Thoughts on Government and Drought

I have to get this out of my system:

Recent events have frustrated me to the point that I have to take a detour from trying to articulate what we should do to solve our common problems, and rule out what we should not do: That is, we should not expect much help from the federal or state governments, which are structurally unable to deal with the crisis at hand.

The Meddling Feds

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recently appeared on the Daily Show. Even I was uncomfortable witnessing how enslaved she was to party talking points. It was like watching a robot programmed to say “all systems normal” over and over and over again while some cheesy spaceship movie set sparks and collapses around it. Jon Stewart tried to cut through the bullshit, but it was ultimately impossible.

Pelosi could not admit the obvious: Government has been captured by the dark forces of money. Political systems have degraded to the point that we must rely more on economic systems, which tend to be tyrannical even if good-intentioned. Our best hope now is that Jeff Bezos will somehow outspend the Koch brothers. That was the unpleasant truth revealed by Stewart’s insistent questioning and Pelosi’s non-answers.

We no longer live in a democratic system. We are allowed only to choose between two captive parties. Once candidates are elected through either party they must spend their energy fundraising or maneuvering toward a cushy private sector job lobbying their successors. And whatever laws they pass meanwhile are squeezed by the influence industry, which makes sure that anything threatening in the intent of a law is neutralized in its actual effects.

The Obama Administration has shown how little is possible at the federal level. Rather than deal with the looming economic and ecological crises that are pushing us ever closer to unrest, Obama is fixated on secrecy and control. It seems that the government would probably rather send up drones to keep us in line, instead of satellites to better understand the changes that are happening in the atmosphere.

Sure, the Republicans are worse. They are divorced from reality. They respond to California’s drought with ridiculous “solutions” that will destroy what’s left of the environment and keep the water flowing until it is gone.

But what’s the alternative? Senator Diane Feinstein keeps making noises about some proposal that she’s scheming (which, she reassures us, won’t be “mind-blowing”). It’s all very hush-hush and apparently involves talking to water districts and government agencies but not the Sierra Club.

Feinstein’s plan seems to be based on the assumption that this week’s rains will continue; she describes her idea as based on the status quo but with a “better way” to move water. Unfortunately, forecasts suggest that the dry weather will probably return next week, and in any case this welcome downpour will only modestly change our situation – as one great image (from a government agency, I admit!) shows, this is more than a drop in the bucket, but still only a coffee cup.

Rather than finding a “better” way to move water, we need to reduce our need to move water. We’ll see what Feinstein eventually proposes (and what, if anything, becomes law), but there’s no reason to think that it will threaten the unholy alliance of banking and real estate interests. I’m ready for my mind to not be blown.

State of Hegemony

California’s officials are not much better. The state’s water problems have been badly worsened by officals’ decision to keep shipping water south over the past year despite dwindling supplies. Now we are faced with a darkly laughable situation: Southern California has plenty of Northern California’s water in its reservoirs while Northern California faces a threat of severe water shortages in a few months. The State Water Project’s announcement of zero deliveries this year is too little and too late.

Southern California simply does not have the resources to support even a fraction of its current human population, even in “normal” rainy season. Somebody has to move.

That hard truth (which cannot be spoken) is the main driver of everything crazy about California water politics, including Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to build a pair of 30-mile long, 33-foot diameter tunnels under what’s left of one of the world’s great wetlands – the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

This tunnel is worth a closer look because it debunks the notion that Democrats are going to save us. California is utterly controlled by the Democratic Party, which has two-thirds supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature, as well as dominance of the executive branch.

The Congressional GOP’s awful scheme to kill the Delta won’t work without the help of the governor’s foolish tunnel project. Simply reducing flow into the Delta would increase salinity as brackish water from the San Francisco Bay intrudes; eventually salt would reach the intake from which Northern California’s lifeblood is sucked, severing the whole unsustainable system.

But the proposed tunnels would move the main water intake upstream from the Delta, onto the Sacramento River with its more consistent flows. I suppose that this might help the Delta under “normal” circumstances by drawing water from a place with higher flow rather than the current backwater, but it would mean that Southern California would no longer face the natural limits of keeping the Delta marginally alive.

So there you have it, loyal Democrats. Your obstructionist rivals have been vanquished and what do we get from your hegemony? A massive boondoggle that (if completed) will allow for even deeper looting of a fragile ecosystem so the South can continue its pillage of the North. The Southern majority in our legislature wouldn’t have it any other way.

With or Without You

Perhaps there is some role for government in the inevitable depopulation of Southern California. I’m an anarchist at heart, but I’m also open to hearing about ways that federal and state agencies might facilitate that process – ideally not involving forced relocations or corporate subsidies.

Ironically enough, there is a potential relocation test-run underway in the San Joaquin Valley – an agricultural zone that now faces a huge crisis as perhaps more than 100,000 people are displaced by collapsing rural economies because the water that might have sustained them this year is now feeding golf courses in Anaheim. What would it look like to have an organized population transfer, rather than just letting communities collapse and hoping that those set adrift can figure out where to go and what to do when they get there? I think we need to figure it out.

The entire American West shows every sign of shifting (back) to a climate that is much drier than what we think of as normal, so people are just simply going to have to leave (or dramatically change our behaviors), sooner or later. Of course, the same is true of Northern California if not to the same extent.

I know this is wishful thinking, but governments should at least stop encouraging and subsidizing the suicidal increase in population of a land that could only support a small fraction of its nearly 40 million people even in the wettest years. An immediate and permanent end to suburban expansion is the first step. Yes, this will drive up real estate prices and eliminate jobs, but we have to do it anyway. The status quo will lead to unrest if we wait for Nature to really force our hand.

But governments won’t even take this baby step and we must stop waiting for them. Our public officials are too deeply entangled in the interests of banks that want more houses built, oil interests that are pushing for water-intensive fracking, and even just the simple bureaucratic survival instinct that keeps programs going after they outlive whatever useful purpose they once had. The economy is showing signs of another looming crisis, so I can’t imagine that any politicians will entertain proposals that will be needed to create a future California with fewer jobs and fewer workers.

So what on earth do we do? This drought keeps stumping me. How do we get beyond acts of individual conservation that only peck away at less than a tenth of our water consumption (80 percent goes to agriculture, the other tenth to industry)? How might we make the deeper behavioral changes needed to exist in this land sustainably?

I don’t know. Maybe it isn’t possible.

But tune in next time, when I try to figure out some community-based models for how to adjust to life in a drier world. Got any ideas? Please send them my way.

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3 Responses to Thoughts on Government and Drought

  1. Zvi says:


    You may find some ideas, may be not relevant, to your request.


  2. coopgeek says:

    Zvi: Thanks for the suggestion! Israel is certainly a good place to look for ideas about how to live in a dry land.

    And in other news, Feinstein’s bill has dropped. It looks like a mixed bag, but at least includes some sort of assistance for migrant farmworkers.

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