Re: Population

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I've increasingly been thinking along these lines, after being very resistant for a long time to all that Zero Population Growth etc. stuff. I haven't looked much into specific policy suggestions people have offered, but I know there are some out there.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 9:39 PM
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The reason I've been thinking about this sort of thing lately, of course, is because I've been reading so much about southwestern prehistory. These issues aren't new.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 9:53 PM
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The idea of working on population pressures in one specific place is more or less goofy depending on the resource and policy goals.

If we're talking about flattening (or reversing) the rate of growth in a particular area and also using a resource that is mostly from the same place as that area (and not likely to get bigger), like water, I don't think it is that goofy. I mean, my point in that post was that eliminating unwanted births right now would save us from having to find a new small city's water supply every year.

If we're talking carbon emissions, which mix globally, ten million fewer people by 2050 get lost in the nine billion people worldwide pretty quickly. But ten million fewer people in 2050 would help California meet its own carbon emissions targets considerably.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 9:56 PM
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Also, moving to a more habitable place is not necessarily a workable solution. How habitable would the east coast remain if the entire population of California moved there?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 9:58 PM
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And even thinking about the US pursuing policies intended to reduce population in poorer parts of the world makes me wildly uncomfortable.

What if those policies took the form of significant improvements in women's health, education, autonomy and opportunities? Those should be policy goals in themselves, of course, but aren't they key to reducing birth rates?


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:00 PM
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But if California has local resource problems, couldn't the extra people just move somewhere with more water? For global reasons, I'm all for reducing population, but thinking about reducing birth rates on a state-by-state basis seems overly specific.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:01 PM
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For fun, I read this post as if I were one of those anti-abortion folks who fantasizes that lower-population liberals are trying to doom America by letting all the low-GDP countries populate the world while we exterminate our own society with abortion. It wasn't that fun.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:02 PM
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But if California has local resource problems, couldn't the extra people just move somewhere with more water?

Up to a point, sure, but places with lots of water tend to already have lots of people in them.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:04 PM
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6 to 3.

To 5 -- commendable as those policies are, and effective as they seem to be in reducing birthrates, I still get squeamish talking about deliberately taking action with the intent of reducing population in poorer countries. That doesn't make it a bad idea necessarily, it just seems very difficult to talk about.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:04 PM
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7: urk.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:05 PM
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reducing population in poorer countries

I would feel less queasy if you were saying "reducing/reversing population growth in poorer countries."


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:07 PM
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Ideas for shrinking/flattening the rate of growth:

Dear god, if your population is shrinking, DO NOT offer incentives to have more children.

Educating the wimmins and offering them interesting life choices seems to work well, and pretty fast.

Make birth control free and readily available.

Remember that delayed births get us environmental benefits too and push population growth out into the future. Either delaying maternal age at first birth or increasing sibling spacing works. The woman whose talk I watched yesterday said that diffuse public information campaigns aren't very effective, but I like the idea of a cultural shift in attitudes to favor later motherhood.

Use monetary incentives - offer student loan forgiveness if you get to 28 or 29 without having kids.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:07 PM
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11, cont'd: ...because we're already reducing population in Iraq as fast as we can! [rimshot]


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:08 PM
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Use monetary incentives - offer student loan forgiveness if you get to 28 or 29 without having kids.

I would be so fucking bitter. This is a yummy incentive.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:09 PM
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Dear god, if your population is shrinking, DO NOT offer incentives to have more children.

This really needs to be accompanied by something like: Encourage immigration so that countries with aging populations don't get boned.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:09 PM
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I know you want to thin out the population around your water sources, so you wouldn't want immigration to undo that careful thinning, but the need for young people to do jobs that old people are too old to do is hard to balance with the need to avoid depleting natural resources.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:11 PM
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Reducing population in poor countries is a thorny issue, but when it comes to resource usage reducing population in rich countries is not only easier but potentially more effective, since rich countries use so much more per capita. That is, the marginal person in a rich country uses more than the marginal person in a poor country, so the reduced resource usage at the margin is greater in the rich country.

Not that it's a complete solution, of course, given the scale of the problem, but it could be a place to start.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:12 PM
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the countries with aging populations are mostly the ones doing the boning at the moment.

not that you don't have a point, but i'd be perfectly happy to reduce economic growth here to improve things there. Mostly because anything else seems untenable.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:12 PM
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I'm selfish.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:13 PM
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afaics, teo, it's pretty much the only place to start.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:14 PM
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Given the wealth differentials among the countries in question, I suspect the need for young labor in rich countries would sort itself out without deliberate policy action.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:14 PM
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Reading someone like, say, Amartya Sen, the policy prescriptions are indeed (1) education, (2) health care, including access to contraception and abortion, and (3) access to micro-credit, especially for women in poor countries.

The squeamishness about imposing our birthing wills on others does not seem to go away through any of it, but there's hand-wringing, just like LB's.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:14 PM
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Educating the wimmins and offering them interesting life choices seems to work well, and pretty fast.

Make birth control free and readily available.

Pop quiz: which country in Europe has the highest fertility rate? Where does it score on the above metrics?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:14 PM
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I'm selfish.

Yeah, me too. But this is exactly the sort of thing that doesn't scale well.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:14 PM
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But if California has local resource problems, couldn't the extra people just move somewhere with more water? For global reasons, I'm all for reducing population, but thinking about reducing birth rates on a state-by-state basis seems overly specific.

They could and I'll go see if I can hunt up a recent article I saw on that.

I can see how it sounds overly specific, but a more-or-less regional block may also be a good size for exerting influence. The PPIC report I link to gets into some fair detail about sub-populations (focus on latinas in the San Joaquin Valley, for example). They're different enough to make different policy recommendations, and a state (or county, maybe) might be a good level to deliver tailored programs.

I see some potential for redundancy, but off the top of my head and with no background in the subject, I don't see a good reasons why states would be the wrong level to manage population growth.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:15 PM
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afaics, teo, it's pretty much the only place to start.

Indeed. People (here at least) seem to be focusing a lot on the issue of poor countries, though.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:15 PM
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I suspect the need for young labor in rich countries would sort itself out without deliberate policy action.

It would, but you already have plenty of deliberate anti-immigration policy actions in place in most rich countries. Perhaps people will get over themselves, but I wouldn't cavalierly count on it.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:16 PM
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It would, but you already have plenty of deliberate anti-immigration policy actions in place in most rich countries. Perhaps people will get over themselves, but I wouldn't cavalierly count on it.

Whether or not they do, the immigrants will come. The real issue (and the place where things will likely get ugly) is whether they come legally or illegally.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:18 PM
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The real issue (and the place where things will likely get ugly) is whether they come legally or illegally.

Yes, fair enough. I think this still counts as a problem, however, that calls for something that you might call deliberate policy action.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:19 PM
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Also, California at least is articulating specific environmental goals (20% reduction in per capita water use by 2020, get to 1990 carbon emissions by 2020 and something or other lower by 2050). We're doing planning on that scale anyway, but not including some big taboo solutions.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:19 PM
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The squeamishness about imposing our birthing wills on others does not seem to go away through any of it

Might ease some of that squeamishness if we were practicing what we preached...


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:21 PM
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BTW, LB, thanks for bringing Megan's new blog to my attention with this post. It looks fascinating, and remarkably compatible with where I ultimately intend to take my own new blog.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:21 PM
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(Mine is not nearly there yet, of course, but note the subtitle.)


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:22 PM
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Whether or not they do, the immigrants will come.

I'm not sure how well recent US experience generalizes here, teo. The US is funny in that it has a sort of impossible to patrol southern border (see also, Greece), but moreover has built up large parts of the local economy to be basically dependent on immigrant labor. This could shift if things got economically bad enough to force American kids into doing these jobs, but not too quickly. US policy with respect to kids born here is unusual, too.

By comparison, some countries have far less immigration, and no solid place for them if they do come (e.g. Japan). So legal or illegal is one aspect, but there are other factors like: how bad is it wherever they're coming from, how much local support is there, how to get there. Basically, the risk/reward trade offs are different.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:23 PM
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23: Okay, I cheated. It's Iceland, apparently. This guy seems to have an explanation.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:25 PM
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34: Fair enough. I do think, though, that countries with aging populations will ultimately get by well enough without increasing their birthrates, by whatever means works best for them.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:25 PM
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Might ease some of that squeamishness if we were practicing what we preached...

Great point. Potential crotch-fruit producers do discuss this issue nowadays. N=2.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:29 PM
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36: Agreed.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:31 PM
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And when you look at our resource use compared to the population of the world, the idea of leveling global inequality up rather than down looks very, very unlikely at anything like current global population.

You should go through the results of this Google search, LB. Here's the gist:


[My] nightmarish future includes things that go right against all that is good and decent in SF, a bleak vista where the rising cost of petroleum causes people to turn to altenative fuels (like coal liquifaction), where in general even the Third World's economies converge on that of the First World's, where even if there's no grand scale colonization of space, the Earth turns out to be fairly large and supplied with enough raw materials to keep even civilization supplied for geological ages, where for some bizarre reason both death-by-famine and death-by-war are steadily dropping (one on the scale of centuries and one on the scale of decades), where the long term trends for socially acceptable violence is downwards, where our brains are not eaten by pocket calculators and so on. It's a nightmarish realm where a small elite of the Right People do not take over and yet the Earth does not collapse into post-technological squalor, a world where people live longer, better lives than their grandparents.

And no, the author of that quote isn't a cracked-out technology-worshipping libertarian.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:31 PM
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Thanks Teo. I didn't realize you weren't aware of it.

An article in Nature wondering why people don't think more about population and climate change. I hadn't read it and am glad to see I didn't contradict anything major. Mostly I'm astounded to realize that nearly half the births in the US are unplanned or unintended.

I'm still looking for that news story I read on Seattle planners being dismayed at the prospect of a bunch of climate change refugees.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:32 PM
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My impression is that, at least in this country, talk of curbing population growth is about as popular as talk of curbing water usage in Las Vegas. I have no idea what it would take for Americans generally to consider it seriously as an issue.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:37 PM
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The funny thing is that they almost talk about it. CA is having a drought and cities are talking about rationing. I see a news article about that three times a week. The two quotes you see in every article are 'old people on fixed incomes can't afford rate increases' and 'why should we use less water when there is new construction in the city. I'm not taking shorter showers so we can build more houses."

The resentment is definitely there, and so is the concept of having to shared a fixed resource. But the rest of it, that only so many people can enjoy using the amount of water that we do, never seems to follow.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 10:44 PM
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The resentment is definitely there, and so is the concept of having to shared a fixed resource. But the rest of it, that only so many people can enjoy using the amount of water that we do, never seems to follow.

See, the solution to this problem that comes immediately to *my* mind is "reduce per-capita water consumption", not "we need fewer people!" From cursory Googling, I see that Germany managed to reduce its per-capita water consumption by 10% from 1991 to 1998 (from 144 liters per person per day to 129); given that the Bay Area (for example) is currently at around 150 *gallons* per person per day, is there reason to believe that we can't achieve something similar in CA? (I'm fully willing to believe that there is.)


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 11:00 PM
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I didn't realize you weren't aware of it.

I've been kind of in and out on the blogs lately.

My impression is that, at least in this country, talk of curbing population growth is about as popular as talk of curbing water usage in Las Vegas.

My impression is that talk of curbing water usage in Las Vegas is about to get a lot more popular in this country. Though, to be fair, probably not in Las Vegas itself.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 11:02 PM
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My impression is that talk of curbing water usage in Las Vegas is about to get a lot more popular in this country.

When I was there in 1992, I recall a huge machine that shot a light mist onto people walking down the sidewalk. I was 12 at the time, and remember thinking that was insane.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 11:07 PM
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I'm sure you think of reducing per capita water use. But when districts ask people to do that, people point to the new sub-division across the street and wonder why they should inconvenience themselves so that new people can move it.

We're gonna see some stark per capita water use reduction if this winter stays dry (as predicted).

A graph of per capita water use by city. My region is SHAMEFUL.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 11:18 PM
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The fact that people use so much now is our slack and pressure release valve. But in the long medium run, adding 250,000 unintended people per year will take up that slack. If those babies were ardently desired by their parents (like the 250,000 planned births per year) then we should talk about trade-offs. But since their parents didn't even intend to have those kids, I think not having them is a great option.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 11:23 PM
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I'm sure you think of reducing per capita water use. But when districts ask people to do that, people point to the new sub-division across the street and wonder why they should inconvenience themselves so that new people can move it.

And you think telling people "don't breed!" is likely to be *more* successful?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 11:25 PM
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Giving people tools and reasons to prevent pregnancies they don't even want might be easier than getting them to tear out their lawns. People love their lawns.

We're not in "Don't have the children you want" territory. For now, we're talking about more than two City of Berkeleys every single year in unintended/unwanted births, just in California. I don't know which is more susceptible to influence, but I know that people think they do want lawns and to wash their dishes with the water running and by their survey answers, they don't want these pregnancies/births.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 11:38 PM
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If those babies were ardently desired by their parents (like the 250,000 planned births per year) then we should talk about trade-offs. But since their parents didn't even intend to have those kids, I think not having them is a great option.

Not so fast. Your source indicates that some percentage of those parents intended to have children at some point, just not at the specific time they happened to get pregnant, and some other percentage weren't sure if they wanted children or not, so it's not like all of those 250K people are coming off the books. There's also what I was getting at in 23: the country I was referring to (France) has a fertility rate just about equal to California's, which suggests that even the policies you support to limit population growth may not have the effect you think they will.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 11:39 PM
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At some point you're going to have to fight the lawns.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 11:49 PM
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And now I see that you accounted for my first point in 50 in the post LB linked to.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 11:49 PM
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No, they're not all coming off the books, although if half of them came off the books in any particular year, that is still a city's worth of people. In any given year, not having to come up with water for an additional 100,000 people over last year is really handy. Over time, pushing emissions into the future is valuable.

If your time horizon extends out more than a few years, you start to see returns from not having unwanted births. Those averted people in 2009 and every year after don't go on to have kids. By 2050 (the year the state plans for), that could be a big number.

There's the possibility that policies to eliminate unintended births don't work, and I don't know enough to evaluate that.

But if they do work, the very large numbers of unintended births/year means that they would do a ton of good if they were only 30 or 50 or 70% effective.

Anyway, it isn't an either/or choice. Reducing population, or flattening population growth would solve some water problems and some climate change problems and some transportation and land use problems and some public health problems and some consumption... Reducing per capita water use is also a good idea, that solves a water problem and offsets some energy use.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-14-09 11:56 PM
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I recall a huge machine that shot a light mist onto people walking down the sidewalk. I was 12 at the time, and remember thinking that was insane.

They have these in Phoenix too. They are indeed insane.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:01 AM
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51 - I try to set a personal example in the Fight the Lawn campaign. I've been fighting my lawn for years.

Eh. If the drought lasts another two years, I think cities and water districts will lead that fight. Likewise, I think policies on greywater and wastewater reuse are too stringent. But two or three more years of drought will change public opinion on those too. My current strategy is to wait and let the drought change people's minds for me.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:06 AM
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Reducing population, or flattening population growth would solve some water problems and some climate change problems and some transportation and land use problems and some public health problems and some consumption...

"To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem."

There's no question that reducing population or flattening population growth would be helpful with all of those things. But I seriously do not get why that's the *first* thing that comes to your mind, when looking at water consumption around the world suggests that there's a lot of lower-hanging fruit. (Maybe it's not the first thing, and you've posted about the other things we can do to reduce water consumption. I haven't been following your new blog.)


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:16 AM
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My current strategy is to wait and let the drought change people's minds for me.

If the effects of the drought are in any way comparable the rise in oil prices last summer, I suspect you're going to see a lot of people change their minds pretty damn quickly. I'd think that'd be a comforting comparison for you, actually; how many times did you hear people say "Americans will never give up their gas-guzzling SUVs", and yet the evidence I've seen is that people did change their consumption quickly and dramatically.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:19 AM
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I haven't been following Megan's blog either, but I kind of doubt population control is the first thing that comes to her mind when it comes to resource issues. Low-hanging fruit only gets you so far, though.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:20 AM
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And with that, I'm off to bed. Good night, all.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:21 AM
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Low-hanging fruit only gets you so far, though.

Sure. But FFS, we're currently using 4 times as much water per capita as France, Germany, and the UK! That's not even "low-hanging fruit", that's "fruit that's jumping off of the tree and shoving itself into your hand and begging you to take it home with you".


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:25 AM
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I have to admit, water conservation stuff, especially urban water conservation stuff is deadly dull. It is exactly what you think it would be - fix leaks, switch out appliances, do a better job watering the lawn (or take out the lawn). Resistance to conservation and the mechanics of mass behavior change are interesting, but there isn't a lot of unsolved mystery in the field. The mechanics of decreasing per capita water use are very clear and people are working on implementing them. I take that for granted and move on to more titillating topics.

(Just so's you know, I fix other people's sprinklers and call in water wasters when I am out on walks. I'm doing my part!)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:26 AM
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60 - I'm curious about the breakdown for interior/exterior use in Europe and here. I'll totally grant that we could live with whatever interior fixtures are getting them low per capita water use and not feel a decline in quality of life.

But, if a big part of the difference is in exterior use, I suspect that isn't as simple as low hanging fruit. I don't think of city people in Europe as having large yards and it rains there during the summer. They can get away with watering less (or not at all, if they don't have yards).

In that case, you're talking about a big block of CA per capita water use that goes to a yard. There are ways to winch that down, but at some point, that block of water is all or nothing. You have a yard and watered garden or you don't. That isn't low hanging fruit, that's a lifestyle change. It is plausible we should make that lifestyle change, but it isn't pure waste that we can give up without changing ourselves.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:35 AM
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The fact that people use so much now is our slack and pressure release valve. But in the long medium run, adding 250,000 unintended people per year will take up that slack. If those babies were ardently desired by their parents (like the 250,000 planned births per year) then we should talk about trade-offs. But since their parents didn't even intend to have those kids, I think not having them is a great option.

Water shortages can be dealt with by raising the price for all users including agricultural users. There is a lot of slack in the system. Outlaw lawns not babies.

You are also radically overestimating the difficulties unintended babies face. Unintended babies are not unwanted babies:

The authors set out to disprove the commonly held stereotypes about poor young women who have children out of wedlock when they are still teenagers or in their early twenties. They assert that most middle class Americans assume that these women are either unable or unwilling to use birth control, or that they are using children as a way to gain access to more welfare benefits. However, in the course of their research, they found this conventional wisdom to be largely untrue. They discovered that these young women are having babies simply because they want to have babies. There are, of course, mitigating factors such as pressure to conceive from a boyfriend or rebellion against parents, but almost all of the single mothers interviewed make it clear that they were happy when they found out they were pregnant and happy to have children, even if the responsibility makes their lives considerably harder.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:43 AM
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I don't like when these discussions turn into choose A or B but not both arguments (already pwned by Megan in 53 I see on preview). By my lights, I do think that Paul Ehrlich gets it right for the long run in the following:

Gradual and humane reduction of the size of the human population, limiting of wasteful per capita consumption among the rich to allow room for increased consumption by the poor, use of more environmentally benign technologies and increased equity among and within nations will all be required.

However, each part of his statement (and even more, the political and societal steps to implement them) would be controversial among some group. I suspect the population part would find the least support here*. I don't think that it is useful to cast things as a population "problem" that needs to be tackled head-on, but I challenge anyone to say that a species of animal whose trends in overall growth rate and total population size look like the attached graphs is not at a very interesting place in its natural history**.

*And I think that how people fall on the population question will increasingly become an important political marker, and one which poses a risk to the emerging demographics-driven center-left coalition in the US which was discussed in the Heebster's fantasy baseball post. It is already part of the Dem/Repub split (see for instance Rick Warren's and others' attempts to use the "marriage is for procreation" trope to battle gay marriage) , but I think economic issues of various sorts over the next few years/decades will make it hard to swim upstream against the dual underlying long-term pyramid schemes of population growth and "use more stuff per capita" that underlie almost all politically allowable economic models in the US.

**The growth curve does show that a significant reduction in growth rate has begun (compare its magnitude to the two short smallish downward trends during WWI & WWII), but there is still significant growth rate operating on a much bigger base population. Megan's fair-sized city gets added to the world population every day or two; the world's population has decreased on only a handful of individual days over the past several centuries (some big bombing days in WWII—WWI lacked the ability to kill that quickly—a few of the bigger earthquakes and probably a few South Asian typhoons (and maybe the tsunami)). The two graphs are indicative of a species that has moved into a new ecological niche and exploded in population but is just beginning to approach the limits of the niche's carrying capacity. But in our case the new "niche" is a continually-evolving technologically-enabled one, and it will continue to change and theoretically provide increased carrying capacity (which may require things like CA residents moving to European levels of water consumption) but there is no doubt that in the short-term we can (and will) continue to grow the population significantly.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:50 AM
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64: I'm too tired to respond in detail at this point, but I think you'd find the reading at the link in 39 a) interesting and b) a good counterpoint to the argument you're making. (The guy whose blog that search covers doesn't have very nice things to say about Ehrlich, though.)


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:07 AM
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But FFS, we're currently using 4 times as much water per capita as France, Germany, and the UK!

What the fuck do you use it for!? I can understand maybe things like larger standard toilet cisterns or less efficient washing machines (I understand both to be the case) making a significant impact, but for a factor of four, you'd need a couple of entirely additional uses for the stuff. I'm gobsmacked.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:34 AM
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65: I've looked at some of his stuff and it certainly is worth chewing over. I am specifically trying to avoid an "OH NOES! WE R SO FUKKED!" or "Fuck the breeders for ZPG" stance. I am not on board with Ehrlich on many things and he has taken big cred hits from some of his stances, but I do like the statement I quote above, possibly replacing "Gradual and humane reduction of the size of the human population" with "Gradual and humane reduction of the rate of human population growth until it reaches steady state". The latter is of course not at all inconsistent with Megan's proposal and still has a plethora of political landmines.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:44 AM
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I think the Prime Directive of social engineering ought to be:

"Seek not the answer to your economic and engineering problems in someone else's pants".

And when the Chinese experiment goes to hell, it probably will be.

Ahem:

1. Let's get this "unwanted babies" thing put to bed straight away - it doesn't make sense even in its own terms. The elasticity of substitution between "unwanted babies" and "wanted babies" is almost certainly as close to unity as makes no difference. A baby isn't intrinsically "unwanted" for the most part - it's not wanted at a particular time. Every unwanted baby, to a first approximation, prevents a wanted baby at some future date.

2. The ceteris paribus assumption for per capita water consumption is also unwarranted. In a complicated system with a price mechanism, the default assumption ought to be that water demand will grow according to the technological progress made in finding new water sources.

3. Forget about immigration as a silver bullet.

Encourage immigration so that countries with aging populations don't get boned

This is a ceteris paribus assumption about the effect of emigration on poor country population that's also unwarranted. If you're going to be a consistent Malthusian here, then the population of the poor country will increase by the amount of the emigration, leaving the population of the rich country the same and the population of the poor country the same, but shifting a few people from one country to another.

Addressing per capital water use through the price mechanism is the nettle that clearly has to be grasped here. If the large development across the road goes away, then the reaction of the suburb-dweller is not going to be to give thanks for the reduced ecological pressure; it's going to be to place an order for a domestic version of one of those outdoor air-conditioner mist machines.

Or, alternatively, some form of totalitarian solution along the lines of the Chinese one-child policy (which I still regard as a disaster waiting to happen in the long term, but which has at least had its intended effect in the near term). But this is clearly only possible in some form of totalitarian society, so basically I think one has to accept that the answers to complex social and economic problems don't lie in other people's pants.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:21 AM
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And also to note that 250,000/40,000,000 = 0.625%, and there is a general invariance theorem which shows that calling this "A Small City Every Year" doesn't make it any bigger.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:40 AM
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and finally, crunching numbers because that's what I do:

Also, California at least is articulating specific environmental goals (20% reduction in per capita water use by 2020, get to 1990 carbon emissions by 2020 and something or other lower by 2050). We're doing planning on that scale anyway, but not including some big taboo solutions.

20%/0.625% = 32x. In other words, the per capita reduction goals are the equivalent of removing 8 million people (equivalently, 20% of 40m is 8m, and 8m is 32 x 250k). It's these "taboo" population issues that are pointless tinkering round the edges.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:50 AM
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But I seriously do not get why that's the *first* thing that comes to your mind, when looking at water consumption around the world suggests that there's a lot of lower-hanging fruit.

Oranges for example, grown in climates that need a lot of extra water to grow them and is only profitable when that water is free or nearly so. A lot of that huge per capita usage of water in the US and California in particular is due to wasteful industrial and agricultural practises, rather than every yank taking ten showers a day.

Perhaps it is easier to get people to family plan rather than take away free water subsidies, but stating that California would have no water problems is every child is a planned one strikes me a bit like saying that it was legal abortion which caused the drop in crime rates in the nineties, as I've seen alleged.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:51 AM
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I don't see a good reasons why states would be the wrong level to manage population growth.

Edwards v. California, 314 U.S. 160 (1941).


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 5:16 AM
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You wouldn't have to move the entire population of California east, of course, and there's plenty of room in the depopulating Rust Belt . . .


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 5:20 AM
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Clearly everyone interested should listen to the episode of Thinking Allowed on population control, which touches basically all of these issues/dilemmas. It pitches the pro-control John Cleland (LSHTM) against the anti-control Matthew Connelly.


Posted by: RobDP | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 5:29 AM
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I think one has to accept that the answers to complex social and economic problems don't lie in other people's pants.

Indeed, it is wrong to think that the answer to your own personal problems is to be found in someone else's pants. A much more common mistake.

The dual underlying long-term pyramid schemes of population growth and "use more stuff per capita" that underlie almost all politically allowable economic models in the US.

To me that's the nub of the problem. Even a lot of people who are strong environmentalists on a piecemeal basis have personal life plans which are environmentally destructive.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 7:35 AM
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use more stuff per capita

not necessarily the case btw; Danny Quah has done a bit of interesting work on fluctuations in the weight of world GDP and it does go up and down.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 7:36 AM
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Can I ignore this stuff since I live within a mile of a river that supports barge traffic in a region with declining population?


Posted by: MH | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 7:55 AM
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Can I ignore this stuff since I live within a mile of a river that supports barge traffic in a region with declining population?

Not really, although it might reduce your footprint a bit.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 7:57 AM
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Can I ask where we're getting the figure about the "unwanted babies"? Are we counting "unplanned pregnancies to unwed mothers that didn't end in an environmentally-friendly abortion?" All unplanned pregnancies, which is half of all births? That's really not the same as unwanted children. (heebie's baby seems to have been unplanned but wanted; my sister-in-law's was the same; the same would hold true were I to find myself pregnant.)

My ick meter is through the roof here, because it sounds like we're blaming California's water shortage problems on those people who irresponsibly pro-create (presumably, in the mids of some, in the back of the Cadillac they'll purchase with their welfare check) without announcing their intention to do so. (How many people moved to California during the tech boom? Don't they use water?)

I have to say I'm with dsquared here. There are plenty of good reasons to support availability of contraception and access to education for women. But I'm trying to imagine a policy which said "Well, the thing is, we're using too much water, and our primary plan to solve this problem is to get rid of unplanned pregnancies" and I keep thinking that the response would something like, "Isn't agriculture the biggest waster of water? Wouldn't it make more sense to go after them?" (Especially if your solution for "what do we do about the population drop and our aging population" is "import a bunch of immigrants who will presumably use no water.")


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 7:58 AM
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Somebody has to live in Pittsburgh. Anyway, I use an extremely low-flow toilet: my neighbors' yards.


Posted by: MH | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 7:59 AM
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I'm gobsmacked.

So am I; it's not as if I get up every morning thinking "must save water; must attend regional water-management authority board meeting to keep an eye on them fuckers; must save water..." like Martin Wisse probably does, but with more of a "keeping it in" focus than a "keeping it out" one.

I assume it's got to be the oranges, as Martin says. Mind you, nothing wastes quite as well as bad engineering, just like nothing wants quite as much money as a bad business.

However, our exciting new mayor has told Thames Water they can build a desalination plant (in *London*!) which will produce about as much water as they lose through the crappy old pipes he's told them they can't fix because it's his "pro-motorist agenda". So we're doing our best to catch up...

Meanwhile, the median age is rising in Somalia.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:00 AM
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39: I find it hard to take seriously anyone who thinks "coal liquefaction" is one of the reasons the future will be less bleak than expected.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:00 AM
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Somebody has to live in Pittsburgh.

NOT TRUE.


Posted by: OPINIONATED GRANDMA | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:03 AM
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And, Dsquared, don't tell me you've gone soft on the key issue of mass efficiency? You realise the mass/energy conversion factor is mass multiplied by the speed of light squared? You may call that a gram of sand, but its equivalent energy use is the size of God.

I'm off to shave bits off my house. Save weight!


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:04 AM
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anyone who thinks "coal liquefaction" is one of the reasons the future will be less bleak than expected.

Author is clearly confused on a number of points, thought the "SF dystopias aren't the only possibility" is fair enough taken alone.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:04 AM
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83. You're on our school board, aren't you?


Posted by: MH | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:05 AM
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81: It's got to be agriculture. If I think it through, we have a few times as many people in many, many more times the space, and much of that space is used for growing things that use a lot of water. It can't all be long showers.

Somebody has to live in Pittsburgh.

Amen. (Maybe the solution to California's "overpopulation" should be to move all the tech careers to Pittsburgh. They don't really need the climate like the oranges do.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:06 AM
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87. Just warn them not to park in my space.


Posted by: MH | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:09 AM
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It's got to be agriculture.

It's agriculture.

Thing is, it's not just agriculture but the style of it. If you've got both the sunshine and soil to push things though, it's hard to imagine not using the water if you can get it. Making it too easy/cheap to get (along with open aquifiers, etc.) was a big mistake, but htere is a lot of economic lock in now.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:10 AM
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That's what your lawn chair is for.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:10 AM
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That's why those lawn chairs are in the street. Oops. At least my patio is furnished.


Posted by: MH | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:11 AM
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87: Agriculture and lawns; there's a whole lot of lawn grass in the US growing in climates where it's not happy, and that takes water.

Re: 79. Thing is, though, while the most reasonable solution on a California-scale level for there being too many people in California for the amount of water they can deliver is for those people to pack up and move to someplace where rain falls (impelled by the pricing of scarce water and so on), that's not a worldwide solution. There seem to be a lot of places in the world where there are more people than can be comfortably supported by the local resource base, and while I'm all in favor of opening borders, and smoothing out local problems by allowing free movement of populations, I am not certain that worldwide resources are sufficient to support as many people as we've got in comfort. And I'm in favor of comfort, which means, I think, that I'm in favor of population shrinkage.

I just don't know how to talk about it without revolting myself.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:14 AM
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The table linked in 46 explicitly says "excluding industrial and agriculture".


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:16 AM
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887/89/92: no, the numbers Megan linked in 46 exclude agriculture and industrial uses. It's just household water.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:17 AM
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Which probably comes down, then, to lawns.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:18 AM
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It *is*, however, probably mostly lawns. Would be my bet, at least.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:19 AM
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84: to be honest I never really understood a fucking word of what Quah was on about, but he's a kung fu black belt or something so I always assumed it was safest to agree with him.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:19 AM
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I'm very clearly not adding value here.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:19 AM
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People should use grey water for their lawns. Or yellow water.


Posted by: MH | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:20 AM
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94: ah, that will learn me (no it won't) to check links.

What's up with San Juan Water District?

In that case, I suspect the difference in water use US to UK is typically due to a combination of 1) water pressure 2) dishwashers 3) washing machines 4) lawns.

IME, the typical usage in all of these categories is notably less in the UK. Also fewer showers.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:22 AM
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99 grey water systems are a great idea. Roll out is difficult.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:23 AM
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99: or no water!

Seriously, I've never lived at a home with a watered lawn. It's really not so bad. When there's a dry spell, it turns brown. Who gives a fuck? You can still frolic joyfully, and you don't have to mow the damn thing so much.

Of course, I've also always lived east of the Mississippi. Which might make a difference.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:24 AM
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Although, on second thought, it can't really all be lawns. Japan's twice as high as Europe, and I don't think they have a lot of big lawns there.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:27 AM
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92: Right, I wasn't suggesting there aren't reasons to be worried about population worldwide. But as a solution to the Cali water problem? It seems that even if the 0.625% population drop did a lot to help, there would be people moving there (jobs still need to be done), maybe from other countries, maybe from the rest of the U.S. as California is not an independent republic. I'm not sure how this helps the water problem.

I'm not sure about the rest of the problem. But after a while it's hard not to caricature the view as "I, Cala, like my iPod, so people should, like, you know, over there, should stop having so many babies" and to caricature the response as "Or, like, we could pay more for oranges and stop watering lawns."


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:27 AM
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Golf courses. I know that some innocents will be caught in the net, but eliminating golfers would probably do more to save the world than practically anything else we can think of doing. Not primarily for their golfing activities, though that's one of the reasons, but because of all the other things that golfers characteristically do.

All golf courses should be allowed to revert to weeds and be rebaptized "meadows".


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:27 AM
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But after a while it's hard not to caricature the view as "I, Cala, like my iPod, so people should, like, you know, over there, should stop having so many babies"

Yeah, that impulse to caricature (and given that Megan was very clearly talking about reducing the birth rate by helping people have children no earlier than they plan to, rather than anything more draconian, it's a seriously distorting caricature) is part of what makes this so hard to discuss. There's no way to bring up population control outside of one's own nuclear family (with regard to which I have nothing to boast of) without it sounding like "Yeah, rich people want everyone in poorer countries dead. There's a shock."


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:31 AM
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But there's no reason golf courses need to be irresponsible users of water. Golf doesn't have to be played on neatly-trimmed green gress. You can play just find on dead brown grass, or hardened desert clay, or any other generally cleared surface. (You could technically play in overgrown meadowland, although that would more significantly change the play of the game.)


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:34 AM
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I doubt that even extremely high household consumption affects water shortages in California. 80% of northern California' delta is used for agricultural accounts. The new housing development in town that is sucking up California's water but the rice and cotton crops grown arid land. Changing crops, enforcing smart irrigation scheduling and advanced irrigation technologies are the way to go. Blaming population growth, green lawns, or hi-flow showerst takes the focus off the real problem.


Posted by: jamacker | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:37 AM
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"Yeah, rich people want everyone in poorer countries dead. There's a shock."

No so much dead as low-footprint. We're collectively pretty huge fans of the cheap labor, so long as it doesn't impinge on our resource use too much.

Which is really the crux of the matter. There is no way to extend current "1st world" *style* of living much further than it is today. Afaics, the only hope is to change the style to be less consumptive without the *standard* dropping too drastically, and extend that. Trying to pursue in any serious way while still focusing on economic growth here seems pretty thorny, to me.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:37 AM
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Changing crops, enforcing smart irrigation scheduling and advanced irrigation technologies are the way to go.

You can do some of that, sure. And if you stop subsidizing the water, it will start to happen. But fundamentally, cali & particularly the central valley has both the sunshine and the soil to push a hell of a lot of production. So long as you can source water and fertilizer, this will be true. It's an astonishingly productive area.

At some point, the trade off really becomes: if you want to use less water, grow less stuff. Which has some pretty tricky economic fallout.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:40 AM
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Herman Daly tried to work out the economics a steady state, and economists ignored him. Growth seems to be the gospel all economists share, including the relatively nice ones.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:41 AM
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IME, the typical usage in all of these categories is notably less in the UK. Also fewer showers.

But correspondingly more baths. Which typically use more water. I've seen it argued that dish washers are more water efficient than washing dishes by hand, too, though I'm not sure I believe that if you like your dishes clean. UK washing machines may be more efficient, but there are a lot more of them - you count as officially deprived if you don't have one in your home.

So, all in all, it's back to grass and oranges, I guess.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:41 AM
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108: Check Megan's archives at the blog linked in the post for some discussion of exactly that issue. I don't know, but she seems to think that there's really not much slack in the system there.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:42 AM
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given that Megan was very clearly talking about reducing the birth rate by helping people have children no earlier than they plan to

which btw would not work, cf 68(1). I think we established that the median gap between first sex and first planned child was about 11 years, so we are talking about a maximum of a 10 year drop in the birth rate, with corresponding catch-up period thereafter (and that's assuming that we could magically and instantly reduce the unplanned-at-that-particular-instant birth rate to zero; in actual fact, it would take much longer and any effect would be swamped by the normal variation).

it's a seriously distorting caricature

Well, I don't see how it is. There's no other way of reducing the population than by people stopping having so many babies (or at least, there are two other ways, but draconian immigration restriction has its own problems and genocide is presumably right out). In as much as this solution would work at all (which as I say is almost certainly an order of magnitude smaller than already planned per capita reductions), it would work through other people stopping having so many babies.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:43 AM
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You're going to actually make me sit and work this out with a pencil, aren't you? But seriously, a population in which all women have two children at 20 and 22 is going to grow significantly faster than one where all women have two children at 30 and 32 -- it's not a one-time delay, it's a change in the growth rate. So delay of the same number of wanted children helps some.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:48 AM
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I take ten showers a day, but I only flush the toilet once a week so I hope my footprint is less than the typical Yank. Also, I think you can attribute the excessive water use to the free market utopia in which industries and agriculture can treat water as if it is free and infinite.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:49 AM
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industries and agriculture can treat water as if it is free and infinite.

I do not believe this to be the current case in the American West generally.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:50 AM
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"I've seen it argued that dish washers are more water efficient than washing dishes by hand, too, though I'm not sure I believe that if you like your dishes clean."

I believe it. The normal way of washing dishes by hand is to keep the water running 15-30 minutes every day.


Posted by: David Weman | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:50 AM
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iven that Megan was very clearly talking about reducing the birth rate by helping people have children no earlier than they plan to, rather than anything more draconian, it's a seriously distorting caricature

As dsquared said, it's not that distorting largely because delaying the birth of the first child in a place like California is not the same as reducing the birth rate. "Unplanned" and "unwanted" aren't the same thing. And if we are talking about reducing the birth rate generally, it either means "other people over there are having too many kids (because delaying first kid for ten years would have an effect on birth rates in Africa, but they're *not* the ones using the water)" or draconian measures in a place that has reasonable access to contraception (where people are using the water.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:52 AM
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"I take ten showers a day, but I only flush the toilet once a week so I hope my footprint is less than the typical Yank."

That's a joke, right? Because I've read people make similar claims, and you never know.


Posted by: David Weman | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:52 AM
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116: please see both 117 and 94.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:53 AM
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We got a new dishwasher and washing machine. Our water bill dropped by like 30%. Then, they raised the water rates and we're back to where we started from as far as $. But still using less water (and the new dishwasher is so quiet).


Posted by: MH | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:54 AM
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I have never heard anyone who actually claims to take ten showers a day, unless they live in some sort of mental institution.

Three, maybe.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:54 AM
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The magical thing about toilets is that if you just keep using them eventually they'll flush themselves.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:55 AM
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Lowering the birth rate can be, and is, incentivized. A lot of people don't have kids because there are other things they want to do more.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:55 AM
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110 At some point, the trade off really becomes: if you want to use less water, grow less stuff.

Suggest the formula should be grow stuff smarter not less stuff. Suggest also consuming smarter will be the big lesson of this quarter century. Just because Walmart sells 10 pairs of socks for $3 doesn't mean we need them or Best Buys drops the price of big screen tvs doesn't mean we will buy it or just because gas goes back to $2/gal doesn't mean we will keep buying big cars.


Posted by: jamacker | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:57 AM
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Just the "American West"?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:58 AM
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126 If you have a bunch of socks, you can save water/energy by washing them in bigger batches. Assuming smelly/cold feet isn't an option.


Posted by: MH | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:59 AM
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112: It depends on the dishwasher, and if you really load it up every time.

But correspondingly more baths. Which typically use more water.

Iirc, this often isn't actually true at the flow rates common here. Also, people wash less frequently there than here, ime.

Basically everyone who owns a home here has a washer and dryer, and a lot of apartments. Which they use more often too, iirc. And there almost all top loaders, which use about 2x the water iirc.

Hell, many of the (typically older) toilets here are > 5 gal/flush.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:00 AM
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115: The birth rate is # kids/woman, usually looked at over a period of time. No doubt that goes down immediately -- but we're interested in the long view, and the population growth. Access to contraception often pushes back the age of the woman when she has her first kid, but that drops the population growth rate. only if it also means she has fewer children.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:00 AM
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Suggest the formula should be grow stuff smarter not less stuff.


No, my point was (and of course I'm not an expert and may just have this around my neck) that the maximum potentially productivity of the area is vastly higher than the maximum water-efficient productivity is, but the extra production has a lot of economic incentive.

Suggest also consuming smarter will be the big lesson of this quarter century.

Wish I could agree, at least if we're talking on average. I don't think most people will change much until it becomes painful not to. We have enough resources to force most of the pain elsewhere for long enough I think your 25 year window is too short. All current policy points to continuing in that direction.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:04 AM
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Access to contraception often pushes back the age of the woman when she has her first kid, but that drops the population growth rate. only if it also means she has fewer children.

Crap, I am going to have to build a spreadsheet, and I really won't have time today. But this really isn't true -- increasing maternal age at birth while holding number of children steady genuinely slows population growth. Try it with ludicrous extremes (population starting with one woman who has four kids before twenty, each of whom does the same, and so on versus population starting with one woman who (through genetic engineering) has four kids at the age of eighty. After four hundred years, the populations are going to be very different.). And if it makes a difference at ludicrous extremes, it's still going to make a difference, albeit to a smaller extent, in a plausible range.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:05 AM
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LB is obviously right.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:10 AM
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132: LB's trolley-car explanation is allowed as a temporary expedient, on condition that the spreadsheet be built within three (3) calendar days.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:10 AM
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Can't remember who (Matt Ridley?) suggested that "Stop at Two" could be replaced as a population control slogan with "Start at Thirty"...


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:11 AM
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Go look-up the earnings from compounded interest with different compounding periods. It makes LBs point very clearly.


Posted by: MH | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:12 AM
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Right, the question is whether a difference of 5-10 years is enough to pin our hopes that we will be able to have nice lawns. I say, probably not.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:12 AM
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LB, it seems like your model assumes that age of first birth is not correlated with a woman's life expectancy, which I think is demographically untrue. Women who have children later tend, on average, to live longer. (Which may be as tied up with average education and income as with any physical stress from childbirth--I'm not positing causation.) Which works against the effect you're describing in 132.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:13 AM
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But maybe old people use less water.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:17 AM
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the question is whether a difference of 5-10 years

Really, no. If you move average age of first birth later by 5-10 years, you don't move the date at which the population hits a given level by that same 5-10 years. You slow the rate of population growth, which means that the population with the higher age of first birth is going to keep on diverging from a reference population with the lower age of first birth indefinitely.

138: First, without causation (that is, a reason to think that increasing maternal age at first birth will increase lifespan) this doesn't have anything to do with the issue. Even if you have causation, I need to mess with the figures again, but while it's a countervailing effect, it's a much smaller one.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:28 AM
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81: Alex, do you have any links to articles about that? I'm really interested in knowing what buffoon Boris is up to. Does his pro-motorist agenda include getting rid of congestion charging?


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:32 AM
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But seriously, a population in which all women have two children at 20 and 22 is going to grow significantly faster than one where all women have two children at 30 and 32 -- it's not a one-time delay, it's a change in the growth rate. So delay of the same number of wanted children helps some.

The birth rate per generation stays the same, but the length of a generation increases, so the compound annual growth rate of the population due to births is lower. But, you would need at least one of those 30-year generations to see any difference at all, and several of them to make any measurable difference, and over that sort of length of time, I think I can help myself to productivity improvements in per capita usage.

.... (time passes)

Working with a toy spreadsheet model based on a flat age pyramid (and assuming that every woman has her entire family in the same year as 2.4-tuplets) and taking a one-off intervention to change the age of giving birth from 20 to 30, you find that by year 50, the difference in the growth rate is of the order basis points, and the total population is 26% lower (mainly as a result of the initial ten year period with no births at all). Which confirms my intuition that at any viable planning horizon, population is extremely small compared to percapita effects.

By year 115 the difference is still very small in the growth rates (I used year 115 rather than 100 because in my spreadsheet model the missing babies from yrs 50-60 mean that population would shrink in the intervention case), although by then the magic of compound interest takes over and the population is about half the size it would be without the intervention. But over a 100 year horizon I'm certainly entitled to make assumptions about percapita efficiency, given the change that we've seen over the last 100 years.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:41 AM
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140: I get that. Really. (5-10 years in maternal age, not a scalar applied to pop growth, if that wasn't unclear.) I still question whether moving the age of first kid from 20 to 25 (and the overall birthrate down slightly) will have an effect fast enough given the current consumption in California and given that the birth rate in California is already reasonably close to replacement levels.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:41 AM
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Dunno if this was brought up already but WA has an excellent state-sponsored Family Planning program for low-income household (incl students on Fin Aid). Free annual checkup, and free bc method (up to and including steralization) of your choice as long as you sign a form stating you do not intend to start a family for five years.

I haven't seen the stats but I've heard from several sources that the PNW also boasts the lowest birth rate in the country.


Posted by: Cheerylilgoth | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:44 AM
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142: You seem to be talking as if it's either/or: we address our problems with population control, or we do it with per capita efficiency. It seems more likely to me that over the 100-year timescale we have to do both of these to deal with our problems.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:44 AM
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No, just whinging an awful lot, cancelling the extension of it, and buggering about with the bus system to no obvious purpose. Here's a Boriswatch story about the steady drumbeat of burst mains.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:46 AM
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And if it makes a difference at ludicrous extremes, it's still going to make a difference, albeit to a smaller extent, in a plausible range

A great way to confuse yourself in compound return situations btw; an effect that makes a difference at ludicrous extremes and over long time periods doesn't necessarily make a difference that's visible to the naked eye at less extreme values and over reasonable time scales.

There's an "inverse miracle of compound interest" - although it's true that tiny differences in growth rates become huge over time, the converse of this is that huge differences over long periods can be the result of tiny differences in underlying growth rates.

And it matters when you move from the blackboard to the real world, because these tiny differences in growth rates can then get totally swamped by the compounded effect of any noise in the system. Real-world example - those online retirement income calculators show you that starting your saving at age 25 rather than 30 makes this humungous difference to the retirement income. But actually in the real world, for people with similar lifetime earned income, the relationship between the age at which they started their 401(k) plan and their eventual outcome is very weak indeed.

And as my calibrated spreadsheet model above shows, this is the case for the population outcome in time periods of interest - given that the actual growth rate itself is so low, it's going to take a long time for any intervention to have a measurable effect, over which period the system itself isn't stationary.

This week's episode of "Sesame Street" has been sponsored by the Royal Association For The Defence Of Linear Approximations.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:49 AM
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Why did you have to mention 401ks? I'd bury mine in the yard, but that doesn't qualify for the employer match.


Posted by: MH | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:53 AM
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142: You seem to be talking as if it's either/or: we address our problems with population control, or we do it with per capita efficiency. It seems more likely to me that over the 100-year timescale we have to do both of these to deal with our problems.

It seems to me that if we don't address the percapita problem over a horizon much shorter than 100 years, the population problem over a 100 year horizon will take care of itself.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:56 AM
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given that the birth rate in California is already reasonably close to replacement levels

also note that outside toy models, feedback effects can't be ignored; if you reduce the population and demand for housing then land will be cheaper and that will have an effect on net immigration. Population is the result of a complicated system which probably has multiple and unstable equilibria, whereas I am pretty sure that getting rid of lawn sprinklers is more amenable to technocratic management.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:00 AM
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149: But no one was advocating not addressing the per capita problem; that should certainly be done, and it is likely to be easier to do. But it seems to me that 147 is drawing the wrong lesson about noise. While it may be true that we can't predict the population 100 years from now, it remains true that convincing more people to wait longer before having children should lead to a net drop in our resource usage. This isn't like comparing 401ks where one person might start later but get lucky about the particular stocks they're invested in; the world only has one total population, and regardless of whether unforeseeable factors bump it up or down from the trend we expect, lowering birthrate always makes it go down. For problems like global warming, where our incremental CO2 output piles up over time and doesn't leave the atmosphere for times on the order of hundreds of years, it makes perfect sense to think about making small changes now that will compound over time.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:01 AM
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Maybe the trouble is that I'm thinking more on the global side of this; locally/regionally, as 150 points out, things are trickier.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:02 AM
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it remains true that convincing more people to wait longer before having children should lead to a net drop in our resource usage

Not necessarily true; cf 68(2)


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:11 AM
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For problems like global warming, where our incremental CO2 output piles up over time and doesn't leave the atmosphere for times on the order of hundreds of years, it makes perfect sense to think about making small changes now that will compound over time.

The point I was trying to make is that for problems like this, large reductions are needed now (which can't be done through population control). Long term solutions to short term problems are deadly. This is a perfect example of a problem the solution to which is not in anyone's pants.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:13 AM
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Has anyone else pointed out yet that population and consumption are not, in fact, the same issue, and that it's the latter that's the actual problem?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:14 AM
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Maybe the trouble is that I'm thinking more on the global side of this; locally/regionally, as 150 points out, things are trickier.

Things are trickier globally. We are not postulating a coercive one-world government, which means you get some of the same immigration issues. And if we're talking resources, it's not the case that places with the highest birth rates are using the most resources, or that it wouldn't introduce some serious issues to drop the birth rate suddenly (e.g., gender selection, elder care, etc.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:20 AM
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154: I'm not arguing that population control will solve everything without per capita changes in consumption; that's also vital. But Malthus still makes an awfully persuasive argument -- there is some point, down the road, where we will may be up against hard limits in terms of total resource availability and minimum acceptable per capita resource use, and at that point we will want to have been working on population reduction for a century or so. Which means starting now, doesn't it?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:23 AM
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Eliminating all golfers is easy and practical, and we can do it now. It wouldn't solve the whole problem, but there'd be an enormous multiplier effect.

Golfers reading this message will be pardoned if they apply sson enough.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:24 AM
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we will may be up against hard limits should be "we may be up against hard limits." Who knows, cold fusion could hit next week.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:24 AM
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Eliminating Californians would probably save more than eliminating golfers. Plus, I wouldn't have to ready anymore stories about people losing more on a single house than it costs to buy three houses here.


Posted by: MH | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:29 AM
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Still doesn't have a damned thing to do with children being unplanned or unwanted, which is what really rankled. The kid doesn't use fewer resources just because mommy and daddy really wanted it.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:29 AM
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The only point of addressing unplanned/wanted children is that it's a reduction in the rate of population growth you can get without changing anyone's mind or coercing them, but instead by helping them to carry out the reproductive plans they've already made of their own accord. It's not that it's (where 'it' is 'policy changes in provision of birth control and so on intended to reduce the rate of unplanned pregnancy as much as possible')enough to solve any problems on it's own, but that it would have a big enough effect to be of some help, and it doesn't impinge on anyone's freedoms at all.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:33 AM
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The kid doesn't use fewer resources just because mommy and daddy really wanted it.

Problems with the idea that eliminating unwanted births would result in a population reduction equal to the number of unwanted births aside, surely the idea here was not "down with unwanted children" but "if no one had to have a baby she didn't want to have, imagine the difference it would make!"


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:34 AM
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Goddamn. I hate typing 'it's' for 'its', and yet I do it all the goddamn time.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:34 AM
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grey water systems are a great idea. Roll out is difficult.

As long as grey water systems are prohibited in most places by the plumbing code, that won't change. Which is silly, obviously, because grey water accounts for up to 80 percent of household water that ends up in sewers. People could have guilt-free green lawns all summer otherwise.

But maybe old people use less water.

Maybe that's why they're dessicated. Drink more water, old people!


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:37 AM
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163: But, look, unplanned pregnancies are half of all births. That stat, as far as I know, includes people who have kids without 'trying'. So, if I get knocked up; we're not trying, we're using contraception, and my health plan would cover an abortion, but I don't think I'd terminate a pregnancy right now were it to happen. That would make me count as an 'unplanned.' Are we to believe that half of all births result only because the woman didn't have access to abortion/contraception? I suppose that could be true, but I'd really be surprised.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:45 AM
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Agreed, "unplanned" is not a good proxy for "unwanted".


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:46 AM
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165: Eight glasses of water a day? Myth.


Posted by: Temperate Old Person | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:50 AM
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Sure. So it's not as big an effect as the quoted numbers would suggest (technically, Newt counts by that definition as unplanned. We were planning a second child, and were going to stop using contraception in November; I got accidentally knocked up in October. So, kind of 'unplanned', but not really.) But if you could get everyone easy access to the best available birth control and so on, you'd get some effect in terms of delay of births and reduction in the total number of births; the numbers in the post are an upper bound, but there'd still be some effect.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:52 AM
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Cala, the source for my number that 46% of births are unintended was the California Department of Public Health, who said "(these women got pregnant sooner than they wanted, had not wanted to get pregnant then or in the future, or weren't sure what they wanted.

Here's the cite, which I haven't read, although I may go do that:

Stanley K. Henshaw. 1998. "Unintended Pregnancy in the United States." Family Planning Perspectives, 30(1):24-29 & 46.

Perhaps some of them wanted some kids later, but it is fair to say that none of these pregnancies were affirmatively desired. Some of those births no doubt had good happy outcomes, but I suspect they would have had good happy outcomes when their parents had planned to have them two years later.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:54 AM
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According to the pdf, that "unplanned" number includes 35% of in-wedlock pregnancies. So it's a different 'unplanned' than the one we normally worry about (teenagers, unwed, etc.)

It's hard to articulate exactly what my problem is with the reasoning, but it seems to start with the assumption that the problem is that all of these unplanned/unwanted pregnancies lead to extra people. Instead of just, you know, people. Couple that with the assumption that these extra people are making it impossible to sustain an upper middle class lifestyle (or, it might be the case that in 100 years from now we hit the Malthusian limit and then we won't be able to sustain an upper middle class lifestyle/economic growth because those extra people keep breeding) and that lifestyle gets priority over these extra people and this gets really icky for me.

And that's compatible with thinking that contraception and family planning are good things.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:57 AM
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Try to love Newt anyway, or failing that, let him think you love him.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:58 AM
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161 - But the kid does use fewer resources if it is born later. (Carbon emissions is the main example, but if you are trusting technology to deliver efficient devices, then having the kid born further into the period of magic unicorn technology helps.) Yes, the effect is incremental, but so is personal consumption reduction. And, the population effect compounds.

Which brings me to Dsquared's thought. California is planning out to 2050. We have generations between now and then for changes in growth rate to take effect.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:59 AM
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Eliminating all golfers

Correct me if I'm wrong Sandy, but if I kill all the golfers, they're gonna lock me up and throw away the key...


Posted by: Carl Spackler | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:02 AM
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I read your cite. Unplanned still doesn't equal unwanted, (by the bit you quoted.) And the demographic breakdown is important because if the assumption is that these are all teenagers who didn't have access/didn't know vs. families who had a surprise second child, the effectiveness of the social engineering project is going to be somewhat limited.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:03 AM
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Dsquared's other point, that the percentages are small doesn't help if you are the person who has to come up with the water.

Saying that 250,000 people is a tiny percent doesn't mean they don't use water. Relatively small can still be absolutely large.

Obviously there are gains to be had from efficiencies in household water use. But those gains take time and money to collect, and 500,000 people arrive every year. Delaying the unintended ones, and not having the ones that genuinely aren't wanted would help.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:06 AM
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175 - Do you think that is a ridiculous assumption?

And "helping people only have children they affirmatively want" seems like a fairly mild social engineering project.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:08 AM
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(Please don't say it is a slicky slope from "helping people only have children they affirmatively want" to the gas chambers.)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:10 AM
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77: barge traffic

In 2006, Pittsburgh was in the top 20 of all U.S. ports (coastal or inland) measured by tonnage of goods shipped. I assume that Three Rivers barges carry mostly bulk minerals like sand, gravel, coal as opposed to iPods, slankets, and roasted coffee, but my research time is short. Idea! Maybe Pittsburgh could start shipping river water to Cali.


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:11 AM
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Two other things from up top.

Agriculture does not have large pools of wasted water sloshing about, even in California, even with subsidies. I know that is the popular perception, but Cadillac Desert changed that. Additional gains in agricultural efficiency cost money now, and they don't particularly yield wet water. Instead, efficiency gains from drip or sprinkler irrigation often mean that farmers get better crop yields for the same amount of water. Oddly, they do not hold their harvest size constant and turn over the incremental water to the nearest river. Instead they use the same amount of water and grow more crops.

If you are talking about reducing the amount of water dedicated to agriculture, you are talking about reducing the amount of agriculture. This is FINE. Perhaps we should be talking about reducing the amount of agriculture. If the perspective is water, that probably means we won't grow as many field crops to feed to cattle and the cost of your meat will go up.

This is a fine choice, if it is what people want. But there aren't free gains to squeeze out of ag. Think about trade-offs instead.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:17 AM
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"helping people only have children they affirmatively want"

I can proudly say that such a motto paid for my schooling!


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:20 AM
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Since someone asked, San Juan Water District is an odd case. The former directors of SJWD were the subject of a Sac Bee expose, and I think finally went to jail for defrauding the customers. They had extravagant salaries and went on regular junkets. Their behavior was pretty shameless and had gone on for a long time. I bet they were shocked that someone finally looked.

Anyway, I don't think they paid a lot of attention to the business of the water district for a couple decades. I don't know if that is why their water use is so high, but they're outliers in lots of respects.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:20 AM
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175: I think it's wrongheaded to say "California has 500,000 new people per year and we waste a lot of water on agriculture, lawns, and overconsumption. What is wrong with this situation is that 250,000 weren't actively wanted when they were conceived." Treating some people as extra drains on resources seems wrong. I think it's made worse by the fact that the time period in which one hopes this policy would see results is too long to be practically valuable, but the mindset really seems wrong.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:25 AM
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183: If it's true that reducing the population growth of California by 250K/year would be helpful (I don't know for certain that it's true, but it doesn't seem self-evidently insane), and that such a reduction could be achieved without impinging on anyone's freedom of action or decisionmaking by policies relating to increased availability of/publicity for birth control, can you come up with a mindset under which it wouldn't be wrong to go ahead with the relevant policies? They don't seem to injure anyone, and under the given assumptions, they might do some good.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:30 AM
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But Malthus still makes an awfully persuasive argument -- there is some point, down the road, where we will may be up against hard limits in terms of total resource availability and minimum acceptable per capita resource use, and at that point we will want to have been working on population reduction for a century or so. Which means starting now, doesn't it?

18th century David Hume says: no!

It's possible that Malthusians have a point, but you have to admit that over the last two hundred years, you'd have lost your shirt betting on them.

It's not that it's (where 'it' is 'policy changes in provision of birth control and so on intended to reduce the rate of unplanned pregnancy as much as possible')enough to solve any problems on it's own, but that it would have a big enough effect to be of some help

If there is limited political capital to spend, I suspect that the correct place to spend it is not that graveyard of social engineering schemes "someone else's pants".

California is planning out to 2050. We have generations between now and then for changes in growth rate to take effect.

(1-0.00625) ^ 42 = 0.768, ie a 23.2% reduction versus base case. Per capita wins.

that the percentages are small doesn't help if you are the person who has to come up with the water

I refer to the representation theorem above; merely redescribing the numbers doesn't change them.

But those gains take time and money to collect, and 500,000 people arrive every year

which could be compensated for by a 1.3% per capita reduction per year. And, importantly, we know how to ban lawn sprinklers; they are very amenable to public policy due to their handy location outside someone's pants.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:37 AM
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If it's true that reducing the population growth of California by 250K/year would be helpful (I don't know for certain that it's true, but it doesn't seem self-evidently insane), and that such a reduction could be achieved without impinging on anyone's freedom of action or decisionmaking by policies relating to increased availability of/publicity for birth control, can you come up with a mindset under which it wouldn't be wrong to go ahead with the relevant policies?

If I drink enough, I can believe in nearly anything. How many cases of cheap pilsner would you need to accept the overwhelming likelihood that an as yet unspecified scheme with no certainty of achieving the goal of a reduction of less than 1% in water demand, is more or less irrelevant to the question of water demand.

It's really important *not* to spot people massive impracticalities with their schemes, otherwise they crowd out workable proposals.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:40 AM
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Wow, I guess I disagree with most of your take on that.

The time period in which this would become practically valuable is the same time period that we're worried about. We think about here to 2050 all the time. Managing population gets even more valuable after that, but we aren't tasked by the Legislature to think past 2050.

All people are equal drains on resources, but I don't want to ship some of the existing ones off to gas chambers. The only people who are subject to leverage are ones who don't exist yet.

If all the people who don't exist yet are precious to us, then we should value that and there isn't any non-coercive policy to take. But they aren't.

Some of the people who don't exist yet aren't affirmatively desired now and some smaller chunk of them aren't desired ever. (Do you doubt that?) Pushing them into the future helps, and potentially helps a lot, and it aligns people's realities with their desires better.

The waste is not as extreme as you think, and collecting it is not free. Obviously we also do that, but I take it for granted that we also decrease consumption, so I don't say it. That doesn't mean I'm choosing between the options.

Finally, if I were choosing between the options, I value the lifestyles of people who exist more than I value the existence of some future people. There are going to be lots and lots of future people (unless we do get to catastrophic collapse), and any particular subset of them isn't very important to me. (My descendents, I suppose, are more important than all other people, but that sort of blurs at two generations.) I also don't especially value other people's consumption particularly high, but if having a yard is important to our collective Californian identity, then it is more important to me than a chunk of future people. (It is not more important than ALL future people, but I don't have to make that choice.)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:45 AM
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Well, Megan also provided the caveat that if she was wrong by an order of magnitude, that's still almost 1M more people than were actually desired--46% goes to 4.6% and the point still stands.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:46 AM
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What about the Mexican refugees, Megan?

http://www.military.com/news/article/joint-forces-warns-of-mexico-collapse.html


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:52 AM
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which could be compensated for by a 1.3% per capita reduction per year. And, importantly, we know how to ban lawn sprinklers;

Isn't one problem with this that we need to find a new lawn sprinkler to ban every year? First year, we get our reduction by fixing leaky pipes, no problem. Second year, the lawn sprinklers get it. By fifty years out, we've come up with a whole lot of excellent ideas about minimizing water use, and have implemented them --we've got xeriscaped (sp? Too lazy to google it) yards, and perfect plumbing, and lowflow toilets, and no private swimming pools. But we still need another new idea for how to reduce percapita water use the next year.

At some point, that's going to get hard.

It's possible that Malthusians have a point, but you have to admit that over the last two hundred years, you'd have lost your shirt betting on them.

I do admit that. But trying to explain exactly why it is that we're sure we're not going to run into Malthusian limits on resource use in the future is difficult, and relying on that as an assumption when I don't have an argument for it frightens me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:53 AM
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188: What if she's wrong by two or three orders of magnitude? What if (horribile dictu) she doesn't actually have a plan to reduce to zero the number of unwanted births at all? We're not actually looking at choosing between two alternatives "per capita"/"population reduction" here. We're choosing between one credible alternative with a target and a plan and a concrete method of achieving it, and one Walter Mitty, blue-sky wishlist piece of social engineering that nobody has the foggiest idea of how to carry it out, but if it worked perfectly it might have roughly
(1-0.00625 ^ 12 = 0.927) one third of the effect of the existing per capita reduction target (which is itself, we've established, rather modest given that we're talking about 4x European consumption here) in the given time frame.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:56 AM
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one Walter Mitty, blue-sky wishlist piece of social engineering that nobody has the foggiest idea of how to carry it out,

Surely this is an overstatement -- possibly you're just forgetting that we have low-hanging fruit to pick that you don't in the UK. Funding for free GYN clinics with good care and well-publicized subsidized birth control would be an obvious place to start.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:03 PM
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Of course dsquared. She might well be. What an amazing idea that never entered my admittedly tiny little brain! Thanks for the good work.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:04 PM
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Over the last two hundred years, you'd have lost your shirt betting on them.

I agree that environmental alarmism should be brought down to cases and details and that Malthus's formalization can't be just be assumed to apply, but that citation reminds me of Feynman's Russian Roulette fallacy -- "so far, so good".


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:06 PM
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What if she's wrong by two or three orders of magnitude? What if (horribile dictu) she doesn't actually have a plan to reduce to zero the number of unwanted births at all?

Then we've wasted some money on free clinics and an ad campaign. Truly, the skies will fall.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:06 PM
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(1-0.00625) ^ 42 = 0.768, ie a 23.2% reduction versus base case. Per capita wins.

No, it truly doesn't. For two reasons.

First, I think there are threshold effects in per capita reduction. You stop leaks, you switch your appliances and you get all the gains that don't bother anyone (except that they cost money.) This is fine. After that, you start running up against behavior. People LIKE gushing showers. People LIKE yards. People LIKE to eat meat. You can convince them they don't (perhaps with price), but you run up against resistance. You can extract the next chunk out of them, but at some point you are talking about things they value. So I don't think you can posit a linear model on per capita reduction.

But, more to the point, we're talking about a system in the real world. 23% of the amount of water that California uses in 2050 is huge. I don't know what to compare it to. It is the size of our biggest dam. It is more than we get from the Colorado River. It is bigger than our untapped Wild and Scenic Rivers. I don't even know how many desal plants that would require. Probably on the order of hundreds.

This is on top of the fact that we're looking at a ten percent decrease in all precipitation in the state and losing another twenty percent because we're losing snowpack storage.

We don't have anything remotely on that scale to replace it. There isn't another location for a huge dam and we couldn't put any water behind it if there were. There isn't another Colorado River waiting for us to drink. We can't permit, build, power or dispose of the salt for that many desal plants.

You blithely dismiss absolute numbers of people and the amount of water they require, but we're tapped and genuinely cannot think where that water can come from. Conserving will take us part of the way, but it is not an infinite source or a source on the scale of the need.

We can 1. shrink agriculture considerably, including dropping meat from our diet, 2. abandon the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the ESA, or 3. hope for unicorns.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:07 PM
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By fifty years out, we've come up with a whole lot of excellent ideas about minimizing water use, and have implemented them --we've got xeriscaped (sp? Too lazy to google it) yards, and perfect plumbing, and lowflow toilets, and no private swimming pools. But we still need another new idea for how to reduce percapita water use the next year.

Fifty years out, I get to help myself to all sorts of as yet unknown technological improvements (this is how you Malthusians lose bets), and I can't help noticing that there's quite a lot of water just to the left of California on the map.

Failing that, I carry out my population reduction the easy way, by allowing the price of land to rise and thereby letting this marvellous "market mechanism" of mine ship people off to places with more water. Apart from the ones who have decided it's their Californian volksright to have a massive lawn - for them it's the gulag I'm afraid.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:10 PM
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Can't we just eat the unicorns?


Posted by: MH | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:12 PM
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I get to help myself to all sorts of as yet unknown technological improvements

This is true. The way most people screw this up, is that for the most part you don't get to choose what they will be.

Assuming that technologies will improve is sensible, but assuming that "Technology will fix problem X" is a mugs game.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:13 PM
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unknown technological improvements (this is how you Malthusians lose bets),

It's how we've lost all the bets in the past, but see Emerson's 194. If you're confident that 50 years out we'll have a technological solution to water shortages... I'm impressed with your sangfroid, but don't share it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:13 PM
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*often a mugs game. Some things are reasonable bets, given current state of affairs.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:14 PM
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DON'T EAT THEM!!! Pure cold water gushes from their horns!!!


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:14 PM
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Author is clearly confused on a number of points

Such as? I'm not saying that he's infallible, but I've found him to have a pretty good track record of thinking about things clearly, and he has a readership which is highly informed and likely to call him on bullshit.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:15 PM
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Then we've wasted some money on free clinics and an ad campaign. Truly, the skies will fall.

No, free clinics and birth control aren't intrinsically a waste of money. But by allowing people to pretend that a policy they wanted for other reasons is part of a water-use strategy, you've made a small but material contribution to the general tendency toward lies in public policy. And invited the other lot to start tacking all of their favourite rinkydink schemes onto the bandwagon, and they tend to be better at this sort of thing than you are. Honesty about ultimate ends - it's not just for Republicans.

But, more to the point, we're talking about a system in the real world.

Hang on, when did we start talking about a system in the real world. Five minutes ago you were magicking your way into other peoples' pants.

. 23% of the amount of water that California uses in 2050 is huge. I don't know what to compare it to. It is the size of our biggest dam. It is more than we get from the Colorado River. It is bigger than our untapped Wild and Scenic Rivers.

It's also roughly equal to the existing goal for reduction by 2020 (per your post number 30); once more, I remind you of the invariance under redescription theorem. Also you appear to have made an accidental slip from "per capita domestic usage" to "the amount of water California uses"; unless you have a plan for stopping the birth of unplanned factories and preventing farms coming into being unless affirmatively wanted, this is a mistake.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:16 PM
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203: did you see 82, which that was in response to?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:17 PM
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I'm impressed with your sangfroid, but don't share it.

For what it is worth, I've yet to meet someone who works in the field who shares it.

(I am also not convinced that technological improvements are the sole reason the malthusians have lost. I think we've also spent a hundred years mining that low-entropy stocks of the world and filling our sinks. Living off patrimony is not the same as 'technology makes yields infinite'.)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:18 PM
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Dsquared, there was new agricultural land being opened up almost to the middle of this century. Except in a few unstable areas there's no more. Some of the world's fisheries have already been destroyed. Quite a bit of the world is butting up against water shortage. There are also specific problems with global warming and energy sources that tie in with these problems.

I don't think that the economist's method ("First, assume a technical revolution.....") is the way to go. But it's pretty well institutionalized in economics.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:19 PM
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Meaning, I'd have to read more than the blurb quoted in 39 to have any opinion on his thinking clearly or otherwise. Perhaps he was just shooting for pithy, but "(such as coal liquification)" is silly, as is the convergence of 3rd world economies on 1st world, which contains it's own contradiction.

But to be fair, both of those could have just been worded very poorly.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:22 PM
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erm 208 continuation of 205.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:22 PM
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policy they wanted for other reasons is part of a water-use strategy

Some people want a no-unintended births policy because they think it diverts the life of the mother. Some people seem to think it has public health implications. Other people want it because they're racist fucks. I want it through the only lens I ever see anything, which is California water. In my effort to broaden myself, I'm also trying to understand how it could matter to climate change. It might actually be a policy that has several reasons to recommend it, only some of which are lies.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:24 PM
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205: Yes. There's context to the coal liquefaction comment that wasn't included in my blockquote. Dismissing him on the basis of that parenthetical seems premature to me. (He's got a good track record WRT climate change and other environmental issues.)


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:25 PM
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Honesty about ultimate ends - it's not just for Republicans.

Dude, you just turned a policy sincerely proposed on the grounds that it might have a given beneficial effect into a policy dishonestly sold on the basis that it will have that beneficial effect, despite certain knowledge that it won't. This does not appear to me to be legitimate argument.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:26 PM
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It's possible that Malthusians have a point, but you have to admit that over the last two hundred years, you'd have lost your shirt betting on them.

And in the late 90s you'd have lost your shirt betting against tech stocks, and until 2007 you'd have lost your shirt betting against a housing bubble. What's your fucking point? The salient feature of Malthusianism isn't that catastrophy has been avoided for these past 200 years, it's that after 200 years the basic logic remains irrefutable. We know exactly what has happened over these last 200 years to delay our day of reckoning; we don't know of any reason to expect something similar over the next 50. Simply assuming that history must repeat itself is idiocy--past performance is no guarantee of future results. (In fact, dsqaured, why are you pushing for per capita reductions at all? Why not just bank on the fact that all the new technology we're going to get over the next 50 years will keep us sailing forward at ever-accelerating levels of consumption?) Unless there is some reason to believe the Malthisian critique is fundamentally flawed, it might be a good idea if we start planning for the carousel to stop.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:28 PM
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Dsquared is wanted on the breastfeeding thread.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:28 PM
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213: (Whistles, stamps feet approvingly)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:30 PM
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211: Ok, we're agreed but note 208 -- that wasn't the only silly thing in the blockquote.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:31 PM
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Catastrophe, dammit.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:31 PM
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Some people want a no-unintended births policy because they think it diverts the life of the mother. Some people seem to think it has public health implications. Other people want it because they're racist fucks. I want it through the only lens I ever see anything, which is California water.

truly, a coalition of all the Mitties.

The technology to deal with water shortages exists. It's called "removal of subsidies". And in the absence of the use of this technology, even the magic "No unintended births" policy won't work, because (cf68(3)), you're not actually allowed to make the ceteris paribus assumption about immigration. If water remains cheap and plentiful, then net immigration will quickly rise to offset any birthrate reduction. These things tend to find their own level if moved out of equilibrium rather like ... like that wet stuff, can't recall the name of it ...


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:31 PM
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Five minutes ago you were magicking your way into other peoples' pants.

I'm not convinced yet that policies to avert unintended births are magick. I suppose it is possible. I suppose I could call someone from the California Department of Public Health and we could chat over lunch.

And she would tell me, "fuck, I just don't know what we are going to do. All of our approaches, opening free clinics, giving away contraception and abortions, making sure every woman has a free college education, crafting ad campaigns, training nurse practitioners from the same community, all that shit. It is all pointless and none of it works. THANK GOD you guys have water for all the new people. Thank god your per capita reductions can carry us indefinitely."

I would look at her with fear in my eyes, because that's not what we know from the water side of things, and horror would dawn on both our faces.

It is possible that that could happen. But I'm inclined to think that public health campaigns can influence people and we know there are large gains to be made. On the water side, we also have large gains, but they aren't enough. So I'm looking for other sources, even if they are in my own and other people's pants.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:32 PM
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Dude, you just turned a policy sincerely proposed on the grounds that it might have a given beneficial effect

I refer you to the works of Friedman, T, moustachioed polymath who sincerely proposed that an invasion of Iraq would lead to a "bubble of democracy" throughout the Middle East. There comes a level at which self-delusion shades into culpability and wishful thinking into gross negligence.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:33 PM
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It's called "removal of subsidies".

This part is a very, very good idea.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:35 PM
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How habitable would the east coast remain if the entire population of California moved there?

The entire population would be a tight squeeze, but 10% of Californians could, right now, move into the 10 eastern cities that have lost the most population in the last 60 years - and that's not looking at metro areas at all (like the dozens - hundreds? - of factory towns that have gone from 50k in 1950 to 20k now), just city limits.

It is no exaggeration at all to say that you could take 20% of current Californians, move them (back) east, and keep things quite sustainable*. But there's no mechanism to do it.

* In terms of water, anyway. I'm not going to think about energy usage here


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:35 PM
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200: Right. See, killing people on the basis of "What the hell, who knows, it might help and I haven't got any better ideas"? Problem, whether or not sincere (and if you think the Iraq War was sincerely supported on Friedman's grounds by the people actually affecting policy, I'm bemused). Free clinics and ad campaigns on a basis that shaky? A significantly smaller problem, verging on not being a problem at all.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:38 PM
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213: I'm sorry, are you seriously comparing events that took place over maybe a 5-year span to events that have taken place over a 200-year one?

BTW, you're wrong about the basic logic being irrefutable. Google "demographic transition".


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:40 PM
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I am glad most liberals don't think the way Megan does because I would have to become a libertarian and I hate libertarians. Don't be a busybody. Feminism and urbanization have reduced the worlds growth rate. Hurray for feminism and urbanization. Why do we need to mettle around with people's babymaking to maintain cheap beef.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:43 PM
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Sorry to be dragging this thread backwards, but I just saw the graph linked by Megan in 46. WTF is wrong with you people? I mean, those figures don't even include the ag! Do Californians just leave their showers running 24/7 so that, if they feel like taking one, they don't have to wait for the water to get from the tub filler to the showerhead? What the fuckety-fuck?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:43 PM
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Removal of subsidies is not quite so simple. The subsidies have been there for a long time and people have arranged their lives around their existence. Getting rid of them will cost considerable disruption of people's lives, like, for example, giving up meat. Or stopping farming. Or giving up their yards (and what to do about the fact that our houses all have a twenty foot space around them?).

Now, I don't care. I am not arguing in favor of any particular subsidy. (I mean, I could, because I have preferences, but that is a different post.) But in the real world, you talking about considerably rearranging people's lives (and I do not think that up and moving to other places, people being their own arbitrage, is quite so smooth and easy for them). Now you are pitting one type of intrusion and disruption of people's lives against another type of intrusion and disruption of people's lives. There is no "hands off" option.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:44 PM
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but 10% of Californians could, right now, move into the 10 eastern cities that have lost the most population in the last 60 years

Or for that matter, MidWestern cities; there's a lot of spare room in Michigan, and there's a great big lake next to it.

Unless there is some reason to believe the Malthisian critique is fundamentally flawed, it might be a good idea if we start planning for the carousel to stop.

If you're this passionate about it, why are you all so keen to avoid things like the PRC one-child policy? Why the resistance to strict immigration controls? If the situation's is as you describe it, but your response to it is "demographic emergency threatening our very survival! Quick! We must put up some posters advertising the benefits of contraception! Perhaps hand out condoms at the Fourth of July parade!", then the description "desperate, but not serious" very much comes to mind.

Apologies to any genuine totalitarians who might have been offended by the above.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:47 PM
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Keeping in mind that for the purposes of my post, "meddle around with people's babymaking" means, "give them the ability to align their reproduction with their expressed desires".


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:47 PM
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Removal of subsidies is not quite so simple. The subsidies have been there for a long time and people have arranged their lives around their existence.

Yeah, I pointed this out earlier. However, having a serious plan for getting rid of them over time would be unambiguously good. It's a matter of trading off the short term damage and the long term damage.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:47 PM
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If you're this passionate about it, why are you all so keen to avoid things like the PRC one-child policy? Why the resistance to strict immigration controls? If the situation's is as you describe it, but your response to it is "demographic emergency threatening our very survival! Quick! We must put up some posters advertising the benefits of contraception! Perhaps hand out condoms at the Fourth of July parade!", then the description "desperate, but not serious" very much comes to mind.

As does the term 'excluded middle', for your argument. You can't conceive of a situation where non-coercive efforts at population reduction might be genuinely useful, but full scale totalitarianism wouldn't be absolutely necessary?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:50 PM
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Jesus, Dsquared, because we also value reproductive autonomy. Because, you see, we hold competing values and are looking for ways to balance them. EVEN THOUGH I perceive a resource problem, I ALSO have doubts about totalitarian restrictions on family size. See, I think both things. This means I look for in between solutions, and non-coersion seems like a good place and behold, there are also big numbers of live births whose mothers say they did not want them then.

There are few win-win solutions, but this looks like one of them.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:52 PM
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Now you are pitting one type of intrusion and disruption of people's lives against another type of intrusion and disruption of people's lives

How are you planning on preserving that constant-immigration assumption?


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:54 PM
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I'm not being flip; I'm genuinely asking. How did the constant-immigration assumption go again?

My initial thought is that people do not move quite so freely as money; they kinda like their homelands and moving is a hassle. There are barriers to populations leveling out by resource availability. But tell me again what the dilemma is, please.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 12:59 PM
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Bear with me. I was at the gym and gleefully thought this up.

Clearly, California has too many people. And 46% of births aren't desired! But.. that means that 44% are.

Let's consider that 44%. These are people who have been successful at managing their fertility. They only had the kids they wanted! These are also people whose children are greater wasters of water: single-family homes, swimming pools, luxurious showers, multiple bathrooms, green lawns, top-loading washers. Much more than the typical teenaged mom who lives with her mom & grandma in the city in an apartment complex with no lawn and does her wash at the laudromat. And, again, these are the people who are managing their fertility! To put it another way, it seems that our best efforts (California isn't Texas) at reducing unwanted pregnancies mean that half of the time, people have kids. We should target our efforts at reducing want.

Now, I'm not suggesting anything coercive! No way! This ain't no Communist China! But here are thing we can do to make it such that the responsible people already capable of managing their fertility do not desire to have children.

1) Pregnancy is no longer required to be covered by any health plans. Birth control will be cheap and plentiful, as will gynecological check-ups and abortions. You're on your own for the objines.
2) No family leave or maternity time. The choice to have a child should mean the sacrifice of someone's career. That will reduce the desire for children. Same with the tax credit. Nothing will kill the desire faster for UMC water-wasters than being poor.
3) Sex ed in high schools will stress the utter irresponsibility of having children. Students will learn that unprotected sex even within marriage means contributing to a dying world. We'll have some pamphlets with suffragette-style songs about how the Trifecta of the pill, condom, and diaphragm ensure sex is safe and fun. ("No pill, no hat, no diaphragm/ Wham-bam! No thank you ma'am!") In a few years, we will work to get this into television and movies. Children will be shown only as a burden. Mothers and fathers will be depicted as fat, sexually unattractive, and dull. News of a pregnancy will be depicted as would a diagnosis of cancer or terrorist attack.
4) Infertility treatments and artificial insemination are outlawed. No one has the right to a child.
5) To combat the social imbalance of having only unwanted children being conceived, we will make adoption easy (on the assumption the birth mother has a good reason for not pursuing an abortion.)

We do this because it's just too hard to convince suburbanites to give up watering their lawns.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:00 PM
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Oh, forgot one:
6) Free schooling through the doctorate. For those who are childfree. This has the double-effect of raising the age of first kiddedness, and, with PhDs taking many years, ensuring some people just won't get around to having kids at all.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:03 PM
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I haven't been following the thread very carefully, so again, what's wrong with hiking up the water rates?


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:03 PM
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You can't conceive of a situation where non-coercive efforts at population reduction might be genuinely useful, but full scale totalitarianism wouldn't be absolutely necessary?

enough cheap lager and I can certainly conceive of things being balanced on such a knife-edge, but you lot appear to have assumed it as the default case.

There are few win-win solutions, but this looks like one of them.

It's a win-bollocks solution (ie, a bad argument for a policy independetly justifiable). For one thing, it's completely magical social engineering - if I said "no problem you can just dig longer irrigation ditches" you would presumably jump down my throat, but you have no problem assuming a social policy solution more or less equally unrealistic. Secondly, it relies on the unchanged immigration assumption, which can't be sustained without policy decidedly less liberal than you want to pretend. Finally, it's all in service of the assumed right of some of the richest people in the world to use four times as much water as some of the second-richest people in the world.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:04 PM
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235: Gosh, though, all those policies would, colloquially, suck. They'd hurt people, and make their lives more difficult. I wonder if there's anything else we could do that would have some of the effects we're looking for and suck less?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:04 PM
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That's Step 2, Cala. I wasn't going to suggest those things until I saw whether having public health campaigns that support people's independently derived choices worked. If they don't we can move on to public health campaigns that oppose people's independently derived choices.

(Also, you're attibuting a false choice to me. I'm in favor of conservation (although it isn't enough and isn't a free gain) and fewer people.)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:08 PM
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I have cold fusion in my pants, which solves all of your problems, and neatly refutes dsquared at the same time. Now that's a win-win.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:09 PM
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But tell me again what the dilemma is, please.

the dilemma is that over the next 50 years, you are maintaining the same distorted price signals, with assumed unchanged technical conditions of production, but removing (via the native population no-unintended births magic spell) demand for water equal to 23% of the total.

The natural assumption would be that the market would restore its equilibrium through net immigration rising by exactly the same 250k people/year (with a few complications on converting headcount of adult immigrants into headcount of babies, which don't matter for purposes of water consumption).

You're, on the other hand, assuming that if you prevent 250k births, you reduce the population by 250k. That's not a neutral assumption - it implicitly means that you're assuming some means of preventing net immigration from responding to the price signal given by the cost of living in California. Supply and demand don't balance in your model, and you don't have a mechanism for keeping them out of equilibrium.

A mechanism could certainly be supplied to make the model balance (involving fences, dogs, men with guns), but you've explicitly ruled that out. Hence, problem.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:10 PM
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I haven't been following the thread very carefully, so again, what's wrong with hiking up the water rates?

Nothing per se., but the subsidies have been in place for so long they've completely shaped the agricultural economy. So if you hike them up quickly you'll get dramatic effects.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:10 PM
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237 is my preferred solution. Simply making people actually pay the full price for their water use would be fine with me. The political problem is serious, but hardly insurmountable.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:12 PM
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239: I'm just putting the resources where there's been documented success. 44% of people are managing to refrain from having children until it's financially feasible to do so. Reward the winners! I'm just tweaking the incentives. After all, nothing kills the desire for kids faster than realizing you'd owe tens of thousands to the hospital just for birthing the damn thing because you can't get insurance.

I'm not going to defend this, because trolling you is only a little bit of fun. But note that my policy has all the things that you want for contraception and abortion policies, but none of the things that make it easier for well-off people to have kids.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:14 PM
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Call me crazy, but hasn't water always been a major determining factor in California's immigration rates, such that any change in water availability (in either direction) effectuated by changing birth rates would be swamped by immigration in (relatively speaking) no time?


Posted by: neil | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:15 PM
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the dilemma is that over the next 50 years, you are maintaining the same distorted price signals,

I think this, at least, is a misunderstanding of Megan's position. I believe she's all over adjusting price signals to discourage waste, she just lacks faith that savings achieved in that fashion will be sufficient.

The natural assumption would be that the market would restore its equilibrium through net immigration rising by exactly the same 250k people/year (with a few complications on converting headcount of adult immigrants into headcount of babies, which don't matter for purposes of water consumption).

Admittedly, I don't get this bit either -- I can't see controlling birthrates in California as having any effect on anything without similar policies at least nationwide and really worldwide.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:16 PM
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Call me crazypwned by dsquared


Posted by: neil | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:16 PM
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But note that my policy has all the things that you want for contraception and abortion policies, but none of the things that make it easier for well-off people to have kids.

Really, no. The big advantage of the initially proposed policy is its harmlessness and non-coercive nature, given that it's aimed at helping people act in accordance with their own stated reproductive goals. Saying "Hey, look, it's just like shaming and impoverishing people who dare to procreate" doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

As trolling, I suppose it's perfectly good trolling.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:18 PM
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off to lunch, back in a bit, and I'll try to respond to stuff in good faith.

Jroth, I KNOW how bad my region is. I meant it when I said we are shameful. There are reasons, incompetence and a false sense of entitlement mostly, but they aren't good.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:19 PM
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It certainly is worth quickly familiarizing yourself with "demographic transition" per Josh's suggestion in 224. However, to me it speaks more to Megan's, LB's and Brock's position than to the "don't mess with other people's pants" side. Precisely because people are already "messing with their own pants" in their child-bearing behavior. It is merely providing reinforcement and support for trends that are already occurring in the relevant population, accelerated "demographic transition" as it were. Also see this graph of worldwide population growth %s over the long term. (It is the one from my #64, it looks like I messed up the link there.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:20 PM
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Plenty of politicians get on TV screaming about unwed mothers who are welfare queens who eat up precious community resources. This just shifts the target. They can scream about people who have kids at more than replacement rate, and their lawns.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:21 PM
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Megan: Out of curiosity, do you have a good idea why it is that nobody seems to be serious about removing water subsidies even over a long transition period? Other than lobbying by embedded interests, I mean?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:22 PM
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As trolling, I suppose it's perfectly good trolling.

Yeah, but there is a kernel of truth there. Any serious attempt to reduce population growth without mandating it a la China would probably involve restructuring of tax, health care, schools etc. to change incentives. They probably wouldn't look quite like Cala's proposed, but not outlandishly different.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:24 PM
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I refer to the representation theorem above; merely redescribing the numbers doesn't change them.

M: I have 100 pairs of pants, and 100 people; if anyone else shows up, I don't have enough pants.

D^2: Nonsense. One more person is only 1% more, a tiny amount.

M: But that's one more pair of pants that I don't have.

D^2: Calling it "another pair of pants" doesn't change the fact that 1% is a small amount. Stop being such a cuntcomplaining.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:26 PM
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Instead of praising the self-sacrificing Mother we could praise the self-sacrificing Career Woman, who selflessly squelched the desire for a child and thus, was there in the lab when it came time to cure cancer. She is our Legend.

Okay, I'll stop. Wayyyyy too much fun with this.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:27 PM
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in 253 I should have included a caveat that perhaps I just don't have a clue what I'm talking about, and cali has an ongoing high level discussion about.


while we're at it, can we consider this a blanket caveat that I probably just don't have a clue what I'm talking about, and apply it to all my comments?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:30 PM
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Whiskey's for drinking, water's for for fighting about


Posted by: Mark Twain | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:33 PM
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255: How about

DD: Do you really need to wear 100 pairs of pants, all at the same time? Most people get by with a lot less, and with the global cotton shortage it seems rather wasteful.

JR: screw you! we californians love our lawns!


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:33 PM
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and what to do about the fact that our houses all have a twenty foot space around them?).

Mediterranean-style gardens! Davis had a lovely demonstration low-water garden.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:44 PM
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DD, I don't even own a sprinkler.*

* Literal truth. But then, I live in Pittsburgh.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:44 PM
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Haha. There were people who watered their lawns in my hometown, but it was really rather silly. (Two weeks a year of watering, really.) Our lawn was green most of the time; it just was green hardy crabgrass and clover instead of froofy delicate grass.

Surely there's got to be some ground cover in California that doesn't need much water and is soft.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:46 PM
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Actually, that reminds me of something that AB taught me about Europeans: they don't wear/own nearly as many clothes as we do. As a general rule, it's not a big deal at all to wear the same thing a day or two in a row, and certainly not to wear the same thing twice in a week. It's really a different (and, obviously, better) mindset from the American one.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:47 PM
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HIGH MAINTENANCE LAWNS ARE FOR WANKERS. GROW CACTII IN CALIFORNIA.


Posted by: OPINIONATED GRANDMA | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:47 PM
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247: Admittedly, I don't get this bit either -- I can't see controlling birthrates in California as having any effect on anything without similar policies at least nationwide and really worldwide.

Agree that this really does not work in isolation.

235: We do this because it's just too hard to convince suburbanites to give up watering their lawns.

Yes because dang, there just isn't any other benefit to controlling population growth, if this water argument in California doesn't make it, what possibly could?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:50 PM
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I wouldn't need to water my lawn so much if those darn kids would just keep off.


Posted by: MH | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:53 PM
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265.2, that still doesn't make the water argument a good one.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 1:58 PM
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Well, then, I think that we should let everyone who wants to commit suicide do it. I mean, we're just helping them carry out their own choices, and suicidal people use up all kinds of resources. Psych wards should have easily accessible lethal weapons.

Oh, so much of this discussion has made me want to vomit.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:04 PM
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Out of curiosity, do you have a good idea why it is that nobody seems to be serious about removing water subsidies even over a long transition period? Other than lobbying by embedded interests, I mean?

Some responses, off the top of my head:

Occasional voices do talk about them, and agriculture gets extremely defensive very quickly.

The main subsidy is our water rights structure, which would require a constitutional amendment. We seem to do those at the drop of a hat, but this might be too big a change to do by proposition. People haven't rallied to my call for a Constitutional Convention like I hoped.

The subsidies that laypeople think about because they read Cadillac Desert are federal subsidies. The state water project isn't subsidized; the state contractors pay full price for water and will have paid back the full price for building the project shortly (like within a year or two or something like that).

The Bush administration paid very little attention to water policy, from what I can tell, which sorta means that they didn't do huge additional damage, but they also didn't have removing subsidies to farmers on their list.

Food prices will go up if water subsidies are removed, and that's a hard sell to the public.

The main subsidies are in the form of environmental externalities. Our tools for internalizing those are pretty clumsy. You have to see salmon populations entirely collapse for that. Fortunately, that's where we are, so those tools are coming into play.

I'll add more if I think of them.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:10 PM
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it's not a big deal at all to wear the same thing a day or two in a row
I frequently have two pairs of trousers (say, khaki and black) and alternate them on different days to get a similar level of usage but without the appearance of wearing the same thing two days in a row. I always feel a bit guilty about it, like I'm cheating somehow.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:12 PM
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I always feel a bit guilty about it, like I'm cheating somehow.

Nah, it's sensible.

NB though: I did have a colleague who talked about how he'd always do this same thing. Someone pointed out that since he was teaching M/W/F only, as far as his students were concerned, he always wore the same thing.....


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:14 PM
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267: that still doesn't make the water argument a good one.

I agree with you for the water argument in isolation. The more general population/resources issue, not so sure. It certainly is a thorny and emotional issue (268 on preview for instance, plus a good chunk of the "bad reasons for not having kids" thread from a few days ago).

Are "Malthusians" prematurely going short on the population bubble? Can we continue building out our ecological niche fast enough*? Finding out will be half the fun.

*And do We** want to?

**The question-begging "We" should always be capitalized.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:18 PM
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Oh, so much of this discussion has made me want to vomit.

BG, I'm really sorry if the discussion has been stressful for you to read. But if you think people are making proposals that are morally wrong, I wish you'd say who and why. I hate to think you're thinking ill of me, and if I've said anything that's actually so unspeakably wrongful that it makes you nauseated, it'd be good to know what you thought it was so that I could see if I needed to check myself.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:22 PM
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Not you so much, LB.

I don't want to name names, because I'm sure that I'll say nasty personal things that I'll regret later. I probably shouldn't have said anything in the first place.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:26 PM
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And actually, I need to run right now.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:27 PM
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ToS cries enough for any 10 mens water use. Knocking that off might do Megan concerns some good.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:30 PM
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However, to me it speaks more to Megan's, LB's and Brock's position

In context this was perfectly correct, but to be clear we share a position on a fairly narrow point, and not on the main thrust of the thread (about which I've deliberately not been commenting).


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:31 PM
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The natural assumption would be that the market would restore its equilibrium through net immigration rising by exactly the same 250k people/year (with a few complications on converting headcount of adult immigrants into headcount of babies, which don't matter for purposes of water consumption).

You're, on the other hand, assuming that if you prevent 250k births, you reduce the population by 250k.

That's not a neutral assumption - it implicitly means that you're assuming some means of preventing net immigration from responding to the price signal given by the cost of living in California. Supply and demand don't balance in your model, and you don't have a mechanism for keeping them out of equilibrium.

Here's my response to that, with some throat clearing up front.

I don't like versions with immigration restrictions, because I like their handsome sons. So I don't favor walls and dogs.

I think there are barriers to arbitrage, like I talked about before, so I don't think the replacement from immigration will be one for one. Since I think we aren't far from some nasty limits, I value small increments too.

Even if the replacement were one for one, we would be in a happier position. Parents would have had the children they wanted at the time they wanted and 250K immigrants would presumably have moved to a better position. Sucks for my water goals, but the effort isn't pointless.

But mostly, the reason I don't like to venture into immigration and world population is exactly Dsquared's point, that it is mucking about in other people's pants. When we are talking about poor people elsewhere, I'll go as far at the standard "educate women" and then feel squeamish. So I do not propose solutions for Mexico or other places.

Instead, I propose solutions for my own community, my own damn pants, even if they are collective goals because this is my collective. People with broader goals could say that we are getting our own house in order so we have the moral authority to meddle in other people's business. But I think first steps and getting our own business straight is plenty to occupy the rest of my career, so I'll leave it to others to do that.

Finally, it is pretty clear that lots of people copy what California does. Our environmental laws and policies are pretty much copied verbatim in other states and countries. It is very plausible (as in, often happens) to think that simply by doing this here, for ourselves, other people will do it too. Fuck, if, you know, a campaign to help people have only their desired children fails here, that is also useful for other states and countries to follow.

Short of totalitarian control over the world, there are still incremental gains and leading by example, and those are better than we have now.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:32 PM
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that is also useful for other states and countries to follow know, so they don't do anything as foolish as helping parents choose their reproduction.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:40 PM
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California isn't an independent republic. Americans are allowed to move there freely. You'd have quite a lot of internal movement, too, because I hear California a nice place that does not get assloads of snow like some places.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:40 PM
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And I hope folks can see why I think that this is the wedge issue (the overall population/resources one) that in conjunction with a few related economic issues has a good chance of splitting the developing center-liberal demographic coalition in the US in the coming decades (unless overtaken by other less predictable events).

Demographic Transition = MurderRepression!

And I fear that I am half-convinced that our children and/or grandchildren will some day kill each other based on where they stand on this issue.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:41 PM
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"I think there are barriers to arbitrage, like I talked about before, so I don't think the replacement from immigration will be one for one. Since I think we aren't far from some nasty limits, I value small increments too.

Even if the replacement were one for one, we would be in a happier position. Parents would have had the children they wanted at the time they wanted and 250K immigrants would presumably have moved to a better position. Sucks for my water goals, but the effort isn't pointless."


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:41 PM
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280: Nobody wants to go there anymore, it's too crowded.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:43 PM
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Because the anti-humanist undertones of her proposal creep me out and piss me off (and yes, they're there -- thank you Cala), I'm going to go into ad hominem mode and super-unchairitably note that in re cutting off water subsidies, Megan's position likely arises as a result of working for an agency that has, at least in part, a mandate to maintain cheap and flowing water for agricultural use in the state and a long history of capture by California's farm industry. Yes pricing agricultural water at market rates would suck for some individual farmers, but far less than the kinds of policy shifts around natality that Cala has already identified. Most of us aren't committed as a matter of professional affiliation to helping maintain the lifestyle of some of the historically most prosperous agriculturalists in the world. No, the tradeoffs of focusing first on appropriate pricing of water are not as great as M is suggesting.

To take the lack of charity to the extreme, the desire to foist water policy onto an unspecified and unexplained plan to reduce "unwanted" (or really unplanned) births is prototypical bad bureaucratic behavior -- our agency can't do anything (gee, look at all the constraints, and how much we'd piss off our biggest constituents!) so let's foist a totally unrealistic plan on the agency next door and then blame them for not figuring out how to get things done.

I'm with whoever above said that they're glad that this kind of liberalism isn't more rampant, becuase it forces one to think like a libertarian.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:44 PM
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Hey, Cala, let's do it this way.

If we cinch water use way fucking down (prices are super high, everyone has a front loader, lawns are a thing of the past and every house has a greywater system) and there still were not enough water to have more people come and rivers, what would you propose?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:46 PM
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If we cinch water use way fucking down (prices are super high, everyone has a front loader, lawns are a thing of the past and every house has a greywater system)

This sounds like a good start though. So long as agricultural use (state & federal, thanks for pointing out the difference) is priced at market or heading there too. There really is no good reason not to do this over the next 10, 15 years or whatever suitable time frame.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:51 PM
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Great. We're on that path. We're farther along that path than the public perception. This gets us one or two more decades, for which everyone who works here now is profoundly grateful.

BUT, for my scenario, we've walked that path and there is no more slack, and half a million more people show up every year. What should we do?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:53 PM
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Priced at market is a kind of complicated concept here, isn't it? That is, I really don't know beyond it being complicated, but I don't think every gallon of water in a California river has an owner who can freely sell it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:54 PM
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If we cinch water use way fucking down (prices are super high, everyone has a front loader, lawns are a thing of the past and every house has a greywater system) and there still were not enough water to have more people come and rivers, what would you propose?

I would presume, at that point, that people would move away.

Which does add something else to d2's point about immigration. If you like a policy because it will both improve people's lives and also reduce population, the improvement in people's lives will encourage (at the margin) people to move there. There will presumably, be some people that would move there because they like the idea of living in a community that values reproductive health and family planning. I don't think it would be many, but that's a point worth considering.

It's easier to imagine policies that improve people's ability to live with a smaller footprint that don't increase consumption than it is to imagine policies within an affluent society that improve people's lives that don't create (some) upwards pressures on population.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:54 PM
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285: Tax the tech firms so they move to Pittsburgh. Can get you -250,000 people really quick. (More seriously, if prices for water are higher and green lawns are a thing of the past, demand for moving to Cali will drop. And we should have contraception and all that anyway! We just shouldn't think that it's the place to start for the water crisis.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:55 PM
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Megan, at some point if we've done everything we can and there's still not enough water, we're going to have to start killing one another. (At the very least passively, through terminal dehydration.) Hopefully we never get there. But asking for proposals for what to do if we've done all we can, and failed, is a bit senseless.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:56 PM
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Halford, that's a plausible diagnosis of my mindset. I can't really refute it, except by self-awareness and assertion, and those are only mildly persuasive.

But, I will say this on my behalf. To the extent that I have anti-humanist tendencies, they aren't racist.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:57 PM
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Priced at market is a kind of complicated concept here, isn't it?

This is fair enough. How about this as an alternate: water-hungry and/or wasteful commercial ventures are not made profitable via subsidy.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:58 PM
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291: Brock, she's asking whether it's okay to talk about birth rates after we've done all we can about water use. If your answer is "No, we should die of thirst before attempting to influence birth rates," okay, but I think you missed the question she was asking.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 2:59 PM
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288: no, but it could be sold to everyone (consumers, farmers, industry) at the same price/gallon.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:00 PM
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I have no doubt you're not; your policy, though, implicitly accepts that the problem with the water shortage is due to all the (minority) teenagers having babies unplanned, not the (probably white and wealthy and more consumptiony) couples who planned for them.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:00 PM
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Tax the tech firms so they move to Pittsburgh. Can get you -250,000 people really quick.

No joke. The state lost a fair amount of population after the dotcom bubble went, and apparently we're already down ~140K people from 2007 because of the financial crisis.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:02 PM
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296: But doesn't your argument have racial implications itself in blithely assuming that people who have unplanned children are more likely to be minority? Or have you got a source for that assumption>


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:02 PM
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We aren't at the start of the water crisis. We are fairly well along in the water crisis and the models are making very unpleasant predictions.

Do you guys genuinely think that mass dislocation or letting the situation deteriorate into conflict is a better solution than aligning parents' reproduction with their stated desires?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:02 PM
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The state lost a fair amount of population after the dotcom bubble went, and apparently we're already down ~140K people from 2007 because of the financial crisis.

I live in a part of the country (the PNW) that has, at various times, had a significant immigration of people from California moving hear to benefit from the difference in housing prices.

When I was growing up people were actively unhappy about this, but now it feels like less of an issue.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:04 PM
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295: Still complicated -- that is, for it to be sold to everyone at the same rate, there has to be someone with the legal right to sell it and set the price. Water rights are something I really don't understand, but I think there are people in the position of having a legal right to use as much water as they need from a river so long as they let the rest flow downstream, or situations at least similar to that -- to 'sell them the water at the same price as everyone else', we have to somehow legally divest them of the rights they now have. Which can be done, but still, complicated.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:05 PM
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Do you guys genuinely think that mass dislocation or letting the situation deteriorate into conflict is a better solution than aligning parents' reproduction with their stated desires?

I don't think the arguments against what you are suggesting were primarily "it's not a better solution", and more along the lines of "it's actually not a solution" or "damn, that's a slippery slope", etc.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:05 PM
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BG gets very upset when people talk about Californians moving to Boston, and I apologize for suggesting it.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:05 PM
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implicitly accepts that the problem with the water shortage is due to all the (minority) teenagers having babies unplanned, not the (probably white and wealthy and more consumptiony) couples who planned for them

I don't understand what "due to" means here. It accepts that one way to mitigate the problem is by an action which (if your demographic assumptions are correct) affects minorities the most. That doesn't, explicitly or implicitly, involve saying that the problem is their fault or their responsibility. There's no reason that the most efficient way of dealing with the problem has to be precisely correlated with the source of the problem.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:07 PM
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We are fairly well along in the water crisis and the models are making very unpleasant predictions.

Canada should probably start building a wall now. It's a long border.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:07 PM
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If anyone cares, I withdraw 284 as objectively assholish, and was planning to do so even before Megan's gracious response. Sorry. I am overly sensitive on this issue due to an unplanned (but not unwanted!) daughter of my own.

To participate more seriously, on the question of how to get water to folks at market rates, in California a remarkably huge amount could be done simply via Congress abolishing the Colorado River Compact and allowing the federal government to sell Colorado River water to any agency desiring to purchase the water on the basis of a bidding/auction system. Similar things could be done with other state/federal watersheds. I will have to do some serious handwaving of my own about the design of any auction system (obviously critically important) but it's not like there aren't people out there who have thought seriously about how to do that well.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:09 PM
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Do you guys genuinely think that mass dislocation or letting the situation deteriorate into conflict is a better solution than aligning parents' reproduction with their stated desires?

Do you genuinely not understand why hearing a technocrat say things like "we need to align parents' reproduction with their stated desires" gives people the screaming heebie-geebies?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:10 PM
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296 - Cala, I think no such thing. I don't give a fuck who needs the next pair of pants we don't have. WE DON'T HAVE THEM. (I mean, yes, we have them for another two decades at the outside, if things go well.)

The PPIC report does give subpopulations with higher unintended births than others, and poor Latinas were the highest. And maybe if you were talking only water policy, which I tend to, cause I know it, that would be a bad reason to get into population policy. There is, otoh, transportation, air, energy, land use, climate change mitigation instead of adaption, pollution, housing, all of which could be making similar arguments if someone were stupid enough to volunteer to do that.

But, assuming the methodology is valid, that asking people gets at their intentions for reproduction, then some portion of poor Latina teens or women said they didn't want those kids then. Why NOT help them? If it is a good thing to do, then having other good reasons for it doesn't make it a bad thing to do.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:11 PM
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Do you genuinely not understand why hearing a technocrat say things like "we need to align parents' reproduction with their stated desires" gives people the screaming heebie-geebies?

I genuinely don't understand this. Can you spell it out?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:13 PM
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298: Judging off of Megan's own links and the fact that the birth rate in California is often attributed to the effect of new Hispanic immigrants (Catholic, etc.) But if we're going to play that game, here, have a link: http://www.statehealthfacts.org. Nice breakdowns by whatever you like.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:13 PM
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I don't think the arguments against what you are suggesting were primarily "it's not a better solution", and more along the lines of "it's actually not a solution" or "damn, that's a slippery slope", etc.

One other thought, and then I'm going away for a bit.

I think part of the opposition is some sense that you ultimately have to be either pro-natalist or anti-natalist. Part of Cala's argument, I think, is that if raising children is easier and less expensive it will be more appealing to people, and that if it's more difficult and more expensive that discourage people from having children.

It's easy to go from there to a belief that, here and now, those "bread-and-butter" concerns will swamp the effects of making birth control more effective and that *if your plan for conservation involves reducing reproductive rates* that there will be a strong tendency to advocate other anti-natalist policies (or, at least, turn a blind eye when other people advocate them).

I don't believe that is true of either Megain or LB, but I don't think it's a silly concern.

Personally I have a variety of anti-natalist prejudices, but I don't particularly believe those would be good policy.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:14 PM
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Josh, I genuinely do not understand that.

The "stated desires" part should address your fears.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:15 PM
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"Do you guys genuinely think that mass dislocation or letting the situation deteriorate into conflict is a better solution than aligning parents' reproduction with their stated desires?"

Talk about weighing the scales in your own favor? Do you honestly think that allowing California's cities to purchase quantities of water that are currently being allocated to rather wealthy farmers, along with pricing water to reflect something more approximating the cost of the resource and thereby altering some consumption patterns, while allowing for the possibilty of technological change over the long term, is preferable to my totally undefined, un-thought-out, and potentially extraordinarily intrusive plan to align "parents reproduction with their stated desires"?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:15 PM
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309: If the sentence said "we need to help people align blah blah blah", it would be fine. That is, nobody should care.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:15 PM
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310: So, what you knew before 298 was the ethnic breakdown of the birthrate, not of the unplanned birthrate. That minority women were more likely to have unintended pregnancies was an assumption you felt comfortable making without checking a source.

(And no, I don't think you're racist either. But I don't think you're conversing in a way that makes a policy decision easier to have.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:17 PM
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Do you genuinely not understand why hearing a technocrat say things like "we need to align parents' reproduction with their stated desires" gives people the screaming heebie-geebies?

Actually, other than egregious slippery-slopism, I don't understand what the fucking problem is. Lots of people up above have used the rhetorical trick of saying "unknown mechanisms," in order to imply Scary Eugenicism, but we know exactly what mechs we're talking about, and they're entirely non-coercive and otherwise desirable.

Try this:

"We need to align peoples' transit choices with their stated desires." Now, certain assholes do interpret this sort of statement to mean, "We're going to take away your automobile," but I've always assumed those people were, well, assholes. Millions of people say that they wish they had better transit options; building more transit would provides that - would help them align their choices with their stated desires - but reasonable people don't see that as synonymous with confiscation of private vehicles. It's only scary if you're paranoid or can't comprehend a government that isn't always on the verge of totalitarianism.

I wonder why people are insisting that helping people get birth control == confiscating their uteruses.

That's probably way too provocative considering that I'm out the door to a meeting, but there it is.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:18 PM
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315: decision should be discussion.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:18 PM
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Further to 311, and combining the two threads, let's say that Megan was able to get a law passed in CA to implement her plan. Then imagine, two months later, someone else introduced a plan in the legislature to add an additional five weeks paid maternity leave in CA. Would the people who supported Megan's proposal support the maternity leave.

If you support both than I don't think you can make resource projections based on a declining birthrate. If you support one but not the other than I think you're taking a pro- or anti-natalist position.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:18 PM
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If it is a good thing to do, then having other good reasons for it doesn't make it a bad thing to do.

One objection is that there are underlying reasons, many of them unhappy ones, for these stated desires. For example: "I didn't plan to have a baby right then because I am very poor and am working three jobs, and there is no such thing as adequately subsidized day care. But I wanted a baby very badly." What would be the "good" outcome there? It seems to me that the answer is not necessarily one that results in no baby. But if you are focused on population reduction as your goal, public policy resources may be distributed in an unfortunate way. Access to birth control and abortions are assuredly good. Access to affordable child care is good, too, but the lack of the latter can lead to the need for the former.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:19 PM
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308: As I've said many times, I support contraceptive access for women and reproductive services. I just think that if you look at a situation, with four times the domestic consumption of other first-world countries, and upthread, note the challenges of getting people to stop watering the lawns,, and conclude from that this means that the water crisis is a good reason to step up population reduction measures, given all the problems (immigration, low expected returns, and don't you guys already have fairly strong reproductive health stuff) it's not unreasonable to say, wait a second, that seems like a weird justification for a policy especially since it doesn't seem to affect the worst offenders.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:20 PM
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"it's actually not a solution" or "damn, that's a slippery slope"

1. Besides Dsquared unsupported assertion, has anyone established that you can't reduce undesired births by providing resources and a public health campaign? (Remember that delaying births until they are wanted is also success.)

2. Actually, I've been pleasantly surprised at how little 'slippery slope' argument there's been.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:21 PM
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320: I suspect (bicbw) Megan is looking at projections and thinking "were screwed for water no matter what happens, what else can we do?", others are looking at how Cali uses its water right now and saying "fix that!"

I don't think her proposal would be useful, but I don't think she meant it in the way it's been spun a bit.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:23 PM
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Water: first in time, first in right. For the most part water use infrastructure in California, was originally developed for agriculture. Mulholland knew that he needed the Owens Valley water for LA to grow as a city. The rest of So Cal had lots of little systems to bring water from the local mountains to the foothills where the oranges were. As the orange groves became subdivisions, the water switched uses.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:24 PM
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I think that perhaps a major water crisis is exactly what is needed to generate the political will to do something about the underlying fucked up nature of water rights in CA. Fixing the immediate shortage problem without addressing the underlying political issues just puts off the day when the political issues will need to be dealt with. The defective water use patterns have major environmental impacts. Anything that extends those defective usage patterns further into the future is bad.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:24 PM
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has anyone established that you can't reduce undesired births by providing resources and a public health campaign?

If your counting heads, I would support this policy on it's own rights, but I'm not convinced that implementing that policy should allow you to start booking resource savings.

If it did save resources, great, but I don't think that's the reason to support such a policy.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:25 PM
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321 1) I think you absolutely *can* reduce them with the right sort of campaign. It's a whole different story what the overall effect on population is.

321.2 ) fair enough. Bear in mind though, this sort of policy work is much, much harder to get right than say, water policy.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:26 PM
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That minority women were more likely to have unintended pregnancies was an assumption you felt comfortable making without checking a source.

You seemed comfortable with this level of rigor earlier in the conversation. I did not link directly the pdf that was linked in Megan's own post, no, but I figured that since I wasn't making up the assumption and it seems to be backed up the data in the post that you linked to as well as other common sites, it was okay.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:26 PM
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Water: first in time, first in right.

This is fixable.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:27 PM
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For the record, my understanding of the book quoted in 63 contributes to my skepticism.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:28 PM
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319 made the point better than I can, but "Providing accesss to birth control and abortion to those who want it" is very different than "aligning" actions concerning pregnancy with "stated desires." First, there continues to be an ellision of the unplanned vs. unwanted distinction, which is critical here. Many, many pregnancies are unplanned but not, ultimately, unwanted, so to get a crack at the significant population reduction that Megan wants, you'd have to be encouraging a reduction in the number of those babies -- through, perhaps, reducing services and benefits available to pregnant women or families. That is the anti-family/anti-humanist implication of what we're talking about here.

Second, the reasons why a pregnancy is unwanted may have to do with the availability of income or resources to have the baby, which also implies a reduction in the assistance available to pregnant women/families/etc.

Third, just encouraging later pregnancy, in and of itself, or arranging incentives accordingly, can have extremely negative implications, both in terms of health and other long term social arrangements.

Fourth, isn't this a particularly bizarre arena in which people's "stated desires" (and, ultimately, a rather odd statistic from a state agency) are to be the touchstone of our social policy? How many people do you know who have happily arranged their life around a not immediately planned child? I think that, to repeat dsquared's oft-made point, it is frankly weird (and, for me, extremely off-putting) to turn to this area first so as to gain a marginal increase in a benefit that you could otherwise acheive through more traditional water resource policy.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:34 PM
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319, 320, and NickS's sentiment -

I guess I'm inclined to believe (largely because of shrinking population rates in Europe and Japan) that people have some moderately fixed internal desire for kids and in the presence of good choices of lifestyle and power over their reproduction, they'll settle close to two kids or below.

This is why I think that offering services (including advanced education for women) will, on average, bring down population size, even among first generation Catholic Latina's in CA. So yes. I do think that you can support only having the kids you want at the time you want them and extended maternity leave and not have large effects on population rates. (Better leave would not tempt my sister into a third kid. She wants the number she has, but might not abort a third.) Compounding amplifies all of this, but since I think the trend would be downward, I'd like to get it started sooner.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:35 PM
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327: Oh, I misunderstood. You did click through and check the data to find out whether it supported your assumption before you posted 298? I thought you'd just made a guess about which ethnic groups were more likely to get pregnant by accident, and then you checked to see if your flip assumption was right after I called you on it. But if I was wrong in that understanding, I apologize.

(Again, I don't think ill of your racial politics. But it's really hard to talk about population and never put a foot wrong, isn't it?)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:37 PM
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Brock, she's asking whether it's okay to talk about birth rates after we've done all we can about water use. If your answer is "No, we should die of thirst before attempting to influence birth rates," okay, but I think you missed the question she was asking.

Yes, that's exactly my position. More importantly, I'd say that's the only possible position. In my mind, if we've "done all we can about water use", and there's not enough water, it's game over, and changing the population growth rate isn't going to help--since it would mean there's not enough water today.

But I'll say again that we're so very far from doing "everything we can" to reduce water use that this isn't even a meaningful thought experiment. And that's what the thread's been about--should we start thinking about population-growth control as a water-conservation solution now, instead of messing with people's preferences for green lawns (to which Megan is oddly deferential)? I understand her position that this isn't a coercive policy--it's merely better aligning people's reproductive outcomes with their stated preferences--and that we should perhaps exhaust the noncoercive conservation techniques before moving onto the coercive ones. (Or at least, that we should consider this noncoercive technique in connection with other coercive ones.) But to me, we have so far we can and must still go with conservation measures that it seems extraordinarily perverse at this stage of the game to be re-orienting the public's water-usage-consciousness away from "conservation" and towards "lowering population growth". Whenever water shortages are discussed I want people fuming about lush green lawns and wasteful agriculture incentives, not about those damn Mexican immigrants who won't stop breeding.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:38 PM
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This is the last time I'll say this.

I am not turning to population control first. I am turning to population control because I am familiar with the other options and efficiency gains (yes, even ones from market pricing!) are not enough. As far as I can tell, the options are:

Drastically reduce the amount of CA agriculture.
Let the environment collapse.
Serve fewer people.

We may well do all three. But please do not think that I would propose this if I thought efficiency gains are enough.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:40 PM
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This is fixable.

Fifth Amendment, baby. Gonna cost ya. Pay me now or pay me later.

For the record every farmer I know is aware that when push comes to shove, the people will get drinking water over everything else, rights be damned.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:40 PM
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333: See my 157. There's a limit to conservation. I don't know how near we are to it. But I'm pretty sure that when we find it, we will wish that we had been trying to reduce population since a long time before that point. Which sounds to me like starting now.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:40 PM
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This thread has really opened my eyes on one subject. I had no idea that there are so many places where having a green lawn is totally unnatural and therefore people install lawns and then install systems to water their lawns.

Here I only see that near commercial buildings, usually.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:41 PM
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332: I figured that since I had read the pdf earlier in the afternoon and mentioned it (with the unplanned/unwanted distinction bit), it was clear that I had. I got the other link to get a sense of the raw numbers. I read before I posted, yes. It is indeed hard to put not to put a foot wrong, and I'm sure I have, but not in this case, and not by the standards in play normally in comments here (which tends to be, talk out your ass, but own your implications.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:42 PM
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I don't think anyone in this thread has opposed better contraceptive access /sex ed./etc. in their own right.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:43 PM
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But Brock, why do you think we have SO FAR we could go with efficiency gains? I think we have about fifteen years of supply for a growing population from efficiency gains.

Also, again. We're arguing water because I'm fool enough to show up. But having fewer people would simultaneously reduce their demand for everything. If you were simultaneously having this conversation about every other environmental field, would that be more persuasive?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:44 PM
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334 --

Again, not to be a jerk, but "dramatically reduce the amount of California agriculture" does not have the negative implications for most of the world that it seems to have for you, nor need the consequences of that loss be especially drastic.

Also, the utter dire-ness of your predictions isn't shared by the specialist types in this area with whom I'm familiar, even the ones who don't put great stock in large increases in the efficiency of desalinization.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:44 PM
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333,336: 333 is illustrative of what irks me about some of the positions here. I hope that no one will deny that viewed over the long term we are currently in a period of "species historical" changes in reproductive behavior, most of it driven by the free choices of individuals based on their changing perspectives and circumstances and greatly aided by the availibility of various technological means of controlling the outcomes of sexual intercourse. But don't talk about it with regard to resource issues!

Look, yes there is a potential slippery slope here, in fact a *lot* of slippery slopes. But guess what, all manner of genetic and reproductive technologies are going to blow our collective fucking minds over the next several decades.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:46 PM
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it would mean there's not enough water today

But there isn't enough water today, because of the drought and because a judge took half of it away for fish. Ag shrank by ten percent last year and cities moved into mandatory rationing. Now thats drought, but the variability around the mean will continue.

Also, there is the intervening factor that we predict getting less water. While the population grows, ten percent less water will arrive and we can't store it either. We're looking at losing, say, a third of our developed supply.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:48 PM
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As far as I can tell, the options are:

Drastically reduce the amount of CA agriculture.
Let the environment collapse.
Servce fewer people.

100% in favor of (A), since a lot of CA's current agriculture is grossly inefficient (by which I mean only very high gallons of water used/kcal of food created).

And for (C), how about instead of serving fewer people, you just serve people drastically less?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:49 PM
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But Brock, why do you think we have SO FAR we could go with efficiency gains?

I'm curious because if it's true we use four times as much water as Europeans, and they have a good standard of living, it seems that we have to have somewhere to go in terms of reducing consumption that isn't horrible. And yet earlier in the thread you were saying that it's impossible to get people to conserve water given that new developments are growing.



Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:53 PM
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Let's put it this way: I'd be in favor of outlawing all private showering/bathing long before I'd be interested in thinking about reductions in population growth as a water conservation method.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:54 PM
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Public showering uses less water? I mean, clearly desirable for other policy reasons, I'm just not seeing the water savings.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:55 PM
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340 to 346.

Also, Israel shells U.N. headquarters in Gaza


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:55 PM
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Megan, I'm pretty confident that Californians will come up with the changes necessary. Maybe it'll mean radical efficiencies in household appliances; my parents are the only people I know who religiously reuse their gray water, and they still run their laundry and dishwasher every other day! I do laundry once or twice a month---because it's expensive and fucking annoying. That's the kind of price externality we can believe in! Maybe it'll mean radical efficiencies in housing arrangements: if a household water bill normalizes out to be $300, maybe more people will choose to rent those extra bedrooms. Maybe it'll mean that all of those fucking spectacular private gardens will go dead, and you know, that'd be okay. Seriously, I don't think that Californians have even begun to trim their personal water use.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:56 PM
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lawns... to which Megan is oddly deferential

Eh. I personally hate lawns and argue against them in other forums. But I also recognize that people seem irrationally attached to them. Given that I want our policies to reflect the collective will, I have to allow that maybe the public wants their fucking lawns. In that case, I am fully down with their paying full cost for the water to irrigate them. But it is facile to say "get rid of lawns" as if that won't (irrationally) decrease people's quality of life.

Again, not to be a jerk, but "dramatically reduce the amount of California agriculture" does not have the negative implications for most of the world that it seems to have for you, nor need the consequences of that loss be especially drastic.

Dude. I don't even eat meat. I don't give a rat's ass if the CA cattle industry moves entirely to the rare pastured beef. I know what ag lands I'd retire in what order if that were an available option. I'd love if the rest of the country developed their own ag so that you didn't drain our rivers for your food. But when I say things like that, everyone gets mad at me too.

My point, as always, since I have a limited number of points, is that we are up against a physical limit (15 years or so of slack to take up) and talking trade-offs.

I think that spending money on reducing unintended births is a strategy that is also valid from a resource use perspective.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:56 PM
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Maybe it'll mean radical efficiencies in housing arrangements: if a household water bill normalizes out to be $300, maybe more people will choose to rent those extra bedrooms.

I wonder if that's likely to happen anyway. I think the single-family home is a bit of a historical aberration, isn't it?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 3:57 PM
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But it is facile to say "get rid of lawns" as if that won't (irrationally) decrease people's quality of life.

I grew up in California during the last big drought. My sisters and I shared bathwater. Seriously, jack the price high enough, and people will adjust.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:00 PM
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I'd love if the rest of the country developed their own ag so that you didn't drain our rivers for your food. But when I say things like that, everyone gets mad at me too.

Yes, saying things like that is very irritating.

Some might suggest that agricultural products from regions where agriculture makes sense could be exchanged for non-agricultural products from other regions of the world where non-agricultural products make sense. This happens quite often.

Also, if all your agriculture stayed in California, tens of millions more people would have to move there to eat it all. Even worse!


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:00 PM
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I will say that my interest in ever moving back to California is lessened every time I visit and have to participate in water-rationing flushing behavior.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:01 PM
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I will say that my interest in ever moving back to California is lessened every time I visit and have to participate in water-rationing flushing behavior.

Who's making you do that? No one I know has gone that far yet...


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:03 PM
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Who's making you do that? No one I know has gone that far yet...

Most people I know in Berkeley, since last summer. Of course, they're the kind of people who live in Berkeley, which I imagine selects for letting it mellow.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:06 PM
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What does 342 mean? I don't follow at all, after the bit about how reproductive behavior is changing.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:07 PM
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I'm curious because if it's true we use four times as much water as Europeans, and they have a good standard of living, it seems that we have to have somewhere to go in terms of reducing consumption that isn't horrible. And yet earlier in the thread you were saying that it's impossible to get people to conserve water given that new developments are growing.

Four times as much water as Europeans counting yards. Yes of course we can ditch yards, and for many that will be an unpleasant trade-off. Not having or delaying an unintended birth is not a trade-off. (Yes, the baby becomes wanted and crazy adored, but so would the baby you have later when it is desired.)

YES, use all the efficiency gains. If they aren't enough to supply an addition twenty million people as one-third of our developed supply goes away, then what?

If your alternatives are leaving or conflict, then I'm gonna stick with flattening the population growth rate by helping people have the kids they want.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:07 PM
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have only the kids they affirmatively want.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:08 PM
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Stupid question: is the amount of water used in swimming pools just a tiny perturbation, or is it significant? I get pissed off every time I fly in to LA and see miles of homes with swimming pools, but maybe it's irrelevant.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:09 PM
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Who's making you do that? No one I know has gone that far yet...

I grew up doing that and it's still sort of my default impulse.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:09 PM
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Also, if all your agriculture stayed in California, tens of millions more people would have to move there to eat it all. Even worse!

Or we could retire some ag land.

We're at the going in circles stage, aren't we.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:10 PM
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But it is facile to say "get rid of lawns" as if that won't (irrationally) decrease people's quality of life.

I understand that you're not saying people shouldn't be allowed to have children, but I wonder why you're able to understand the (irrational) attachment people have to their lawns and not the (less irrational) attachment people have to the idea that unwanted children are still loved children, even if they didn't quite show up at the expected time. It seems a far easier task to tell people that they're going to have to give up their lawns if they want to reduce water use, rather than telling them that they need to avoid unplanned pregnancy in order to reduce water use.


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:10 PM
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Who's making you do that? No one I know has gone that far yet...

You should be. Your district asked you to start doing that last year. This year they'll get serious about it.


360 - Don't know about pools.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:12 PM
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Yes of course we can ditch yards, and for many that will be an unpleasant trade-off. Not having or delaying an unintended birth is not a trade-off.

I should have previewed. Now I get your point better, but, um. Many people are doing everything they can to avoid getting pregnant right this second and still get pregnant with an unplanned child. It IS a trade-off, then, to reduce some unplanned pregnancies. Particularly if a couple has any fear about the ability to naturally conceive (or if they've been scared about potential side-effects of abortions).


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:13 PM
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Four times as much water as Europeans counting yards.

And twice as much as the Japanese, who as far as I know don't have giant yards.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:13 PM
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Of course (most) unwanted kids are loved in retrospect. I'm not planning to come snatch them from their cribs.

But they aren't loved in prospect and that's where we are. If you ask a woman if she is hoping to get pregnant tonight and she says 'no' then she isn't giving up anything she wants if she doesn't have that child.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:14 PM
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rather than telling them that they need to avoid unplanned pregnancy in order to reduce water use.

Why is that the only option? Just make contraception and education more available, and fewer unplanned pregnancies will happen.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:14 PM
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It IS a trade-off, then, to reduce some unplanned pregnancies.

As in, I think the decision to have an abortion is bigger than the decision to rip out the grass.


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:14 PM
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I grew up doing that and it's still sort of my default impulse.

Yeah, I was going to ask if rfts's friends grew up during the drought. Still, even now the only real sign I see of the water shortage is the little signs EBMUD has given all the restaurants in the area telling people that they're not bringing water to the table unless you specifically ask for it.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:14 PM
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365 - You're right.

I think that downside is likely to be small.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:16 PM
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369: I really don't think anyone here has come close to advocating that women should be pressured to have abortions.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:16 PM
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It seems a far easier task to tell people that they're going to have to give up their lawns if they want to reduce water use, rather than telling them that they need to avoid unplanned pregnancy in order to reduce water use.

You know, I read this and it feels as though I should understand it, but I don't. If we put the slippery-slope part of the argument to one side (not saying there's nothing to it, just that it's not what I'm addressing now), what exactly is it that people are attached to that they're giving up if you encourage them to avoid unplanned pregnancies? Not the chance to have children when they decide to, obviously -- it's not a constraint on freedom of decision to procreate.

I really can't see what person, thinking about their own reproductive future, will feel worse off in a world where they're encouraged to and assisted in avoiding unplanned pregnancy. Is there a story you can tell about someone who will feel as if they personally gave something up?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:16 PM
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Why is that the only option? Just make contraception and education more available, and fewer unplanned pregnancies will happen.

Isn't it the point of half the people on this thread that that's a good thing? I'm just trying to point out why people are going to object to the original plan.


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:16 PM
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Yes of course we can ditch yards, and for many that will be an unpleasant trade-off. Not having or delaying an unintended birth is not a trade-off.

I think this may be the heart of our disagreement. It really seems like one, especially since in that stat you link it includes "had no preference" which I read as "not really trying, but happy to have a baby if it shows up." It's not as though contraception is 100% foolproof, or that only planned pregnancies are wanted. (Once you get down to "really didn't want a kid", we're talking a much smaller number, aren't we?)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:17 PM
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if it's true we use four times as much water as Europeans

note that the actual target, per #30 above, is to reduce percapita use by 20%, which would be equivalent to 8 million Californians, which would be equivalent to 32 years of population reduction of 250k/year (actually you have to adjust that for the small number of babies born to babies born in yrs 1-16, but on the other hand, babies use less water than adults, so I think the linear assumption is sensible here).

I'm gonna stick with flattening the population growth rate by helping people have the kids they want

it really is very annoying when you simultaneously dismiss other people's sensible and achievable policy ideas, demand all sorts of attention to technical detail on your own field of engineering claims, then blithely help yourself to ludicrously optimistic assumptions. That new development over the road would simply fill up with cranky retirees from Chicago, if it didn't fill up with young families from California. You don't get to assume that the population can be controlled in this way.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:17 PM
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Yeah, I was going to ask if rfts's friends grew up during the drought.

Yes! They did. And they make lots of tsk-y noises that go: "We're having a drought, you know," so I thought you guys were back in a similar state of affairs, but perhaps not.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:17 PM
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368: again, see 339. I don't think anyone is opposed to this. And if Megan were just saying "huh, you know, if there were fewer unplanned pregnancies (and, huge caveat, no feedback effects), then one of the many salutory effects would be less strain on our water resources." Which, yes, no shit. But selling that policy as a method to ease the strain on our water resources? Perverse.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:18 PM
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Your district asked you to start doing that last year.

You sure about that? I don't remember that at all, and I don't see anything on EBMUD's website about it.

This year they'll get serious about it.

That I'll believe.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:19 PM
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I really don't think anyone here has come close to advocating that women should be pressured to have abortions.

True, I'm just trying to point out that it's not as easy as simply handing out contraception.

Is there a story you can tell about someone who will feel as if they personally gave something up?

Just my general sense that people hate to be told what to do, especially by environmentalists. I see no reason why a proportion of people are not going to resist the idea that they should accept that they should have less children for the environment if they're also willing to resist tearing out a lawn. I understand the point about unwanted pregnancies, I just don't think getting pregnant is ever that simple. But I'm probably just rehashing things that have already been better said on the thread.


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:20 PM
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Not having or delaying an unintended birth is not a trade-off. (Yes, the baby becomes wanted and crazy adored, but so would the baby you have later when it is desired.)

Unintended =/= unwanted. It is quite possible that this population won't shrink the way you want it to.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:26 PM
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I'm getting the sense that my parents are bigger cheapskates more price-sensitive than most Californian water-utility customers. When I say we shared the bathwater, I mean that three or four of us shared the same two inches of bathwater. They've been kvetching about the increase in their water bill for almost a year now. When I visited at the end of summer, they had buckets under the showers and in the sinks. Their yard is full of plants like ocotillo and juniper. They're not especially hippy---just cheap. (But man, my mom does do laundry like every other day.)


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:26 PM
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That new development over the road would simply fill up with cranky retirees from Chicago, if it didn't fill up with young families from California. You don't get to assume that the population can be controlled in this way.

I was just about to say something just like this.

It seems like a more obvious way to discourage population growth would be by making it less desirable to live in a place, not by causing the people who currently live there to have a higher socioeconomic and educational status in the future.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:27 PM
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383...and apparently I did say that, since I failed to quote it properly.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:29 PM
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you simultaneously dismiss other people's sensible and achievable policy ideas

I only dismiss them in the sense that I say, YES, DO THESE! In fact, we already ARE doing them, and I personally know several people who've made that their career. Then, on top of that, I think they are not enough.

(Once you get down to "really didn't want a kid", we're talking a much smaller number, aren't we?)

I would like the default to be "affirmatively wanted the kid", as in "I sure hope I get pregnant tonight". Yes, (some) other pregnancies have good outcomes, but because I believe the alternatives are very unpleasant even after efficiency gains, this is the standard I'd like to see. It is the standard that I think minimizes unhappiness.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:29 PM
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I really should have thought my answer through in 380, since upon rereading I realize I don't answer the question at all. I think it has to do with a basic sense of freedom concerning the ability to make family and reproductive choices.

I know no one is suggesting a one child per family rule, and that you really only mean to, I think the phrase was, align conception with people's stated desires. But when it comes to pregnancy, I think people's stated desires are often not exactly what they purport them to be, and that conception is a heavily freighted issue in this country. It simply doesn't seem practical to me that you'll be able to use this as a means to convince the state government to do more sex ed and offer clinics, or that it will be a reason that will sway people's opinion.


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:30 PM
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At this point I think I'm only gonna respond to new stuff, unless someone asks specifically. I don't think I'm saying anything new anymore.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:31 PM
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It is the standard that I think minimizes unhappiness.

Yes. This is rather the problem, i.e. who are you to make that claim.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:34 PM
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I'm someone who takes women at their word when they answer the question "did you want this birth?".

Maybe their word isn't good. Maybe asking them isn't a good way to get at their real desires. Maybe they can't conceive of the true happiness now that they have the baby. But they answered "no, not now and maybe never, I don't know." and that is a fine rough cut for me.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:37 PM
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I would like the default to be "affirmatively wanted the kid", as in "I sure hope I get pregnant tonight".

In isolation, this is a perfectly reasonable thing to wish for, but I would encourage you to remember that there is an unfortunate asymmetry in who is in a position to feel this way. A lack of some of the things that I bet you also wish for -- universal access to affordable health care, for example -- is often the reason that people don't feel able to think "I sure hope I get pregnant tonight," and there are systemic patterns to which people aren't thinking that for those kinds of reasons.

I say this as someone who really likes the Sen model for good policies that have reduced birth rates as one happy (in at least some ways!) result. I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting a utopia where people only have children when they are positively eager to do so. But you should recognize that if you don't want to support that aspect of your utopia with other features that address certain kinds of barriers to wholehearted affirmative kid-wanting, there's something fairly heartless about it.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:37 PM
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I'm someone who takes women at their word when they answer the question "did you want this birth?".

Not sure and not now aren't the same as no, though.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:39 PM
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You may assume that I also support the features that address certain kinds of barriers to wholehearted affirmative kid-wanting. If it helps at all, please assume that I would design a program that I'd be happy to live under.

And that I want water use efficiency measures.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:41 PM
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I doubt that people born in California are going to be perfectly replaced with incomers; even at California's best, people from elsewhere had a tendency to stay where their families were despite imperfect economic conditions there. In the water-limited world that Megan (and I) expect, there's going to be just as much pull for people to stay rooted, and a lot less pull into easy breezy CA.

I'm also bewildered by your horror at the idea of making it possible for anyone who isn't sure s/he wants a kid to not get/cause a pregnancy tonight, Cala. I feel like I'm standing in Maximal Voluntary BC World, in which no-one has an unwanted pregnancy, and you're saying oh, this is bad, some of these people should have had pregnancies they didn't want, I know better than they do. You can't be meaning that you would force unwanted pregnancies on people, any more than Megan is proposing to force unwanted contraception on them, so why *wouldn't* you be happy in MVBCW? (I wouldn't perforate condoms with pins now even though most unplanned babies will be loved; what's the logical difference?)


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:44 PM
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So Megan, I'm still not sure I understand what it is you're proposing, other than "it would be nice if every child were a wanted child." If Obama's first acts were to appoint you Water Czar and to amend the Constitution so as to give that position virtually unlimited power, what is it exactly you'd like to do with that authority w/r/t population?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:47 PM
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380 people hate to be told what to do, especially by environmentalists.

390 there is an unfortunate asymmetry in who is in a position to feel this way

These two things really capture why this is such a tricky problem. There are lots of environmental reasons why we collectively must change our behavior, but telling people that doesn't do much good. So I'm all for incentivizing things and having appropriate taxes and policies to try to make the very real environmental costs of our actions have a measurable cost. But then there's the trick of deciding how to do that without unnecessarily burdening people who are already struggling to make ends meet. I don't think the policy we're discussing here is unique in that respect. If people pay a lot more for their water usage, to more accurately represent its true cost in terms of environmental impact, then poorer people with children are going to be hurt by that too.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:47 PM
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I'm someone who takes women at their word when they answer the question "did you want this birth?".

Me too. But I know that if I got pregnant tomorrow, my answer would be complex. I've already delayed childbirth pretty far and I still remain ambivalent about whether or not I want one. Part of me would be saying no, in response to your question, since I'm not in the financial or relationship situation that I would desire, but the other part would say, yes. I suspect that this is not an uncommon situation for women to find themselves in, and that the way they would answer that question would change based on the asker's intent. That's what I mean about there being some mystery surrounding "stated desires," not that some woman out there doesn't know what she wants. All I am aiming to do is point out that emotionally, very few people work on such a rational system and I think that's why the plan would be doomed from the start - because it wouldn't be a successful policy, politically, no matter how well grounded the proposal was.


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:47 PM
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It would really help if Megan or one of her supporters could be a little bit fucking specific about what exactly is the policy proposal they have in mind for reducing "unplanned" pregnancies. Are we talking about providing some kind of additional public education or free contraception? If so, fine, although there are plenty of those options available, and it's extremely dubious that this is going to have much if any impact. What is annoying is that Megan is simply not listening to those who are arguing that there are potentially far more serious implications to making a serious effort to reduce the number of unplanned (but not unwanted) pregnancies, including:

encouraging an increase in abortions, even among mothers who would otherwise be willing to carry the baby to term, simply because the baby did not fit in with a pre-existing "plan."

reducing support and subsidies available to pregnant women, to increase the costs of having an unplanned child

reducing subsidies, funding, child health care, etc. available to low income mothers, as a way of discouraging them from having a unplanned child

subsidizing or otherwise encouraging women to not bear children until their early 30s.

Is that what's on the table? Is it at least comprehensible why some of these plans might not strike all of us as inherently desirable? If not, what is on the table? And don't you have an intellectual obligation to spell out exactly what you are talking about?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:48 PM
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Oh, I was late. But, redfoxtailshrub, isn't it also the case that the same people who don't get health support they want for having kids are probably the ones who don't get health support they want for not having kids? Is it OK if we fund reproductive health centers out our ears and they cover whichever kind of help the client wants?

(Are we arguing about which perfect we're going to kill the good with?)


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:48 PM
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I really wish people would stop discussing unwanted pregnancies while using numbers for unintended pregnancies.

I strongly suspect that `unintended pregnancies' covers a whole variety of things that may well be quite dissimilar, and would react differently to changes.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:51 PM
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...As I recall, all the creepy stuff adumbrated by Robert Halford was first brought up by Cala. So apparently, where I'm imagining my ob/gyn who gets me good birth control but would provide well-baby care if that's what I needed, other people are imagining Red China. Look, all I'm suggesting is BC for All who Want It, preferably *avoiding* unplanned pregnancies rather than terminating them, duh.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:53 PM
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I think that what Dsquared says about pricing water makes sense, though to do that maybe you'd have to revise the system of water rights. With pricing changes people would change their lifestyles without other coercion. At some point immigration would diminish and emigration would increase, as California became a less desirable place to live. (I don't think that she considered migration enough).

During a drought in Portland awhile back, people with big houses and enormous yards seem to have continued to water their yards in the face of rather feeble attempts at voluntary rationing (which many people did honor). After all, their whole lives had been organized around having a the biggest, nicest house and with the biggest, nicest yard. With higher prices some people would be priced out of that, and some wouldn't. My guess is that yards would get smaller, but that changes in that direction would be very slow.

That said, I don't think that Megan was proposing population control as a primary method of reducing water consumption, but just noting that reduced fertility via better use of birth control would have a beneficial effect WRT water use. This is consistent with the general idea that all things being equal. population growth does stress the environment.

And not only that, current trends are toward continuous population growth and continuous improvement of the standard of living, which together are worse environmentally than population growth alone.

Demographers, earth scientists, and economic geographers think in terms of physical actualities, whereas economists think in terms of transformations and transfers by technology and the market. A lot of common sense is too concrete and doesn't recognize how the economy works, but economists habitually speak in terms of a world of abstractions without considering the physical substrates at all, as though there never could possibly be any physical limit to economic growth at all. A catastrophe of specialization.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 4:56 PM
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What is annoying is that Megan is simply not listening to those who are arguing that there are potentially far more serious implications to making a serious effort to reduce the number of unplanned (but not unwanted) pregnancies

indeed Rob. And also, that the whole thing seems shot through with "the answer is get rid of unintended babies - what was the question?". When someone's advocating such a totally three-steps-removed approach to a problem that obviously needs a different kind of solution, you end up saying something along the lines of "you're not really coming here for the hunting, are you?"


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 5:00 PM
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402, is there something wrong with thinking that a lot of problems of the future would be a lot less severe with slower population growth?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 5:01 PM
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And don't you have an intellectual obligation to spell out exactly what you are talking about?

I'm saying this in a mildly bemused tone of voice, not the pissy voice you might imagine:

You mean my intellectual obligation to you, because you've met me halfway and given me the benefit of the doubt and are proposing serious solutions as well?

But, a couple people asked, and if I were water czar (which I agree is a totally weird authority with which to do population policy, although environment czar is not), I'd probably start with the stuff I wrote in 219.

Then I would do something dreadfully boring, but also maximally totalitarian, like go to the Public Health Department and get their research department to tell me what public health campaigns work. My strong guess is that they'll tell me "Dude, you get small gains from availability of birth control, big gains from educating the ladies, and really big gains from having a very high local-nurse-to-at-risk-community, and it really fucking helps if they speak the right language, but who can afford that. Not us."

And then I will wave my Obama-given wand, and clinics with local nurses who speak the right language will appear on every other block.

Look, fuckers, it will help if you assume that my intentions aren't sinister EVEN THOUGH I AM TALKING ABOUT POPULATION MANAGEMENT. Also, that I'm driven to talk about that because I perceive that as the need after we've done the obvious.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 5:01 PM
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Given a well designed, non-coercive campaign that I would be happy to live with, what are the serious problems with people having only the children they affirmatively want?

I heard an assertion that you can't actually make policy that achieves this public health goal, but nothing to back it up, and that doesn't sound likely to me.

I heard that it will disproportionately effect poor Latinas, but to the extent that it disproportionately means that poor Latinas are having the children of their desires, I think this is positive.

I've heard that this "looks like racism" and that is unfortunate. But I can't help that other people have that reason for the same goal.

I heard that it is a relatively bad expenditure for the results, but I don't know that to be true. Efficiency gains in water use aren't cheap forever and I don't know how public health campaigns compare.

I heard that the effects will be smaller than biggest case. Fine if they are, because 1. anything helps, 2. the whole point is having only affirmatively wanted children which is good for other reasons.

I heard that immigration will negate the good, but I don't believe it will wipe out all the population decreases because I don't think arbitrage is so easy when it comes to where people live and even so, there is more happiness.

I don't even remember what I'm answering...


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 5:12 PM
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404: Um, just in case it wasn't clear, I'm not trying to lay sinister and nefarious plans at your doorstep, but more pointing out that there is a reason this argument is taking place and that it would only be worse in the California legislature. (Assuming this is something that some one, some where, would have to vote on).


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 5:12 PM
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it will help if you assume that my intentions aren't sinister EVEN THOUGH I AM TALKING ABOUT POPULATION MANAGEMENT.

I suspect that very few beaurocrats who've talked about population management have had sinister intentions.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 5:15 PM
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I suspect that some have had sinister intentions, and you could identify them when they said things like, "we will eradicate the mentally deficient and inferior races".

That would be bad, so it is a good start if the intentions of the program are to align people's reproduction with their stated preferences. There may be other problems designing a good program after that, but I'd like to be lumped with the population management campaigns that people are grateful for. Lets not forget that those exist as well.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 5:19 PM
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so it is a good start if the intentions of the program are to align people's reproduction with their stated preferences

When authority figures ask poor unwed women whether they want to have children they say no. This is called lying and is very useful in dealing with authority figures. Try it out on your boss; it works pretty well.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 5:53 PM
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Let me put the question the other way: Megan imagine that a policy of expanded access to birth control, education, and visiting nurses was passed today. Tomorrow your boss calls you into their office and asks, "Megan, how should we change out water use projections for 2050 based on this law that passed yesterday?"

I feel like the only honest answer would be to say, "I don't know, let's wait 5-10 years and see what happens to population." Not, "I project approximately 20% lower population in 2050, and we should make our plans around that number."

This gets back to my comment about "banking" reductions in usage. The policy you're proposing *might* have a significant impact on population numbers 40-50 years down the road, but would you feel sufficiently confident in that to make plans for a lower population solely based on passing this proposal? If not, then it doesn't seem like a solution to resource questions -- just a "can't hurt and might help" policy.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 6:01 PM
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410: to be fair, I think she might say "get a demographer to tell me how many fewer people we expect there to be in 2050 as a result of this change, and I'll be able to update our projections." Your point that the demographer would probably say "it's too complex to be sure" is a fair one, but if he could give even a range of potential outcomes with some probabilities attached*, and if those probabilities pointed towards an even slightly lower number, Megan would view that as a good thing.

*Of course, I don't actually think he could do this, which I understand, again, is your point.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 6:09 PM
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Yes and no, NickS.

We get our projections from the Department of Finance and I truly do not know what goes into them.

The day after a new population program goes into effect, you are right that I'd not change our the Water Plan. But, the Water Plan includes 17 different modeling scenarios with different population levels and intensities of use. Presumably by the next iteration of the Water Plan (they come out every five years), we would have another population projection from Department of Finance and that would presumably take effects from the population management program into account. That would tell us which of our 17 scenarios is roughly aligned with present day and let us develop a new batch of scenarios.

Just 'cause it is interesting, the other approach we were thinking of was doing hundreds of scenarios (with hundreds of population and intensity of uses) and seeing what clusters of outcomes shook out. I didn't hear why that wasn't the approach we took. Probably money.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 6:12 PM
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intensities of use


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 6:15 PM
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Just 'cause it is interesting, the other approach we were thinking of was doing hundreds of scenarios (with hundreds of population and intensity of uses) and seeing what clusters of outcomes shook out.

That would have been interesting and, I imagine, very time-consuming.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 6:24 PM
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I think something something RAND was proposing this approach something something computing power. If I understood right, and I may well have not, it wasn't the time for model runs that was the problem.

I think it was more that whomever decided didn't think there'd be enough value in a picture from a lot of dots over a book-ends approach.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 6:32 PM
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It may have been picked apart by now, but I love 393.

I've had 2 kids; each came exactly when we wanted them. That - on top of all their innate wonderfulness - is wonderful. If they had come when I wanted them less, I could not possibly have loved them more; some tiny part of me would love them less. If, through some miracle of biology, AB gets pregnant again, we would be devastated, even if you all insist that we would love the unwanted #3 just the same. It's like the fucking Pope telling people that they shouldn't control their reproduction, because each baby is a miracle of God, up to Him, not them. Reproduction is the biggest change anybody makes in their lives; what's so goddamn awful about it only happening as a positive choice?

Is this so fucking hard to understand?

And no, saying that Megan is off-base because she's advocating it for environmental - that is, the ability of all of us to live - reasons doesn't change a thing. Forcing somebody to have an unwanted (right now) baby is monstrous. Helping someone not to have an unwanted baby is... helpful. Whatever the reason.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 7:59 PM
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That would have been interesting and, I imagine, very time-consuming.

This is in essence how climate models are done.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:02 PM
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I've had 2 kids; each came exactly when we wanted them. That - on top of all their innate wonderfulness - is wonderful. If they had come when I wanted them less, I could not possibly have loved them more; some tiny part of me would love them less.

I am glad the tiny part of you is happy now.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:08 PM
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bah 417 had both a poor quote and incomplete thought. I meant the clustering approach is typical for short(er) range climate models for weather prediction.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:10 PM
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I'm also bewildered by your horror at the idea of making it possible for anyone who isn't sure s/he wants a kid to not get/cause a pregnancy tonight, Cala. I feel like I'm standing in Maximal Voluntary BC World, in which no-one has an unwanted pregnancy, and you're saying oh, this is bad, some of these people should have had pregnancies they didn't want, I know better than they do. You can't be meaning that you would force unwanted pregnancies on people, any more than Megan is proposing to force unwanted contraception on them, so why *wouldn't* you be happy in MVBCW? (I wouldn't perforate condoms with pins now even though most unplanned babies will be loved; what's the logical difference?)

As I've said many times, I am fine with promoting contraception as much as it needs to be promoted. I am not fine with proposing it as a first-stop answer to the question of what to do about potential water shortages when we're still subsidizing water, because I can't imagine this doesn't have an effect on how we look at the resulting people (a burden on water resources), and I think it's wrong to set the bar for not being considered a burden on resources at at "must have been wholly desired at conception."

It's not a question about the policy of providing contraception and abortion services because there are plenty of independent reasons to do that, and of course doesn't entail anything about forced pregnancy. If people don't want children, they shouldn't have them. And I expect they know as well as anyone could whether they would want to keep an unplanned pregnancy -- that's why I find the claim that someone else's desire for a green lawn should be a consideration to be very weird.

It's about the motivations for this version of the policy, which seem to me to be iffy. (Not the same as "let's eliminate the inferior races"; not even close to being in the same league. Just iffy as in "really? not even greywater for the lawn?")


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 8:58 PM
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(Not the same as "let's eliminate the inferior races"; not even close to being in the same league. Just iffy as in "really? not even greywater for the lawn?")
What makes you say that? I think Megan was pretty explicitly saying: Yes, please, all of that. Also, this.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:01 PM
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Cala, you're not reading. Megan's said that she's advocating conservation repeatedly, but is afraid that there's not enough savings available there to aoid the need for other tradeoffs.

And this: I think it's wrong to set the bar for not being considered a burden on resources at at "must have been wholly desired at conception." is just bizarre. Are you envisioning some post-birth social distinction between planned and unplanned children? How are you picturing that working?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:02 PM
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Because I don't think Megan thinks any such thing.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:03 PM
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Ah--I pasted more sentences than I meant to. I just wanted the "Not even greywater" one.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:06 PM
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423: Huh? Now I'm lost.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:08 PM
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Cala, you're not reading. Megan's said that she's advocating conservation repeatedly, but is afraid that there's not enough savings available there to aoid the need for other tradeoffs.

I am reading, which is why I don't understand why the small projected savings from this is supposed to help in the 15 year timetable (given that we've said a couple times "people are really attached to green lawns.")

Are you envisioning some post-birth social distinction between planned and unplanned children? How are you picturing that working?

I'm not imagining it being stamped on anyone's forehead, no. But no one stamped on the heads of anyone the idea that abortion saved America from being overrun by criminals in the 90s (since the potential criminal fetuses were aborted), and I've heard that (false, as it turns out) claim repeated a lot, and I think it's had a pernicious effect on how some people think about race and cities and crime. Like that, but much, much weaker.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:13 PM
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423 to a misread of 421.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:14 PM
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426: Still, when she's saying "I think we should do B, because while we should do A, A alone won't be enough",saying "B's idiotic,and can't possibly work" is a reasonable reaction -- might be right, might be wrong, but it's not unfair. Saying "Why isn't she even considering the possibility of A (not even grey-water for the lawns)?" is wildly offbase -- she's very clearly and explictly on board with greywater for the lawns.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:20 PM
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I really don't think anywhere near enough people are even contemplating using graywater for their lawns junipers.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:31 PM
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Read 358, because that's the big sticking point for me: she's putting the desire for a green lawn above deciding to continue (of one's own free will) with a pregnancy that was unplanned. One's a loss (of a nice green lawn); one isn't, on her calculation. I don't think that's right at all, as to the psychology of it. I think also, given that the stats she cited aren't just of "crisis pregnancies" but include the much weaker "weren't trying particularly," "had no prior preference, really" the case for this is pretty good.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:32 PM
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above deciding to continue (of one's own free will) with a pregnancy that was unplanned. One's a loss (of a nice green

Where'd you get that from? Geez, if you're picturing the Gestapo forcibly aborting women who want to continue their pregnancies if they can't prove they were planning to get pregnant, no wonder you're exercised about it.

If you're reading 358 as suggesting that people who actively want to have children should be prevented so that other people can have lawns, I understand your reaction to it, but I'm confused by your interpretive method.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:39 PM
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Again, the 'not a loss' language has, throughout, referred to not getting pregnant when you're not planning to. Which I really can't see as a loss either. (And having abortion available for a pregnancy you don't want to continue, but that's also not something I can see as a loss.)

But if I've misunderstood Megan, and she's advocating compulsory abortions for people who didn't plan their pregnancies, boy, that'd be a loss for the people who wanted to continue those pregnancies. I'd be standing right next to you waving my pitchfork and torch if I thought that was what she was talking about.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:45 PM
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I am glad the tiny part of you is happy now.

Wow, fuck off.

Amazing that your side is the one claiming to be standing up for individuals.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:47 PM
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because I can't imagine this doesn't have an effect on how we look at the resulting people (a burden on water resources)

Anyone with a realistic view of resource constraints is already looking at people this way. Yes, even my own little ones. My tiny consolation is that 2.0 kids is below replacement (but only just). But even without increased access to contraception in CA, I'm aware that my offspring represent a resource burden on the world.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 9:52 PM
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Cala, I have said to do efficiency stuff first, and population management will also be necessary in comments 53, 240, 287, 334, 358 and then I stopped counting. If you haven't understood that to be my position, please take that as my position henceforth.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:05 PM
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I'm getting it from here:"If you ask a woman if she is hoping to get pregnant tonight and she says 'no' then she isn't giving up anything she wants if she doesn't have that child." I don't think that's true just as a matter of psychology in quite a lot of cases. (Which does not mean I'm skipping off to poke holes in condoms so people can have better experiences. So we're clear. I just don't think unplanned equals unwanted with sufficient confidence to use the number for unplanned to make an argument about unwanted.)

If you're reading 358 as suggesting that people who actively want to have children should be prevented so that other people can have lawns, I understand your reaction to it, but I'm confused by your interpretive method.

Megan's asserting that people are attached to their lawns, and that proposals that get them not to have lawns are likely to fail because they want them. I am suggesting that given that many births are unintended, but not unwanted, and that proposals to get people who fall into that group to refrain from having kids might also fail. I am not sure why "people are attached to them" is a reason to dismiss the first proposal but not see a potential problem with the second.

I'm also reading it as saying this. Megan actively wants to have a kid. I am decidedly ambivalent. I move to California. Suppose we both get knocked up (planned in her case, contraceptive failure in mine). She announces it happily. I, after some deliberation, decide to go ahead with it, and announce it happily. I'm sure no one would be rude, but it seems that the right response on her theory would be to praise Megan and think (privately, of course) that I've done something wrong, given the water situation.

I don't see why mere desire for a child should be making the kid not count as a burden. And I'm uncomfortable with a policy whose stated goal depends on judging as burdensome a potential free choice to go ahead with an unplanned pregnancy.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:11 PM
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I don't see why mere desire for a child should be making the kid not count as a burden.

It isn't. Every child, wanted or not, is putting extra strain on the resources we have. We're all burdens.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:24 PM
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Sure, but 47 said something quite different. "The fact that people use so much now is our slack and pressure release valve. But in the long medium run, adding 250,000 unintended people per year will take up that slack. If those babies were ardently desired by their parents (like the 250,000 planned births per year) then we should talk about trade-offs. But since their parents didn't even intend to have those kids, I think not having them is a great option."

If ardent desire is only a relevant criterion because it would be horribly fascist to do otherwise, that's one thing, but this seems to be stronger. Ardently desired babies are worth other environmental trade-offs like giving up watered lawns; others aren't.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 10:38 PM
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Cala, you're interpreting this about a million times too many. 438.2 is my intention, essear is right that desire doesn't speak to burden, and I'm not going to think about degrees of blame once conception passes.

If you are doing intricate back flips to figure out my intentions on this, you are working too hard.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:07 PM
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I'm not. Not even half a flip. But I am willing to believe you that I'm interpreting 47 wrong. That's what bothered me, that we were dividing people into Worthy of Water Conservation and Not and I can't believe that I've gotten this far in this discussion without making a single Dune reference.

And so I'll let it go. If you'll hold my water rings.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:13 PM
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Um, sure.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:18 PM
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Cala is making all the points I'd like to better than I could. But let me add this:

A) there is a strong and disturbing implication, sometimes, (as with JRoth, very explicit) that an "intended" child is worth more than an unintended but ultimately wanted child, and that (as it turns out,on an empirically and economically very questionable basis) there should be some sort of "ecological" disaproval of the latter kind of kid. To that position, let me give a very hearty "fuck you" to all the proponents. Seriously. Your half-baked ecological theories are actually anti-human and incredibly offensive to the many of us who are actually raising such children.

B) the casualness, trolley-problem style, and lack of rigor with which the calculation is being proposed is extremely annoying. "Hey, what if the world has no more room, let's look to a new series of shaming constraints on people's childrearing behavior?". Hey, it turns out that your ecological model is bullshit and that the effect you're talking about is a small impact that can be more than accounted for through more normal policy channels. But that shouldn't stop us from promoting a vision of sexual behavior and childrearing that we can enforce! This strongly gives rise to the suspicion that the goal is reduce the birth of unintended children first, and then to find a hokey policy justification as to why. Again, proponents of such a view can fuck themselves.

C). Everyone agrees that we should give people the tools to help them live whatever kind of childrearing life they want. Free condoms, education, legal abortion --
I'm all for it. If there's a consequent limit on population growth, fine. Of course, to be fair to Megan, that's the only actual policy she proposed, and if she started and stopped there I don't think there would be much argument. But the reason for the policy would be population control and shaming, not an increase in personal autonomy. And there is a distinct "let's try controlling people's sex lives first" tenor to this discussion. And no, I am not imaganing this, since we're told that we need to keep people who "weren't sure" (according to the CA study cited by Megan) about whether they want to be pregnant from having babies before we're to look to market pricing water to California farmers.


Posted by: robert halford | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:24 PM
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Don't do it Megan! She's just concealing a coil of shigawire in her hair!


Posted by: Tj | Link to this comment | 01-15-09 11:27 PM
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[Editorial note: This is an occasional poster given to long rambles about disability-related stuff under a separate handle in anticipation of posting this year that I'd as soon not have under my birth name. No attempt at passing myself as a newcomer or anything, though.]

Megan, the problem is this: You're oblivious but not cruel.

If you were cruel, you'd have a sense of the temptations facing the administrators of programs that deal with the deep personal lives of poor people and social outsiders. And if you were not oblivious, you'd have picked up a sense of the suffering inflicted on those people by cruel administrators.

I suggest spending some time working on the latter, if you really want to talk about the social engineering side of sustainable futures. Radley Balko's blog The Agitator covers what's done in the name of the effort to stamp out dangerous drugs; Lisa Harney's Questioning Transphobia and Pam Spaulding's Pam's House Blend cover transgendered people's experiences from white and black perspectives. I'm not in a position right now to recommend a good blog by someone with Down's or strong autism, but they're out there too and worth reading.

One of the things you'll find out is that in practical terms, law is license. Right now, this week, people who need various social services are being told things like "you will be cut off from this service if you have another child, and if you bring it to term and give it up for adoption, we'll suspend you until the adoption process is complete", even when it's absolutely not true, and if they appeal, they can count on rejections. They're being told things like "If you want your kids in school this term, we'll need to see documentation that you've been sterilized." Same deal there. People crueler than you use their power in ways that would probably never occur to you or to any decent person at all, and for their victims, that's the life that's available. Someone pulled over at a random driver checkpoint and found to have a drug arrest history can have their home searched and their vibrator used as evidence of immoral behavior and have their children taken into protective custody. And the ruling class' God help them if it turns out they might be, say, pagan or atheist and have any literature about that around.

And on and on.

When some of us see "helping them achieve their stated reproductive goals", we do think about what else that power can do and will do. This isn't something we can shrug and say "well, hope it goes better this time". We count on it, as a surety, and hope only that maybe next time better safeguards will be built in to mitigate some of it. This in spite of the fact that I genuinely don't think for a moment that you want to do that, or condone anyone else doing it.



Posted by: Paige Morrow | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:37 AM
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Let's run some cost numbers here. Giving you your 9 million assumption (and therefore assuming zero substitution between intended and unintended children, zero leakage from immigration and 100% effectiveness from a non-coercive campaign of nurses and posters), what's the implied cost of water here?

Well, there are roughly 40m Californians and therefore I'd guesstimate about 2.5m women aged 18-25. If you're talking about a "clinic on every corner", then surely you're talking about one nurse per 250 women of 18-25 age group (alternatively, 1 per 4000 population), which would be about a 3% increase in the California nursing workforce assuming they're close to the average of 800 nurses/100k population.

Nurse salaries are $80k in California, so given the usual rule that total cost = 2.5x salary, I don't think you'd get a nurse for less than a cost of $200k fully loaded with all the costs of the program (I'm apparently giving you the posters for free!). So we're talking about a $2bn bill here.

Ignoring inflation and time cost of money and assuming sufficient productivity improvements that the nurse workforce doesn't need to grow with the population, over the period between now and 2050, you spend $84bn to reduce the 2050 population by 9m. That's $9300 per headcount reduction.

Assume a Californian lives 75 years and consumes 150 US gallons of water per day (we're assuming agriculture and industry won't be changed, so the residential use is what matters), and that the 20% reduction from #30 above is achievable. That's lifetime consumption of 3.3m gallons = 12.4m litres = 12417 metres cubed.

So, spending $9300 to save 12417m^3 of water is an implied price per cubic metre of $0.75. That compares to the current cost of desalination plants of $0.50.

If we assume anything less than 100% efficiency (which even China didn't get for the one-child program), any leakage from net immigration or material substitution between intended and unintended children, then this could go well over a dollar. Drilling for water in other peoples' pants is *expensive*, who could have guessed?


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:51 AM
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Drilling for water in other peoples' pants is *expensive*, who could have guessed?

For fuck's sakes, right? I'm glad both that I skipped this thread, and that d^2 didn't. Listen to the a-hole from the old empire, people. Even if the numbers don't work out, are you fucking crazy? Like focusing on reducing birthrate is ever going to be the most economical way to do anything? You'd make better progress by funding postgraduate education through the master's level for any woman caught having more than one child. No, I won't do the math, or read the thread.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:58 AM
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Just to note as well that the cost calculation gives the lie to this idea that we can "do this - but do that too!!!". Money spent on one thing can't be spent on another, 10000 nurses who are spending their time on trying to prevent unintended births are not providing healthcare to 1m Californians, and in general resources, once diverted, are diverted and can't be used for the other thing you wanted them for. Economists always make themselves unpopular for saying things like this.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:18 AM
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I knew I had an "oh, yeah, also" sort of footnote, and D^2 set up for it:

One of the reasons people given to cruelty fight so hard against universal social services of any kind is the extent to which they cut out the opportunities for cruelty toward one's social inferiors. And this is one of the reasons we should be pressing for them. The US's cruelty abroad is intimately connected with cruelty at home, and while it's not something we can easily or quickly weed out altogether, there are things we can do that would materially reduce and be in a lot of people's interest if we did.

Targeting is sometimes necessary. Like, men just don't need their pregnancies monitored, and like that. But it's a good idea to ask first "Can this work as a universal entitlement?"


Posted by: Paige Morrow | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:30 AM
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447: ah, but there are (surely) other benefits to having lots more nurses working in California? To take just one example: perinatal maternal mortality is about 1 in 10,000 births. So if you cut out 250,000 unwanted births per year, you are also saving the lives of 25 women per year.
I appreciate that this will in fact make your population problem worse rather than better, but it's never the less a benefit.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:20 AM
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One of the reasons Megan made her original statement was that she was trying to find non-coercive, non-imposed approaches. She was just arguing that, if a lot of women end up having more babies than they really want because of ignorance or unavailablity of birth control and abortion, making birth control and abortion more available would a.) increase the freedom of those women and b.) as a side effect, serve as a non-coercive population reduction measure.

There are various practical criticisms that can be made of this statement, but granted that population reduction is a valid environmental goal, I don't see that there is anything ethically objectionable about Megan's statement.

I found the Freakonomics speculation that abortion reduces crime pretty creepy, but that was because of the book's tone of cheerful, glib, jocularity and because they made several other questionable statements about race.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:11 AM
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To my knowledge birth control information is normally given out in clinical settings where other medical information is given out too. I doubt that Megan is planning to instruct the nurses to ignore non-pregnancy-related medical problems. Part of the reason why birth control information is hard to get is that a lot of people don't get other medical care either. The second reason is that many youth clinics paid for by taxpayers are forbidden to discuss contraception, much less abortion, and sometimes not even sex.

I still find Megan's point inoffensive. It's pretty close to the commonplace statement that when third world women become more prosperous, better educated, and freer family sizes decrease.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:19 AM
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as a side effect, serve as a non-coercive population reduction measure.

This point still not conceded, I begin to tire of repeating myself. It is wholly dependent on an assumption about net immigration. It could even have a perverse effect on population (we might note that a baby born today is unlikely to start a family for 25 years, but someone who immigrates is likely to do so at an age very close to family-starting age, so a native-unintended-birth reduction magic spell could end up accelerating births rather than postponing them).


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:33 AM
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I'm with dsquared on this one, and I also appreciate the comments by Paige Morrow.

Also: I find it vaguely unsettling/offputting at the very least, and sometimes downright offensive/creepy, when women are targeted as some sort of natural resource that needs to be managed properly and/or as some sort of problem that needs to be solved. So, e.g., I'm a huge supporter of increased (educational and economic and etc) opportunities for women. But there are ways of talking about women and education and economics which acknowledge women as citizens and moral agents and social actors, and then there are ways of talking about women and education and economics which render women the passive objects of scrutiny and concern.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:40 AM
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It's not so much the proposal itself as a) the not-so-much-here-for-the-hunting way in which it's being promoted as a solution to more or less completely unrelated problems and b) the complete indifference to the cost (in terms of both cash money, and political capital no longer available for other more important projects). The general politics of saying "I think that feckless young women, lots of them brown-skinned Catholics, are having too many babies and threatening our sacred right to lawn sprinkers, we must spend huge amounts of money over the odds on 'education' programmes to make them behave more like nice white people!" are really quite yucky, and saying this sort of thing while insisting that you need to be judged on the tone you hear inside your head, rather than the words written, is making demands on readers which rise to the level of gross negligence.

One can compare the debate over whether health authorities ought to focus resources on HIV education more or less exclusively on the gay community. Which is, in fact, massively the most cost-efficient way to do it (giving it at least an economic rationality which this proposal lacks), but which most health authorities don't actually do, because they're correctly worried about the second-order effects of stigmatising them in this way.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:52 AM
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I agreed above that when planning for California specifically, Megan should have taken into consideration inmigration and outmigration. Essentially this means that you can't plan population reduction for a single state. I read her argument to be an unsuccessful attempt to apply the commonplaces about economic development and fertility to a notionally bounded area whose boundaries are actually permeable, and I don't think that it would work, but I'm defending Megan against the angrier accusations against her.

Anyone thinking about large scale environmental questions has to think about demographics, and when you think about demographics you end up thinking about behaviors relevant to fertility, including what's in peoples' pants. In the process demographers end up speaking of human beings in an objectifying way, but every social science and every management practice does that. I don't think that sexual behavior and family should be made taboo and untouchable in these kinds of discussions. (Likewise, I don't think our long term planning should primarily be based on "assume we have a can opener" technical fixes.)

I am more friendly than Megan to coercive conservation measures, whether through the market or through regulation and taxation. I don't propose coercive population-limitation measures, and I don't think Megan did, but to me population limitation and reduction are valid and necessary goals.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:04 AM
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Has anyone addressed how sports waste lots of water? All of that sweat needs to be replenished.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:08 AM
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California can get all the water we need if we just spend a trillion dollars doing this! . There's plenty of water around, it's just in the wrong places.

NAWAPA begins with construction of a series of dams in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon, trapping the water of the various rivers running through this largely undeveloped wilderness area. The drainage area to be tapped is approximately 1.3 million square miles, with a mean annual precipitation of 40 inches.


A large portion of the water thus collected would then be channeled into a man-modified reservoir 500 miles long, 10 miles wide, and 300 feet deep, constructed out of the southern end of the natural gorge known as the Rocky Mountain Trench in the Canadian province of British Columbia. This would be accomplished through a series of connecting tunnels, canals, lakes, dams, and, because the trench itself exists at an elevation of 3,000 feet, even lifts. The network of projects provides plentiful opportunities for hydroelectric power development.


To the east, a thirty-foot deep canal would be cut from the Trench to Lake Superior, to maintain a constant water level and clean out pollution in the entire Great Lakes system from Duluth to Buffalo. Not only would this provide more water for hydroelectric power and agricultural irrigation of the Great Plains region of Canada and the U.S.A., the canal could ultimately be made navigable for lake- and ocean-going vessels from the Great Lakes into the heart of Alberta, and eventually, extended westward into Howe Sound, British Columbia. The dream of a Northwest Passage would at last become a fact, from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Vancouver.


South from the Trench reservoir, water would be lifted through a giant dump lift to the Sawtooth Reservoir in southwestern Montana, from which point it would flow by gravity through the western part of the system, passing through a tunnel in the Sawtooth Mountain eighty feet in diameter and fifty miles in length, to the western and southern U.S. states.


South of the Rocky Mountain Trench, in central Idaho and southeastern Washington, a series of hydroelectric plants would develop the Clearwater and Clearwater North Fork Rivers and the lower reaches of the Salmon and Snake Rivers. Flow of the Columbia River would be supplemented as needed from other rivers as well as regulated at its direct connection to the Rocky Mountain Trench Reservoir to prevent flooding. NAWAPA aqueducts and reservoirs would dot the slopes of the Rocky Mountains, providing water to the Staked Plains and lower Rio Grande River basin and serving New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Mexico via existing rivers.


Flows from the Rocky Mountain Trench and Clearwater subsystem would also supply Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, California, and Arizona in the United States; and Baja California, Chihuahua, and Sonora in Mexico. A diversion aqueduct at Trout Creek, Utah would send high-quality, low- mineral water to southern California and Baja California. Here it would arrest soil damage caused by high-mineral Colorado River irrigation water.

In the new socialist Obama era, we need to think BIG on public works. No more of this repaving roads shit. Stalin had a "Stalin Plan For the Transformation of Nature".



Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:10 AM
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||


Obama said his younger daughter, 7-year-old Sasha, asked whether he would be giving a similar speech.

"And I said, 'Well, actually, that's a short version, but yeah, I will,' " Obama recalled. "And then Malia says, 'First African American president -- it better be good.'
"So I just want you to know the pressures I'm under here from my children."

There's no defense against the smart cuteness bomb. Hopefully Obama will be able to frame the debate over his program as a debate between Malia on the one side, and Boehner and McConnell on the other.

|>


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:16 AM
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(Likewise, I don't think our long term planning should primarily be based on "assume we have a can opener" technical fixes.)

As opposed to "assume we have a can opener" social fixes? Like the one which takes the best-scoring state in the USA for unwanted pregnancy-reduction measures, where teen pregnancies are 3% above their all time low, and manages to further reduce the rate to zero, despite the apparent fact that most of the proposed solutions don't work and the easy wins have already been grabbed?


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:21 AM
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And to repeat, part of Megan's mistake was to try to find a noncoercive win-win solution, but that kind of thinking is now hardwired into American law ("takings"), the American political id, and American economic science (public choice). So rather than expropriate golf courses and lawns (coercive) she proposed facilitating voluntary population limitation presently impeded by ignorance and lack of access.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:23 AM
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I was referring to your anti-Malthusian "argument" above, Dsquared, as I think you know.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:25 AM
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are we talking about providing some kind of additional public education or free contraception? If so, fine, although there are plenty of those options available, and it's extremely dubious that this is going to have much if any impact.

In general I'm in agreement with many of Halford's points, but I just want to say that this varies astonishingly in different parts of the U.S., including within neighborhoods in a single city.

Absolutely regardless of any environmental consideration, I support full, clear, scientific sex education for every human being, and wide availability of the full spectrum of reproductive health services for men AND women. That includes birth control, STI testing, prenatal care and support, preconception care if desired, abortion services, etc. etc. etc.

Given that I support this, I feel honor-bound to emphasize how pitifully rarely it is available. I'd bet a lot of money that fewer than 25% of Americans of child-bearing age have regular access to those services. It would be great to change that.

I was also glad to see Paige Morrow's 444. We know and love Megan, so we're broadly willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, but it's important to understand that "helping people to have only the children they affirmatively want" is a position that has been taken in bad faith over and over and over in this country, almost always by educated white people against less-well-educated people of color. I got a hint of how deep this went years ago, when a landmark women's clinic was closing and a black colleague remarked somewhat bitterly that they'd been awfully quick to abort black babies there. The implication was very clear.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:27 AM
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Hopefully Obama will be able to frame the debate over his program as a debate between Malia on the one side, and Boehner and McConnell on the other.

But Senator...are you saying my daddy doesn't love me? [begins to cry]


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:30 AM
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I would argue that this very thread is proof positive of the wrongheadedness of Megan's idea. She's proposed only policies that virtually everyone here wholeheartedly supports, and yet she's gotten tremendous, heated pushback against them. As far as I can tell, all she's doing is taking a current set of policies, useful in their own right, and suggesting they be advocated in a manner that is all but guaranteed to make them vastly less> politically popular. I don't know why anyone would favor that.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:31 AM
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Nearly five hundred comments in, and nobody has proposed the obvious solution: Contraceptives in the water. Couples who want to conceive will have to switch to bottled for a few months.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:39 AM
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A reaction from a public health planning professional, albeit not from California:

Megan, facing a water resource constraint of the magnitude you describe, please, please rethink all the alternative ways you have considered to reduce per capita consumption, because you will not obtain purchase on the problem of California water use by trying to change reproductive outcomes non-coercively.

Taking the figure of 250,000 annual unplanned pregnancies in California as given, consider the following:
Under a regime where abortion is legal and safe, women who have affirmatively decided not to bring a pregnancy to term are not even included in the data here. So, the strongest inference we can make about the 250,000 mothers describing themselves as "unplanned" is that they are ambivalent about the timing of their pregnancy, and something intervened to make birth control ineffective. It is a noble desiderata for "every child to be wanted", but it is naive to make that the basis for policy in a world where, a) people enjoy sex, b) birth control is not 100% effective, c) the vast majority of people aspire to reproduce themselves at some point in their lives. According the Guttmacher Institute, only 7% of US women of childbearing age don't use contraception, who aren't seeking to become pregnant, or are otherwise infertile or sexually inactive. Either California deviates widely from the US average, or you would achieve astonishing results if whatever policy intervention you planned making birth control more available could reduce the "unplanned" pregnancy incidence even to 200,000 from 250,000 (20% reduction).

Brock, D-squared and others have it right. Maximum available birth control might be desirable for reasons of health, personal autonomy, economic development. Relatively low cost interventions like education might improve some outcomes at the margins. Even some higher cost interventions being discussed here, such as visiting nurses or loan forgiveness, might be desirable policies for their own sake, but their costs will be inflated because those policies will be delivered to all women, some of whom would be postponing reproduction anyway, and some of whom would be having babies anyway, regardless of the existence of the policy. Waving the magic wand will not reduce the demand of competing uses for those resources. I ask, what sort of water savings could be achieved with the direct investment of $84 billion that D-squared calculates?


Posted by: Interlooper | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:43 AM
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I've just realised that although some Californians might regard their lawns as an intrinsic part of the lifestyle and something that they very much need to retain, there might be a lot of unintended lawns out there. Surely we should think about measures to make sure that only those lawns which are affirmatively wanted are planted. I propose posters everywhere saying "Yardwork sucks! Patios rock!" and perhaps a government-provided landscaper per 10,000 population, who could go around educating people about the benefits of dust.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:48 AM
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I was glad to see Morrow's 444. Leaving Megan completely to the side, I don't really trust the government to be involved in fertility decisions beyond maximizing people's autonomy and to the extent that policies are going to shape people's decisions (like tax credits and family leave), the policies should be applied universally and with an eye as to how it's going to affect different socioeconomic groups.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:06 AM
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the policies should be applied universally and with an eye as to how it's going to affect different socioeconomic groups.

Comity!


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:09 AM
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I told a friend at the Kennedy School that this thread would be a good basis for her second-year required PAE (policy analysis exercise). Footnoting the various handles might be tricky, though.


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:10 AM
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Handling the footnotes? Also a problem.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:11 AM
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Lawns are often required by neighborhood associations. Some guy was sued or prosecuted because he turned his yard into a wild meadow (= weedpatch).

To return to the discussion, I think that Megan was brainstorming an idea that turned out to be not that great, but she didn't deserve to get dumped on as a racist and possible misogynist or totalitarian. I welcome her presence here because she's involved in questions which are interesting and important.

Environmentalism often has an anti-humanist slant, but political or economic humanism is often oblivious to physical reality. In my understanding, the net realworld contribution of actual economics profession to environmentalism has been overwhelmingly negative over most of the last century, even though there may always have been a few economists saying some of the right things.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:12 AM
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the policies should be applied universally and with an eye as to how it's going to affect different socioeconomic groups

this constraint makes it even more expensive! I suspect that we're soon going to reach the point at which water-saving through non-coercive, universal, race-neutral, class-neutral family planning promotion loses out to "San Pellegrino in 250ml bottles". Pretty please can we have another eye on the fiscal cost here, particularly as California is notoriously a balanced-budget state, which is at least as attached to its reluctance to pass tax increases as it is to its lawn sprinklers. Money going into this, comes out of something else, and probably something more valuable.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:17 AM
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473: I'm thinking "universal access to birth control = good, motherhood payment schemes for white women who have kids = bad, policies that will likely disproportionately affect different segments of society = proceed with caution.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:26 AM
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I'll answer the other humanitarian points second, but here's my first thought to Dsquared's 445:

over the period between now and 2050, you spend $84bn to reduce the 2050 population by 9m. That's $9300 per headcount reduction.

Holy fucking shit! Are you kidding me? That is the best news I've heard all day. $10,000 per not-person? Half again as much as desal plants? If it is that close to break-even on water alone, then only one other environmental field would take it over the top. Averted transportation costs plus water would make it profitable. Averted carbon emissions reductions would be bonus. So would energy, or land conservation, or waste reduction, or wastewater treatment, or endangered species preservation. Two of any of those fields would be breakeven and we would get them all with the same $84B*.

We had this argument over water because I'm the one who was foolhardy enough to mention it, but if there were an equally stubborn person here from each of eight or a dozen other fields, we could have this conversation in all of them.

Other people mentioned additional health benefits, and we're all acknowledging the incredibly rough estimates. But that figure is only going to reinforce my belief that if it worked it would be the cheapest way to go.

*For reference, I added up the infrastructure costs in the Water Plan (out to 2050). Only half of the people who were saying what we need to do would give figures and that added up to $90B. We would have to do some of that anyway, but the difference between 50million people and 60million people eases a lot of pressure.

The other arguments, that it wouldn't work or that it will inevitably become cruel, those are more substantial. But the cost argument works directly against you.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 10:56 AM
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Holy fucking shit! Are you kidding me? That is the best news I've heard all day. $10,000 per not-person?

Cf 466. It's actually five times that.

But the cost argument works directly against you.

... if we take all of the very most optimistic assumptions you could possibly make, throw in some further side-benefits and no unintended costs, ignore any possible technological progress which would massively favour my side, ignore the constant immigration assumption issue, and ignore the economic output of ten million people who exist in my scenario and thus pay taxes to fund healthcare and other services, then by criminy you've got it. That's sarcasm by the way. Of course it doesn't.

Do you realise how fucking stupid you look clapping your hands and high-fiving over that? Do you realise how irritating you are? Well I'm telling you then. Very, and very.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 11:09 AM
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I don't really trust the government to be involved in fertility decisions beyond maximizing people's autonomy

This is exactly what I was getting at when I made the technocrat comment, BTW. Sorry for not explaining myself better yesterday.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 11:15 AM
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Paige and Witt and Interlooper,

The potential for cruelty is the best argument I've heard against this yet. (After that comes, 'public health campaigns to reduce unintended births don't work', but I haven't been convinced of that.)

Here's the thing. I don't believe there's enough water to be gained through efficiency to serve everyone here (our sources are going away as population grows). Obviously I would jettison lawns and agriculture before it comes to this, but with our current legal structures, I genuinely believe that the future of environmental collapse or mass dislocation or physical conflict are real possibilities. The same people you (and I) care about will be the ones who are hurt worst in mass dislocation and physical conflict. Environmental collapse vs. daily cruelty to marginalized people requires a different kind of values balancing, and different people will feel those hurts at different levels.

I ask you to ponder the question I see. If, twenty years down the line, there is truly not enough (after we've taken up all slack, changed our lives, stopped feeding the nation, allowed the rivers to die), what do we do?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 11:19 AM
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I like living in Megan's gulag, and my kids are sixth generation native, but when the water runs out we'll move, and so will enough people for the State to be able to return to some sort of almost hell equilibrium. No one is going to voluntarily stay in a place with no water, all other things being equal. PS the jobs will go first, so good luck with what remains.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 11:30 AM
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but when the water runs out we'll move.

That sounds about right in practice.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 11:36 AM
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Economic and technological optimists are almost always environmental fatalists. Discuss.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 11:43 AM
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Heh. Watch Nevada and Arizona for the leading signs of that. CA is screwed, but they're screwed worse.

Instead of a program to help people have only their affirmatively wanted children at that time, we should start a program to help with their dislocation, so the poor here don't become refugees when they go somewhere else? Is that a better option for preserving their dignity? (I'm not asking that sarcastically. I'm asking it as I contemplate it.)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 11:44 AM
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...predicted dislocation in a generation...


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 11:45 AM
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Hmm. Pay poor people to move so there is more for those wealthy enough to stay? Already happening in San Francisco without the payment. Some heavy PR lifting to do, but better that than the forced sterilization.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 11:57 AM
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Megan, what do you say to 464? I meant it seriously.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:02 PM
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I honest-to-god hadn't thought about the paying people to leave option. How did I miss that?

So far know that $10K/person is worth it to us from the environmental perspective and cheaper than making sure they only have kids when they want them. I wonder how many people a $10K payment would convince to leave.

If this is the new approach, we really would have to do something about inbound immigration and people trying to game the system. Maybe have people post a bond as they move in, which they can collect after being here for years? That pool of money could be used to pay people to leave...


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:02 PM
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Now we're going to pay people to leave California???
I have to say that this thread has lowered, not raised, my belief in the power of social engineering. And this might be the first blog discussion I've seen where a greater understanding of Econ 101 actually might help, not hinder, understanding key issues.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:10 PM
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464 - It discourages me. I more or less believe what you wrote, that an only-affirmatively-wanted babies policy become less attractive when it is presented from a resource use point of view.

This sucks, because the urgency in resource use is real and it is a strong reason to promote a policy that people want because it has good outcomes for the recipients (noted Paige and Witt and Interlooper's comments that it can have bad outcomes for the recipients. I would need to see proof that bad outcomes are universal, though). We have to be able to talk about it on the resource use side, but the fact that that presention drove some people here apeshit means that the people who are scared to answer direct questions at conferences are reading the public accurately. That's a shame. I'll have to puzzle at that for a while.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:10 PM
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487 - I'm not attached to the idea. I'm just trying to figure out the implications.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:12 PM
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I think that TLL's plan (fuck things up and then move) is what Megan's plan is trying to avoid, and it's characteristic of extractive approaches to the environment.

The problem with "When things get bad enough new people will stop coming and people already there will start leaving" is that it seldom works that way. A lot of people will stay and just accustom themselves to a worse way of life. Some people who are already poor won't be able to afford to leave, especially because they'd probably also be poor in the new place.

I definitely think that Megan should forget the state lines. Nowhere in the US, and increasingly, in the world, is self-sufficient or independent.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:16 PM
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Frankly, I'm a little unclear on why at this point people seem to think that Megan is a serious interlocutor in this particular conversation, as opposed to a troll. I guess that folks just like the gloom and doom.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:18 PM
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491: Have Megan and bob mcmanus ever been seen in the same place?


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:20 PM
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490 - The other problem is the side effect that the place gets fucked up.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:22 PM
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Megan: well that (488), and you've not managed (despite several goes) presented it in a way that it's really a convincing argument it would work from a resource use point of view.

You know, it's really pretty easy to solve the pop growth + resource use problem there, you just kick the snot out of the local economy and make a lot of low (water) efficiency agriculture unprofitable. Which is what will happen if you actually run out, anyway (not that I'm suggesting this is the way to achieve it). End result, Cali becomes less attractive place to live, and a bunch of people (& money) leave.

I think half of your problem is that your talking about this as if you are addressing a 2 axis problem, but you aren't. You want to reduce environmental impact without changing a lot of other things. Maybe even boil it down to "I want my life to stay the same indefinitely, how do we change what other people are doing to make that happen". Not even does this not generalize well, it doesn't really even make sense.

As far as helping people not have to deal with unwanted pregnancies without resources, and help people plan these things more effectively: that's great. And insomuch as that's the actual policy goal, it's quite probably some effective measure can be made.
Using it as a proxy for resource use seems muddle headed to me; you'll be lucky enough to come up with policy that actual works in that area alone.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:22 PM
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Some people who are already poor won't be able to afford to leave, especially because they'd probably also be poor in the new place.

This is true: it's the rich who'll move, not the poor, so much.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:23 PM
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491: Because we've been reading her stuff for years now and it's generally well sourced and reflective of a great deal of technical expertise in the area of water policy?

Honestly.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:25 PM
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She's been here longer than you have, Robert. Her concerns about California's water supply may be valid. I just looked at your own contributions on this thread and I saw at least one misrepresentation and at least one bad misjudgment. So maybe we should retract the t-word?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:26 PM
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Also, as near as I can tell water in (Northern) California is not an extractive resource. It rains/snows in the Sierras and Cascades, the water end up in the SF bay and then the Pacific. If it precipitates less there's less water to use, if you have more people there's less water per person. It's not like Nebraska pumping the stuff up from underground.

Also, proposals restricting who can move to or live in California always make me want to deport the person making them so the rest of us can continue with our lives.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:26 PM
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497: Yes! And when it comes to the topic of trolling, John Emerson's word is authoritative.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:29 PM
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496 --

I like most of Megan's stuff. But you can be a topic-specific troll, and at this point that's what it looks like going on here. But of course I'm not an arbitrer of these things, just saying that to me it looks like what's going on is more provocation than conversation. Of course, the simplest thing is just to navigate away from the thread, which I'm now going to get out of.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:31 PM
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Megan's not trolling.

And I'm sure she has a much better grasp of general water policy issues in general than most (all?) of us, let alone cali specifics. And she's quite right that water policy alone only gets you so far in her situation, I just don't think she's being particularly realistic about the other bits.

Also, proposals restricting who can move to or live in California

Any such direct proposals make little sense. Incentives (and disincentives) are a different story.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:31 PM
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494: I think half of your problem is that your talking about this as if you are addressing a 2 axis problem, but you aren't. You want to reduce environmental impact without changing a lot of other things.

This hits exactly the question I had in the post. Speaking at the utmost level of generality -- for the entire history of civilization, we've had access to a lot of easily accessible resources: clean water and air, arable land, minerals, energy, fisheries, whatever. We're used to being rich in resources. We seem to be hitting a point where there are some hard limits on those resources.

So, one solution is to get used to being poor in resources; figure out strategies for living despite the fact that there's very little water, and food, and space, and energy. And some of that can be done with pretty much no pain (fixing leaky pipes, more efficient appliances); some with a minimal, reasonable amount of pain (no lawns, mass transit instead of private cars); and some of it may end up being really, seriously painful (I don't know what's going to happen here).

Addressing population control and trying to figure out an economy that's sustainable, long term, in terms of resource use seem to me about trying to figure out if there's any way to shape policy so that future generations aren't grindingly poor in terms of resource use -- that the adjustments to the poverty we expect won't have to be so harsh. This seems like a really legitimate goal to me, although I don't know how to get there.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:35 PM
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You want to reduce environmental impact without changing a lot of other things. Maybe even boil it down to "I want my life to stay the same indefinitely, how do we change what other people are doing to make that happen".

1. For the little it is worth, my personal practices are fairly in keeping with my beliefs about "how people should live". I'm not a hypocrite who assumes that others should do more than I am willing to.

2. Time and again in this thread I've said that we will change practices and it still wont be enough. TLL's proposal, off-the-cuff joke though it is, is the only one that actually deals with the reality of Not Enough. Everyone else says Make Up Water By Efficiency Unicorns.

3. People resist changing practices, and they also get a say. I'm always shocked at people's attachment to their lawns, but so long as this is sort of a representative democracy, I have to acknowledge that it is a portion of the collective will.

4. But in another sense, YES. I would like us to stabilize at a middle class lifestyle. Since I don't think resource extraction can go on indefinitely or even much longer, the only other option I see is fewer people for the resources we have. I don't think this is ridiculous. (Huge disparities in wealth are ridiculous. Colonizing the poor for the benefit of the rich is ridiculous.) But YES, as a concept, a nice 1940's-esque middle class lifestyle (house size, clothes, possessions, consumption) for everyone would be great. It isn't wrong to want that.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:38 PM
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LB, this is particularly true in the face of economic policies based on continual growth. Not that growth exactly equals resource use, but that many of the tried-and-true ways we know of generating it are based on more efficient processes that increase resource use. We're not very good at flat usage, although clearly if we are going to run up against some walls, we'll have to figure this out in a controlled or uncontrolled way. The former seems vastly preferable.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:40 PM
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It isn't better to let things continue as usual until we collapse to a lower standard of living than the one we would have reached by planning.

off to lunch...


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:42 PM
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many of the tried-and-true ways we know of generating it are based on more efficient processes that increase resource use

Including such Ponzi schemes as Social Security.

This is what really scares me about the stimulus, in that we must assume future growth to pay for shit now. Even if we miraculously reach a sustainable equilibrium economy, it won't stay in balance for long, absent a change in personal liberty.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:51 PM
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505: e.g., see 109.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:52 PM
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So, one solution is to get used to being poor in resources; figure out strategies for living despite the fact that there's very little water, and food, and space, and energy.

Is this assuming that we don't change anything about the way we currently use those resources? Because while I'll buy that space belongs on that list, it's not at all clear to me that food and energy do. (Yes, we've seen problems arise in those areas recently, but at least as far as I know famines still arise these days from political causes rather than inherent resource unavailability.)


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:56 PM
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John Emerson: I meant it when I said that I don't think Megan is cruel, or wishes to unleash the kind of abuses I wrote about. I've been reading her blog and comments places like here for almost two years, and if I thought she were part of that problem, I'd have said so, seriously.

There is, however, another problem.

Megan: You're giving us the ecological equivalent of the pro-torture ticking-bomb argument. Unfogged hates analogies but what the heck.

A friend comes to me and says, "I gotta get full leg replacements. Can you lend me some of the thousands of dollars it''ll take?" Why do you need them? "I can't stand up for any length of time. I always fall over!" Your shoelaces are untied, and you keep stumbling on them. "Yeah, but suppose I tied them and got orthopedic shoes and knee braces and hip replacements and still kept falling over? You've got to help me now!"

It's not the same in that some actions taken or not taken now really will matter, and like that, analogies are tricky and all. But honestly, its sounds like you're already dismissing things a bunch of us would like to talk about trying. In particular, you seem very sure that things like lawn killing can't possibly do the job, and fall so far short that we have to leap right into the cruelty-enabling stuff.

It could be that you're right...but we've seen stampedes like this in recent years that lead to really evil shit.


Posted by: Paige Morrow | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:58 PM
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Basically, California water policy is Megan's topic. She's involved with it in a way no one else here, as far as I know, is involved in that or any other environmental issue.

Here and elsewhere I've said things about the anti-humanism of some environmentalists, but the obliviousness of humanists and economists to the environment is also a problem. Megan gives us a chance to face both of these issues.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 12:59 PM
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506: Social Security is not a Ponzi scheme. It's only a Ponzi scheme if the offerer has no assets to back it up. The US government has assets to back Social Security. At some point the Social Security fund will start drawing on the general fund instead of contributing to it, but that doesn't make it a Ponzi scheme.

It's a damn good thing just now that people kept their money in the Social security Ponzi scheme instead of putting it on the stock market, don't you think? My sister's retirement fund lost 30%+ of its value last year.

The people talking about the Ponzi scheme mostly have secret agendas.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:05 PM
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Damn if I haven't mislaid my copy of Jared Diamond's Collapse, so have to riff off memory. But the successful Polynesian Island among the examples did succeed based largely on population control. Infanticide was a small part of it, but, IIRC, controlling male competition was the largest part of population control.

For instance, the size of clan/family holdings were held permanently stable, and rents between clans when trading resources were minimized. Excess young males traditionally went to sea, without prospect of actually landing anywhere.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:05 PM
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503.3 - collective will can change, and does change when serious efforts are made to change it. If lawns are such a big deal then presumably changing attitudes and laws surrounding gray water usage is a much better approach than tinkering on the margins with access to birth control. Throw in a campaign raising awareness about lawn alternatives and some sexy Hollywood types promoting them, and there's your Unicorn.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:07 PM
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Is this assuming that we don't change anything about the way we currently use those resources? Because while I'll buy that space belongs on that list, it's not at all clear to me that food and energy do.

Um, no. If you look back at the post you quote, 502, I list (in an offhanded and non-exhaustive way) ways I expect us to change our resource use, broken down into things that won't hurt at all, things that will hurt some, and things that will hurt a lot (I didn't have any specifics in the last category. Maybe there won't be any.)

It's possible we'll be able to solve all of our resource problems with pain-free technological advances, and if so, great. But it is not obvious to me that that will be the case.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:10 PM
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I know famines still arise these days from political causes rather than inherent resource unavailability.

This is true at the moment, yes. It's tricky though, because it's all strongly tied to (some forms of) energy, in that our current methodologies are not long term sustainable, but the short term is sort of poorly defined. There is also a lot of elasiticity in the system at a few points. So these things are strongly coupled, but not in a way that is easy to make predictions about.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:13 PM
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511.2 - I've been looking at my savings and investments this past week. I also lost about 30% in my IRA since the summer. Bumholeschmerzen, but I knew it was a possibility and am betting things will improve.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:14 PM
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But it is not obvious to me that that will be the case.

It's really implausible to me that this will be the case. I have some hope for mild "pain" alternatives, more along the lines of peoples reluctance to change than in a radical shift it any `objective' sense of quality of life


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:14 PM
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Again, Megan never proposed discouraging births instead of other methods of reducing water use. She had looked at all the easy methods (improving efficiency) and concluded that they weren't. She then went looking for new, still easy methods of reducing water usage, and she came up with reducing that part of the birth rate which was not wanted. I don't find this heinous. Many of the criticisms of the specifics were reasonable, but many seemed to object to the very idea.

I don't think that population limitation should be taken off the table as a response to environmental pressures, though doing it at the state level doesn't work, as I've said. And if you start thinking about reducing the birth rate, among the things you end up doing is getting into people's pants.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:16 PM
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I know famines still arise these days from political causes rather than inherent resource unavailability.

It would be possible to keep everyone alive, but there would be costs to others. Probably we could afford to put all hungry people on the global dole forever, but starvation isn't the only form of misery. We'd end up with something like an enormous refugee camp.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:20 PM
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There is a science fiction story waiting to be written about what happens to the sustainable economic balanced community that thinks it has found the answer that is then suddenly stressed by an unforeseen epidemic that wipes out 10% of the population, thus throwing everything out of whack.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:30 PM
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516:and am betting things will improve.

Eventually things will improve. For the survivors, in some respects.

I realize that 512 is essentialist, and assumes the Patriachy. But instead of directly trying to limit population "by getting into people's pants" perhaps we can attack, directly and indirectly, the Capitalist Patriarchy. It may be essentialist to posit that free of the Patriarchy, women would want less children, and if so I apologize, but I think there is ecivence to that effect.

Already mentioned was improving education and opportunities for women. But the other side is limiting status and competition pressures among men. This isn't necessarily as radical as it may sound, a change in Cali's property tax structures so that McMansions aren't status indicators is one example. Increasing the marginal income tax rate might be another.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:32 PM
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a change in Cali's property tax structures so that McMansions aren't status indicators is one example

Dude, you don't understand how status indicators work. My house is bigger than yours, and I can pay all the taxes you throw my way, therefore my dick is bigger. QED.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:35 PM
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More evidence that it's all been downhill since we stopped hunting and gathering.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:36 PM
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it's all been downhill since we stopped hunting and gathering.

Back on the veldt...


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:47 PM
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Culture and Society Then and Now

...NLR, free pdf download for very short time.

Culture is always culture, of course. That is its opaque charm. This time, what is at stake in the tautology is customary difference. Both parameters are essential: custom, or anything understood as custom, takes precedence over other modes of social validation, and its currency is difference. Thus, culture is what differentiates a collectivity in the mode of self-validating direct inheritance--whose value, in return, is precisely that it binds the collectivity in difference.
...Francis Mulhern

Well, I was connecting the article to the thread, but that's my pathology. It's also funny that I consider myself Other to the assumed audience for such a piece, as well as Other to that audience's usual perceived "Others."

Otherwise, just reading & trolling.

Excellent thread. Bye.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:48 PM
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[I chose my handle because, after reading this blog for several months now, it really seems like only an in-crowd participates, but please forgive my newbie interloping to follow:]

Some of you appear to be willfully obtuse.

Dsquared in 445 estimates the cost of resources required for a particular policy intervention ($84b) and a price per unit of output assuming the "visiting nurse providing birth control" policy is 100% effective in averting 250,000 "unplanned" births. In 464 I offer that any (non-coercive) intervention could, at best, be only a small fraction of 100% effective in averting unplanned births, in part because, there is really is only a tiny fraction of women who do not currently have access to birth control whose reproductive behavior might be changed by any policy. The references in 459 further support the fact that any low hanging fruit in averting unplanned births is hardly of sufficient magnitude to support the 250,000 annual birth reduction that the obtuse Californians seem to be assuming away by waving their wands and wishing only for wanted children. If it takes 10,000,000 fewer Californians than currently projected to make the water numbers balance in 2050, you're not going to get that reduction simply by reducing unwanted births.

So, the policy question for water experts, if you could persuade an agency to fund an $84b policy to stretch water supply, where could those funds be actually used to stretch water supply, instead of spending it on a visiting nurse policy which, though it might have other valuable externalities won't actually stretch the water supply because it will be reducing demand by, at most, a few tens of thousands rather the equivalent of 250,000 annually.

For instance, could that $84b could be to purchase and retire agricultural water rights that seem to be such an issue in CA?


Posted by: Interlooper | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 1:54 PM
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526: Leaving to one side the merits of your comment, please don't feel inhibited by not being part of the in-crowd. Everyone who's part of the in-crowd got that way by commenting, and there's no sense in which it's closed to newcomers.

On the merits of your comment -- willfully obtuse seems uncalled for, given that the comments you reference haven't gone unresponded to. If you want to call someone willfully obtuse, wouldn't it make more sense to identify a particular person, and explain what it is they said that made you think they were ignoring relevant information?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:05 PM
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Everyone who's part of the in-crowd got that way by commenting, and there's no sense in which it's closed to newcomers.

Except for you, LB -- we all know you slept your way to the top.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:07 PM
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Except for you, LB -- we all know you slept your way to the top.

LB comments in her sleep.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:09 PM
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At this point it is really a brainstem function. It's funny, writing posts, dopey as they often are, takes effort. Commenting every six and a half seconds, on the other hand, is easier than restraining myself from doing so.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:12 PM
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530 - you didn't go with Lizard brain function? Your stem is slipping.

526 - You join the in crowd by coming in. Loping, even.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:14 PM
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530 is sadly true.

I should really leave again for a while.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:15 PM
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You're telling me. I had the 'no commenting from work' thing down at my new job for a couple of months, and then slipped. The maddening thing is that I do have enough downtime during the day to comment some without it interfering with anything, but moderation is not my strong suit; if I'm here, I'm here all day. I still get everything done, but I'd be better off with more self control.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:19 PM
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It takes all my energy to not comment.


Posted by: beamish | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:21 PM
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527: As a newbie trying to be polite I did not want to point fingers, but "willfully obtuse" expressed my frustration in observing smart people talking past each other. But it did seem that responding enthusiastically with the idea that it would somehow only cost $84 billion to reduce CA births by 50% was missing the point of the data presented.

And of course, additional responses and arguments have been added since I started to compose my response 526, which which is why I find this blog to be fascinating reading, obtuse, abstruse or otherwise.

And I still want to know, what could I buy with $84 billion in California that would save water?


Posted by: Interlooper | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:25 PM
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Interlooper, you are more than welcome and I am very grateful that you are engaged here.

I don't especially want to argue the b.o.t.e assumptions behind the $84B model, because that would distract us for a day and of course they are very rough assumptions to allow for calculation. I am in favor of doing rough assumptions and calculations as long as you know that you are just trying to get a handle on scale. I saw that said the number is much too low, because it won't influence that many births. But that number is also potentially much too high and disguises other benefits.

One reason it might be too high is that we actually have fine grained detail, by county if not zip code, about birth rates. Birth rates aren't the same as unwanted births, but you could also collect that information specifically and locate your clinics in the counties with the most gains. Your point that it wouldn't change population growth rate much for a lot of cases means that you shouldn't apply much money to those cases.

It would help with other health issues and those would provide gains.

Having lots of $80,000/year jobs is a plus.

I took his number on faith, and am willing to believe it is even bigger because I'm also making rough assumptions about efficacy that could go the other way.

(And, a few tens of thousands in the next few years adds up by 2050 and more thereafter. And delayed births are also a success because they stretch generation time. The exponential growth part of the equation weighs heavy on this whole discussion.)

But here's the answer to your direct question - would $84B stretch CA's water supply enough? Well, right now we fucking hope so. The water plan projects spending twice that. (For example, water recycling - without the costs of installing tertiary treatment in all extant wastewater plants, or building new wastewater plants, the projected cost for the purple pipeline alone is $11B.)

So, like I said, the number $84B is on the same order of magnitude in water and population management. That exchange alone may be one for one. BUT, the gains add up very very quickly if you throw in any other environmental benefit for having 10million fewer people.

I just had lunch with a water engineer friend and told her the $84B number. Without any prompting on my part or leading her reaction, her eyes opened big and she immediately said "That's cheap."

Put it in perspective. The subsidy for public university is >$10K per year. Incarcerating people is what, $30-$40K per year. Nursing homes are $30-40K a year.

Cost isn't a winning argument on this.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:27 PM
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Megan- why aren't we capturing storm drain runoff and is that part of any plan? When I watch all that water go out to sea I figure there has to be a better way.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:31 PM
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And I still want to know, what could I buy with $84 billion in California that would save water?

I'm guessing a substantial gray water for lawns effort, including subsidies for retrofits, an advertising/awareness campaign and funding to fight inevitable douchebags who would resist. As a bonus the reduced load on the sewer system would save money over the long term, too.

The more I think about it the more gray water for lawns makes sense. The obstacles are regulatory rather than political, AFAICT.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:31 PM
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off to a meeting, sorry to pop in and out.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:35 PM
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537 - yes it is - hold on, I'll go get the estimate for that...

Greywater would likely be paid for by the homeowner and is what, a grand? to add plumbing and connect to the sprinkler system.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:37 PM
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Is this assuming that we don't change anything about the way we currently use those resources?

Or about what counts as a reasonable quality of life. My grandparents had a small home and one car that they bought in their mid-forties. If I were to apply modern technology to that home, I could easily have an acceptable standard of living that used far less energy than they did. I don't have any sense of whether rolling back expectations to something like what they had is possible or sufficient, but surely it doesn't seem like people would experience it as a severe hardship.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:38 PM
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Here you go, a list of the things we plan to do:

http://www.waterplan.water.ca.gov/strategies/index.cfm

There are 29 strategies (maybe thirty, if they've added the salt management one). The one you are asking about is called Urban Runoff.

Stormwater wasn't one of the strategies that would give a statewide estimate, but they say that stormwater collection costs the City of Santa Monica $1.2M/year, after building a $12M facility.

Do not think that it is cheap on this side. It may be expensive on that side, but it isn't cheap over here. Then start to think about not having to put another runway in at LAX, or adding subway capacity, or freeway off-ramps.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:41 PM
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535: I'm rephrasing Megan's arguments here, and while I generally trust her to have backup, I don't have that backup myself. But what I understood her to be saying is that there's all sorts of stuff you can spend money on that will save water, and people are working on it, and are spending that money. But that nonetheless, there's a medium-term future out there where all of the watersaving policies we can think of have been implemented, and we're still not going to have enough water to go around. Which leads one to want to explore options leading to fewer people.

That doesn't mean that 'public education and free clinics' is going to solve everything -- from the initial post and throughout the comment thread, I haven't been able to get past the immigration issue; the California birthrate doesn't mean much in isolation. But if there is a limit to the amount of available fresh water (maybe not, could be techno-unicorns), and a minimum amount of fresh water for a person to lead an acceptably comfortable life, at some point we're going to be talking about population control. And I don't know how to get to good, humane, effective, workable ideas for population control without kicking around ideas generally.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:42 PM
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Really, off to a meeting.

Cala, after we've returned to that lifestyle with no lawns and not much meat, and there still isn't enough water, what do we do?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:43 PM
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543: Ack. Should have previewed.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:43 PM
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Thanks for the welcome, Megan.

I, too, don't want to focus on the details of the $84 billion estimate, except that it provides a plausible order of magnitude for one policy that was suggested here to implement your goals of meeting water supply needs by reducing unplanned births. But, for purposes of meeting the goal of water supply, the question is, couldn't that level of resources be deployed in some other area, because the payoff in terms of reducing births leading to lower water demand, is incredibly low, relative to what other potential uses of that money. Myself and others have been arguing that non-coercive public policies simply won't effect the birth rate very much, ceteris paribus even if policies to reduce unplanned births are desirable, and cost-effective, for the goal of reducing such births.

The particular policy of visiting nurses has been used as a part of a pro-natalist policy, amongst other policies such as maternal leave and birth bonuses, by France, for instance, which has a higher birth rate than the European average. In my health policy role, I'd be delighted to see a visiting nurse program funded because it has been shown empirically to improve health outcomes.

But environmental policy is being discussed in this thread, and it is the efficacy of policies for avoiding unplanned births that is being disputed. Even though the policies proposed might be good ideas in the domain of reproductive health, they're not going to help you reduce water demand sufficiently.



Posted by: Interlooper | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:52 PM
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544: then you cut per capita usage some more, even if it's a bit more painful. Or some of the people move to other places where water is more plentiful. If there are no such places, you're back to cutting per capita use. If you cut it and there's still not enough water, you cut it even further. And, as I've said several times, if there's still not enough water after you've cut all you can, then we're going to start killing one another. I really don't understand where're you're going with this thought experiment; you've posed it several times but never followed-up (afaik).


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:54 PM
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Megan's links put the 2000 numbers at roughly 8.7M a/ft water for urban (cities and suburbs) and 34.7 M a/ft for cropland irrigation.

It really is mostly about the scope and type of agriculture.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:55 PM
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Cala@541: I've been thinking about that lately too, since I'm doing a cleaning of my place delayed for several years by depression and illness. I've been thinking thoughts like "I sure have fewer cords around then I did a decade ago" and "look at how all of this compacts together so well". My material-goods footprint is going down, and my comfort is going up, even as my budget continues to suffer in real terms.

Of course it's true that I'm not trying to deal with a family or anything like that, either. But it seems like there really is some room for living better more compactly.


Posted by: Paige Morrow | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 2:58 PM
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But it seems like there really is some room for living better more compactly.

In a land full of 3500 sq. ft. houses on half-acre lots, this hardly needs to be said, does it?



Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:01 PM
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In a land full of 3500 sq. ft. houses on half-acre lots, this hardly needs to be said, does it?

Well no. On the other hand, recognizing this and actually turning things around are quite different things. Particularly when most of the country is still actively moving in the other direction, and most policy seems to be at best neutral about that, if not actively encouraging it.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:03 PM
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547: And, as I've said several times, if there's still not enough water after you've cut all you can, then we're going to start killing one another.

Brock, most people I think, and Megan I'm sure, would think of spending money to reduce birthrates as an outcome preferable to killing each other for access to water. That's where that thought experiment goes: for people who prefer cutting consumption to any attempt to influence birthrates, in the absence of techno-unicorns that's a self-limiting strategy at some point, given that per capita consumption has some minimum level. Is there any point at which things are going to get bad enough that influencing birthrates starts to look like a good idea? The possible answers I see are: (a)it's never going to get bad, and here's why; (b)yes, there's a point at which things are bad enough to start wanting to use policy to lower birthrates, and; (c)mass death is preferable to using policy to lower birthrates.

I'm thinking (b), myself, and you said something upthread that makes it sound like (c) is your answer. But that's the thought experiment as I understand it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:04 PM
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This comment is written in admission of broad, wide, deep ignorance.

Are there grounds to believe that California can actually be saved as a place with a worthwhile environment and quality of life for more than, I dunno, half the current population, and never mind any growth?

I ask because of the tone in Megan's comments and some supporting remarks that of course things like changes in agricultural and domestic water usage won't do it, so that we have to be looking at the social engineering. I find that hard to believe, on some levels, but the universe isn't obliged to humor me. And remembering life in Goleta in the early '90s, on some levels I don't find it hard to believe at all.

What I'm wondering, though, is the circumstances that might or might not make the reproductive management stuff worth doing. It seems - at the moment, to me - like there's a window where it's necessary enough to make the inevitable evils worth putting up with and helpful enough that it actually works. It's not clear to me, though, how wide that window from "necessary because the rest hasn't done the job" down to "actually helps save the day" is.

And I don't have any idea how I'd go about finding out.


Posted by: Paige Morrow | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:15 PM
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552: those arne't the only three answers, as I said way upthread (too lazy to look up comment number). Personally, I think it is going to get bad, but there's no point at which lowering birth rates is going to be a good way to make a practical differnence (because that necessarily has effects years and decades out). When it's bad, we'll need per capita reductions, and we need them right away. Put another way, I do not believe we will ever reach a point at which we are looking at our available water projections, and our usage projections, and, being faced with the former smaller than the latter, conclude that the best practical way to bring the two in line is to reduce the population growth rate. There will always be per capita cuts we can make that will be more sensible than that, until we're literally at a life-sustaining minimal level of water usage, at which point reducing the fucking growth rate isn't going to do any damn good.

So the hypo of "well what if we've done everything we can per capita wise and there's still not enough" isn't very meaningful. Turn the hypo around: after we've used policy to lower birthrates all we can, and there still isn't enough water, what do we do?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:22 PM
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The problem of the social engineering through pants is that we will not like who it is that gets to make the decisions. Guaranteed.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:23 PM
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Brock, you make an assumption without any argument, that all changes will be made reluctantly at the last minute. I regard it as glib defeatist cynicism to assume that, and as worse than cynicism to think that that's the way it should be. But many agree with you, actively or passively.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:27 PM
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TLL, you reflexively dislike anything any government does except deregulate or lower taxes, so I don't feel any suspense about what your reaction will be.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:35 PM
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that all changes will be made reluctantly at the last minute.

It's easy enough to force some changes to be made reluctantly but nearly immediately, if you price for them. I'm not suggesting this is the right thing to do, but I'm pretty sure tiered supply for houses would pretty radically change a lot of urban/suburban usage patterns (and perhaps cause a grey water refitting industry to take off)


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:35 PM
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I'm not sure 554 came out right. I don't believe mass death is preferable to using policy to lower birthrates. I also don't believe we can even talk about being faced with one or the other until the per capita use (including industry) come way down, and CA agriculture is dramatically restructured.

Now, I think Megan's in the same place. She wants all that to happen too, and she's not actually advocating any severe policies to reduce birthrates; she just wants better implementation of policies to reduce unplanned pregnancies, and easier access to abortion. (I think that's it? Maybe also some government nurses in every neighborhood to help shame any poor people who're considering having "too many" children.) So, as I said, her policy prescriptions in any of themselves aren't bad. They just seem to wildly misplace priorities. She's also been very inconsistent in this thread about whether this is soemthing that should be done in addition to getting rid of all the lawns (because that won't be enough), or something that should be done now, first (because losing lawns would be a "real loss" for some people, whereas this is a freebee). (She's said both those things several times. And, look, the "what if we do everything we can, and it's not enough?" hypo is clearly senseless unless we're talking about the first scenario, where we've got to get rid of all the lawns and cut the population growth or we're all going to die. But then why the fuck isn't she also in favor of banning lawns and golf courses and dramatically restructuring agriculture, etc. and generally doing everything else possible right now? If we've got to do both to survive, then why is it that she seems so comfortable holding on to the status quo for all those things, at least for the time being? Let's just get the population-control program underway for now, and see where things end up? WTF?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:40 PM
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Au contraire, JE. Social animals that we are, we need government past any sort of tribal organization. Social engineering is part of that mix, albeit at the extreme end. I'm just saying that the Decider of Who Shall Have Babies is not likely to be a friendly sort.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:44 PM
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Are there grounds to believe that California can actually be saved as a place with a worthwhile environment and quality of life for more than, I dunno, half the current population, and never mind any growth?

I firmly believe that California has a carrying capacity that would make it a lovely place to live for some people, a pleasant enough place to live for more people, and a grim dystopia for even more people.

I also believe that since we are talking about physical processes, we will arrive at one of those circumstances.

I also believe that we will arrive at a population that matches the carrying capacity, and I am still boggling at the prospect that people prefer future mass dislocation or conflict to current birth policies that match people's stated desires. (Not really. What they really want is for unicorns to solve this.)

If that is really how this shakes out, then I guess the two directions I can go in are 1. convincing people that there aren't unicorns and then 2. preparing to ease the effects of mass dislocation and conflict. Because I am never going to give up trying to take the edge off a foreseeable disaster.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:46 PM
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Brock, you make an assumption without any argument, that all changes will be made reluctantly at the last minute.

No, only the exceedingly painful ones, where we're literally rationing water for survival. I surely hope we can and will do much more before that, to avoid getting to a place where that's even needed. (Hope, although I can't say I'm wonderfully optimistic.) I think Megan's the one who seems much more pessimistic about this--she seems to think we have to start cutting the popoulation growth rate because there's no way we're getting dramatic voluntary reductions in time.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:47 PM
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Let's just get the population-control program underway for now, and see where things end up? WTF?

The answer to this is in your last post:
There will always be per capita cuts we can make that will be more sensible than that, until we're literally at a life-sustaining minimal level of water usage, at which point reducing the fucking growth rate isn't going to do any damn good.

There are no circumstances where cutting birthrates is going to do much good once you're in an acute emergency. On the other hand, it's really easy to imagine acute emergencies where one would wish one had cut the birth rate forty years ago.

Per capita reductions can generally be made now, when the emergency hits. If population control is going to do any good, it will always have to have been started decades before.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:47 PM
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John@557: Heh. I was going to say "It's guaranteed that some people won't like any decision.", but yours was funnier (and at least as true, if not truer).

Megan, I'm not trying for any gotcha here, just continuing to weigh things over, because I would really like California to turn into a J.G. Ballard LARP. So, immigration. The arrival of the boat people was a major event in my childhood. If something comparable to that (or flight in the wake of natural disaster elsewhere on the Pacific Rim, or something else generating a lot of refugees) were to happen again...would future California have to just turn them away? Plan for slack for such catastrophes and then try to keep it actually unused for decades on end? And in between catastrophes, what does keep people elsewhere from coming in to soak up no-longer-used assets if California actually does slow or stop its population growth?

I'm certainly not looking for detailed legislation or anything like that, so much as for general operating principles.


Posted by: Paige Morrow | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:48 PM
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(Further to 563: I'm still not sure that the proposed policies are likely to do much useful at all -- I'm talking about any population control policy.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:49 PM
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Others have mentioned both of these points, but extrapolating current trends this far out seems to ignore both pricing and desalination. If there's less water in CA, people will either pay for it or leave, right? And they can pay for it.

At what price per livable now-built acre does an otherwise abandoned subdivision become feasible with desalinated water for showers and drinking but not lawns? That is, desalinated water for current usage patterns is nuts, but viewed as a way to reclaim land should be translateable into rent. Given housing costs in (say) La Jolla, this should work for some cities. Since the plants just need pumping, they could potentially run with mostly solar and offshore wind. How long does it take the incompetent Saudis to get a desal plant up today?

Birth control and morality can be left out this way, leading to a cold discussion rather than a heated one.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:50 PM
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Well, a good reason to start now on the population stuff is that the results kick in over time.

The reason I am not so heated about starting the water use efficiency stuff is that WE'VE BEEN DOING THAT FOR FIFTEEN YEARS AND IT IS WELL UNDERWAY. That is why I'm not arguing to get all excited about it now. Further, the drought is about to give it another big acceleration. The governor just passed that 20% by 2020 legislation. That stuff is going along fine. Shit, I started my career doing that.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:51 PM
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564: Try looking at 278 -- I think it's at least somewhat directed at your questions.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:51 PM
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hat does keep people elsewhere from coming in to soak up no-longer-used assets

Nothing except cost, opportunity, and momentum.

Same as now, really. Which is why you can't put too much store in Californians whinging about housing prices, it's just an aspect of the equilibrium.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:52 PM
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I should mention that the big water question isn't household use or drinking water, it's agriculture. California is American's most productive agricultural state, and America is a net producer of food. In large parts of the world there isn't enough water for productive agriculture. If the unproductive areas increase in size because of water shortages, food shortages will be the result.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:53 PM
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I think that Megan needs to start an anti-Rose Parade. Broadcast to the world what a shitty place California is to live. Have floats depicting earthquakes, drought, and wildfires. Instead of marching bands, have rival gangs in a running gun battle. The floats must be covered in garbage and toxic waste, instead of flowers. It just might work.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:53 PM
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Megan, I read this:

I also believe that we will arrive at a population that matches the carrying capacity, and I am still boggling at the prospect that people prefer future mass dislocation or conflict to current birth policies that match people's stated desires.

And I think:

"I think it would be good if everyone could fly on their own power. It would fix so many problems with traffic congestion, pollution, overuse of some land and underuse of others. It would be psychologically liberating and fulfilling, too. I can't believe anyone objects to my proposal for personal flight training unless they're really in love with the unnecessary misery we have now."

This is what I meant by "oblivious" back in my original comment. Saying you want a policy that does that thing is not saying that there's the slightest reason to believe you can get a policy that does just that, without a lot of messy opportunities for cruelty and waste and maybe not actually getting that done at all. It's not just that I think you're underestimating the difficulties, it's that I don't see a sign that you have any real idea what difficulties there are, or how they might make you want to temper the way you talk about the issue.

But I think I'm repeating myself, so I'll knock off unless I've got something fresh to add.



Posted by: Paige Morrow | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:54 PM
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WE'VE BEEN DOING THAT FOR FIFTEEN YEARS AND IT IS WELL UNDERWAY

How serious is Cali about fundamental agricultural reform though? That's a lot of economic activity to be messing about with, after all. (seriously, I don't know the answer to this).

But it's going to happen, either way.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:56 PM
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TTL, my parents were very much in favor of requiring some quota of smog shots in Rose Parade and Rose Bowl coverage. I suspect they'd have loved your additional thoughts, too.


Posted by: Paige Morrow | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:56 PM
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I'M NOT GETTING EXCITED ABOUT WATER USE EFFICIENCY STUFF EITHER.


Posted by: OPINIONATED PREGNANT TEENAGER | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:56 PM
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567: You know, something I'd be really interested in is the 4x factor of per capita water use between California and Europe. On some level I don't believe that's real, in the sense of real low-hanging fruit to be picked; that Californians could cut their residential water use by 3/4 and still live as well as Europeans -- it just seems like too big a difference.

But maybe it is real -- like, the difference between lawns and desert-plant yards accounts for all of it. Do you have any sense of how to figure that out?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:57 PM
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There are no circumstances where cutting birthrates is going to do much good once you're in an acute emergency. On the other hand, it's really easy to imagine acute emergencies where one would wish one had cut the birth rate forty years ago.

It's also really easy to imagine acute emergencies where one would wish one had cut per capita consumption rates forty years ago. And it's easier to cut those now. And it's something we need to do anyway.

Again, if Megan were screaming "look, there's absolutely no way we're going to have enough water in 50 years unless we dramatically cut both our per capita consumption and our population growth rates right now!", I'd be a lot more sympathetic. (And a lot more worried.) But she's not. She thinks we urgently need to move forward with those population growth rate cuts, but, hey, let's hang back and see where things end up on the per capita front. I mean, sure, fix the leaky pipes, but people like their lush green lawns. And that attitude is both very suspect, and also wildly inconsistent with the doomsday hypothetical ("what if we make all the cuts we can and there's no more water?!?") she keeps raising, which is why I didn't understand her point in raising it.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:57 PM
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seems so comfortable holding on to the status quo for all those things, at least for the time being

It isn't that I'm so comfortable with them as much as I think that the mass public holds on to them as part of the California dream (because I keep having to say this, lawns, meat and conventional ag are not my idea of the California dream). I think dismissing them out of hand undervalues a type of harm to the public.

it's really easy to imagine acute emergencies where one would wish one had cut the birth rate forty years ago

Picking people off the roofs during floods, waves of child asthma overwhelming ICU's during Spare the Air days, wildfires approaching peripheral suburbs, rolling blackouts in heatwaves...


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:58 PM
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566: my understanding is that large scale desalination isn't that practical yet. icbw.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:58 PM
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Broadcast to the world what a shitty place California is to live. Have floats depicting earthquakes, drought, and wildfires.

Mike Davis is on the job. Did you know that LA has tornadoes? And man-eating cougars? Fact.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 3:59 PM
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And man-eating cougars? Fact.

Big wild hog population, too.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:00 PM
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Paige, the best I can do on that was #278, although now I am intrigued by holding open capacity for emergency refugees. Shoot. I hadn't allowed for that until you mentioned it.

Still catching up on the other stuff.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:00 PM
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God Damn it! Is that damn stupid cost argument still alive? Could I perhaps direct attention to the bolded text in #476? I have a little envelope in my back pocket, which is full of $689 billion, per year, representing the GDP per capita of the USA, projected forward at 1.5% real growth rate and multiplied by 9 million extra people. Can we throw that into the cost pot, please. Malthusians often forget to put enough emphasis on the truism that every mouth comes with two hands, but they usually don't ignore it entirely in such a studiedly boneheaded way.

"The answer is birth control. What was the question?" It makes No. Sense. Whatsoever. to assert the endless right of every Californian to continue to live in California consuming four times as much water as a similarly placed European, unless you are prepared to follow the implications of this, and put a bloody wall around it already. TLL correctly notices that ignoring the net migration issue is the single stupidest thing about this stupid argument.

We ought to be taking the lesson from this that there is a reason why engineers are not allowed to be influential in politics. It's because a) they are so horribly myopic about single issues of their expertise and b) they are so frighteningly vulnerable to hobbyhorse crankery. Major Douglas had his Social Credit, Pemberton-Billing had his airpower and this is out of the same box. If anyone wants to argue Malthusianism sensibly then go for it; in some contexts (mainly third world economies where there is an actual resource constraint rather than fucking lawn sprinklers and where net migration is not a viable safety valve) it has merits, and indeed JK Galbraith argues a version of it in "The Nature of Mass Poverty". But trying to talk about Malthusianism in the context of this amazingly bad idea is like trying to consolidate balance of trade accounts in the middle of a Frisbee park. Jesus wept.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:01 PM
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It's also really easy to imagine acute emergencies where one would wish one had cut per capita consumption rates forty years ago.

Not really with river water, given that it's not a stock, it's a flow. If you cut per capita consumption forty years ago, you'd have more ecologically healthy rivers, but you wouldn't have forty years worth of unused water in the bank; it would have all flowed downstream to the ocean. Cutting per capita consumption the year you don't have enough does you as much good as cutting it earlier (as long as we're talking rivers, not aquifers).

And I think that explains the difference in urgency. Per capita cuts are a matter for the year in which they happen -- there may be delay issues in terms of infrastructure, but you don't make a profit on doing them early. Cutting the rate of population growth (if you can find an acceptable and effective way to do it, which I'm not sure exists) works better the earlier you start.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:02 PM
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581: Wild hogs? Man-eating wild hogs?...........


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:03 PM
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there is a lot of truth in 583. The charitable view though, is to think of Megans thought experiment about this as: if we can't figure it out in California, where the hell can we figure it out? The population reduction she talks about shows no sign of actually doing what she first suggested, but it does open some discussion which isn't completely out to lunch, too.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:06 PM
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583: D2d, I've generally got immense respect for your arguments, and I think you're right on the immigration issue. But this:

I have a little envelope in my back pocket, which is full of $689 billion, per year, representing the GDP per capita of the USA, projected forward at 1.5% real growth rate and multiplied by 9 million extra people. Can we throw that into the cost pot, please.

Seems to ignore that money isn't fresh water; if the water's not there, how much money you have to buy it with isn't an issue. Maybe desalinization plants are a trivially obvious and technically workable solution here, and Megan's insane to be worried at all. But barring that, what does the GDP have to do with it?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:08 PM
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572 - What are they? Really, practically, how do the studies shake out?

What are the rates for success for different programs:

free and readily available birth control
Clinics on every other corner
Visiting nurses
Free college
Billboards advertising clinics

Look, given that a high number of births that are unwanted at that time could be 250,000 people/year, if you tell me any number over a small percent, I'm interested. Ten percent? That means we don't have to supply water to 25,000 people next year, a whole town. They won't be building houses on floodplains either, or emitting carbon, or needing hospital capacity.

At this point, I'd have to see numbers and cites that public health campaigns to reduce unwanted births don't work at all to abandon the idea.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:10 PM
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We ought to be taking the lesson from this that there is a reason why engineers are not allowed to be influential in politics.

I'd be sympathetic to that argument if it didn't come from someone in finance.

Need I say more?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:11 PM
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if we can't figure it out in California, where the hell can we figure it out?

How about somewhere that doesn't have a) an ongoing water crisis b) a balanced budget act c) an agriculture industry that's politically addicted to paying less than full price for water d) a population that's unwilling to suffer any change at all to its style of living?

The scary thing is that fucking Israel scores three out of four on this list.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:11 PM
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You can't move here JE, even for the man eating wild hogs. Megan said so. You may be permitted a visa for the purpose of capturing said beasts, so that you may expand your farm.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:14 PM
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Seems to ignore that money isn't fresh water; if the water's not there, how much money you have to buy it with isn't an issue.

You could tow fucking glaciers from Antarctica for that sort of money. You could desalinate water at $0.50/m^3. You could even, god help us, import oranges instead of growing them.

Or, you could drive up the price of real estate to the point at which people said "you where's nice? Illinois, or Florida or somewhere! I think I'm gonna live there, they have frisbees now".


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:14 PM
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Is there any point at which things are going to get bad enough that influencing birthrates starts to look like a good idea? The possible answers I see are: (a)it's never going to get bad, and here's why; (b)yes, there's a point at which things are bad enough to start wanting to use policy to lower birthrates, and; (c)mass death is preferable to using policy to lower birthrates.

So, LB, I'd really like to understand your position a little better. You said your answer was (b), but that doesn't tell me all that much. Do you think we've reached that point? If so, what should we do--anything other than try to reduce unwanted births? If not, at what point would doing "something more" be appropriate? What would that something be?

If you don't yet think we've reached a point
at which things are bad enough to start wanting to use policy to lower birthrates, how do you expect we'll know when we get there? I.e., what would make you think "okay, now's the time"? (I'm taking for granted that you think policies to reduce unwanted births are good in themselves, and so am setting those aside.) And what will you think should be done, exactly?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:15 PM
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I'm curious about Megan's responses to 593 as well.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:15 PM
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Cala, after we've returned to that lifestyle with no lawns and not much meat, and there still isn't enough water, what do we do?

Well, I don't know. I was trying feebly to introduce the question of 'when we say cut back lifestyle choices, what are we talking about?', not suggesting that all we need to do is return to 1946 in Pittsburgh to solve California's water issues.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:16 PM
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591: I was thinking of contracting out to harvest the really mean ones with big tusks and finding them a nice place to stay.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:16 PM
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This does make me wonder if there's a feasable anarcho-industry in lawn destruction. Maybe selling kits of impossible-to-eradicate weed seeds that one can go around in the night and dump on the would-be microscopic golf courses of the stereotypical McMansion-dwellers, assuming they exist. If the government can't see fit to make lawns impractical, perhaps they can be ripped from the soil by other work.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:18 PM
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I'd be sympathetic to that argument if it didn't come from someone in finance.

Need I say more?

You may be as snotty as you like when the response to the next banking crisis is "well, we need to stop you lot from having so many babies so there will be more money to go round"[1], but until then, back in your box.

[1] Actually, there is the "stop immigration to promote employment" argument, but you don't hear many economists making it


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:18 PM
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There are agricultural areas in California which are wasteful of water, partly because of the Colorado River compact and old water rights. In one area water is wasted to use to grow alfalfa (a low value crop). But that's not the whole state, and California's production isn't trivial.

Making agriculture as such the villain is a mistake, because agriculture is why water is really important.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:20 PM
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Stepping back from the specific problems of California: dsquared, do you think the current population trends of the planet are nothing to be concerned about?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:21 PM
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...Picking people off the roofs during floods...

I may be misunderstanding you, but... is this supposed to be something that made you wish for more planned pregnancy support? That wasn't really my response to Katrina or the wildfires, personally. I had hoped the government would have repaired the levies and maybe something vague about smarter building codes in CA, but not "if only these people hadn't been born.."


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:21 PM
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You could desalinate water at $0.50/m^3.

If desalinization plants that can produce enough to serve California's needs are practical, then that sounds like a great idea. I am guessing there's some difficulty being elided here, because if this were the case, it doesn't seem as if this would be a terribly stressful policy problem. But maybe this is an easy solution that's been overlooked.

You could even, god help us, import oranges instead of growing them.

Presumably some of that's going to happen.

Or, you could drive up the price of real estate to the point at which people said "you where's nice? Illinois, or Florida or somewhere! I think I'm gonna live there, they have frisbees now".

Surely not drive up the cost of real estate? You mean drive up the cost of water, to the point where most people can't afford to pay for the amount of water usage they're comfortable with, and leave. You figure real estate prices would go down, don't you think? I think that's right, but it's going to be an unpleasant process, and anything that eases the transition sounds like a good idea.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:22 PM
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567: You know, something I'd be really interested in is the 4x factor of per capita water use between California and Europe. On some level I don't believe that's real, in the sense of real low-hanging fruit to be picked; that Californians could cut their residential water use by 3/4 and still live as well as Europeans -- it just seems like too big a difference.

But maybe it is real -- like, the difference between lawns and desert-plant yards accounts for all of it. Do you have any sense of how to figure that out?

Yeah, some of it I have a sense of. LA halved their per capita water consumption after the Owen's Valley decision and they are living just fine. Since my region's water use is twice their's, obviously we could do that.

Here are some rough numbers:

You take 5 gal/dayperson to Burning Man.

If the state trucked water into an emergency, the Health and Safety allowance is 40 gal/personday.

France is at 62 gal/personday.

My sister's household of three is at 98 gal/personday, but she reuses bathwater to flush so that we can keep the yard nice.

My region is utterly shameful and could cut water 60% without feeling pinched. I don't defend it at all.

But, LA and San Diego, who pay $500-600/acrefoot asked for cutbacks last year and were disappointed to get 7% reduction. East Bay MUD was also disappointed with their results, even after instituting high price hikes above a threshold. This year they are going to run a much more aggressive campaign, because they have to, because the water isn't there.

My very rough guess is that if we intend to maintain a (contemporary) lower middleclass lifestyle that includes a garden and fruit trees (and there is something to be said for home food production), you're talking a few tens of gallons/day for the yard, depending on yard size.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:23 PM
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On some level I don't believe that's real, in the sense of real low-hanging fruit to be picked; that Californians could cut their residential water use by 3/4 and still live as well as Europeans -- it just seems like too big a difference.

FWIW, since I brought up the 4x difference in the first place, here's where I got the per-capita consumption rates for the Bay Area, and here's where I got the rates for France, Germany, and the UK.

Note that for the Bay Area, some areas (the poorer ones) are reasonably close to European usage rates. The worst offenders are the really rich areas; it fucking boggles my mind that Hillsborough (a very rich suburb) uses 276.9 gallons per capita per day.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:26 PM
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Jesus, Dsquared, people are arguing whether this depression will be as bad as the Great Depression, finance has been running wild for god knows how long, nobody knows why it happened or what to expect, and now someone in finance is talking about why people from some other profession should be kept out of politics? As far as I know, finance runs everything. Josh Micah Marshall just posted something about how finance is destroying newspapers. (I've believed for a long time that the Post and Times went bad partly because their financial operations have taken control of their editorial operations).


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:27 PM
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593: I've got no concrete ideas for using policy to lower birthrates, beyond the sort of non-coercive stuff (education, free birth control) that's been brought up already. On the off-chance that there are some non-dystopian policies that might lower birth rates, I think it's worthwhile kicking ideas around to see if there are any plausible candidates.

When to start? Well, when you've got population projections (including net migration assumptions and so forth) and projections for minimum acceptable per capita resource use that start looking as if they're going to run into limits on available resources at some definable future date. I'd think you'd want to look into any plausible candidates for non-dystopian methods for reducing population well in advance of hitting those limits.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:30 PM
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You figure real estate prices would go down, don't you think? I think that's right, but it's going to be an unpleasant process, and anything that eases the transition sounds like a good idea.

Real estate prices might drop (they are already), but people who own houses with lawns might well decide to stop watering the lawn if it gets too expensive to maintain grass, and if they're really attached to the lawns they may take positions in other places. But I doubt it's going to be anything as drastic as the collapse of the steel industry (e.g.) if the price controls drive people out rather than water usage.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:31 PM
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I may be misunderstanding you, but... is this supposed to be something that made you wish for more planned pregnancy support? That wasn't really my response to Katrina or the wildfires, personally. I had hoped the government would have repaired the levies and maybe something vague about smarter building codes in CA, but not "if only these people hadn't been born.."

This is because you aren't the person who is actually supposed to provide those services. I personally sit in the flood center at night with the flood guys and they desperately wish that we didn't have a new suburb behind that levee that we used to break to send the flood through some farmer's fields.

It is not as if you sit in the moment and think, fuck, I've got four helicopters and six locations where they are needed, boy I wish that we'd put a clinic here fourteen years ago. But you do get overwhelmed at the prospect of meeting all that demand.

Then, two years later, I think about it and I think, we are partially in that bind because there are so many people here. Additional people are straining our infrastructure in every respect and they are looking at me (generically) for more. I don't have more, so what is the other option?



Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:31 PM
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606: Judging from Europe, once you have high levels of education, lots of access to birth control, and no shame in using it, birth rates drop to near-replacement rates. The difficult bit is getting through the transition when there are lots of retirees but not a lot of young people, but if the U.S. had 300 million people in 2050 we'd probably be in okay shape.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:34 PM
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604: Oh, I hadn't clicked through. The 4x factor is comparing the CA districts with the greatest residential use to the average use over all of, e.g., France? I'd thought it was average CA to average France.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:34 PM
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bad enough to start wanting to use policy to lower birthrates, how do you expect we'll know when we get there?

Well, a good warning sign would be when you have run out the low hanging fruit and your additional efficiency measures start costing a lot of money. Or, you are starting to ask people to make lifestyle changes that threaten their sense of identity.

(Yes, yes, yes. It may be a troubling sense of identity. But if you respect autonomy, then it carries some weight. I do not consider creating programs that aligns people's reproduction with their stated desires as threatening their sense of identity, which is why it interests me.)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:35 PM
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608: But surely it's also the result of people relocating, i.e., because Cali has a fantastic economy. I can see wishing that "we didn't build there" but it's big leap from there to arguing for more clinics in other locations. I mean, you could have a net population loss and still have settlements up behind flammable trees. Katrina just needed to use the school buses they already had.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:37 PM
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610: No, the 4x is for the Bay Area as a whole (that is to say, not just the ones with the greatest residential use) to average urban use in France. Megan says France is at 60 gpdpc, Wikipedia says ~40, and the Sierra Club says the Bay Area is at ~150.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:37 PM
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606: any plausible candidates for non-dystopian methods

I don't know what this means. Suppose the purely non-coercive methods don't do enough--we've done them all*, but our projections still show us running out of water. What do we do then?

* I believe this is reasonably close to being the case. Or at least, much closer to being the case than we are on the per-capita reduction side of things. We can tinker at the edges of birth control access, etc., but we're already generally doing the right things.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:37 PM
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614: Damfino. But trying to develop plans other than "I guess we should plan for the riots to start in 2036" well in advance seems like an excellent idea.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:41 PM
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Yeah, one of the Guttmacher reports says that CA is as good as any of the states. I don't know how high a bar that is.

But no one has shown me there's no room for improvement in the states and that none, not half, not ten percent, not one percent of those 250,000 people are reachable.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:44 PM
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I do not consider creating programs that aligns people's reproduction with their stated desires as threatening their sense of identity, which is why it interests me.

You need to read Promises I Can Keep. It's a great book for other reasons, but it tries to explore that question: why, if birth control is available and access to abortion is relatively easy to secure, are birth rates in [the studied] low-income groups holding relatively constant. In a lot of cases it's just because although the young women aren't actively desiring a baby, if one comes along due to sex, it's a positive decision. So I can see that it's completely plausible that they might say "I wasn't planning to have a child" and be telling the truth but that creating lots of clinics might not actually have the effect of them not having a baby.

My sister-in-law, unmarried, knocked up accidentally by boyfriend, kept the baby. She had access to contraception. She could have easily secured an abortion. It wasn't even on her radar. I'm not sure why. She's not religious. No one would have cared. She could easily afford the birth (yay UHC), but that's what you would have to cut to bring her reproduction in line with her stated desires. Had she been a working class gal with no health insurance in the U.S., abortion might have been on the radar.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:44 PM
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615: come on, LB, you're not treating the question seriously. Are those "plans" you'd like to develop well in advance coervice population control plans, or do you think those should be off limits? (I.e., "(c) mass death is preferable to using policy to lower birthrates.")


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:45 PM
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One nice aspect of this otherwise maddening thread is that it's forced me to do a little reading about state water policy. Just checked with my California water policy expert source to confirm that Megan is way, way on the far extreme end of the gloom and doom scenario here. Perhaps I can recruit her into the thread and we can get some wonk on wonk action.

Here are two papers from wonkish, non-right wing think tanks:

http://www.pacinst.org/reports/california_water_2030/ca_water_2030.pdf

and here:

http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_705EHR.pdf

Key quotation:

"Does California have enough water for future growth? The question
is usually asked with an implied answer--No. Yet, for years it has been
widely known that 80 percent of the water in California is used for
agriculture--and often in highly inefficient ways. Some have even
argued that we do not have a water shortage problem but a water
allocation problem--a very different situation, but a challenge
nonetheless.
So what is the answer to the question, "Is there enough water for
future growth?" PPIC research fellow Ellen Hanak provides a very
encouraging answer in this report.
First, ample opportunities are available over the coming decades
to meet the state's needs through diverse approaches, including
groundwater banking, recycling, improvements in urban water-use
efficiency, and water transfers that can help supplement surface storage--
the option that dominated California's water strategy in the early part of
the last century.
Second, the author argues that on both the demand and supply side
of the equation, future solutions are in the hands of local and regional
agencies. After surveying city and county land-use planners, the author
concludes that the "disconnect" between utilities and local governments
is not as large as many might have imagined or feared. Six out of 10
land-use agencies participate in the planning activities of at least some of
their local utilities, and nearly as many are active in water policy groups
concerned with regional resource management. The survey also showed
that over half of all cities and most counties--housing over half of the
state's residents--have some form of local oversight policy to guard
against the building of new residential developments without adequate
water supply.
In sum, the author concludes that there are plenty of opportunities
for balancing the supply and demand of water in the coming decades.
iv
However, the state will have to play a role in creating the right incentives
at the local level, and local and regional agencies will have to make sure
that they are taking full advantage of the options available to
them--conservation, storage, proper pricing, and thoughtful planning of
new developments. Water supply and demand will always be a
controversial subject. However, the author concludes that even as urban
areas continue to expand, reasonable solutions to the efficient use of
water will be well within reach."

Take a look at that first number again -- 80 percent of the state's water resources are currently being used for agriculture. And then think about shifting some of that agricultural production out of state or out of the country to allow for future growth, or think about proper pricing for that water. And then think about the implication of that population growth on resources available to the state and its water system.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:45 PM
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(Yes, yes, yes. It may be a troubling sense of identity. But if you respect autonomy, then it carries some weight. I do not consider creating programs that aligns people's reproduction with their stated desires as threatening their sense of identity, which is why it interests me.)

You are completely ignoring the fact that `unintended' isn't the same as `unwanted', let alone practicalities.

`Every baby should be affirmatively wanted' isn't how all people think about children; it's a bourgeois, late capitalist, urban feminist view of how people start families that fails to consider things like `babies are a gift from god, who are we to question' and so-on, all of which are much more central to people's fucking sense of identity than over-sized lawns.

This stuff about reducing birth-rates doesn't seem to come from any actual knowledge of what people want, but from a feeling about what they should want in order to keep Californians in cheap meat and lawns.

But no one has shown me there's no room for improvement in the states and that none, not half, not ten percent, not one percent of those 250,000 people are reachable.

We don't have to; you have to show us that this hypothetical program will benefit more than it costs, which you haven't at all.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:49 PM
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Heh. I wrote about a week's worth of posts on that Pacific Institute report on agriculture.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:51 PM
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So does that mean that people here were against China's one child policy?


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:53 PM
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More water resource quotes, this time from the Pacific Institute, which argues that the Department of Water Resources (which is, I assume, Megan's agency) projections all substantially undervalue the availability of water efficiency improvement, particularly for agricultural use. The same study notes that DWR has consistently substantially overestimated increases in demand for water over time. And remember that DWR's official scenario for the future implies nothing like the sci-fi disaster scenarios we've been hearing about from Megan on this thread.

The Pacific Institute High Efficiency scenario is based on widespread
adoption of existing water-efficiency technologies, not on the invention of
new efficiency options, and on different estimates of water prices and
trends. Figures ES-4 and ES-5 show total human water demands
generated by the DWR Current Trends and Pacific Institute High
Efficiency scenarios between 2000 and 2030, along with estimated actual
water use during the latter half of the 20th century. Overall statewide
agricultural and urban water demand is projected to decline in both
scenarios, but in the Pacific Institute High Efficiency scenario total
human use of water declines by 8.5 MAF--a reduction of around 20
percent from 2000.
. . . .
A water-efficient future is achievable, with no new inventions
or serious hardships.
Urban water use in the Pacific Institute High Efficiency scenario falls 0.5
MAF per year below actual 2000 levels and far below the 2030 Current
Trends scenario of DWR. Demand for water in California's urban sector
between 2000 and 2030 is projected to increase by 3.0 MAF in the
Current Trends scenario and decrease by 0.5 MAF in the Pacific Institute
High Efficiency scenario (see Figure ES-6), a difference in urban water use
of over 3.5 MAF annually.
Total agricultural water use declines more than 20 percent from actual
year 2000 water use in the Pacific Institute High Efficiency scenario as
farmers move to more efficient irrigation methods, without reducing crop
area or changing crop type from the official state Current Trends
scenario. Figure ES-7 shows actual and projected agricultural water
demand between 1960 and 2030 for the Current Trends and High
Efficiency scenarios. Agricultural water demand is projected to decline
from 2000 by ten percent (3.5 MAF) and 23 percent (8 MAF) in these
two scenarios, respectively, while overall crop production remains
relatively unchanged. The difference between the scenarios--approximately
4.5 MAF in water savings--is due to assumptions about irrigation
technology and agricultural water prices. Even though total water use is
projected to drop substantially in our scenario, total income to farmers
remains effectively unchanged and total value per acre in the High
Efficiency scenario slightly increases.

Reaching the Pacific Institute High Efficiency future is
possible, but will require serious effort on the part of California
policy makers, water managers, and the public.
We believe that this efficient future is achievable, with no new inventions
or serious hardships. Indeed, we believe this future is likely to be better
for all Californians and the environment.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:54 PM
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And what level of population would convince people here that something coercive needed to be done re: overpopulation.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:54 PM
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583: I have a little envelope in my back pocket, which is full of $689 billion, per year, representing the GDP per capita of the USA, projected forward at 1.5% real growth rate and multiplied by 9 million extra people.

Shazam! I'm see the light. More people = more money. So that's how it works. Immediate switch to Coercive Social Engineering Plan B. Everyone must make extra babies now. We'll be so fucking rich that we'll turn the Mojave into an 87,000 hole golf course. 9 million people is such a pittance though, we need to think big. Let's outsource, get those Chinese bastards off that 1-child policy and they can make billions. And better yet every sperm urge to have a child is sacred.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:57 PM
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618: Come on, Brock, you're trying to box me into admitting that I want forced sterilization of the eugenically unfit (or at least that's the impression I'm getting). Which, I don't, honestly, but trying to wrench the conversation around so that any discussion of population control measures is tantamount to genocide makes it awfully hard to talk about the issue.

I don't know what policies I'd advocate, because I don't really have a handle on the parameters of the problem. The fact that there are no political units capable of carrying out internal policies that have borders sealed to immigration is, as has been pointed out repeatedly, a serious problem for population control policies.

And I don't have a strong sense of how bad the problem is, nationwide or world-wide. I buy Megan's local technical knowledge enough to believe that California's going to have a water-supply problem severe enough to make people move out of state in the medium term. I figure the rest of the American Southwest is similar. I hear scary things about the Ogalla Aquifer, which covers a big chunk of the middle of the country. I honestly don't know where people displaced by lack of water are going to move to in the US. It might not be a problem, but I don't know.

If we're talking about a real problem worldwide? Oy. I'd probably get less squeamish about funding non-coercive programs aimed at reducing birthrates overseas as well as all over the US(you know the drill, clinics and girls schools), largely in the hopes of both reducing immigration pressure on the US and on having places with resources capable of absorbing displaced Americans.

If that looked like it wouldn't do anything like enough good, and I felt certain of the projections? I dunno, what would you do if aliens told you that unless you tortured a baby to death, they'd destroy the world?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 4:59 PM
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I can direct you to another critique of that report if you like. But, my overall take on the ag side of things is that they don't have efficiency gains to give up, but it can be shrunk. The two effects that most people will experience from shifting ag will be higher food prices in general, and much higher prices for meat. Those are both fine by me, I only refer to the discussion above where I point out that poorer people to me have arranged their lives in reliance on that subsidy.

I suspect we will shrink ag a good deal, and I suspect they'll take the first hit on the loss of the snowpack. Last year they took a fifty percent hit because two judges made decisions in favor of salmon and smelt. Next year they'll likely get a third of their supplies. (This isn't 'cause we moved it to urban. It is because there is a drought and it doesn't exist.) Eighty percent is an outdated historical average, not the delivery in any one year.

I wonder if I know your friend.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:00 PM
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626

Piers Anthony once wrote a book in which overpopulation was a significant problem on Earth. We then discover aliens who have the same problem and make a pact with the aliens: Since no one from their own species will ever take the responsibility of controlling population, each species agrees to pretend to conquer the other. The new alien overlords can then command that the population be controlled (i.e. people be killed), leading to happiness for all. At least until the citizens of each planet realize what had been done.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:04 PM
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Frick, I hate discussing employers, but I've also worked for the Pacific Institute and can be found in an old report of theirs. Please can we not mention employers?

Really really, I am ready to talk about the Pacific Inst estimates, and I will direct you to my already written critique (or other authorities).

Also, I am more pessimistic than an old professor and some of my co-workers. I am apparently not more pessimistic than the head of my agency, which is interesting. I don't know how I compare to Ha/nak. I'm not more pessimistic than the researcher I watched on Wed, who thinks CO2 levels will stabilize at 550 if we do everything right starting now.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:06 PM
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626: I dunno, what would you do if aliens told you that unless you tortured a baby to death, they'd destroy the world?

Well okay, LB. Are the questions I'm asking different from "what if we do everything we can to reduce consumption, and there's still not enough water"? Because you seemed to think that was a reasonable question to ask. Damfino is my answer as well. (Or, since I was taking the question more seriously, I said "we'll have to kill one another.")

And really, I wasn't trying to box you into admitting anything. You made a few comments about being willing to go down the popoulation control, and I was wondering when and how. (By the way, I think we've got projections suggesting we very well could have a real worldwide problem on our hands in 2050. So, are you interested in funding non-coercive programs aimed at reducing birthrates overseas now? I mean, you said something about "trying to develop plans other than 'I guess we should plan for the riots to start in 2036' well in advance". It seems like you aren't actually so interested in that at all?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:07 PM
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So, are you interested in funding non-coercive programs aimed at reducing birthrates overseas now?

Amongst non-fundamentalists, how could this be the least bit controversial?


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:10 PM
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It seems to become controversial if the reason is the environment, rather than the empowerment of the mother.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:11 PM
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Let's make sure the poor people don't breed so much, eh?

Fuck off.

(That's what it looks like; it might not be what you mean, but.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:12 PM
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So, are you interested in funding non-coercive programs aimed at reducing birthrates overseas now?

I think it would be a wonderful thing if the planet as a whole went through that 'demographic transition' thing; where we're all wealthy enough that birth rates drop naturally. I think the policies necessary to bring that about are good in themselves -- massive transfers of wealth from richer to poorer countries, focusing most intently on education for and raising the social status of women.

I have literally no idea how to make this politically possible, either domestically (convincing Americans to spend the money), or internationally (convincing anyone else to take it and spend it the way we want them to.) But it really sounds like a much, much more attractive prospect than having the water riots start.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:12 PM
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Was that to me, Keir, or to Brock?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:13 PM
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631: it runs the danger of being paternalistic.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:13 PM
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635: Could have been to me. That reaction is certainly why I cringe and waffle when talking about possible limits on resources.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:14 PM
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631: Um, have you read any of the thread?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:15 PM
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Well, hell, no one seems to have any ideas for how to make this happen. And we can't take away the lawns. I guess water riots it is.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:15 PM
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I don't get it. I'm having trouble conceiving of a non-coercive program that would be actively harmful. I'm imagining a well-funded NGO that provides education and birth control, and I don't really see the problem. Can you help me?


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:17 PM
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639: You know, this is a blog comment thread, so this particular conversation is unimportant. But if the reaction to any suggestion of ideas for population control wasn't so knee-jerk condemnatory, it might be easier to come up with something.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:17 PM
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(convincing Americans to spend the money)

Brock's point that this framing is a way to piss of people who agree with you on the idea of visiting nurses aside, one benefit it does offer is that it gives a point of comparison. The costs of adapting to climate change (not mitigating, adapting) are estimated at 2-3% of GDP. Having fewer people in the way of floods, or having fewer people to provide less water to is also adaptation. We could put those on the same scale and balance them, if we were allowed to have the conversation at all.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:18 PM
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640: I'm taking "non-coercive" here to be the next step past education and birth control. Actively trying to get people to not have as many kids without something as strict as the one-child policy, but that usually seems to require the government's input.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:20 PM
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The costs of adapting to climate change (not mitigating, adapting) are estimated at 2-3% of GDP.

On what time scale? It seems pretty clear that if we continue on our current path for the next century, with no mitigation, it becomes more or less impossible to adapt.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:20 PM
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That was to 631.

It isn't fair, but come on; it is quite obviously going to happen.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:21 PM
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You are completely ignoring the fact that `unintended' isn't the same as `unwanted', let alone practicalities.
Not at all--granting the other assumptions of the argument, if one in ten were unwanted, it's still a big reduction. Which Megan wrote above.

all of which are much more central to people's fucking sense of identity than over-sized lawns.
To your sense of identity, certainly. But consider not every HOA member has a baby, while every one of them has a lawn. That's only 13% serious, btw.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:22 PM
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We can take people's lawns away, and will. But, relative to our very rich initial position, people will feel a loss. You and I think it is a dumb loss, but it is there. That option isn't a freebie to people's quality of life.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:22 PM
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I am 99% positive that you know (or at least know of) my friend. Unfortunately, I can't reveal the name, can't get the friend to agree to waste time here, and I lack the chops to get into this on a serious level, so I won't.

But I am pretty sure that your dire predictions are both (a) on the far, far gloomy side of the consensus and (b) not anything like the collective view of the DWR. I also think (c) that your view assumes a normative view that California agriculture needs to exist in something like its current form, which is a pretty bizarre thing want to prioritize over allowing for population growth (especially if the cost of maintaining that farmland is doing things like forcing immigrants to post bonds), and which is something different than what most people think of when they're thinking about absolute resource caps on population in order to maintain current quality of life. At least, it's misleading to allow people to talk about having to move into homes 1/3 of their current size or kick out immigrants or stop washing their clothes as a result of what some water engineer is telling them about the future in order to maintain their quality of life, when what you're really talking about is whether your agency can continue to provide enough water to allow people to grow leeks and rice in the desert of Imperial County.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:22 PM
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So I have a question: First, can we stipulate that there is definitely a population that would be unsustainable? We can quibble about what that is, but there is unequivocally a limit.

When we get near that limit, which is morally better: planned coercive population control or just letting the inevitable wars thin the herd?


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:22 PM
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645 - Huh. Didn't even consider that it wasn't to me, Brock or LB.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:24 PM
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649: I don't see how a reasonable person could disagree with that. More to the point, the unsustainable number is not many orders of magnitude above where we are now. I was hoping to pin dsquared down on that, though, since he seemed to be saying "more people = more money = things always get better in this best of all possible worlds".


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:26 PM
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648 - Are you willing to read the stuff I wrote in public about agriculture?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:26 PM
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645:

So doing non-coercive things to limit the birth rate is bad, but only if applied to poor people?


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:27 PM
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Proper pricing for water is a legit issue, and phasing out inefficient agriculture (alfalfa in the Imperial Valley), but California is the most productive agricultural state and diverting agricultural water into household and city water has a big down side, the way converting agricultural land into suburbs does.

One guy at Crooked Timber (Radek, a libertarianish economist) told me that all by itself California could feed the whole world. He claims some UCDavis agonomists told him that. There are some wild claims out there.

And while the people optimistic about diverting water from agriculture might be the same kind of people who are optimistic about feeding the whole world from California, there's a conflict between the two optimisms.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:27 PM
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Also, 648 - easy on the employer names, please.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:27 PM
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645

I mean, do you really object to 640, or do you just think it's inadequate?


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:29 PM
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That option isn't a freebie to people's quality of life.

You keep assuming that reducing the number of unintended babies would be a freebie though, and you haven't backed that up.

For you it might be true, but it mightn't be the case for other people; you haven't the foggiest, and it might be a good idea to try and find out before assuming that everyone else thinks basically the same way you do. (Seriously, social engineering requires knowledge of society, not one vague statistic.)

But consider not every HOA member has a baby, while every one of them has a lawn.

And it all begins to look like one should be getting out the Marx, doesn't it?


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:29 PM
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Cala @643

Like what? I'm having trouble imagining what else would be non-coercive.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:32 PM
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I'll reiterate my suggestion upthread of just letting the crisis come to a head. When people turn on the faucet and nothing comes out the political will to fix CA's broken water rights regime will magically appear overnight.

With 80% of water going to agriculture with no incentive to be efficient (as I understand it the incentive is actually in the opposite direction) and a 4X excess in domestic use over need, there's no shortage of slack in the system. What's in short supply is political will due to the nature of the various stakeholders. What's called for is a torches and pitchforks parade to convince the stakeholders to come to the table.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:33 PM
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Megan, where is California doing better: minimizing "unwanted" births, or minimizing per capita water use (at a reasonable level)? Because I would guess it's doing expoentially better on the former. Which is part of why I don't understand 567.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:33 PM
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I don't object to it as a means of helping poor people; I object to it as a means of reducing the numbers of poor people*.

So the well-funded NGO providing family planning advice is all good, but the well-funded NGO with the mission of reducing Third World populations isn't, even if they look very much like the same thing.

This is a bit metaphysical, isn't it?

* in the sense that reducing the number of poor people is a bad thing. Eeek, that doesn't work, does it...


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:35 PM
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"Water in (Northern) California is not an extractive resource. It rains/snows in the Sierras and Cascades, the water end up in the SF bay and then the Pacific."

Still an extractive resource, if you value the living things in NCa; just one with stretchier connections than ore or trees. Most water in Northern California doesn't fall directly into the rivers and move undisturbed into the ocean; it lands on plants, and moves into the soil, and spends quite a lot of time moving through the soil, which supports everything living there, and what it carries into the rivers -- chemicals and heat -- has a lot to do with the health of everything living in or near the river. Intercepting water and using it even for agriculture disturbs this, sometimes cuts it off outright; efficient irrigation almost by definition tries to send all the water through the crop plant into the sky -- no good for soil or forest or river.

So, among other things, if we'd decreased river and rain diversions forty years ago, we might be having rather fewer forest fires. That's a big 'might', there are a lot of things going on, but water stress makes them all worse.

I'm a soil science grad student in California, so this is my-opia or the subject of someone one lab over, depending. It also gives me a coincidental impression of whether people in general will be okay-ish with returning to a 1940s middle class standard of material life, and the answer to a surprising degree is Hell No. I left software to go into science, and while I'm very comfortable for a grad student, this does mean I live in a 1950 duplex with one other person and no car and original plumbing, and I don't fly for vacations, and my shoes are old, etc etc. And this surprises some of my ex-colleagues, and confuses many, and actually disgusts a lot more than I'd expected. Relatives have the same reaction. I don't think I'm an unusually icky person, they're just made very uncomfortable by thrift. Deeply, my-daughter-shouldn't-marry-one uncomfortable. So I expect that, if we move into reducing material standards of living, there will be a *lot* of anger and backlash.

I blame some of this disgust on the commercialism-and-credit standard that the monetary economy has flourished so on, which means I have some anger and backlash at the magic-unicorn theory of Everything will be All Right. Handy to have the calculations done, though.



Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:35 PM
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Yeah, I assume it is a freebie, because I am entirely willing and happy for them to have their self-selected joyous number of babies the instant they say "Yes. I sure hope I get pregnant tonight." I am sure you can impart complicated motivations to people after conception, but I don't think they've experienced a loss while their answers are "no, not now and maybe never, not sure." (Then you can get into whether they mean their words, or know what they feel, but I'm just an engineer here. I'm not about to have that conversation. I will trust them then and I will trust some of them six months later when they are deliberately conceiving.)

Maybe I'm not happy for that depending on how population/resource numbers shake out, but for the purposes of this discussion, I'm sticking with affirmatively wanted.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:36 PM
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652 --

Here's what I've found from a Google search, although I'm sure you've written more and I'd be willing to read that, too.

http://fromthearchives.blogspot.com/2007/11/not-quite-coming-out-and-saying-it.html

In that post, you say quite clearly that the state has enough water to provide for its people and growth, but not to provide for its people, growth, and agriculture like what we've had for the past 60 years. I agree. You then say that you have a commitment to agriculture as a part of the "picturesque" and want to allocate water to provide for it. That's well and good, but I think it needs to be stated up front and clearly, particularly when people are talking about massive decreases in quality of life as a result of a resource shortage (that only becomes a resource shortage in this sense if we assume that we need to maintain statewide agriculture in something like the form it's been in for the past 80 or so years).


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:37 PM
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where is California doing better: minimizing "unwanted" births, or minimizing per capita water use (at a reasonable level)?

Depends on how seriously you take the number of half a million unintended births/year, doesn't it? Half a million. It is also presumably different in different clusters, just like different cities and different pieces of agriculture are doing better than others in per capita reductions.

I truly can't compare those two, although as I think about it, I used to play Ultimate with a guy at Public Health. I think he was in disease control, but he might know.

The other thing I would want to know is whether both programs are static or moving in a direction. Per capita reductions is huge right now, perhaps I have mentioned a drought and some recent legislation? I know that is moving in the right direction. The other could be larger/smaller/whatever, but stagnant or regressing, and that would be good to know. But I don't.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:42 PM
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but I'm just an engineer here. I'm not about to have that conversation. I will trust them then and I will trust some of them six months later when they are deliberately conceiving.)

So you are proposing some vast social engineering experiment and you really haven't a clue how it would work?

(You keep assuming that `conscious decision to have a baby' is how people think of ideally starting families; I have no idea if it is or not, and nor do you. The fact that some ridiculously high number of Calif. pregnancies are unintended suggests that it might not be.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:43 PM
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666: THE DEVIL TAKE US ALL.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:43 PM
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Seriously, guys, agriculture isn't a frill. For Christ's sake. There are specific problems with some kinds of agriculture, but phasing out productive land to water cities is not cost free.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:46 PM
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Over at On the Public Record I wrote about the Pacific Institute and agriculture for the two weeks between Dec 15th and Dec 30th.

http://onthepublicrecord.wordpress.com

I'm sorry, I know that it is lengthy. But each piece of why I think ag will shrink rather than give up loose water from waste is in there.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:47 PM
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See also Steven Blank (ag economist at Davis, no less . . . the guy must get regular death threats) who I'm sure you must know, and whose basic argument is that California and most of US agriculture will simply cease to exist, and that those of us on the consumer end will barely notice.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:48 PM
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Checking out my local watere usage
Dallas - 234 horrible
San Antonio - 134
My particular suburb - in between those

We do have enough rain, rivers and a very active reservoir system, and a little aquifer left, so the complaints are mainly about the cost of expanding the reservoir system.

My personal use, not counting my community share(?) = 115.

You know, with all the rain and temperate climate, dsquared and the Europeans get a pretty landscape almost free, and many other reasons to have intrinsically lower water needs.

We really should be comparing Southern California to Cairo Egypt, Tel Aviv, Greece. Like to like.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:51 PM
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Emerson, you might like that series too, especially the pieces on almonds.

The chain of events I foresee:

Snowpack losses cost us 1/3 of stored water.

Cal ag takes the hit, field crops and meat/dairy first. Interesting piece on that in the SF Chron.

Possibility - land retires altogether. I think a little less than a million acres will go out of production from salt and delta subsidence/sea level rise anyway.

But then, I don't know how the picture goes. CA first tries to maximize luxury crops, provides the fruits and veggies for the nation, but not the meat? The Midwest steps into the breach and shifts partially out of corn and soybeans to provide other foods?

It devolves further than that and CA is producing high calorie/nutrition basics, like grains for more people? Skipping the cows entirely?

I need to read more on that.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:56 PM
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Megan, you seem to have a very different view of agricultural "inefficiency" than most people. It seems like you're using something close to the economist's technical definition of pareto efficiency: i.e., if we can't pull any water out of CA agriculture without reducing CA's agricultural output, then it's not inefficient. And you're surely right there's no "free" water to wring out the system. But most people are thinking on a global scale--what could we grow easier elsewhere? What should we not be growing in CA at all? And that changes the answer significantly. (That's why in 344 I defined "inefficient" as "very high gallons of water used/kcal of food created".)


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:57 PM
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669 -- Thanks. I'm just not competent to critique, positively or negatively, what you wrote there. But you're talking about estimates of efficiency gains in irrigation. As I read your point, you are saying that the Pacific Institute's estimate of available increases in agricultural water efficiency is unrealistic, right? But there will still be massive gains from ending or substantially reducing agricultural use, right, even if the PI's conclusion that the farmers will be fine isn't true.

So the bottom line is still that the massive resource shortage you're predicting only occurs if we continue to make room for agriculture in California at something like current levels. Again, I guess I can see the reasons for making that priority, but I think that the majority of people here are thinking that you're predicting something like a Soylent Green style overcrowding, when what you're really talking about is a resource constraint caused by a perceived need to maintain California's system of subsidized agriculture in a dry climate.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:59 PM
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The Midwest steps into the breach and shifts partially out of corn and soybeans to provide other foods?

Dear God please, let this apocalypse befall us.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 5:59 PM
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Don't know of Dr. Blank. Does he also think that money and physical stocks and sinks are fungible?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:00 PM
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Depends on how seriously you take the number of half a million unintended births/year, doesn't it?

Quarter million, I think, from what you've been saying.

(You keep assuming that `conscious decision to have a baby' is how people think of ideally starting families; I have no idea if it is or not, and nor do you. The fact that some ridiculously high number of Calif. pregnancies are unintended suggests that it might not be.)

I think California's not really an outlier -- more than the U.S. at large, but not so strange as to think that "ardently desired during every act of intercourse" is anything close to standard.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:00 PM
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But there will still be massive gains from ending or substantially reducing agricultural use, right, even if the PI's conclusion that the farmers will be fine isn't true.

Yes, that is my interpretation. I wrote about a managed retreat for agriculture weeks before you guys came along to tell me how dedicated I am to the current ag alignment. Here:

http://onthepublicrecord.wordpress.com/2008/12/31/which-is-why%e2%80%a6/



Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:03 PM
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Sorry, yes. Quarter million.

Is "ardently desired during every act of intercourse" a bad standard? Compared to what?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:04 PM
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Is "ardently desired during every act of intercourse" a bad standard? Compared to what?

God's will? Luck? We're not sure, but if it happens it happens? Why not go out and find out how people start families, and then start planning population control measures?

You really haven't a clue about how these things work; quite clearly that isn't the current standard, and also quite clearly Californian families appear to be working pretty well, let's be honest. So maybe you should look into this stuff properly; I'm sure there's a bunch of sociologists who can help you out.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:10 PM
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673 - What? No, I was using an irrigation efficiency definition (um, roughly, amount of applied water that gets run through a plant).


what could we grow easier elsewhere? What should we not be growing in CA at all? And that changes the answer significantly.

Holy fuck, y'all. Wasn't the last time I got this kind of reaction the time when I suggested shrinking CA ag to feed only Californians? Dude, I'll throw meat over the side on any day of the week, and all the field crops that support it. Those of you who discuss your bacon with fetishistic enthusism are the ones I'm looking out for.

But look. We're rich. We have an outlandish lifestyle. I am not hugely sympathetic to an outlandish lifestyle, but there it is. We are foreseeing moving to a less comfortable lifestyle, and one of the ways we might want to contemplate is what that lifestyle looks like. From my observation, you people want to eat meat occasionally. In that case, we should move to the population level that allows for some meat and a small yard. That is smaller than now, if we are to repair our rivers.

If you tell me you don't want meat or a year, then we can move to a slightly larger population level.

Picking that level and moving towards it deliberately seems like a better alternative than doing nothing and collapsing below it during the water riots.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:15 PM
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Your "managed retreat" reads to me like a method of blanket preservation in the name of preserving some vision of the California farmer.

You keep asserting that the decline in California (note: state specific) farming will lead to a massive rise in food prices and decline in the meat supply, but that's extremely doubtful. Steven Blank doesn't think so. And basic sense doesn't really imply so -- given how much of the world (or even Mexico) is given over to low-yield, premodern farming, and the fact that the available amount of California farmland has declined massively just in the past 40 years -- LA and Orange Counties used to be very major agricultural zones -- I'm strongly skeptical that even a large scale decrease in California farmland due to using water for a growing population will have much of an impact on food prices or availability. I'm not an expert there, but at the level of actual agriculture I don't think you are either.

In any case, the vision really does seem to be population control first, hurt the farmers second. And it's being urged in the name of an overcrowding/resource depletion scenario that'snot really there. (I'm not even going to get back into the unintended/unwanted distinction, because it doesn't seem capable of sinking in for you at all). Again, frustrating.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:15 PM
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I would love it if a real sociologist showed up here and gave answers with the level of detail I have.

I don't think we'll like the results of God's will, or Let's Find Out. I'm not qualified to speak to the population planning side, but I can make (gloomy) predictions about the results of no planning.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:17 PM
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I'm not qualified to speak to the population planning side, but I can make (gloomy) predictions about the results of no planning.

No. That's rather the point Dsquared was getting at.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:20 PM
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Megan, you seem to be trying to aim your gun at a target we'd all like to see hit, but at the same time you're waving it around in all sorts of scary directions, and it's a very crowded room. Someone could easily get shot, and it's making us all nervous. A lot of poeple don't trust your aim. Personally, I'm worried that you're drunk.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:20 PM
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Blanket preservation in which I predict losing 3 million of 9 million ag acres?

the vision really does seem to be population control first, hurt the farmers second

This is not my position.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:20 PM
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That `no' should be a `yes'.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:21 PM
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These lines:

"If you tell me you don't want meat or a year, then we can move to a slightly larger population level.

Picking that level and moving towards it deliberately seems like a better alternative than doing nothing and collapsing below it during the water riots."

Are, in context, extraordinarily miselading. Please provide evidence that a, say, 60% decline in absolute water use by CALIFORNIA farmers (which would be sufficient to provide for 100% of the projected increase in population, even without desalinization or increases in urban efficiency) would lead to an increase in the price of meat where it became available on only a yearly basis to most people. There are plenty of predictions out there that suggest that California farming could cease to exist completely at minimal cost, and is in fact likely to decline significantly even without water resource issues due to labor costs and increased efficiency in the rest of the world.

The use of the term "water riots" in context is also very misleading, unless you mean farmers rioting to protect their subsidy.

Again, you are confusing a resource cap connected to protecting a group of heavily subsidized farmers with an absolute cap on the state's population.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:23 PM
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My aim hasn't wavered in this conversation:

1. I would like the standard for births to be "ardently desired pre-intercourse." I think that will get us some population growth rate flattening.

2. Of course I simultaneously am supporting per capita water use reductions.

3. I think we need both because we are pushing the physical limits of the system.

4. That will manifest as reductions in quality of life for people here, and I'd like to calibrate what the final level should be. It also matters to people.

5. Planning for this is better than not planning for it.

6. I am asserting that we can't get there on the per capita reductions side alone, considering that we will add 10 million people at the least and lose a third of our developed supply (ten percent less in overall, and we can't store some because of the snowpack problem).

7. The amounts of money for either option are very big.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:29 PM
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Surely not drive up the cost of real estate? You mean drive up the cost of water, to the point where most people can't afford to pay for the amount of water usage they're comfortable with, and leave

No, population and GDP go up, there is a fixed supply of housing because it can't get zoned because of the water, and thus real estate prices go up, so people leave.

But no one has shown me there's no room for improvement in the states and that none, not half, not ten percent, not one percent of those 250,000 people are reachable.

You do realise that there is a difference between 1%, 10% and 100%, don't you? And this is totally disingenuous, since you have, in fact, (#466) been shown that even a 20% reduction would be at the wild edge of optimism and disproportionately costly.

I don't get it. I'm having trouble conceiving of a non-coercive program that would be actively harmful. I'm imagining a well-funded NGO that provides education and birth control, and I don't really see the problem. Can you help me?

Yes I can! The trick is to realise that the "funded" in "well-funded" means resources that are no longer available for other purposes, many of which purposes are potentially better uses of the money than pissing it up the wall on Walter Mitty birth control schemes.

I mean really people. Who here (in the light of #466 above) really thinks that there are just thousands and thousands of young women in California (which I might remind you, is a different place from Burkina Faso) who are having babies because they just haven't heard of this thing called contraception. The vast majority of them are the result of a) contraception failure plus b) not wanting to have an abortion for religious or other reasons. It's very difficult to address a), and while obviously b) is not a real, serious lifestyle commitment like having a lawn, a lot of people nevertheless find it important. What we're talking about here is bunging a whole load of "have an abortion!" propaganda, targeted at the poor; at some point, the assumption of good faith goes the way of the assumption that third time round, he's there for the hunting.

But if the reaction to any suggestion of ideas for population control wasn't so knee-jerk condemnatory

Try advancing one that isn't wildly stupid and I promise to be really really civil about it. I will even bite my tongue for the first three declarations of victory based on totally dishonest assessments of the evidence, how's that for an offer?

First, can we stipulate that there is definitely a population that would be unsustainable? We can quibble about what that is, but there is unequivocally a limit

Can we agree that every previous estimate of what that maximum might be, has turned out to be not just wrong, but horribly, humiliatingly, embarrassingly wrong? I mean, we can agree that there is a bottom to the sea, but that doesn't tell us anything about how deep we are.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:31 PM
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Ag land in CA hasn't necessarily decreased, it's just moved inland. this was possible because of giant irrigation projects, and also because the hardpan soils could be re-constituted into farmland using heavy machinery.

Useful history of CA ag, very economic perspective.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:32 PM
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Halford, I should go read Blank, but California produces half the nation's dairy. I can't believe you can take that out of production and fill in from somewhere else with no increase in price.

Actually, I would love if the Midwest would step into that role. Back to prairie, running cattle on it. But people have come to depend on the cheap processed food from corn. I am happy if that changes. But then we should talk about how people move to eating non-corn-based food.

This is you thinking the world is infinite again. It is big, but lots of those other regions are going to be in trouble themselves, for their own reasons.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:34 PM
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I would love it if a real sociologist showed up here and gave answers with the level of detail I have.

Presumably you would treat them with the same level of respect that you treated the real public health official who pointed out that your Walter Mitty scheme wouldn't work. In which case why would they bother? Sociologists are more street-smart than that.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:34 PM
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1. I would like the standard for births to be "ardently desired pre-intercourse." I think that will get us some population growth rate flattening.

But this premise has no connection to the real world at all. You've admitted you haven't a clue about how people start families, and what `unintended' means and so-on; you can't just ask us to take it on faith.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:35 PM
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#694: you can't just ask us to take it on faith.

Normatively true; empirically and tragically false.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:37 PM
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This has been a water conversation, but I really wish people from the other enviro fields had come by to talk about all the other infrastructures too.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:37 PM
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Can we agree that every previous estimate of what that maximum might be, has turned out to be not just wrong, but horribly, humiliatingly, embarrassingly wrong? I mean, we can agree that there is a bottom to the sea, but that doesn't tell us anything about how deep we are.

What we define as "maximum sustainable population" depends quite a lot on how we're living. But at current world living standards and patterns of consumption, I would say we've already crossed the threshold of sustainability, and more people just make it worse. If we stop burning fossil fuels over the next five decades, probably it's safe to let the population keep expanding. If not, we're fucked.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:38 PM
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I would like the standard for births to be "ardently desired pre-intercourse."

But what the fuck does it mean for this to be the "standard"? I know you don't mean that every pregnancy that fails to meet this standard should be forcibly terminated, so what the fuck exactly do you mean? That people should be *encouraged* to terminate pregnancies that don't meet this standard? I don't think you mean anything like this, but when you start talking about the 'standard for births', that's bracing.

Again, I don't think you're really saying anything more than "I'd like every child to be a wanted child, plus unicorns". But you seem to be thinking you're proposing a great deal more, and it's not clear to me what.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:40 PM
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we've already crossed the threshold of sustainability

California passed it this year, if salmon are important to you.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:40 PM
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691 -- Thanks. That's really interesting, and wasn't my impression of the history of ag in the state.

Still doesn't change the basic point, though, which is that Megan's perceived Malthusian resource problem is only a problem, based on the available evidence, including Megan's own, if we continue to sustain subsidized agriculture within the state of California at something like current levels. (Note that we might even be able to keep up the agriculture and avoid the Malthusian problem if the folks at the Pacific Institute are right about efficiency issues).

Since we don't in fact appear headed in California for the Malthusian trap Megan is proposing (unless you don't want to raise the price of water for farmers), and since the policy iteslf appears to be poorly thought out and a total mess even on its own terms for solving the Malthusian problem, you would think that we could all agree that this is a pretty silly debate and move on, but I'm sure we won't.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:42 PM
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That I'm willing to spend an awful lot of money to make birth control free and have nurses on every other block teaching and making them an upfront option available at every minute up until the fucking starts. That I'm willing to pay for college for every woman who doesn't have a kid until 29. That I'm willing to install a heavy dose of it in the California curriculum every third year after fifth grade. More than now.

Do you think those would do nothing at all? How much do you think they would do? Relative to what? How much would they cost if they were only applied in the Central Valley? What would be the effects in 2040 and 2050 of that?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:45 PM
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699 -- Oh come fracking on. Salmon has absolutely nothing to do with the issues we're talking about here. Now we're talking about something I do know about. And let's just say that poor fisheries management, not state population increase was not the primary driver behind depletion of California's wild salmon population, that "salmon" iteslf is very commonly available anyway, even if it's not wild, and that a huge chunk of the reason for the decline in California's salmon fishery is due not to population increase but to perfidious Canadian fishermen.

The decline in the world wild salmon stock (or wild fisheries generally) is a real environmental problem, but one that has literally nothing to do with the kinds of issues we're talking about here, and in fact would be a non-problem if you could come up with a sustainable and reasonable international fisheries management program, which is a major and significant international issue, but not a very good reason to require incomers to the state of California to post bonds or to start to encourage women who have unintentionally become pregnant to abort their babies.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:50 PM
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701: And you really, truly cant' think of any way all that money could be better spent?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:52 PM
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Do you think those would do nothing at all? How much do you think they would do? Relative to what? How much would they cost if they were only applied in the Central Valley? What would be the effects in 2040 and 2050 of that?

We don't know, you don't know, why don't you go find out in a rigorous and useful way?


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:52 PM
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703: Yes.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:54 PM
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Plus, you've already had a bunch of knowledgeable people here who have told you that it would do "not much," but that doesn't make it any less fun to pose the questions into the air, I guess.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:54 PM
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This part:
fishery is due not to population increase but to perfidious Canadian fishermen

is actually bullshit.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:54 PM
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the rest is mostly on target.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:55 PM
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start to encourage women who have unintentionally become pregnant to abort their babies

This is far beyond anything I have suggested. Don't attribute your imaginations to me (or provide a comment number from me, please).

OK, this helps. It means that you consider salmon exchangeable, and that you don't think the amount/kind of harvesting is linked to eating them. (Are smolt pulled from the ocean and thrown in the trash?)

Look, the main water projects here are damn near shut down because of salmon and smelt. National Marine Fisheries, CA Dept of Fish and Game and two judges took action based on that premise. They may be wrong, but they say that our water use is hurting salmon. I'm interested if they're wrong, but at a macroscale, I'm going to hold on to the presumption that the number of people we have here is already too many, and the indicators are things like crashing fish populations.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:57 PM
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I'm not sure I'd want to smoke pot that had been in my dog's ass.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 6:57 PM
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707 -- Yes, you're right, but the first rule of all US fisheries discussions is to blame the Canadians, so I was merely doing my patriotic duty.

Seriously -- I've been in the DC office of the US State Department branch that deals with fisheries issues, and the staff have desk ornaments with Canadian flags crossed out. I was told (but didn't actually see) that one guy kept a book about the Dieppe Raid on his shelf, just to show the Canadians that he meant business.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:00 PM
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start to encourage women who have unintentionally become pregnant to abort their babies

This is far beyond anything I have suggested

Really? Given that birth control isn't perfect, and that many people who don't plan to get pregnant do ardently desire their babies once conceived, what did you mean in 689 when you wished the standard for births to be "ardently desired pre-intercourse"?


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:02 PM
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Further to 712, I'm not trying to tell you what your intent was. But Halford's 702 seemed like a fair reading. I guess it was wrong, given what you're saying now, but I don't think it was "far beyond anything" you previously suggseted.


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:08 PM
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Plus, you've already had a bunch of knowledgeable people here who have told you that it would do "not much," but that doesn't make it any less fun to pose the questions into the air, I guess.

Naw. At this point, the only expert who has given me anything close to an estimate based on her experience and knowledge is Interlooper in 466. She says that 20% improvement would be a raging success, and I say awesome, that is 50,000 people, a City of Davis. How much money do you need to get that raging success, so I can balance it with something on the water side and understand it?

Please show me the rest of the comments from people who actually know that field here. Everyone else that I've seen is guessing, but perhaps I missed something.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:08 PM
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That my interest and any program I'd advocate stops at the instant of conception because I'm not fucking with any done deals.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:10 PM
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709 --OK, you're right, the abortion line is not fair. But you can see why I'm getting there - - it's a logical conclusion drawn from the normative position you're espousing (it's an affirmatively good thing to not have a kid at this time . . . for the environment).

Seriously, salmon depletion doesn't have very much to do with population growth. It has to do with some nasty pollution in coastal areas, with overfishing that could be managed, and with habitat destruction that may be the result of global warming but just as likely comes from El Ninos. I assume you're talking about the Klamath river dam issues. That's certainly a problem and a real regulatory issue, but it has to do with a combination of low flow and high temperatures, and it doesn't have very much to do with an increase in the state's birthrate or population. Better management, including the closing that's going on now, means that it should be possible to have at least a sustainable pacific salmon fishery. But salmon and other wild fish aren't a very good analogy for human agriculture or other resource issues, because of ownership and other issues.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:13 PM
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716 was me.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:15 PM
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715: you mentioned abortion in 219 (in the third-person, admittedly, but it seemed to be part of your plan).

So your plan really is just 100% effective contraception? Good luck with that.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:16 PM
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I'm not sure I'd want to smoke pot that had been in my dog's ass.

All the more for me, dude.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:16 PM
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I was talking about Sac River salmon, not the Klamath, actually. The decline of those are said to be linked to the water projects.

Do you see no link between pollution, overfishing and human population? Would those be constant for any size human population?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:18 PM
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714: Wait, now you want to eliminate the city of Davis? So uncool.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:19 PM
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And very direct, yet tasteful, delivery of free birth control to people who do not know that they want a child yet.

And non-coercive bonus financial assistance, like college?

Do you think the combination would have zero effect? Why do you think that?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:21 PM
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And non-coercive bonus financial assistance, like college?

Do you think the combination would have zero effect?

No, I don't think it would have zero effect--I think this factor alone (on the scale you've discussed in this thread) would draw hundreds of thousands of additional young people into the state every year.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:24 PM
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Who would then go on to have kids after college.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:25 PM
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Once California does it, all other states will follow suit. Then the world will do it!

How big do you think the direct effect on births would be?

(Since you guys are crazy literal and willing to assume the worst, I'm going to have to go the horrible, horrible length of explaining humor. The first line was a joke. I know that it isn't true. But it is also calls back to a trend I mentioned before, that part of the value of this would be setting the example. And other locations do follow California's lead, so it might cause that result.

This does not mean that I advocate sterilization and abortions based on eugenics.)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:29 PM
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and the staff have desk ornaments with Canadian flags crossed out.

Yeah, I'd believe it. The arguments are furious, but have little to do with what's actually going on in the waters. It's a bit like softwood lumber disputes that way. Many of the people involved have no interest whatsoever on who is right, just who is winning. And of course politically speaking, on both sides of the border it's very handy to have another country to shunt the blame to.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:29 PM
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Wait, now you want to eliminate the city of Davis? So uncool.

Hey, hang on, now we might be onto something....


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:30 PM
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Posing the question at that level is totally unhelpful. Do people affect the environment? Sure, that's why we need environmental regulation. Are we at or near some Malthusian cap at which the sheer number of people alone will destroy the world or our standard of living? Almost certainly not, and the evidence we have about water use certainly doesn't suggest so. The question isn't whether population has environmental effects. The question is whether increases in population lead to Malthusian resource scarcity caps that make it impossible for us to sustain our resources or our standard of living.

Again, there is no evidence (unless you take the very bizarre position that we should depopulate California to sustain its agriculture) that we are at or near a Malthusian limit to the population of California because of water issues, or that we will be there in the next 50 years even if we assume little to no positive technological development that allows for cheap desalinization or something similar. On the other hand, there's plenty of evidence that we can and should be doing a whole lot of things to allow that population and the environment to co-exist together well, including doing a lot of things to improve water efficiency, increase the water supply, etc. Incidentally, of course, the increased production from that population helps us pay for the environmental mitigation measures, but that's by the by.


In the case of salmon itself, population pressures have very little to do with the issue (I actually think the Northern part of the state where this is most important has depopulated recently, but that may be wrong). The problem in California is a combination of relatively marginal salmon stocks, combined with some pollution (that could have been controlled), combined with unusually warm weather, combined with overfishing. And the overfishing's really a result of technological change and improvements in shipping technology, not population increase per se.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:32 PM
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*headdesk* Okay, I really am done, and accept that for Megan I'm just one more nasty person opposing her wonderful desire to save us all for incomprehensibly poopy reasons.


Posted by: Paige Morrow | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:32 PM
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Are we at or near some Malthusian cap at which the sheer number of people alone will destroy the world or our standard of living?

But in 2050? What if dd's magical finance unicorns don't actually spray cool fresh water?


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:33 PM
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Do you think the combination would have zero effect? Why do you think that?

Because the plan seems to be designed by someone with no knowledge of demography/sociology/public health at all?

That'd be my guess.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:35 PM
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Is "ardently desired during every act of intercourse" a bad standard?

I suspect it's less common outside of a certain socioeconomic class and certainly historically that's true, which makes me suspect it's an unworkable standard. And given that birth control often fails (how many kids, just in this commentariat, are birth control "oopses?" ), there's probably going to continue to be a lot of unplanned pregnancies to people who are more or less okay with that.

Which means that moving to that standard affirmatively would require more than just access to free birth control. Which, since I have to say this, doesn't mean we should promote contraceptives! But they're not going to change people's outlooks and not everyone plans out all of their kids, so getting people the "ardently desired only" standard is quite a lot more social engineering than I think, if I understand your position correctly, you want.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:35 PM
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And of course politically speaking, on both sides of the border it's very handy to have another country to shunt the blame to.

As the Canadian comic journalist Rick Mercer observed, no Canadian ever got in trouble with the electorate for arguing with the Americans.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:37 PM
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Paige, I don't expect this to mean much to you, but your cruelty argument was the best one I've heard so far.

Did you give me estimates about the efficacy of population control efforts that I missed?

To be thorough, I'll say, I do believe programs that don't devolve into cruelty could exist, even though you say they can't. But moreover, I believe there is also cruelty, to much the same people, in doing nothing because I think they will suffer the effects of scarcity most. If I actually had the magic wand, I would have to balance the potential for current day intrusive cruelty from a social program against future day cruelty from dislocation and want. I don't know where the balance would fall, but doing nothing (by which I mean, after per capita reductions and lifestyle changes and shifting ag) isn't a free option.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:39 PM
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Paige, I don't expect this to mean much to you, but your cruelty argument was the best one I've heard so far.

Did you give me estimates about the efficacy of population control efforts that I missed?

To be thorough, I'll say, I do believe programs that don't devolve into cruelty could exist, even though you say they can't. But moreover, I believe there is also cruelty, to much the same people, in doing nothing because I think they will suffer the effects of scarcity most. If I actually had the magic wand, I would have to balance the potential for current day intrusive cruelty from a social program against future day cruelty from dislocation and want. I don't know where the balance would fall, but doing nothing (by which I mean, after per capita reductions and lifestyle changes and shifting ag) isn't a free option.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:40 PM
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I can't believe you can take that out of production and fill in from somewhere else with no increase in price.

You know, just on this side point... some increase in price and some reduction in usage is obviously just fine. We can obviously argue about where the lines are, but a race to the price bottom by any means is essentially contradictory to a discussion of more efficient/lower footprint living. Some of our consumption patterns simple have to change for this to work, and pricing some resource heavy ag. products higher doesn't strike me as a bad place to start, at all.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:41 PM
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dunno where that second "obviously" came from. weird.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:41 PM
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730 -- Look at the actual data in the studies Megan and I linked to. There's plenty of data there about the water supply in the state. Again, even without doing anything at all about increased urban water use efficiency, you could provide water to 100% of the projected population increase, especially given economic growth, and have plenty to spare if you cut agricultural use by 50%. And you could do most of that just by pricing.

In fact, some folks think that you can do it just by increasing agricultural water use efficiency, although Megan seems to think that those folks are wrong about technical details of irrigation systems and maybe she's right about that. Again, on the terms posed, this is really a debate about whether we want to keep our Walnut and Leek farmers going in the state or not, not about whether we're going to be driving around Mad Max style fighting for the last drops of water in the ruins of Beverly Hills.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:43 PM
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Alright Keir. What about a project designed by someone with scads of expertise in the subject? What could that program do?

quite a lot more social engineering

Do you think the other things I mentioned (clinics/nurses/free college/curriculum) would also support the birth control? What would be the cumulative extent?

Please, you guys. Engage that possibility or say that public health campaigns do nothing. We can pose the question for different reasons if that would get you to engage the possibility of changing birth patterns with integrity.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:46 PM
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I'm not saying that we can't cut California agriculture, but here in NY, I eat a lot of California produce, and I think most people in the US do. Cutting CA ag in half may be the best thing to do, but it's going to have big exciting nationwide effects, won't it?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:46 PM
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738: I think any efficiency gain of that level has to involve a pretty radical restructuring of the crops & practices, and probably an economic drop along with. All in all though, it would be still be a big win.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:47 PM
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Alright Keir. What about a project designed by someone with scads of expertise in the subject? What could that program do?

Don't know. You'd have to come up with some evidence one way or the other.

One vague statistic and a couple of assertions about behaviour are useless.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:50 PM
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have plenty to spare if you cut agricultural use by 50%

For today's water supply, which will be diminishing. And, I don't believe that halving half the country's food supply would be trivial (UCD ag economist notwithstanding). (Although, if that were nearly entirely out of meat/dairy, it would be smoothest.)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:51 PM
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744

Cutting CA ag in half may be the best thing to do, but it's going to have big exciting nationwide effects, won't it?

Yeah, it could. But part of it is very elastic. Higher markup, more processing is the name of the game currently, but the shape of it depends on cheap water and cheap fossils. If you kept the product mix exactly the same 50% of the water, presumeably they'd drop to something like 50-60% of output.

Which means you'd pay more, not that you'd starve (since US is in oversupply). And lets face it, the US can afford to spend more of its GDP on food. If you do it too quickly, some people somewhere else will probably starve.

More likely, what they produce and what you can buy will change. Same argument with fossils, really. At some point, it doesn't become so cost effective to ship little shrink wrapped premix lettuce all over the country, etc.

On the other hand, even on 1/2 water usage, Cali could produce a hell of a lot of food (the same amount but different crops? I don't know). And at 75%, it would save more than the total residential amount used now. So if you cut residential use by 1/2 and ag use by 1/4, you've still quadrupuled the number of people (not really, water only).


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:53 PM
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740: you get a lot of California produce because California (1) is a very large and very fertile state that (2) has implciit water subsidies that make it the cheapest place to grow all sorts of things. Conserving CA water means some of those things will be grown elsewhere, which will be, yes, more expensive. (Although remember that the CA produce you are currently eating is artificially cheap.) But just because your food now comes from CA doesn't mean it can't instead come from somewhere else.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:54 PM
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I found Steve Blank's site, and he's a pure economist with no apparent knowledge of agriculture, agronomy, etc. I don't trust him.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:55 PM
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Although remember that the CA produce you are currently eating is artificially cheap.

Nearly all the produce you are currently eating is probably artificially cheap. CA is a big player, but subsidies are the rule, not exceptional.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:56 PM
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740 --

The guy I linked to above thinks that California agriculture will decline by about that much anyway, even without reference to any water pricing issues, simply because of globalization. He could be wrong, but we've had huge, massive, dynamic shifts in the pattern of agricultural land and agricultural production around the world and there's no real reason to think that trend won't continue. Many Western European nations and most of the east coast of the USA grew almost 100% of their own food until thirty years ago but now don't, with very little effect on the consumer except more variety and lower prices. Certainly there could be price shifts or scarcities around individual foodstuffs, but the Mad Max scenario is super misleading.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:56 PM
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747: true.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:57 PM
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The east coast of the US could probably go back to growing its own food, but everyone in Jersey would have to move into Trenton and Newark so that we could turn the subdivisions back into farms. This is probably a good idea, but while it's not a Mad Max scenario, it'd be a big deal to make it happen.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:59 PM
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Megan: I think it's possible to run programs with substantially less cruelty than is usual in the US, but that this is very hard. Partly - though by no means entirely - because reductions in cruelty require a lot of changes in, well, people like you: how you think about the values and lifestyles of others, what in your colleagues must be stamped out with zero tolerance, what you will accept as evidence of harm inflicted in the course of an ardently desired program and what you will do about it, and so on.

An even bigger part of it is smashing the influence of modern conservatism, since it's conservative elected and appointed officials who tend to set up the frameworks within which cruelty happens. The fact that I don't see this happening anytime soon is a major factor in my favoring universal efforts over selective ones wherever possible. If we were to get what you're asking for in 2009, it would get hijacked at various points. Depending on how things go, maybe in a decade, less so. Or maybe even more so, since it depends.

In the meantime, though, the fact that you'd apparently never really thought about it makes me feel the way you would at someone wanting to legislate water policy for California who thinks that San Francisco Bay is fresh water and has never heard of Otis Chandler.


Posted by: Paige Morrow | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:59 PM
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I am the first to accept higher food prices, and I keep pointing them out as a cost to poorer people than me.

The fact that we're at these kind of limits, where changes here cause bulges there and the blithe trade-off is little things like the Californian meat industry and source of dairy for half the country, is the very reason I want to relieve the pressure.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 7:59 PM
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746 -- Emerson, I think you're underestimating the courage necessary to be an agricultural economist at UC Davis who says that it might not be a bad idea to shut down farming in the state. Seriously, I'm surprised that guy hasn't been killed by his own colleagues, much less had his tenure revoked by the governor.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:00 PM
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and I keep pointing them out as a cost to poorer people than me.

Yup, but this has more to do with US income disparity than anything else. We pay less for food as a percentage of income than basically everyone. There is room to move there without crisis.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:03 PM
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you'd apparently never really thought about it

I am very privileged. I am also intellectually aware that it happens and willing to believe that casual cruelty from petty power wielders happens a lot.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:06 PM
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739: I have been engaging; if I weren't, I wouldn't be bothering following through with the consequences of your assumptions.

I didn't say it wouldn't do anything, because we'd need more data, but let's look at the pdf again. We have three categories of "unintended": actively unwanted, not sure, and "the timing was wrong." Let's say they're equally divided in terms of numbers*, so fully a third were actively unwanted. That's 80,000. And I'll grant, for the sake of argument, that the only reason those 80,000 were conceived was due to lack of access to birth control and birthed because of lack of access to abortion, so if we introduce those two in free clinics that were readily accessible, we could fail to have 80,000 people per year.

The reason I bring this up is that I doubt that 80,000 a year sounds like the salvation to the end-of-days water shortage. It's a very small proportion of the population.

And when we look at the other graphs, we see that even among the most educated and wealthiest, about a third of births are unplanned. That's not a reason not to promote education and wealth and family planning; but it suggests that in the best current case, highly educated and wealthy, a third of births are unplanned. We should look at other countries' data on this to see whether this is a fairly stable figure.

*Big assumption, but I figure "got pregnant sooner than I had intended" is the majority of the category. So I'm being generous.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:11 PM
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New Jersey should be able to go back to being a milk-and-salad basket, but it worries me that some deeply disturbing things have been put into the groundwater over the last fifty-seventy years. I don't know how much of the land is now unsafe, nor how much of the rest of the country has been similarly contaminated; the person I know best there is in the EPA, not ag, and has a jaundiced view.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:11 PM
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But I can't take the next step and say that likelihood is a reason not to do a program that would deliver real population growth rate reductions. It is a reason to design and implement that program right.

Or, I suppose, someone could tell me a different way to spare the people that I think would hurt most from dislocation/collapse/higher prices/want. Mass wealth transfer would do it, so now we're comparing those options. Or doing nothing (can we just set the very efficient/shifts in ag option as the do-nothing options or do I have to swear my fealty to them every time?). Which I believe will suck.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:12 PM
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There's also a lot of food that can effectively be grown in water rich areas outside of the United States through . . . the magic of trade, transportation and free markets. Seriously, transferring some or most of California's industrial crop production out to the third world is very plausible and could be a good thing for everyone involved.

And of course the question isn't whether food prices will go up (they may well) but whether we'll be able to comfortably afford that increase given overall levels of economic growth.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:15 PM
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Bullshit, Halford. It's not like academics are in any actual risk anywhere. And Blank is an economist, and economists love that kind of stuff.

Googling around found that, as of 1998, Blank believed that all US agriculture should be offshored.

He strikes me as a contrarian Chicago school guy, who believed that there are no physical constraints on agricultural production and that agriculture can just be moved to any low-paid blank spot on the world map.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:19 PM
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756 - This year. The follow through from the growth rate change is also a third of the difference in 2050, so now you are talking three million people.

Then what, those good planners, the ones who are highly educated and wealthy. They don't mind an oops! and we all love their babies and no harm is done. Do you think some of them would be very careful if you promised to forgive the remainder of their student loans on their 29th birthday if none of them were on a birth certificate? Or refund their college educations? That looks like it will only get us a couple year delay (if average birth age is 27 like the flyer says), but by 2050, that will start to show effects too.

I am arbitrarily choosing 2050 because that is the state's planning horizon, but flattening the growth curve of course becomes more valuable over time and the nastier stuff from climate change is predicted to arrive starting in 2050.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:22 PM
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758-- (sound of smashing head into desk at the unbelievable refusal to look at the numbers ). How about, in order to help the "dislocation/collapse" people you're actually worried about, providing a free $100K per person job training and relocatoin subsidy to each and every one of the roughly 400,000 people, including seasonal workers, that are employed in California's agricultural sector? That's still less than half of the $84 billion estimated cost of your pet project.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:27 PM
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But I can't take the next step and say that likelihood is a reason not to do a program that would deliver real population growth rate reductions. It is a reason to design and implement that program right.

Right, and, once again, I am not saying that we should never support contraception or abortion rights. I'm saying that to take the next step is going to be far more radical than you seem to acknowledge, because based on a look at the pdf, just getting people entirely college-educated and wealthy* and contracepted still means that 33% of their pregnancies are not ardently desired. If we look to Europe, birth rates seem to level off right around replacement rate.

And the radical step is where I start seriously to worry about cruelty. Because no one's going to want to give up *their* kids. It's those people over *there* who are using all the resources. This is where I'd need a proposal that I would be confident in, and I'm not confident in "just design it right." Humans don't have the best track record with that.

*Of course, if we achieve that, we may solve the agriculture problem indirectly as no one will work the fields....


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:28 PM
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760 -- Good thing you took me seriously when I said that he might be killed. I was worried about him, but now you've set me straight!

Look, I don't have any particular brief for any particular economist. But the fact is that agriculture has probably changed more in the past 30 (and certainly 50) years than any other sector, and it seems very plausible indeed that the world could well survive a significant reduction in the scale and size of water subsidized California agriculture.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:30 PM
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Fuck. It doesn't have to be tied to a college education although there are nice side effects of that. We could just write them a check for $5,000 on their 29th birthdays if they aren't a parent on a birth certificate. Do you think wealthy privileged people would feel very upset by that? Do you think it would influence their behavior? Is it shaming? I'm not being snarky, I'm asking.

(Please, do we have to do digressions about gaming the system and discouraging paternity claims and the downfall of marriage and shit? I don't think that would be the main effect and let's stipulate that we somehow avoid it. Or only give the benefit to women or something.)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:31 PM
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As long as we also stipulate unicorns, I'm game.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:33 PM
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Are we at or near some Malthusian cap at which the sheer number of people alone will destroy the world or our standard of living? Almost certainly not

We are probably way past the world population that be sustained at the current Western standard of living, if we could somehow raise the rest to that level. The numbers I have seen say the sustainable "1st world level" population is 2 billion.

Megan's way optimistic, cause she has to work on this stuff now. I think we will be in world population decline in 5-10 years, and it won't be planned, at least not by well-intentioned liberals.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:36 PM
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Do you think some of them would be very careful if you promised to forgive the remainder of their student loans on their 29th birthday if none of them were on a birth certificate? Or refund their college educations?

It's really hard to say. It could make people responsible. It could cut the other way --

--hey, I get my whole college education back? Sweet! I'll be twenty-nine plus in five months, and now I'll have lots more money! I can afford health insurance now that will let me have a baby! That is, there might be a bump right at age 30-31 if you forgive everyone's loan, because quite a lot of my friends delayed having kids because they were trying to get financially settled. Now they can be 30-year-old lawyers with no debt to pay? I think they just got more comfortable with another kid.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:37 PM
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767 was me, sorry.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:37 PM
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every one of the roughly 400,000 people, including seasonal workers, that are employed in California's agricultural sector

And all the little old ladies who swear they'll be eating cat food if their water rates go up ONE CENT!

Those cheap water => cheap food subsidies are the baseline now. People already live in poverty, so we can presume they will be hurt by a cost of living increase. The first step is meat dropping out of their diet, but the other steps aren't trivial to them.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:37 PM
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Oh, fuck you, Halford. Economists LOVE assholes. Your comment was imbecile. Blah blah blah "no particular brief".

Like all non-economists, Megan and I think in terms of physical quantities of water, topsoil, etc., whereas economists bracket out the physical world.

People who think of physical quantities of topsoil, water, etc. realize that agriculture can only be carried on in certain places and under certain conditions. California is a good place for agriculture.

Economists think that agriculture can be shifted around casually here and there.

In general I don't think that anyone informed on the issue thinks that it's a good idea to take good agricultural land out of production. There's some not very good agricultural land in California wasting a lot of water raising alfalfa, as I've said twice, but that's not all of California agriculture.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:39 PM
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And given that birth control often fails (how many kids, just in this commentariat, are birth control "oopses?

Even sterilization doesn't always work, says the product of a vasectomy. Ultimate oops.

(Just trying to interject a small amount of humor).


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:40 PM
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768 - I could see that effect. You're right. It could counter the idea of flattening the growth rate.

Bob, I have to say that hearing about my cheerful optimism was awesome after my day here.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:40 PM
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771 - That physical scientist/economist divide starts to look really stark after a while.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:44 PM
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Okay, the $5K bump. That's not going to get people from age 18 to 29. So I think the college-educated group is probably still your target. So we're looking at, say, 25-29, so we'd need to see how many first births are at those ages, and
a) how many would delay to get the money.
b) how many would get the money and have a kid sooner because of the financial security of paying off a loan or credit card or car. (i.e., someone who wouldn't have ardently desired a child until age 32, gets money, and says "now we can afford my ardent desire!")

I don't know the answers; I'm just kicking it around a little.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:45 PM
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772: My cousin-in-law has five, the fifth of which was after a vasectomy. Mother Nature is a fertile bitch.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:47 PM
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776: Indeed. It amuses me greatly just how unplanned I was - I feel like it somehow should give me an evolutionary edge, because man, that little spermatozoa was determined. Alas, I have yet to see my super power be revealed. Let me know if you see any in your, uh...second cousin? (I can never figure out how children of cousins work).


Posted by: DL | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:50 PM
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I am really grateful that you are willing to kick it around a little.

Do you think that most ardent desire is postponed because of money in this wealth class? I mean, the $5K is nice, but aren't you gonna blow that on a trip to Mexico first while you're 29, which you remember fondly when you are awkwardly pregnant at 32 because your job is finally secure?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:50 PM
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Two of my bros were unplanned, but they're doing fine.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:51 PM
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I think it's a cousin-in-law, once removed.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:51 PM
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Emerson, I was trying to be friendly/kidding and generally agree with your view of economists, but if we're playing that game, fuck you too! And I think you're an imbecile!

I don't think the question isn't taking "good" land out of production. It's how to deal with the fact that there's increased demand on the water that has been used to date to create California's agricultural industry, and whether that water should be sold to the cities that want it, or continue to be provided at heavily subsidized rates for agricultural users. Just because a guy with an economics Ph.D. (who, by the way, you know nothing about) doesn't think that this will lead to catastrophe doesn't mean that it will.

Since you live in ND, I'm sure you know how much ag has shifted around in relatively recent times. You don't have to live in a absract fairyland disconnected from the earth to think that the world agricultural industry would be able to react pretty effectively to a decline in subsidized water for California farmers. And I don't really see why the forces of concrete, localized, and particular thinking should get on board with Megan's theory of a state run social engineering and population control project which is explicitly designed to protect some of the world's wealthiest people.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:51 PM
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My cousin-in-law has five

I SHOULD HAVE STOOD GUARD IN THEIR BEDROOM WITH A TASER!


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:52 PM
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which is explicitly designed to protect some of the world's wealthiest people

With a concerned eye out for the poorer among this group of the world's wealthiest people.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:54 PM
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I SHOULD HAVE STOOD GUARD IN THEIR BEDROOM WITH A TASER!

Get down, it's about to go!!!!


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:56 PM
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694 is exactly right.

The reason this thread is so long is quite simple.

1. Megan wants people to really think about us running out of resources. She thinks people are covering their eyes, that they have an irrational aversion to engaging with resource depletion.
2. She suggests a ridiculous proposal without a good reason to think it will actually work, and so everyone gets all upset.
3. This group reaction just further reinforces #1, so she holds her ground.
4. Her reaction just reinforces #2, so everyone goes bananas again.

And on and on and on.


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:58 PM
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And yeah, that's my mileu. It isn't fair on a global scale at all, but yes. Those are the arbitrary boundaries that I deal with, this state that I live in. I can sorta hope that it has good ripple effects, but the fact that that is the scale I'm working on doesn't mean that it is wrong to also institute programs in the same community to (non-coercively and gently and effectively, assuming there is some solution space inside those constraints) manage population growth.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:58 PM
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People who talk about agronomy, water resources, etc., think in terms of a finite amount of good agricultural land. There's no "somewhere else". That's what pisses me off whenever I talk to an economist about agriculture and the like.

The Atlantic cod fishery, a physical thing, has been destroyed, but I spent an hour on the internet talking to an economist explaining that that was unimportant, other sources of fish can be found, for example fish farming, and the magic of the market and pricing mechanisms would make everything all better.

Some California agriculture is wasteful of water, but not all of it.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 8:59 PM
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778: I'm assuming the effect of a $5K bump is somewhat limited. That is, people I knew who had babies in high school probably wouldn't have been more careful for $5K in another 15 years. I'm judging by my college friends, who weirdly, and probably idiosyncratically, went through schooling, then a couple-several years single, then married, then once they had marriage a little bit figured out, had kids between ages 27 and 30. It's almost set-your-watch by it. (So many babies this year. It's nuts.)

And for their swipple selves the point at which they started "trying" for a baby usually coincided with them feeling comfortable in the marriage and like they could afford a kid. $5K probably doesn't work against that.

In any case, we'd be looking at the population who would have had kids in that narrow age range (where people according to the stats start to have kids) for whom more money would mean they delayed kids rather than kept on schedule.

It's interesting. I'm thinking of the.. what was it, Italian thing to try to increase births by cash payments? Didn't it not work all that well? I'm not sure how movable these decisions are by cash payouts.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:01 PM
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782: Dude, their children are hellions. I refer to them as the Horde. Anything breakable spontaneously shatters when the car door slam announces their arrival. If noticing that the first two were demon spawn didn't work, I think your taser stands no chance against their fertility.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:03 PM
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One thing that we didn't talk about much if at all was the fact that the damage to physical things and the environment is also a shame. I, at least, always present this conversation in terms of damage to humans. But a cod population is gone, and it was a thing that had intrinsic value of its own, just by existing. That by itself is a shame.

I saw a biologist tear up at a conference this year when she said that she never ever thought she would say this, but it is time to triage endangered species.

Perhaps that conversation goes unsaid because we're focusing on different aspects.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:06 PM
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789 - [crossing taser and bedroom attendants off my list. Shoot, another technique down.]


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:08 PM
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Megan, didn't you tell us one time that the South Coast people were ceding their beach structures b/c they project water level increase?


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:08 PM
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787 -- Again, agriculture is not fish, and current ag production doesn't look like the cod supply (which of course needs management, control, production quotas, etc.) We're really talking about a need to return to the physical capacity of the land, not get away from it. There is no need for us to be in a world situation in which US-subsidized corn massively crowds out production in otherwise fertile land owned by poor people around the world, to the point where our domestic ethanol subsidy caused a food crisis in Mexico. There is no reason inherent to the soil and earth why we should dramatically lower our standard of living in California so millionaires can grow table grapes and grapefruit based on state subsidized water in what otherwise would be a total desert near Palm Springs. But that kind of thing is what Megan is advocating (more precisely, advocating a population control policy designed to protect that kind of farming). Protecting US agriculture in its current form is environmentally and politically a problem, and I don't think is something that should be reasonably included in anyone's progressive agenda.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:10 PM
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But I can't take the next step and say that likelihood is a reason not to do a program that would deliver real population growth rate reductions. It is a reason to design and implement that program right.

Look, you're suggesting a program in a field you know nothing about, that is wildly optimistic in assumptions, appears to have a significant disconnect from reality, includes a bunch of morally problematic premises and looks to cost a reasonably large amount of money.

This is normally the point at which we start screaming and running for the hills.

Just because doing nothing would be catastrophic doesn't mean we can't get more catastrophic by doing something.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:12 PM
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Yep. CA Parks and Rec has made the decision to stop maintaining any buildings south of Torrey Pines. Sea level rise, increased wave intensities, increased storms. They don't have money anyway, so they aren't willing to spend it on structures they think they'll lose. Don't know if they are devising policies on sand replenishment.

There was a neat presentation on how sand to supply beaches would get moved about, with a list of winners and losers. Keeping a width of sandy beach is expensive, it turns out. Sucks to have that moved to the next city down by a storm. It was a prof at UCLA, if you want to go hunting down the sand beach/tourism/climate change study.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:13 PM
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more precisely, advocating a population control policy designed to protect that kind of farming

Another distortion of what I said. I said, a non-coercive form of population control to protect a lower middle class lifestyle here and roughly, a half to two thirds of the ag here, after it has shifted out of meat production because it is still worth growing stuff on the some of the best soils in the world.

I'm actually interested in forms of subsidies to protect that farming, because I think it is valuable, both for the food it produces and because it is a lifestyle. I wouldn't have that subsidy be in the shape of water, which distorts its usage, but I'd be interested in things like pensions to farmers (and of course, health care). But we could have an entirely different conversation about shaping future ag once water subsidies aren't the method.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:19 PM
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I'm saying that we should not take agricultural land out of production for economic or financial reasons, in the same way that we should not destroy a fishery.

I also don't think that, while some is, most of California agriculture is subsidized the way people think. California water rights are extremely erratic.

California agriculture isn't marginal. It's pretty important.

This has nothing to do with federal commodity subsidies.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:20 PM
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I hope if this thread gets to 1000 something substantially new gets said first.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:22 PM
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And, of course, just because I'm talking water doesn't mean that water/enviro stuff is the only domain that would benefit from eased population pressures.

Wildlife, fire, epidemic, pollution, air quality, transportation, carbon emissions, hospital capacity. I cannot believe that if someone from any of those fields showed up, they couldn't argue those as well. (Although I may be on the pessimistic end.)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:24 PM
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Cala was starting an interesting theme.

You are right, though. I keep saying the same things. I'll lay back for ten whole minutes a while.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:26 PM
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796 -- Using your own numbers, protecting only "half" of current agricultural water use (and getting rid of the other half) would 100% solve the problem of supplying water to the projected increased population in 2050, even without any conservation effort whatsoever in the cities or increased supply.

797 -- I'm not suggesting banning agriculture in California. We're talking about whether water should continue to be subsidized for agricultural uses in California at low prices, or whether the farmers could pay something closer to the same rates that cities would pay for the same water, and compete with the cities to purchase the water resources. If that shift happened, much land that is currently farmed using cheap water would no longer be farmed. Some would. But for the land that went out of operation, we can buy food from elsewhere.

The office building I'm currently in sits on land that was California farmland 50 years ago. Farming is and has long been an extremely dynamic and fast-shifting industry. Romanticizing the US farm, at least if that romanticization takes the form of government subsidies (whether federal subsidies or water subsidies) is costly, both to the environment and to the third world.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-09 9:34 PM
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Like all non-economists, Megan and I think in terms of physical quantities of water, topsoil other people's genitalia, etc

fixed.

Note, by the way, that when you are comparing the supposed deleterious effects of reducing Californian agriculture (and lawniculture) to the completely benign effects of posters advertising contraception, you are comparing a solution which will work with one which won't. Economists aren't the only ones who think that this is a difference which matters.

Here's a physical quantity for you John; Americans eat too much food (particularly, too much meat, dairy produce and corn-syrup), which is why they're fat. You appear to be claiming that other people's solutions could bring the USA to the brink of famine, which really is the equivalent of shouting "Fire! Fire!" in Noah's flood.

In actual fact, there are plenty of economists who deal with the physical world every day, and business economists the very most, because they have to do the difficult job of trading off otherwise incommensurable physical quantities. What they do, is think about physical systems systematically and with a view to outcomes, which is what makes them so unpopular.

I mean, bottom line here mate; you've got one of your beloved engineers here in this very thread, and she's talking the most unutterable bilge. Time to reset your barometer.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 6:18 AM
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I'm not an engineer lover. I think that the various earth sciences deserve more attention in economic planning. Global warming is just one of quite a large number of environmental difficulties that have to be given more attention. For example, making the arctic rivers run south was mentioned above. What will the physical consequences of that be? People have ideas, but no one knows. (Doing that in this hemisphere would probably require the annexation of Canada, but political forms aren't eternal).

I'm not asking you to go through the thread again, but if you read through my posts you'd find I accepted many and perhaps most of your points. Megan's big mistakes were in a.) trying to plan for California alone and b.) looking only for win-win solutions. I agree that the California/American lifestyle should not be preserved or defended. I'm the one who said kill all the golfers.

Initially I was just trying to dampen the pile-on a little bit, in particular by just pointing out that Megan's intent was not coercive but the opposite, she thought she was finding a non-coercive way of helping the situation. If the criticisms of her plan had kept to the specifics rather than becoming a mass attack on Megan as a person, I would have had much less to say.

Then at some point, pursuant my established practice of changing the subject whenever I get tired of the one on the table, I shifted over to expressing my more general doubts about the free-market Utopia we've been promised. (This was somewhat justifie by your anti-Malthusian snark). Too many economists apparently think that we can have per capita economic growth and population growth both, indefinitely into the future, and that there are no physical or resource limits whatsoever to what can be achieved. This seems to be an article of faith, and a topic that is hard even to put on the table except for a perfunctory dismissal. This is an old argument for me. Technical innovation and input substitution are good things, but I don't think that we should just assume that they'll come through for us.

On agriculture, I was reminding people that California is a very important and productive ag state and that not all of California ag is grossly inefficient and subsidized by archaic water cotracts. beyond that, I think that in the long term good agricultural land should be kept in production, even though today's prices might not justify that. Behind this was the idea that, even though agriculture is only 2% or 4% (I don't know exactly) of the US economy dollarwise, it has, for non-economic reasons, a greater important than the 2% of the economy dedicated to coffeeshops and boutiques. This is a more physical analysis in terms of human bodies and their nutritional requirements.

In the last analysis, American politics aside, I oppose the American ag subsidies, but I also was highly suspicious of Blank's suggestion that all American agriculture should be offshored. You really can't move Iowa to a blank spot on the map, because most of the good land is already in use and a lot of the land isn't very good.

I just don't believe in the futurological tech-econ cornucopia, and I find economists very hard to talk to on this topic. It may be that there's a reasonable, non-doomsday answer to the question of physical constraints on economic growth, but you're not going to find it by rejecting the question out of hand.

My suspicion of economics and finance is somewhat of a hyperbolic talking point, as PGD pointed out awhile back, since someone's going to have to think about these things. Willing or not, I'm a subject of economics and finance just like everyone else in the world, and I mistrust them intensely. Without being an economist or understanding economics, I sense quite a nasty tangle of corruption, self-dealing, intellectual dishonesty, theoretical fantasy, and so on, and recently it seems that we've been led into disaster by our wise leaders.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 6:59 AM
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Too many economists apparently think that we can have per capita economic growth and population growth both, indefinitely into the future

We certainly can have growth indefinitely into the future - the fact that "indefinitely" and "infinitely" are not synonyms in the way in which lots of people (probably following the lead of early 20th century political economists) use them was going to be the subject of one of the many great lost D^2D posts.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 7:33 AM
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Population growth too?

I'm trying to imagine economic growth with a constant population and constant resource use. Presumably it would all be technical improvements in quality of products, more efficient use of resources, and more efficient use of labor. I'm all for that if possible, but there are all kinds of reasons why theoretical possibilities don't usually become actual.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 7:48 AM
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We certainly can have growth indefinitely into the future

If I understand this correctly (which it's very possible that I don't), you mean that there is not now a definite future point after which more growth will be impossible? Because if that's what you're saying, well, sure. Predictions are difficult, particularly when they're about the future.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 7:51 AM
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807


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 9:44 AM
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Here's an analogy for you. I think we can all agree that if the country of Iran continues to be a somewhat unstable religious dictatorship, and continues to develop both a nuclear program and long-range missiles, then at some point in the future, it will be a serious threat to world peace and safety, and it will be necessary to have a war with Iran. Nevertheless, people who want to start preparing right now for war with Iran, are not on the right track.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 10:08 AM
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807 to 807.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 10:14 AM
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Environmental events are on a different time scale than historical or political events. There was once a conference where economists and environmentalists were trying to work together on environmental issues. It foundered when the two sides found out that for the economists long-term was five to twenty years, and for environmentalists short term was a hundred years. Environmental events aren't usually very evenemental, they're usually pretty long duree, and there's a big lag time. So things we're doing now will have effects twenty years from now.

The US lost a lot in 1980 when a mob of Yahoos trashed Carter's energy policy and made sure that no American leader would talk about energy policy for over twenty years. So a lot of things we'll end up doing will be more painful than they would have been.

In earlier arguments of this type I've had trouble convincing people that it's even worth keeping track of water supplies, agricultural acreage, the health of fisheries, etc. The magic of the market was going to replace the cod fishery. economically they may have been right -- people eat different kinds of fish now. The wanton destruction a renewable resource bothered me but not him.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 10:20 AM
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808: The problem with that analogy is first that ANALOGIES ARE BANNED!!!! (thanks, Ogged.) But more substantively, that "Country X will continue to be a religious dictatorship assiduously seeking nuclear weapons" is the kind of trend that can easily reverse itself -- looking at the political situation in any country, and guessing what it's likely to be a couple of decades down the road on that basis, is not a safe bet.

Demographic projections, on the other hand -- if you've got people having kids, you can count fairly certainly on having more people down the road. And you can count on them using resources. So if you can make a reasonably solid projection of how much you're going to have available in terms of resources a couple of decades out (maybe you can't make a projection like this, because technological advances will make more resources available, in a manner that we can't even estimate ahead of time. But if you could.) and you have a sense of what you want a person to be able to use in terms of resources to have a decent life, and you can project how many people you're going to have, you can see problems coming with a lot more certainty than you can predict that Muslim boogeymen are going to come get us all.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 10:33 AM
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What ever happened to the National Intelligence Estimate that Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 10:37 AM
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Demographic projections, on the other hand -- if you've got people having kids, you can count fairly certainly on having more people down the road.

I'm not going to defend the analogy much, but I don't think even this is true generally. If you have a higher net population growth rate, yes, the society will get bigger. But the birth rate alone doesn't do that, though it's the sensible place to start if one is trying to reduce population. But you can't count on having more people, at least not with more confidence than you can predict a democratic regime in Iran becoming an ally of the U.S. One good war takes care of that.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 10:50 AM
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It is certainly true that there is not an overall world population "emergency" right now that requires action. Even without relying on extreme technological magic ponies, pushing the population carrying rate of the world (in some form) to a few 10s of billions of humans is almost certainly possible. Might not be a world most of us would want, but you could argue that we have no right to make that call. We are still a long way from any hard Malthusian limits (look at all the resources being consumed by various unnecessary species of plants and animals for instance— see clew's 662 for instance )*. The arguments of folks like Danny Quah (thanks for the pointer) certainly have merit, there are a lot of examples where in specific areas of life over specific time periods we have lowered our environmental footprint while both growing in population and "quality", but if cautionary tales can (very legitimately) be raised about past abuses of reproductive control, I certainly have no qualms about expressing great skepticism as to the quality of living (for humans and other living things) in a continuing high-growth^2 world.

*The insight that Darwin gained from consideration of Malthus mostly had to do with differential reproductive success within a species—your real competitors—and of course that is precisely where all the heat and emotion in this thread comes from. The relevant chapter of Jared Diamond's Collapse for this thread is the one on Rwanda (which happens to be titled Malthus in Africa), not the more well-known ones on Greenland and Easter Island.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 10:53 AM
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Heh. When I wrote that comment, I was thinking of putting in a parenthetical "(or a whole lot of prematurely dead people, by whatever means)", and thought I was getting too wordy and diffuse. I suppose I should have said it.

But seriously: But you can't count on having more people, at least not with more confidence than you can predict a democratic regime in Iran becoming an ally of the U.S. One good war takes care of that.

A war big enough to actually cause a globally significant drop in population is a step past "One good war", no? I have to go google, but world population didn't go down in either WW I or II, did it? I don't actually know with certainty offhand, but I'd be really surprised. Whereas major political changes happen unexpectedly all the time.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 10:56 AM
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811: I think a more compelling reason for why that analogy shows the wisdom of the ban, is that it equates preparation for going in and killing people and destroying the infrastructure of a nation with efforts to damp the tendency of humans to reproduce themselves in large numbers. The latter being an activity that almost all developed and developing societies have undertaken (many by the unmentionably coercive mechanism of individual choice).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:02 AM
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but world population didn't go down in either WW I or II, did it?

You are right it certainly did not, per the growth charts I posted somewhere above. Overall there was a small and brief drop in the rapid rise in the growth *rate* (both dwarfed by the decrease since the 1970s). As I pointed out, there have been very few *days* when population did not increase worldwide over the past several hundred years.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:04 AM
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A war might make a drop in where we expect the population to be in 2050. I mean, I'm not suggesting we go around nuking people for the water table. And if we're just talking Californian population, if you cut back some agriculture, you'd probably lose people enough from migrant worker immigration to make up the SMALL CITY EVERY YEAR deficit. Point is, I wouldn't take current birthrates as a good projection of the number of people we'll have in fifty years.

Or to put it another way, if we'd taken a snapshot of Pittsburgh in 1975, we would not predict, with its birth rate, populace, and industry, that it would be roughly half of its size in 2008.

If we're talking globally, we can get birth rates to drop to replacement rate, maybe, but I'm not confident we can do more without coercive policies.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:07 AM
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Certainly, immigration makes it very hard to think about this stuff on any level except globally.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:09 AM
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Here it is. Everyone in this discussion really should take a glance at it. The biggest yearly growth rate on it is 1.7%, pretty small compared to all manner of economic and financial goals we are used to — but enough to get you to 6 billion. Per Emerson, in environmental terms this is a staggeringly high rate to be sustained world wide for so long.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:12 AM
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Certainly, immigration makes it very hard to think about this stuff on any level except globally.

Globally is even harder to ponder. Problem the First: if keeping a first-world lifestyle is our goal, we already have four billion too many people. Not four billion potential people. Actual people. We need negative growth. Problem the Second: Until you get to the first-world lifestyle, you don't have a whole lot of reasons to emulate it (like the dude in Afghanistan arguing that he needed nine kids because half would be girls, and a quarter wouldn't be speaking to him, and he needed someone to provide for him in his old age.) Problem the Third: there isn't one big world republic, so it's essentially rich countries with replacement-rate births trying to create negative population growth in other places. This often makes people suspicious.

I have no idea what we do. Get fucked, I guess.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:18 AM
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Or to put it another way, if we'd taken a snapshot of Pittsburgh in 1975, we would not predict, with its birth rate, populace, and industry, that it would be roughly half of its size in 2008.

I wish this canard would die. The population within the city limits of Pittsburgh has halved. The population of the Pittsburgh area has stayed just about the same over that time period*. What has happened is that the population has spread out over a thousand or so square miles of surrounding area. THE RUST BELT IS NOT DEPOPULATING, about the only area of the US that is depopulating are the western Great Plains.

*And for this it gets routinely ridiculed, and assumed that it must be failing and fucked up. Why have we not become a wonderful megalopolis like Dallas and Atlanta, oh fucking woe is us!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:20 AM
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Any reason is good enough to ridicule Pittsburgh.

That's PA, not Kansas, right? Cuz Pittsburg Kansas is an up and coming place.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:25 AM
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I was talking just about the city. I didn't say that it or the region is dying, but its population has halved (because the industries aren't the same, and also because everyone wants to live in Cranberry for some reason I've heard has to do with taxes but haven't investigated.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:27 AM
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I have no idea what we do. Get fucked, I guess.

Get Fucked for ZPG!

I will repost the less controversial part of my Ehrlich quote from way upthread:

....limiting of wasteful per capita consumption among the rich to allow room for increased consumption by the poor, use of more environmentally benign technologies and increased equity among and within nations will all be required.

If you think we must ultimately face the population issue directly (and I think we do), then these goals are certainly doubly important (in addition to those of basic social justice). Per your comment, a very difficult problem becomes well nigh intractable when there are huge consumption and power differentials between the various parts of the population.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:28 AM
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In the US there's also an enormous determination to protect "our way of life", a fairly widespread hatred of environmentalism per se, and in many cases an aggressive principled rejection of altruism. These aren't necessarily majority atiitudes, but they've been dominant for a decade or more.

In other words, we're the bad guys.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:32 AM
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824: I was talking just about the city.

Yes, I knew that, I just used it as a jumping off point for a screed on how freaking warped the mainstream discussion of population is. Sorry.


And actually the fact that the Pittsburgh area has basically had a flat population makes it something of an interesting case study for separating out the effects of population growth from changes in lifestyle on the local environment.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:34 AM
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Problem the First: if keeping a first-world lifestyle is our goal, we already have four billion too many people. Not four billion potential people. Actual people. We need negative growth.

Not getting this one. What are you basing it on?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:34 AM
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There's some interesting reading here.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:37 AM
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767 mentioned that we can only support, given our current resources, two billion people at a first-world-type lifestyle. On the (huge) assumption that that's as fixed as California lawns, there's four billion too many for the planet to support in style right now.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:40 AM
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Further to 828: I mean, you say "keeping" a rich-country lifestyle, but there simply aren't enough people in rich countries to make the kind of difference you're talking about. So what am I missing?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:41 AM
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830: I dunno about you, but bob doesn't strike me as the most reliable source when it comes to stuff like this.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:42 AM
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832: from the link in 829, in the 8 Jan 08 section by Guillebaud & Desvaux:

For a sustainable footprint of 6.4 gha per person, which is the mean ecological footprint for residents of high-income countries, maximum world population is 1.8 billion. (To put that figure in context, U.S. citizens consume 9.6 gha each on average; Europeans consume 4.8 gha.) Around 6 billion people (90 percent of today's population) could be supported at 1.9 gha per person, the mean ecological footprint for middle-income countries

They say these numbers are from the Global Footprint Network (I haven't had time to look for details there yet).


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:47 AM
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830: It's no worse than the rest of the assumptions in this conversation.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:53 AM
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834: Mouse-fucking-over.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:58 AM
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Demographic projections, on the other hand -- if you've got people having kids, you can count fairly certainly on having more people down the road. And you can count on them using resources. So if you can make a reasonably solid projection of how much you're going to have available in terms of resources a couple of decades out (maybe you can't make a projection like this, because technological advances will make more resources available, in a manner that we can't even estimate ahead of time. But if you could.) and you have a sense of what you want a person to be able to use in terms of resources to have a decent life, and you can project how many people you're going to have, you can see problems coming with a lot more certainty

cf; Malthusian projections, appalling track record of failure of.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:58 AM
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Russian roulette fallacy.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:04 PM
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835: Look, the mice have just as much right to procreate as anyone else!! [giggles]


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:06 PM
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833: You're right, the link in 829 does make for interesting reading. That said, this:

Betsy, can you not see that climate change--just one example of humanity's environmental impact-- is caused in large measure by the sheer number of climate changERS contributing (i.e. us humans)?
and this:
When species multiply beyond the capacity of their environment, nature provides no alternative to a die off.
(both from the 7 February 2008 post) make me want to bang my head against a wall.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:10 PM
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Russian roulette fallacy.

Maybe. But doesn't a 200-year track record give you at least some pause?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:11 PM
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On the other hand, our 30-(arguably, 100-)year track record of knowing about the danger of fossil fuels and doing not a damn thing about it doesn't speak well to our capacity to come up with fixes to apparent Malthusian problems.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:18 PM
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i thought my footprint should be pretty low and the quiz result said 3.8 earths, surprise
maybe just living in the city results in that
but anyway should try to lower it more, the score


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:22 PM
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841: Who's "we"? Are you going to make the argument that the European response to fossil fuel usage and climate change is fundamentally the same as the American one?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:23 PM
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Few things inspire long threads like a Megan.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:31 PM
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Few things inspire long threads like a Megan.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:31 PM
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To me that's a know-nothing, magical thinking argument. "You seem like X,Y, and Z, and X, Y and Z were wrong, so I'm not going to listen to you."

1. China and India looked at the Malthusian argument, took it seriously, and took steps to minimize its effects. This was only a refutation of the Malthusian argument if a.) you think of it as an iron law, which it isn't, or b.) think that those countries were wrong to try to limit population.

2. A fair part of the world still lives in Malthusian conditions: Egypt, Bangla Desh, El Salvador, much of Indonesia. So the Malthusian effect isn't non-existent, even though it's not universal.

3. Some of the progress in the last 200 years come from opening new land in Latin America, Australia, Canada, the US, and Russia. This was a one-time event.

4. Not specifically Malthusian, but large parts of the world are less fertile than they once were because of overuse or misuse: Most of the Mediterranean basin, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Central Asia was trashed by utipian optimists during the last 70 years. Likewise, one major fishery has been destroyed (Atlantic cod) and most of the others are in trouble.

5. Just in general principle, saying "I'm not going to listen and I don't want to know" should raise red flag.

6. I'm not pushing the most alarmist scenario or any specific scenario at all. I'm just saying that study and foresight are a good idea and waiting for things to get bad before starting to think about the problem is a bad idea. And what I mostly get from developmental economists is optimism and refusal to listen. At this point I will not even listen to someone talking about environmental questions if he's an economist. I'd like to hear more from economic geographers, though, because they don't ignore resource stocks and environmental carrying capacity as a matter of principle.

7. The people to talk to on this are economic geographers and earth scientists. I don't know where economists get the idea that they can ignore other scientists smarter than they are.

8. "Something will show up" is increasingly not true. "New technology will save us" might end up being true, but I don't think that it's smart to bank on it. Substitution of materials is sometimes possible and sometimes not; not for fresh water and top soil, I don't think.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:34 PM
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And following up to myself again... wait a second, the guys who made the post I quoted from in 839 are a physicist and a vasectomy surgeon? Color me even less impressed.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:35 PM
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843: The US is worse, certainly, but I don't think there's been any substantial change in per capita CO2 emissions in Europe in the last couple of decades.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:35 PM
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845 is cheating, TJ.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:35 PM
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847: No one's trying to cut your wee-wee, Josh.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:37 PM
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Was 846 a response to 840?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:37 PM
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850: I'm Jewish. Already happened once...


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:39 PM
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851: Part of it, maybe most.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:42 PM
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853: If you think that I was advocating anything like what you spent most of 846 arguing against, well, all I can say is you're wrong.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:46 PM
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I was also talking to Dsquared and hundreds of other people. I was explaining why the "200 year track record" doesn't impress me much, whereas it seems that you disagree. Perhaps you should restate.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 12:51 PM
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I think we should probably stop commenting on this thread lest we upset Becks. It's so long that it's going to stall/crash the server.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 2:52 PM
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To you that seems like a bad thing, I guess.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 4:07 PM
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836 and 837 really sum this up for me. The Ehrlich and the Club for Growth people really fucked us over when they were wrong in their predictions (by being early, IMHO).

Analogy ban alert: It's like the dudes calling for a stock market crash in 1998. They said that maybe a P/E ratio of 35 was just a bit too high. But the crash didn't happen. Which led to those DOW 36,000 morons saying that P/E didn't matter and that financial innovation made it obsolete. The fact that they were proven wrong in the short term allowed people to pretend that there was no problem at all and contributed to the problem in the long run.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 4:49 PM
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Analogy ban alert: It's like the dudes calling for a stock market crash in 1998

Or those dudes calling for war with Iraq in 1998.

btw, there are substitutes for topsoil and fresh water; ask your neighbourhood grower of a plant popular in California but not eligible for subsidies.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 6:47 PM
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Thought someone would say that. Not practical for anything legal except winter tomatoes.

I've been calling for financial disaster continually since the late 80s, and I've been right too many times.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 7:11 PM
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I really want to stop commenting on this thread, yet am compelled by some strange desire to do so. Figuring out why would probably require figuring out the psychology of internet addiction. So, two points, made at boring length:

First, the notion that the world's population will continue to grow exponentially is simply not accepted by most demograhers. Even the UN sees a max ever world pop in 2050 and then a subsequent decline, and lower estimates are plausible, including a lower world population in 2100 than in 2000 (without assuming massive war, famine, etc.). Global fertility is already substantially down today from where it was 30 years ago. I know that most people commenting here know this (and many know much more than I do) but it might be worth pointing out more explicitly. Of course, regional population can vary wildly even in the absence of global population growth, and none of this is to say that global warming isn't a catastrophic problem -- its just that population growth per se is a really bad way to think about the scope and scale of the problem.

Second, there is a long history in the environmental movement of conflict between Malthusians and those who think that Malthusianism is (a) incorrect as a factual matter (both historically and as a guide to future action) and (b) politically and policy-wise extremely counterproductive. It's important to understand that much of the environmental movement has long had a strong impetus for opposing Malthusianism. The impetus comes from a desire to explain that better environmental solutions are in fact possible and actually work, through both regulation and application of technology. This is an intra-environmentalist division, not a fight between environmentalists and others.

There is also a seldom-acknowledged right wing version of environmental Malthusianism, as well,which is a kind of shrugging fatalism designed to impede progress. For example, when I worked as a junior fool in air pollution regulation in LA in the late 80s, the standard line from the chamber of commerce was simply that more people equaled more pollution, and that if we wanted more folks to show up to grow the city, we'd just have to accept more smog. In fact, today,due to regulation, we have both more people and less smog. That's not to sugarcoat problems or to say that the environment is not in crisis -- global warming alone is probably the biggest crisis we've ever faced. Bu 9 times out of ten,Malthusianism/population control is a bad way to think about both the problem and the solution.

This thread is an example. In this particular instance, for example, most of the supposedly Malthusian resource constraint Megan was discussing was in fact an environmental regulation policy problem -- do we want to sustain subsidized water for California agriculture at something like current levels or not? What are the costs and benefits of doing so? The purported Malthusian limit -- the "water riots" that won't actually happen unless we insist on maintaining California Agriculture in its heavily state sponsored, roughly 20th century shape, was in fact a way of ducking or changing the subject from the real issues of environmental regulation. I got into it with Megan because her particular population control strategy was both poorly thought out and (I thought) insulting to the many folks who've actually raised unintended children, but the broader point is that the Malthusian analysis produces a weird and totally unproductive detour into thinking about population control, when we should actually be thinking about regulatory details and how we can pay for them. Since thinking about regulatory details is in fact what (I think)Megan does in her day job, I really do applaud and admire her, I just wish that she would stop making poorly thought out Malthusian policy arguments on the internet that have many smart people thinking both that we are required to face inevitable population growth driven resource constraints that will lead to social collapse, when (a)in fact those constraints are in fact reasonably solvable given tools we have today and (b) don't have much to do with population growth per se.


Posted by: robert halford | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:01 PM
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Thought someone would say that. Not practical for anything legal except winter tomatoes.

I don't think going to war with Iraq in '98 would have affected winter tomatoes one way or the other.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:10 PM
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Ultimately I just don't think the internet can support such long comment threads forever; there are finite disk and bandwidth resources out there and we can't count on technology to improve forever. I'm not saying we need to forcibly abort long comment threads like this, but at least some of these threads are unwanted, and we need to figure out how to avoid them. Some unplanned comment threads might turn out to be wanted after all, but some of them really are unwanted.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:24 PM
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I'd guess most of my puzzlement comes from this basic idea: Why do most people assume that more people, even if we could support them, is necessarily a good thing? Even if we knew that we could support 1 trillion people with suitable advances in agriculture, efficiency, and science, why would we want to achieve that?


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 01-17-09 11:51 PM
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I see the UN estimate all over the place, but never linked or argued. As far as I know the only places in the world below replacement are in Western Europe and the old Soviet bloc, and the latter case it's partly because of an demoralizing economic and political disaster that led to increased death rates and fewer marriages.

A declining rate of increase still is a rate of increase. the doubling speed is lengthened. You don't need an exponential rate of increase, just a slow steady rate which keeps compounding.

Again, projected decreases in fertility are partly the consequence of purposive responses to the Malthusian warning (as in India and China). Awareness of the Malthusian dynamic makes it possibly to avoid the worst effects of it. For rhetorical effect, people like to state their ideas as inevitable iron laws -- oddly enough, they sometimes do this specifically for the purpose of motivating a response. This is a modern, scientistic insanity not restricted to environmentalists.

Megan's original proposal was poorly framed, as I've said several times, but some responses to it verged on denying any necessity to talk about either population growth or the possibility of physical constraints on economic growth, which is characteristic of futurologists, economists, and utopians. Water shortages are a global problem in more places than California. Likewise, there's only so much fertile land, and taking land out of production to get more water for cities solves one problem by causing another. I've been somewhat taken aback by the idea that agriculture is a dispensable luxury industry and waste of water, and the economist's idea that msot American agriculture should be offshored the way manufacturing was.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-18-09 5:04 AM
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864: My puzzlement comes the other way, actually. If we have enough resources, science, and food to support a trillion people, on the assumption that people have autonomy over how many children they have with access to contraception and abortion and that "support" implies "at a comfortable standard", what's the problem?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-18-09 6:42 AM
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I think the contradiction comes in different conceptions of "at a comfortable standard." If you look at JP Stormcrow's 814:

Even without relying on extreme technological magic ponies, pushing the population carrying rate of the world (in some form) to a few 10s of billions of humans is almost certainly possible. Might not be a world most of us would want, but you could argue that we have no right to make that call. We are still a long way from any hard Malthusian limits (look at all the resources being consumed by various unnecessary species of plants and animals for instance-- see clew's 662 for instance )*.

That sort of thing sounds pretty bad to me -- like we'd want to stop population growth well before we were thinking about resources "being consumed by various unnecessary species of plants".

If we're all agreed on what "comfort" means, sure, the more people the merrier.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-18-09 7:16 AM
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Reading this thread has convinced me that we, as a species, are doomed.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01-18-09 7:41 AM
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867: Perhaps. Still, on the assumptions in 864 that people are having the children they want (thus, the next step is coercive measures), and there's adequate food, it's not a frivolous question: whose autonomy is being restricted to save plants? The potential for cruelty is pretty bad when it's to keep people out of starvation and want; I can't see it being better if it's for non-human benefits.

I don't think that there's some kind of duty to fill the planet with as many people as possible, understand. But I figure that the real question about population control was due to worry about the quality of life for other people (which includes not messing up the environment.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 01-18-09 7:55 AM
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Not practical for anything legal except winter tomatoes (emphasis added)

Hang on, we were talking about what was technically possible. If you're going to change the subject to what's "practical" (ie, not excessively costly), then you can't chuck out the views of economists any more.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 01-18-09 8:09 AM
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Crude folk econ is allowed.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-18-09 8:29 AM
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869:Well, sure. I'm not worrying about plants because I'm worrying about their autonomy, and valuing it higher than that of humans' autonomy. I'm worrying about plants because a world in which we're scraping for every last scrap of resources to the point of needing to eliminate "unnecessary species" of plants sounds like a fairly lousy place for humans to live. As I said in 867, I was talking about plants only in terms of what a "comfortable standard" is for the people involved.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-18-09 8:31 AM
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Some of the explanations I've seen about the earth's indefinitely large carrying capacity seemed to assume that people are cool with living in highrise refugee camps and getting a daily allottment of plankton-yeast bars.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 01-18-09 8:39 AM
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868: It probably has had the same effect on most everyone ... but for different reasons. But I claim first dibs. Many years ago on my first (and only) visit to Disney World (How many years ago was that? Imagine this, Epcot had yet to be constructed.), I spent the whole time writing (in my head) "A Visit to Disney World, or Why Homo Sapiens Will Not Contribute to the Long Term Evolution of the Universe".

Bonus Bad Writing Tip: (Since I notice that many here are not particularly bad writers.) A valuable skill to develop is the ability to literally not see that you have used "for instance" twice within the span of a few words until LB quotes that part of your comment. For extra credit, avoid seeing it even as you spend a bit of time puzzling over why it reads so awkwardly. This is admittedly hard to accomplish, but if I can do it, so can you.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-18-09 8:41 AM
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As long as my plankton-yeast bar is steak-flavored.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01-18-09 5:31 PM
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