Five case studies of water scarcity

I began teaching (!) water scarcity this year. The main assignment for the course was a case study explaining water scarcity (from physical to political) affecting a city of the student’s choosing. 

Although this was the first time I gave this assignment (it draws on my 2014 Water Smarts calendar), I was very pleased with some of the results and asked the students if I could share their work. So here are their PDFs!

Please leave feedback on these cases and/or additional information that would improve the treatment of scarcity. I will be using this format again next (school) year!

Stuff to read

  1. Exercise is not just about losing weight
  2. When is a “burger” a burger — and other naming nonsense
  3. Americans only started working too much (rather, taking too few vacations) in the 1980s
  4. Here are some excerpts from a new documentary on Elinor and Vincent Ostrom and the study of the commons, which will come out in May 2020
  5. In an experiment, students lived in the desert on 15 liters of water per day “without difficulty adjusting to a low-resource lifestyle.” Could you?
  6. Thirty people are sailing from Europe to the COP meeting in Chile. Support their mission?
  7. The most important wind in the world — the monsoon — is failing.
  8. China is exporting its digital surveillance model, beginning with BRI countries. Related: Read this 1993 essay on Singapore: “Disneyland with the death penalty
  9. “Bluntly stated, we should accept the grim reality that victory in modern major wars was most often achieved by mass slaughter, not by heroics or the genius of generals” Related: I agree with Bernie Sanders on “ending America’s endless war
  10. I’m quoted in this essay on over-population, sustainability and the Bay Area.

Raising boys better

I won’t bother to provide evidence that boys have a lot of energy, take risks and cause lots of “accidents” (some of which win them Darwin Awards).

Given those facts, I suggest that we reconsider how we raise — or educate — boys. Here’s my logic:

  1. Boys are likely to grow up to be men. With longer life expectancy, there’s no need to rush boys from school to work and family.
  2. The world is getting more complex, which means that education needs to reflect that complexity. Back in the day, boys only needed muscles and energy to do a job. Now they must wrestle with abstract concepts, office politics and 30+ years of evolving, cumulative responsibility.
  3. Somewhat paradoxically, but also obviously, there are fewer men willing to do manual labor and service jobs that involve low wages and hard work. The resulting shortages can result in a society of middle managers doing bullshit jobs while the working classes make big wages just for showing up. 
  4. Boys are less considerate and communicative than girls, especially when they are told that the route to success involves taking risks (but no prisoners) and they are judged according to their salary, car model, etc. 

From all of these trends, I think we should rethink male careers and education along these lines:

  1. Make sure boys complete their high school education.
  2. Do not let them into higher education until they are 25 years old.
  3. In the middle years (18-25) encourage them to do manual labor, military or civil service, go traveling, etc. The goal here — and the point of this post — is that these “aimless” years will help them learn about themselves, work off excess energy, deliver on obligations to employers and friends, and so on.
  4. After these rumspringa years, they will have more knowledge, patience and confidence, such that they may go to higher education — or not. The key is that they will be able to benefit from the experience and opportunities, unlike the case now where lots of young men seem more lost than found (I’ve seen a few examples).
  5. I’m guessing that men who are graduating at 30 years old will have plenty of time to start families and careers that will last a lot longer than many families and careers now do for young men who lack the emotional depth and confidence of experience that comes from taking care if yourself for some time. (I’m biased, as I traveled between 25 and 30, only starting graduate school when I was 32. I’ve also met plenty of “mature” students who got far more out of their education.)

My one-handed conclusion is that men mature later than women, and that our systems and institutions need to reflect that fact and the ways that the modern world has complicated “traditional” male roles. It’s time to raise boys in a system that recognizes how they mature.

What do you think?

Stuff to read

  1. #Greenblood: Dozens of journalists have been killed while reporting on environmental crimes
  2. #ExtinctionRebellion activists are using drones to disrupt flights from airports. I’ve predicted that they will go beyond this, to actually down planes that are contributing to climate change. 
  3. The Dutch are pretty honest. Read the story of my returned gold ring
  4. An interview with Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist
  5. The DeGrowth movement is growing (see my post)
  6. Life without wireless in your face
  7. Amazon doesn’t care if its site is full of counterfeit books (I see this firsthand with fraudulent copies of my books).
  8. The entrepreneurs behind Worn & Wound (a watch-enthusiast site). Related: Dan Henry turned his watch passion into a business.
  9. A long tale on the short life of SpeedX/BlueBird (shared) bikes
  10. The market is going nuts for companies promising big profits on zero capital. Be afraid.

Decline

I have time to write this because my return to Amsterdam has been delayed by 34 hours.* To say that I’m angry is a considerable understatement.

The reason I’m delayed (American Airlines declared a plane unfit for flying) is not on its surface objectionable, but let’s step back a moment…

On my flight to a conference here, American changed my connecting flight to one that was 4 hours later, which forced me to stay at a shithole airport hotel in Indianapolis and delayed my reunion (after 25 years) with my family on my mother’s side. That cost me $80 and a lost night of sleep.

I had to rent a car to get to my family because there’s barely any public transportation in a country built around cars. That cost me another $200.

Yesterday, we heard “Flight 204 to Amsterdam is cancelled.” I, along with 250 other people, scrambled. I was able to improve on their initial offer (a flight 48 hours later) by flying to London for a day-long layover. I will be home 34 hours late. In compensation, American gave us sandwiches and a hotel voucher. There was no transportation, so I paid $30 for a taxi.

While I was reveling in the ongoing bad news, I met other passengers who had already had other flights cancelled and delayed. One (un)lucky one knew  what to do, as she’d already been cancelled, so she was one of perhaps a dozen able to escape last night.

(I blame these delays and snags on a corporate culture that trims maintenance and redundancy to a minimum, which leads to cascading failures when anything goes wrong. Second, these corporations “follow the law” in terms of minimum compensation — $12 of food and a hotel room — without regard to the value of our time or other costs. Many people will miss work on Monday without AA paying any damages.**)

When we arrived at the hotel, the taxi driver resisted my credit card (drivers pay massive surcharges to use the credit card terminal). He wanted a tip (for driving?), but I did not pay, so I unloaded the massive bag of my pregnant companion. People on the edge do not have time to help.

Although this hotel room is nice, the lobby looks like a 60s relic. I didn’t feel like going out (City Hall is across the street) as I’d already walked past a dozen homeless people and beggars. I gave one of my sandwiches to a homeless woman who was setting up for the night.

My main goal over the next two days is to not lose my luggage, to use the least dirty of my clothes, and try to enjoy my involuntary 24 hours in Philly and 10 hours in London. Let’s see.  

America’s president is a conman and human rights abuser. Its Congress is a dysfunctional scrum beholden to lobbyists from the swamp. Its streets are lost to the homeless, idiots in cars blasting music after midnight, and predatory cabbies. Farmers are losing their crops to storms caused by climate change their tribe denies. Businesses profit through extortion and lies. Send thoughts and prayers.

This country is not becoming “great again.” Its decline echoes that of the USSR, which imploded from failing systems, corruption, greed, and the departure of anyone who could excape.

I am done with America. It’s no longer the land of my birth, of opportunity, of righteousness, of compassion. I have many friends here. I have family here. I know that there are many innovators, caring individuals and passionate problem solvers here, but I have lost faith that these good people can overcome the downdraft of America’s failing institutions, greedy oligarchs, and corrupt politicians.

It’s time for me to exchange my citizenship for another, so that I can live permanently in the system that’s improved my life for the past 9 years.

What a pity.


Updates from 25 June:

* I ended up changing flights 3 times (routing thru LHR to arrive 34 hours late, then to arrive 30 hours late, then getting on the same flight 24 hours later, which was 4 hours late — thus 28 in total — due to another plane failure). In the process of making these changes, I was told by three different AA staffers that this summer has been hell due to grounded 737Max planes (caused by Boeing’s lies about safety) and weird weather (climate change).  I can see how these problems can cause delays, but I think they are actually caused by a system that’s set up on a “run to fail” basis, overworked staff and undermaintained planes are always on the edge. (The staff are only paid when the plane is in the air, so they got nothing for 4 hours of sitting on the ground.)

** This is AA’s entire apology:

I find it comically inadequate and asked for my $988 ticket to be refunded. Note that I would have received €600 back under EU regulations if I’d booked the flight via KLM, which codeshares with American 🙁

Stuff worth your time

  1. The economics of migration, explained.
  2. A useful, if slightly frustrating, conversation on climate change with Bjorn Lomborg, who believes that “people will find ways to survive” — a policy recommendation I do not support. 
  3. How Satoshi channeled greed into value (blockchain institutions)
  4. Way too much data on watches and male perspectives on their wrists
  5. A decent overview of how the Americans won, then lost, the world
  6. If men want to ban abortions, then they need to pledge celibacy. Related: Women don’t just casually abort 
  7. A big Dutch technical university wants more female professors, so they are only accepting female candidates for positions over the next few years

Moving home — a climate vision

A few years ago, I grew alarmed (and continue to be alarmed) about the increasing risks we face due to climate change disruption. In response, I called for short stories describing how we might (not) adapt to climate disruption. I released 60+ of these CliFi stories in two volumes of Life Plus 2 Meters (free to download).

This year, I asked my environmental economics students to write their own CliFi visions. They did a great job, and I asked if they wanted their stories “published.” Here’s the second, from Marieke.


Moving home

Dear Lorenzo,

You have no idea how happy I am with your letter! It scared me – your plan to walk to Tadzhikistan. I started hearing stories from the news (yes, there are newspapers again – they are delivered per boat, once a month). I realized how fucked up the world is right now. And the idea that my son is out there… But I know you did it for us, thank you so much for that, thank you for being courageous. And for the map (with all the warnings – for both water and political tensions), it’s very useful. It makes me sad to hear that Turkey has closed its borders, but the route via Russia indeed seems doable (luckily it is not that cold anymore). I think we will walk like this (see map), I hope we will make it within a year.

I will talk to the council asap and we will make the final arrangements to come your way. We don’t want to take too much with us, but we have made some old-style covered wagons, we have tents and even some horses. We are taking as much food as possible, and dad is very excited about taking the portable garden wagons.

Life here is quite good actually, I am happy (although I miss you a lot). Right now, we have 272 members (a few babies are coming). We have created such a beautiful place. I know everyone complains about life being so much better before the flood, but I honestly don’t think it is. We have gone back to living with nature again. Dad and Jan-Thijs are managing the gardens, we have built houses from driftwood and earthships from all kind of waste that has stranded on our island. We have over 50 students in our school, I teach them about life before the flood, we make art together and they learn to work on the land. Almost every week another refugee arrives, they all integrate in the community very quickly, we have the kids teaching them.

I am sad to leave, but we really can’t stay. The weather is getting more extreme, last year the drought had destroyed almost all dad’s crops. And I am worried about the diseases. We’ve only had a few minor issues, but Janna has been taking care of the patients with herbal medicine. I don’t want to risk staying here though.

And honestly, the best thing about our community is the people right now. They are amazing. We sing together every morning, there is a fire in the night (helps in keeping away the mosquitoes). We make art, we learn so much from each other, there is love again and so much hope! The place you describe sounds perfect to continue our work.

The journey will be challenging, but worth it. I love you, see you soon,

Mom 

p.s. I’ll try to get hold of a telegram machine – but they are extremely expensive, so don’t count on it.

Wealthy — a climate vision

A few years ago, I grew alarmed (and continue to be alarmed) about the increasing risks we face due to climate change disruption. In response, I called for short stories describing how we might (not) adapt to climate disruption. I released 60+ of these CliFi stories in two volumes of Life Plus 2 Meters (free to download).

This year, I asked my environmental economics students to write their own CliFi visions. They did a great job, and I asked if they wanted their stories “published.” Here’s the first, from Jacinta.


Wealthy

It’s only 4 am; I dread midday… Summer is unforgiving. I feel the sweat catch as it pools along the strap of my mask – I’ve let it dangle round my neck; risky, I know. But I’m in the depths of the forest. The air might not be clean but it’s the closest I’ll get. Each day I reckon; it’s worth the risk. To feel the unconstrained movement of my face. The gentle breeze that caresses my cheek. The touch of my calloused fingers against my weathering lips… Ah yes, the lower half of my face is becoming increasingly lifeless. A fleeting feeling of anxiety sweeps through my body, but I don’t latch on to it. Even the concerns of my mind can’t take away from this moment; here in my mansion of peace.

I’m acutely aware of the time. 30 more minutes before the Early Walkers swarm this place; I’m not the only genius to find daily refuge amongst the trees. Though they make it redundant, in their masses this place becomes as suffocating as the outside. I need to relish every second I have. Here my breath is free, and with it; me.

Navigating the crowd, I grudgingly fasten my mask back on my face. It’s always a bitter-sweet moment. I know I’m fortunate; my mask is light yet robust, with strong filters and is one of the best on the market. I could never have afforded it. I won it in a card game against a Roldie. I cheated, but he doesn’t need to know that. 145 years old and none the wiser. Unsurprising, since he sees nothing beyond himself.

Past me might have felt guilty, but there’s no room in my new world for feelings like that. Plus, a Roldie doesn’t need it. He could easily afford another. Not to mention, he lives basically mask free; shielded in his fortress, with air so filtered I’m surprised there’s any oxygen left.

A feeling of fury flows through me, as I contemplate the unjustness of it all.

I exhale and let it pass; holding on to it gains me nothing. The Roldies might live in luxury, medicated to absurd ages, but I’ve never meet one that was filled with happiness. They are so obsessed with staying alive, they forgot what it means to live. Maybe that’s why they come and play cards, to experience the occasional thrill of not having control.

I let them win regularly enough to not grow suspicious. Sure, even if they do (my morning flashes in my mind’s eye) it would make little difference, since I’m on my way out soon. Maybe I’ll make it to 40, surpass the average age. Who knows? All I do know; my death doesn’t scare me. Death has always been too present to shy away from. From the famines and droughts, to diseases and WWIII. To find peace and happiness in this world I long ago realised; even life isn’t something I can afford to feel attached to.

Stuff to read

  1. The man controlling Russian media (for Putin)
  2. If you’re interested in “fair” water pricing, then read this paper [pdf] on Nairobi’s system: “we find that high-income residential and nonresidential customers receive a disproportionate share of subsidies and that subsidy targeting is poor even among households with a private metered connection.”
  3. “Why should migrants respect borders when we didn’t respect theirs?” Good question.
  4. GMO crops in Spain/Portugal increased profits, and lowered herbicide, insecticide and diesel use. Adopt!
  5. Google and Amazon allow you to opt out of spying — a little.
  6. George Orwell’s 1984 is ever more relevant: “The crucial issue was not that Trump might abolish democracy but that Americans had put him in a position to try. Unfreedom today is voluntary. It comes from the bottom up.”
  7. A fantastic hitjob on Uber, a company that’s taken $70 billion from gullible investors who bought the “Uber Technologies, Inc. operates as a technology platform for people and things mobility” lie.
  8. American rivers are too full (climate disruption!) for barges to move. Chaos in the Midwest. Will they vote for “Mr Coal Trump” again? (Don’t let USACE near this problem — they caused it with all the channeling, etc.)
  9. The mathematics of digital compression
  10. A Dutch researcher wins the “Borlaug food prize” for suppling better seeds to millions of small farmers.

H/T to DL