Monthly Archives: April 2018

What makes a ruin.

On Erik Loomis’ recommendation, I’m reading Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s fantastic book: The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins.  I haven’t gotten very far, but it has already provided me with this (pg 5-6):

…[T]here is one connection between economy and environment that seems important to introduce up front: the history of the human concentration of wealth through making both humans and nonhumans into resources for investment.   This history has inspired investors to imbue both people and things with alienation, that is, the ability to stand alone, as if the entanglements of living did not matter. Through alienation, people and things become mobile assets; they can be removed from their life worlds in distance-defying transport to be exchanged with other assets from other life worlds elsewhere. … The dream of alienation inspires landscape modification in which only one stand-alone asset matters; everything else becomes weeds or waste.  Here, attending to living-space entanglements seems inefficient, and perhaps archaic.  When its singular asset can no longer be produced, a place can be abandoned.  The timber has been cut; the oil has run out; the plantation soil no longer supports crops.  The search for assets resumes elsewhere.  Thus, simplification for alienation produces ruins, spaces of abandonment for asset production.

In other news, the California Almond Acreage Report came out yesterday.

California’s 2017 almond acreage is estimated at 1,330,000 acres, up 7 percent from the 2016 acreage of 1,240,000.

UPDATE 6/18/19: A spectacular illustration of the standardization and alienation of capitalism. These are factories, not living landscapes.  Life will return to them when agriculture abandons these lands.

UPDATE 6/24/19: These are outdoor factories. The Plantationocene.


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A separate entity to run the SWP and CVP.

A bill proposed by Assemblyman James Gallagher which would take the State Water Project out of the hands of the state Department of Water Resources passed unanimously on Tuesday through a legislative committee.

Assembly Bill 3045 passed 15-0 through the Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee and is now headed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

For the record, I think that this is a fantastic idea.  I believe the Assembly Committeee suggested that the new operating entity be headed by an appointed nine-person board.  Gallegher is exactly right when he says that DWR is co-opted by the SWC.  Further, the new entity that receives the SWP should also acquire the CVP and operate them jointly.

Link, although the text there doesn’t yet reflect yesterday’s conversation within the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife.


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Better than a clamshell.

The interesting thing about Ryan Sabalow’s recent essay about his grief at the drying of the once-marshy Colorado Delta is that it flips the way that most news media gets stories wrong.  Usually, mainstream media is good on the intellectual content but ignores or undervalues the emotional content.  In Sabalow’s essay, he gets the emotional content right; the destruction of two million acres of wetlands is a tragic, wracking loss.  However, his intellectual argument for how we participate in this destruction misses the mark.  He writes:

We’re all reliant on the Colorado in some way.

Ever eat lettuce in the winter? Wear cotton underwear? Watch a Hollywood-produced blockbuster or sitcom? Party in Vegas? Catch a Cactus League baseball game?

You’re why the Colorado is dry.
So am I.

Our fault here is not that we participate in consuming products that are created out of Colorado River water.  We, people who live in California, cannot not participate in that.  We have no practical means of choosing where our tap water comes from, nor the irrigation source for our lettuces and cotton fabrics.  We have no ability to opt-out of this market and the destruction of the Colorado Delta, so we cannot be faulted for participating in it.

If we despise the destruction of our rivers and river deltas, the way we can avert that is to recognize that the value by which we currently allocate rivers is “will the end product create profit in the global market?”.  This is not the neutral and inevitable state of the world; it is the default we have arrived at.  We could choose another value system and allocate water that way.  (For example, we like having two million acres of thriving wetlands above the Gulf of Mexico.  Or, we like having salmon runs on the San Joaquin River.)

If Mr. Sabalow wants to carry with him the (appropriate, well-expressed) pain he felt that day and use it to motivate useful work, he can do better than pointing the finger at our indirect culpability.  I would rather that he start noticing where that default value (producing profit in the global market) is operating. He can look at analyses with that lens firmly in mind.  The PPIC, for example, is thoroughly wed to the use of the current standard (that profit in the global market is the right way to allocate water) and doesn’t do any analysis in any other mode.  The Wheeler Water Institute, by contrast, explicitly notes the importance of societal goals and values in their work.

When it is clearer to people that we are not choosing between ‘the inevitable way the world works’ and ‘your fetishistic hippy ideals’ but between two equally arbitrary values, we can start to decide which values we would like to use to allocate water.  As we do that, the reminder of the painful costs of our current default is relevant and important.


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