Monday, February 22, 2010

Lies, damned lies, and economics

© 2010 Joshua Stark

The L.A. Times has a great article today on real information about California farming during the past couple of years. After the great hue and cry from folks that the delta smelt and salmon were killing our farming lifestyle, the numbers are in, and they show very few changes from the previous few years, and in many cases, we have bumper crops. And the biggest news: Employment fell by about .5% in ag.

In even the most harsh case presented by Central Valley business-as-usual advocates, poor Mendota, unemployment only rose 8% from 2003, from 32% to 40%, a 25% increase in the number of people actively looking, but unable to find work. Meanwhile, Sacramento's unemployment rose from 6.1% to 12.2%, a 100% increase.

Of course, I hear the question rolling off your lips right now: Mendota had 32% unemployment in 2003?!? Yep.

It makes you wonder why the West side of the Central Valley wants to keep the lifestyle it's got, and not look for new ways to get people working.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Cheap Shot at 'Avatar', but I just have to...

© 2010 Joshua Stark

While checking my email today, I noticed a little news blip, something about James Cameron claiming that the production company for Avatar - 20th Century Fox - had first been concerned about the movie's theme being too environmentalist. Cameron claims that he pushed back, they backed down, and the movie was made as he wanted it.
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I would have let this pass, and just thought it some blustering and a way to get more media attention for his movie, except something happened to me a couple of weeks back that made this more than just a passing thought:

While walking through the parking lot of a neighborhood gigantic store, I picked up a piece of litter to throw away, and chuckled to myself at its origin. It was a small, clear plastic bag printed with the words, "Na'vi Dire Horse".

Obviously, this was an inner wrapper, once containing one of Mr. Cameron's "green" warrior's steeds, now blowing across the parking lot and headed, eventually, for the Yolo Bypass and Sacramento Delta.

I'm a big fan of toys, and I was going to let this slide. But, reading about Mr. Cameron's claim to defend his movie's green message, and then to see the money he and 20th Century Fox will make on the merchandising, I'm left a little perturbed.

This was a perfect opportunity for Mr. Cameron to help usher in a new, green production era. For example, he could have used manufacturing facilities close to the markets for the toys, or he could have insisted on 100% biodegradable materials, or perhaps make them all from 100% recycled materials. The COOLEST would have been 100% plastic from the Pacific Trash Vortex, where most of them will end up.

Wanting to see the calculations on this marketing scheme's greenhouse gas emissions, and hoping to find some articles shaming Mr. Cameron, et. al., for this anti-environmentalism, I googled the potential controversy, but found nothing.

So, here's one: Shame on you, Mr. Cameron and 20th Century Fox, for making a fun, if shallow, movie, marketing it as an environmental message, and then helping to trash the environment a little more, when you could have walked your talk.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Climate Change impacts to hunting and fishing

© 2010 Joshua Stark

At first I thought the idea I'm going to post here would make me look incredibly slow - maybe it does - but after I did a little googling, I've realized that, with few exceptions, we must all be slow.
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I thought, "gee, I wonder if anybody has done any work on the impacts of climate change to hunting and fishing, not just as pastimes or endeavors, but also to the industries that serve them, and to the habitats, animals, and folks that these pastimes protect."

After poking around a bit, I found two good websites that start this discussion. One, of course, comes from the National Wildlife Federation: Target Global Warming (http://www.targetglobalwarming.org/). This is a beautifully designed website with some amazing photos, and is a good place to start when you want to find out about potential global warming impacts on habitats and animals. However, I found no forecasts on the impacts to industries, or to hunting and fishing as ways of life, and links to their information take you back to NWF articles and publications about more general impacts. That is fine, but it would be nice to see some more hunting- or fishing-focused stuff.

The second website, Season's End (http://www.seasonsend.org/), is the kickoff of the book by the same name, edited by staff at the Bipartisan Policy Center. BPC is an organization founded by Bob Dole, Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, and George Mitchell. This is THE place for information on the potential impacts of climate change to hunting and fishing. The book is free on the website as a download (8 MB), the site is also beautifully designed, and the information is great. They break down impacts by game (waterfowl, big game, etc.), and you can click on links that give you a little bit of information and a taste of what the book offers. For example, they state that the Prairie Pothole region may see a 90% loss in its wetlands, and the Chenier Plain Marshes of Louisiana may lose 99% of its waterfowl.

My one complaint is that their blog hasn't been updated since July of 2009.

Season's End is supported by a number of well-known hunting organizations - perhaps you are a member of one - and is well worth a look. So is NWF's site.

If you tend not to believe in the science of human-cause global warming, just remember that conservation is good in and of itself. Also, please reconsider your position by reading, especially since every outdoors organization that I know of, regardless of political affiliation, is concerned about it and trying to educate and help solve it as a problem.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Some thoughts on the Gov's. proposal to cut $5 million from fishing and hunting programs

© 2010 Joshua Stark

Yesterday, I listened in on the California State Senate's Committee on the Budget and Fiscal Review, to hear how the Committee would consider the Governor's proposed $5 million cut from the General Fund contribution to Program 25, the Hunting and Fishing Program at the Dept. of Fish & Game.
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Last year, this program received $37 million from user fees (hunting and fishing licenses, entry fees, etc.), and typically, these are supplemented with $15 million from the State General Fund.

Administration officials explained that this amounted to a less than 10% reduction in the program, and assured the Committee that the cuts would not impact endangered species programs, the Marine Life Protection Act, or law enforcement.

After each budget proposal is made, the Legislative Analysts Office (LAO) makes its recommendations, and in this case, the LAO recommended the cut, with the caveat that the Legislature and Governor's office meet to set specific priorities for programs impacted by the cut, pointing out that this program receives some federal matching funds. (One factually misleading statement the LAO made was that these cuts would not impact fees. However, I ask you: if a fishing dock is closed, or if a waterfowl refuge is closed, will these impact fees? Why yes, you are correct, they would impact fees.)

After the LAO's comments, anybody in public can speak (even you). Representatives from two groups commented on the proposed cut: the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance (COHA), and Defenders of Wildlife. I was happy to see them both, but I was surprised at the outcome.

COHA's representative spoke first, and the first thing he did was concur with the LAO's recommendation. He immediately said that his constituents' interests needed to be protected, and that this cut would/could impact them, but that they were willing to talk with the Legislature and Administration to figure out how to allocate the cut.

At this point, the Chair of the Committee (Sen. Ducheny) asked about the possibility of raising hunting and fishing fees. Her actual words were, "have we looked at fees?" COHA pointed out that fishing and hunting fees were adjusted annually, and that this system isn't exactly fair, in that hunters and fishers pay for access to places other people use for free.

Then the Defenders' representative spoke, and she did not concur with the cut, but instead compared it to last year's $30 million dollar cut to the Department, which was backfilled by Preservation Fund money (which includes hunting and fishing fees). She also said that the vast majority of these cuts would go to sportfishing programs and management.

I don't understand a couple of things. First, I don't understand COHA's decision to agree to a 33% cut to General Fund money to a program that COHA already believes is unfairly funded. Second, I don't understand, in light of Defenders' comments, why the sportfishing people weren't out to defend their program's funding.

By the end of the short session, I was impressed with Defenders' position, and I look forward to help them keep our hunting and fishing programs intact, for ourselves and our children. I also hope other groups will help step in to defend hunting and fishing as endeavors worth supporting and fostering. If you are a member of Defenders, COHA, or any other hunting or fishing group, I highly recommend a call to your representatives, as well as a call to your groups' folks, to let them know that you support their efforts at keeping all of our funding.

President Obama suggesting Cap & Trade may be separated from Energy Bill

© 2010 Joshua Stark

The NY Times reports that Obama is suggesting that the only way for the energy bill to get passed is if C&T is separated from it, and then passed later, on its own.

It won't. Pass on its own, that is.
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So, we can continue to pay for carbon damages on the back end, through climate change, rather than on the front-end, and we can continue to subsidize carbon emissions in their market competition with non-carbon emitting energy practices and conservation.

Now, I'm no fan of the current proposal. But, considering the changing political climate around carbon, and the (contrived) exhaustion politicians get when they don't get something passed the first time, this is not good news for actual carbon reductions, or for alternative decisions for folks to have.

The feds keep slip sliding away, pushed, it would appear, by big ag. interests. Take a look at the folks most worried about cap & trade in the Senate, and ask what industries might be influencing their decisions.

Meanwhile, farmers continue to be beholden to large ag. industry, hamstrung by infertile seeds and feedlots, carbon-heavy institutions that profits only a few huge corporations.

Meanwhile, California is moving forward with its Cap & Trade proposal. Please, please, Air Resources Board, read and incorporate the recommendations on cap & trade made by some of the best minds in environmental economics in their report to you, especially the parts about the 100% auction and revenue directly to Californians.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Green tech, off-topic on taxes, rainwater capture, and a new blog

© 2010 Joshua Stark

A couple of links for the day, with a bit of commentary.

Dan Walters at the Sacramento Bee has an interesting story on green tech in California, and whether and how we can keep it growing here. He focuses on bureaucracy and taxes as problems in keeping green businesses here. I'd like to add that we've really put ourselves in a pickle by getting used to exorbitantly low property taxes. Yes, I'll touch California's political third rail in my blog, and from an economics angle:

Do you think the total prices paid by people to purchase homes in California, was honestly lower in the subsequent 30 years after its passage? That's rhetorical - no, they weren't any lower than they otherwise would have been. The extra profit that would otherwise have gone into schools, roads, and social programs in the state instead went directly into sellers' pockets, and into inflating a housing bubble. This is because California's greatest, most valuable asset is its location. Property taxes are higher in Ohio, they are higher in Texas. In Texas. Yet, Texas government is considered the new way to do things right. Maybe it is, and we should follow suit by raising our property taxes.

Now, California has to make up for lost revenue because it gave up its share of land prices. In the meantime, our schools are worse, our air quality is worse, our job prospects are worse, and we rely too heavily on regressive (sales) taxes and taxes that the wealthiest among us can more easily opt out of (income taxes don't work at the state level to any great degree). Also, our property values yo-yo terribly, but were still out of the range of the fixed-income folks we pretended to protect when we passed Prop. 13.

On to better news: The L.A. Times reports that the city of Los Angeles will soon (hopefully) require rainwater recapture in new, large building projects. This is great, amazing news, both for their local beaches and ocean, but also for, eventually, those of us in the Delta who would like to see L.A. become even more self-sufficient. We need good, mass technology that provides easy cleaning of rainwater for home use, and I see this as just one more step in that direction.

Tangentially, I've done some dabbling in rainwater capture numbers, and I believe, in Sacramento, a typical small home could capture enough rainwater for two months or so of their typical use from their roof.

Last, I wanted to link to the new Planning and Conservation League blog. These are good folks - any group whose annual symposium can get funded by Tejon Ranch and the National Wildlife Federation is doing something right. They are plugged into the state environmental scene to a great deal.