Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Shared Resources

My Sister and I talk about a lot of stuff and agree about a little. I love the conversations because she not only knows what she believes, as most of us do, but she is able to describe why, which many on both sides seem incapable of.
I don't know how but we ended up talking about water policy. She lives along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, which is actually quite arid. Her water supply is almost completely dependent on the Spring snow melt. So if they get lots of snow in the mountains, their reservoirs fill up and if the snow fall is low the reservoirs don't fill up. Colorado recently went through a drought that lasted about 5 years, during which many of the reservoirs got quite low.
At some point during this drought, the water department instituted restrictions on water usage including limitations on watering the yard and using a running hose to wash your car. In talking about that period, she noted that some of her neighbors ignored the water restrictions and watered their yard anyway.
Later in the drought, the water department abandoned the restrictions and went to a tiered cost structure so people who used lots of water payed a significantly higher rate/gallon than those who only used a small amount of water.
To my sister, that was the right way to resolve the problem of water usage during a drought. If you can afford the higher bills, then use all the water you want in any way you want. I guess you could call it a market based solution as opposed to a regulatory solution.
I thought about that conversation alot. It seems to me to be an almost perfect metafor for one of the core differences between Republicans/Conservatives and Democrats/Liberals.
We all have to share the same environment.
And just because you can afford the gasoline/natural gas/electric bill/water doesn't mean that profligate use of those shared resources is actually good for society as a whole.
Now my sister personally recycles virtually everything she can. She has been known to wash and reuse ziplock bags. They have converted a large chunk of their yard to lower water demand plants and have a sprinkler system that makes more efficient use of the water they do use. She doesn't use the dry cycle on her diswasher, saving about 40% of the energy the system would otherwise use. She has a compost heap. All in all, she leads a pretty green lifestyle. As is her choice.
But she has no problem with those that are willing to waste our shared resources.
If they can afford what they use, then thats up to them.
Which is pretty much the Republican position on things like the environment.
If you can afford an Escalade or a 4.5L V-8 pickup, then have at it, the environment will take care of itself. Interfering in the market by Cap and Trade on Carbon emissions, or raising the CAFE standards, or making the CAFE standards apply to pickup trucks, or requiring that a growing percentage of the cars/power plants/factories produce less or even zero carbon emissions is usually defined as a bad idea gaurenteed to make America less competitive in the world and lose jobs.
The problem with their arguments is that everytime they have made similar arguments (against the Clean Air Act, or the Clean Water Act, or against the original CAFE Standards, they have been wrong. The world didn't end, the economy didn't collapse.
But because of their resistance to such things, we now have giant dead zones in the ocean and in the Chesapeake Bay where run off from non-point sources is killing entire water ecosystems. We have human accelerated global warming that literally theartens the lives of millions of people world wide.
And we are facing water crises. Much of California gets its water from snow melt, like Colorado. And snow fall in California has been decreasing and will likely continue to decrease as the climate warms up. The agricultural miracle that is California's Central Valley cannot exist without huge water projects bringing water from the mountains of Northern California. California's population continues to grow and the pressure on the limited water resources of the Sierra is growing as snow fall appears to be decreasing.
As a Liberal/Democrat, I think it is not only a good idea for the government to interfere in the water and carbon markets, I think it is absolutely necessary for our continued health and prosperity.
Left to their own devices, the markets won't solve these problems, despite what Conservatives/Republican try to tell us.
Just because you can afford to use lots of a shared resource, doesn't mean you should, nor does it mean you should be allowed to waste just because you can afford it.


Jim Robbins said...

Interesting enough, those same folks wasting resources because they can afford it, fail to recognize their portion of the rest of the bill when it comes due. Yes, they'll drive the Hummer at $10 per gallon for fuel, and complain bitterly when climate change destroys the Butter Lettuce crop and prices double.

Ernie said...

I am all in for a tierd pricing scheme for gasoline. All pumps seem to accept plastic credit cards. These could be state issured cards much like the rationing tickets of WW2. The first 50 gal. each month would b reasonably priced with a sliding scale for every 20 gallons after that.

Uncle Walt said...

That is the market solution. But allowing the rich to waste just because they can doesn't reduce the damage they are doing to the environment we all have to share.
If we relied on the market to do the right thing, Lake Erie would still be on fire.