calm, authoritative, far-ranging, impartial and always accurate, the PPIC is invaluable
Oh no no no. I can only speak to PPIC’s water coverage, but it is far from impartial. The PPIC’s water coverage is deeply saturated with conventional economic thought, so much that it is not even self-aware of the extent of that influence. With wealth accumulation based on water use as skewed as it is now, that conventional economic thought is dangerously at odds with cultural and values-based judgments about water uses.
* I have theories! (I apologize up front for projecting into Dr. Gleick’s head.) One theory: the Pacific Institute feels that the morally worst use of water is waste, and there’s plenty of waste and no need to move to the next worst until there is no more waste. Butcept, why tease us with this adjacent moralizing about stealing from our grandchildren without being explicit about the rest?
Another theory is that for people my age and older, the idea that market outcomes can be straight up bad is utterly taboo. Those outcomes must be somehow justifiable, by cheap food or by something somewhere. But I watch and begin to think that the Youngs don’t share that taboo. I believe they are ready for a values-based message, or are already telling us theirs.