Saturday, January 29, 2011

California Falling Down, Falling Down, Falling Down by Wes Rolley

Those Greens who are thinking about running fro state wide and / local California offices by 2012 need to make sure that they can clearly articulate a sound fiscal policy for California. We have a new governor who is trying to demonstrate that, nearing the end of his long political career, he can give CA the tough love that it needs.

High on Brown's list is to end the practice of financing development through the use of Redevelopment Agencies. Originally introduced as a way for municipalities to finance the recovery of "blighted" areas, we find that the definition of blighted becomes very loose when municipalities figure out a way to get more tax revenue from the property in question. Often the resulting end picture is not as rosy as their consultants painted it. Just read what Michael Hiltzik has to say in the LA Times.
... redevelopment agencies. Maybe you're not familiar with this odd corner of government, but you should be.
That's because local government redevelopment agencies lay claim every year to about $5 billion in property taxes that would otherwise go to school districts, counties and the state. But they've never had to show they're worth the money. In fact, they've never had to show that their efforts produce any measurable net gain in property values or employment in the state, which is the whole point of having them in the first place.

It is not going to be enough to chant "tax the rich" to win any election. If we are to have credibility, we need to be able to explain how things would be better were Greens given the power to make the budget. Maybe we collectively need to have a panel of economists positioned to help us understand the relationship between tax policies, civic revenue and a sustainable future for all.

The first thing to remember is that the primary goal of Redevelopment is to allow government to use a lager share of a dwindling revenue stream. Can Jerry Brown solve California's Budget problems without killing the Redevelopment Agencies? Can our Cities solve their own budget problems if they lose the Redevelopment revenue stream? The mayor's of our nine largest cities were in Sacramento to meet with Brown and to make the point that they can not.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Craziness of Politics

The logic of the sociopath is to accuse people who focus on improving their family's lives of being criminals, instead of those who commit violence, rape, assault, robbery and anti-social acts. Jared Loughner's video monologue stand as the rantings of a sociopath aimed at all the students at Pima Community College and anyone who dares to live normal lives. The psychotic breaks from the acceptance of socially adaptable behavior and is focused on punishing the world for being the world. Jared Loughner made the leap into the fire because he learned to love the flames.

The criminal, who crosses the line between being responsible and becoming predatory or commiting acts of violence, need not be a sociopath. The violence in the Bay Area is as bad as the violence in other urban centers in the U.S. It is a culture of violence and it is reinforced. All the rhetoric of "non-violence" by Bay liberals has done nothing to de-escalate the violence. All the talk of sanctuary cities have not stopped the sex slave trade of women immigrants in the Bay Area or addressed the drug gang subculture. Posturing is the exercise of public officials, here in San Francisco, who are unable to resolve problems.

Credibility is evaluated by how often you can discredit the opposition. Meanwhile, the city continues to deteriorate. Those with the best of intentions often hesitate to speak out of concern that their words are misconstrued or deliberately misrepresented by others. Those with the worst of intentions feel free to arrogantly accuse all manner of crimes to any and all who speak other than themselves. It constricts the discussion, diffuses the substance of the issues and obscures the essential elements that really need to be reviewed. Following that, there becomes a presumption regarding the motives and intent of all others who try to point out relevant background that could help to clarify the discussion. And discussions degenerate into a THEM VS. US shouting match. This is encouraged by the political parties because their base is stablized in the most polarized situations.

As a Green in NM, I have seen Democrats accuse Greens the day before elections of being Republicans because former Republicans are active in Green campaigns. I have seen the Democratic Speaker of the House in the NM State Legislature try to prevent major party status for third parties by presenting legislation that made the requirements impossible to achieve. I have stood before the Republican Governor and criticized his managed health care from the podium and saw an acute psychiatric facility closed as a result of his policies. We have had a Green engage in the Gubernatorial debate to define us from left Democrats, as well as Republicans. We have also had Republicans offer $250,000 to the Green Party state co-chair to sponsor a PAC and a straw candidate to take votes away from Democrats. Even after the story hit the NY Times, some voters in the state still thought the Green Party had taken the money. I also heard of how a Green Party candidate was surrounded by a mob organized by local social justice groups in an attempt to get him to withdraw so the Democratic Party would win.

When we get into politics it is with the understanding that politics is dirty. But, it is only when there is something at stake, such as a candidate's reputation or an official's integrity, do we really find out what this means. Often the gap between guilty and not guilty is simply a matter of what the statute says. Other times we are led to the trough by unscrupilous individuals with their own axe to grind. Soap operas, nouvellas, have been replaced by cable news commentators, bloggers and op-ed writers. The drama is powerful but the impact on reality will always be minimal. There is no intention to solve inequalities or violence in our nation. Even if there was some intention, it is only through political action that these can truly take shape. Real leaders for our nation can come from any party. But, real solutions for our nation can only come from the people. It is the people who govern and it is we who must decide the best for our nation.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

It is time to tell the climate story like it really is

Yesterday, I received a reference to two recent book, sort of capsule reviews written by Lorna Salzman. I want to re-print these today for the simple reason that there is nothing more important to be working on that the resolution of climate change.

Carl Safina's latest book, View from Lazy Point, is reviewed - actually, raved about - in this Sunday's NY Times Book Review. If you have not yet read anything of Carl's, shame on get this book. Carl heads the Blue Ocean Institute, among his long list of credits, and is a superlative writer. 
The other book is World on the Edge, by Lester Brown, head of the Earth Policy Institute. This book is the culmination of a long list of his books on the deterioration of the planet and what needs to be done. Let me warn you that this one is possibly the most apocalyptic, but were it not, it would be dishonest. Let me give you some short quotes. Then you should order a copy from EPI ( or download it from their web site free,  

Brown predicts "the perfect storm" of food emergencies and loss of fresh water supplies (which are linked), all stemming from the kind of severe climate events we are now experiencing regularly (heat wave in Russia, floods in Pakistan), compounded by overpopulation and loss of ecosystems and their services. We are already in overshoot mode and have been so since 1980, i.e. humanity's collective demands  have surpassed the earth's regenerative capacity. Brown says that today, global demands exceed sustainable yields by 50%; it would thus take 1.5 earths to maintain our current consumption.

Brown: "No previous civilization has survived the ongoing destruction of its natural supports. Nor will ours. Yet economists look at the future through a different lens...annual measured in the trillions. In the eyes of mainstream economists, the world has not only an illustrious economic past but also a promising future. Mainstream economists see the 2008=09 global economic recession and near-collapse of the international financial system as a bump in the road..before a return to growth as usual. Projections of economic growth..typically show the global economy expanding by roughly 3 % a year. At this rate the 2010 economy would easily double in size by 2035".

"But as the economy expanded some 20-fold over the last century, it has revealed a flaw- a flaw so serious that if it is not corrected it will spell the end of civilization as we know it"...The not telling us the truth...Modern economic thinking and policymaking have created an economy that is so out of sync with the ecosystem on which it depends that it is approaching collapse. How can we assume that the growth of an economic system that is shrinking the earth's forests, eroding its soils, depleting its aquifers, collapsing its fisheries, elevating its temperature, and melting its ice sheets can simply be projected into the long-term future? "

"If we continue with business as usual, civilization collapse is no longer a matter of whether but when. We now have an economy that is destroying its natural support systems, on that has put us on a decline and collapse path. We are dangerously close to the edge. Peter Goldmark, former Rockefeller Foundation president, puts it well: 'The death of our civilization is no longer a theory or an academic possibility; it is the road we're on'"

This book lays out the evidence. Apart from Brown and EPI, the rest of the environmental community is in denial mode, believing that wind turbines and solar power will rescue us. This book makes it quite clear that they will not. It says what needs to be done...and fast, including a CO2 reduction of 80% not by 2050, the date arbitrarily chosen by those who do not understand the emergency including our fearless leaders like NRDC, EDF and,  but by the year 2020. Nine years from now. 

It isn't just capitalism that will collapse. It is human civilization, and our history has shown how earlier civilizations collapsed from environmental causes (Sumer in Mesopotamia, Maya). We ignore Brown at our own peril. Have the courage to read this book.  

For those of you in denial about overpopulation, here is what Brown says about Pakistan, which lost thousands of people to floods last year and where the temperature in south central Pakistan reached 128 degrees F. in May, a record for Pakistan:

"The Indus River, the lifeline of Pakistan, and its tributaries were overflowing. Levees that had confined the river to a narrow channel so the fertile floodplains could be farmed had failed. Eventually the raging waters covered 1/5 of the country. ...Some 2 million homes were damaged or destroyed. More than 20 million people were affected by the flooding. Nearly 2,000 Pakistanis died. Some 6 million acres of crops were damaged or destroyed. Over a million livestock drowned. Roads and bridges were washed away."

"Pakistan's 185 million people are squeezed into an area 8% that of the United States. 90% of the forests in the Indus Basin are gone, leaving little to absorb the rainfall and reduce runoff. Beyond this, Pakistan has a livestock population of cattle, water buffalo, sheep and goats of 149 million, well above the 103 million grazing livestock in the United Stats. The result is a country stripped of vegetation. When it rains, rapid runoff erodes the soil, silting up reservoirs and reducing their capacity to store flood water. Twenty or more years ago, Pakistan chose to define security largely in military terms. When it should have been investing in reforestation, soil conservation, education, and family planning, it was shortchanging these activities to bolster its military capacity. In 1990, the military budget was 15 times that of education and a staggering 44 times that of health and family planning. As a result, Pakistan is now a poor, overpopulated, environmentally devastated nuclear power where 60%  of women cannot read and write".
Some might think of the climate issues as yet one more piece of evidence of the tree hugger tendency among Greens. Nothing could be further from the truth. Concern about the effects of climate change is evidence of the concern of Greens for social justice and the plight of millions. Read carefully the comments regarding last summer's flood in Pakistan. Then think about the more recent floods in Nashville, Columbia, Brazli (April and again now), Australia, Sri Lanka, Benin, Burkina Faso. Nature does not select according to the ability of land to cope.

We should be ashamed to have taken on the mantle of being Green, to have proclaimed our devotion to the issues of social justice and to have done so little.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Ckimate adaptation might not save us.

I have been a bit frustrated by the fact that one of the blogger that I follow does not allow comments. I am referring to Dr. Matthew E. Kahn, UCLA Economics professor who writes Environmental and Urban Economics from which he occasionally reminds us that he has a recently published book entitled Climatopolis.

You don't have to read the book to get a few of Kahn's basic points, especially his belief that market economics will provide the mechanism by which society will adapt to a changing warming climate. That is made clear in all of the promotions for Climatopolis.

There are two basic assumption here:
  • that there is time to start mitigating the effects of climate change after the reality become so clear that even hard core deniers like Alan Watts will be crying about missed opportunities to do something if only the scientists had been more clear.
  • that there will be both time enough and financing enough to accomplish what needs to be done to protect our economy and our way of life.
Neither of these are shown to be true. I am not an economist and I have not read Kahn's Climatopolis (though I did request my local library to purchase a copy… sharing is green.) However, I do read a lot and have two observations.

The first is that most climate models have been wrong in their predicted rate of climate change. It has been happening much more quickly than even Hansen predicted. This, along with the fact that scientists have been loath to connect extreme weather events to climate change, has led many to an overly optimistic view of the future. It may be fortunate that we have had so many extreme weather events this year, especially flooding, that the scientists can now make the point that the frequency of these events is the result of man caused climate change.

My second observation is the fact that almost every government is strapped for cash and does not have the ability to invest in the huge infrastructure projects required to meet the demands of a significant relocation of population such as Kahn talks about in Climatopolis. The money just isn't there and the private sector, ever concerned with long term investments in non-profit making activities, isn't going to do it on their own.

In today's post, Kahn chides a group of climate hawks for their pessimism over future events.  He selected a list of regular commenters from Joe Romm's Climate Progress.  That choice may or may not have been motivated by Romm's negative critiques of Climatopolis.  Kahn even views their pessimism through his optimistic lens of the wisdom of the market.
They know that we are on a doom path but if they know it, then others know it and the anticipation of potential doom creates opportunities for innovators.
Such innovation, on the massive scale required takes both time and capital, neither of which can be supplied in the quantity required. Kahn clearly understands what is going to happen. He links to one of his own OpEds where he lays out the social / economic consequences of our changing climate.
Cities in the developing world will face additional challenges in coping with climate change. Over the next 100 years, the major growth in urbanisation will take place in the developing world. Climate change is likely to accelerate this urbanisation as many farmers find that the profitability of continuing to farm has declined due to changes in climate. As these new urbanites move to cities, local wages will decline and local rents will increase. These general equilibrium effects mean that incumbent urban poor will suffer from such urban migration. The local urban politicians are unlikely to have strong incentives to scale up the infrastructure to provide for the new migrants. Those cities that offer rural migrants a high quality of life are likely to attract even more of such migrants. A type of tragedy of the commons will emerge.
I completely fail to understand how he maintains such a faith in the efficacy of free market capitalism to motivate doing the right thing for long term survival. Long term is not generally rewarded and risks are not normally considered without great reward. Did we not just go through this with the Great Recession?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Is there a future for CaGreening?

I feel that I need to ask our few readers is it is worth continuing California Greening. On a daily basis, we generally do not have over 10 readers. I am not sure why that is. What is it about California Greening that fails to attract followers? Should we make changes in how we cover issues? Might it be better to shut this down and move on to facebook or twitter? (I really dislike that fact that you can not cover any complex issue is the few words that they allow and a blog does allow us to explain, expand in a way that is not otherwise possible.

Is the problem that we focus on ecological issues and most Greens do not have the same level of concern?

I would like to have some advice on this, because my instinct is to shut it down.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Joe Romm's Full Global Warming Solution

It would be presumptuous of me to try and improve on what Joe Romm produced at Climate Progress today. It is an update to his "wedges" discussion that shows how we can achieve our climate goals if we only had the political will. Romm lays out The full global warming solution: How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm. This is how he sets the stage.
Stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 450 ppm or lower is not politically possible today — not even close — but is certainly achievable from an economic and technological perspective, as I and others have said for years.

Humanity has only two paths forward at this point. Either we voluntarily switch to a low-carbon, low-oil, low-net water use, low-net-material use economy over the next two decades or the post-Ponzi-scheme-collapse forces us to do so circa 2030. The only difference between the two paths is that the first one spares our children and grandchildren and countless future generations untold misery (see “Intro to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water” and “A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice“)
. If we are serious about being Green, then we need to figure out what to do because one major party denies that there is a problem and the other can't figure out what to do about it.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


Over the holiday's I have been reading at Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson's detailed recounting of America's great migration… that of a significant percentage of black America away from both the Jim Crow laws of the South and the roots of their own culture. It is not an easy read and I will return the book to the library today, unfinished. I would rather buy the book than to try and deal the pauses I must take in order to absorb what I have just understood.

Wilkerson chose to illustrate this bit of history by capturing and relaying the memories of those who lived, grabbing the memories before they were gone, lost in those who would deny it, closed off by those who did not want to relive it. This narrative has overlapped much of my own 70 years, but not much of my own experience, of which I will write later.

As I probed my way into her chosen narratives, I was reminded of another writer who based his books on re-told personal narratives, Studs Terkel. I pulled up my well thumbed paperback edition of The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream(© 1988). I got no further than the introduction before I had to stop and think again.
In the making of this book (and even while considering it), I was burdened with doubts far more disturbing than any I had ever experienced earlier. In understanding this self-assigned and at times perverse task, I was away of an attribute lacking in the 1980's that had been throbbingly present in the earlier decades, even in the silent 1950's: memory.
There is no doubt that we have command with a lot of facts, most of them irrelevant to how we live our lives. As we lurch from media headline to media headline, prodded into thinking that what Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen have done is really important. We have a collective memory that lasts no longer than it takes us to click the remote sort of a national Alzheimer's of things important.

Along the way, Mark Zuckerberg became Time's Man of the Year for replacing social interaction with social media where our ever increasing trivial utterance is packaged for analysis by those who would sell us yet another diversion… is it Cityville now?

Can we challenge ourselves to create new memories, or do we just not want to get involved.

Monday, January 03, 2011

If you think it has rained enough, guess again.

In a recent feature on CA water, (subs req'd) High Country News contributing editor, Matt Jenkins, brings us back to a harsh reality.
Nothing can be done in California that will keep its farms and big cities thriving at today's levels and also keep the fish and the De;lta alive. There's simply not enough water to go around anymore.
The print edition has a different title "California Dreamin'" followed by Twenty years of wishful thinking have twisted the state's water politics -- with national repercussions. Every time you hear a local meteorologist opine that we have had enough rain, or that the ski areas love the snow pack, just understand that it isn't enough and never will be.

Jenkins feature article gives a truly (not faux) fair and balanced view of what is happening with this one piece of the CA water puzzle. It is by far not the only piece nor should it be the sole focus of Green ecological advocacy. Water is one part of a nexus of issues which, along with climate change and energy, are so intertwined as to defy any separation.

There is another aspect to this which Greens should consider. In the most recent (Jan. - Feb. 2011) issue of Orion Magazine, Derrick Jensen writes about just how idiotic it is to expect to have it all.
I'm continually stunned by how many seemingly sane people believe you can have infinite economic growth on a finite planet. Perpetual economic growth and its cousin, limitless technological expansion, are beliefs so deeply held by so many in this culture that they often go unquestioned.
We see this so clearly in the Obama administration's economic policy. If Larry Summers has had Obama's ear, then he has surely heard this bit cited by Jensen:
There are no… limits to the carrying capacity of the earth that are likely to bind at any time in the foreseeable future. …The idea that we should put limits on growth because of some natural limit is a profound error.
I would rather think that the idea that a consumerist culture is not bound by natural limits is an act of profound hubris, but the Obama / Summers economic policy requires that growth to solve our problems.

The question for Greens is whether we can find the political will to unmask the meme of perpetual growth and help society to live within it's means. If we return to the issues of water, climate, energy then we have to immediately confront the myth of perpetual growth.