Desalination Plants vs. Bullet Trains and Pensions

Current policy solutions enacted to address California’s water crisis provide an object lesson in how corruption masquerading as virtue is impoverishing the general population to enrich a handful of elites. Instead of building freeways, expanding ports, restoring bridges and aqueducts, and constructing dams, desalination plants, and power stations, California’s taxpayers are pouring tens of billions each year into public sector pension funds – who invest 90% of the proceeds out-of-state, and the one big construction project on the table, the $100B+ “bullet train,” fails to justify itself under virtually any credible cost/benefit analysis. Why?

The reason is because infrastructure, genuinely conceived in the public interest, lowers the cost of living. This in-turn causes artificially inflated asset values to fall, imperiling the solvency of pension funds – something that would force them to reduce benefits. Beneficial infrastructure is also a threat to crony capitalists who don’t want a business climate that attracts competitors. Affordable land, energy, and water encourage economic growth. Crony capitalists and public sector unions alike hide behind environmentalists, who oppose growth and development, all of it, everywhere – because no new developments, anywhere, suits their monopolistic interests. No wonder the only infrastructure vision still alive in California, the “bullet train,” is nothing more than a gigantic, tragic farce.

Urban Water Consumption is a Small Fraction of Total Water Use

Returning to the topic of water, a basic examination of the facts reveals the current drought to be a problem that could be easily solved, if it weren’t for […] Read More

The Abundance Choice

The prevailing challenge facing humanity when confronted with resource constraints is not that we are running out of resources, but how we will adapt and create new and better solutions to meet the needs that currently are being met by what are arguably scarce or finite resources. If one accepts this premise, that we are not threatened by diminishing resources, but rather by the possibility that we won’t successfully adapt and innovate to create new resources, a completely different perspective on resource scarcity and resource policies may emerge.

Across every fundamental area of human needs, history demonstrates that as technology and freedom is advanced, new solutions evolve to meet them. Despite tragic setbacks of war or famine that provide examples to contradict this optimistic claim, overall the lifestyle of the average human being has inexorably improved across the centuries. While it is easy to examine specific consumption patterns today and suggest we now face a tipping point wherein shortages of key resources will overwhelm us, if one examines key resources one at a time, there is a strong argument that such a catastrophe, if it does occur, will be the result of war, corruption, or misguided adherence to counterproductive ideologies, and not because there were not solutions readily available through human creativity and advancing technology.

Energy, water and land are, broadly speaking, the three resources one certainly might argue are finite and must be scrupulously managed. But in each case, a careful examination provides ample evidence to contradict this claim. […] Read More

An Economic Win-Win For California – Lower the Cost of Living

A frequent and entirely valid point made by representatives of public sector unions is that their membership, government workers, need to be able to afford to live in the cities and communities they serve. The problem with that argument, however, is thatnobody can afford to live in these cities and communities, especially in California.

There are a lot of reasons for California’s high cost of living, but the most crippling by far is the price of housing. Historically, and still today in markets where land development is relatively unconstrained, the median home price is about four times the median household income. In Northern California’s Santa Clara County, the median home price in October 2014 was $699,750, eight times the median household income of $88,215. Even people earning twice the median household income in Santa Clara County will have a very hard time ever paying off a home that costs this much. And if they lose their job, they lose their home. But is land scarce in California?

The answer to this question, despite rhetoric to the contrary, is almost indisputably no. As documented in an earlier post, “California’s Green Bantustans,” “According to the American Farmland Trust, of California’s 163,000 square miles, there are 25,000 square miles of grazing land and 42,000 square miles of agricultural land; of that, 14,000 square miles are prime agricultural land. Think about this. You could put 10 million new residents into homes, four per household, on half-acre lots, and you would only consume […] Read More

California’s Green Bantustans

One of the core barriers to economic prosperity in California is the price of housing. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Policies designed to stifle the ability to develop land are based on flawed premises. These policies prevail because they are backed by environmentalists, and, most importantly, because they have played into the agenda of crony capitalists, Wall Street financiers, and public sector unions. But while the elites have benefit, ordinary working families have been condemned to pay extreme prices in mortgages, property taxes, or rents, to live in confined, unhealthy, ultra high-density neighborhoods. It is reminiscent of apartheid South Africa, but instead of racial superiority as the supposed moral justification, environmentalism is the religion of the day. The result is identical.

Earlier this month an economist writing for the American Enterprise Institute, Mark J. Perry, published a chart proving that over the past four years, more new homes were built in one city, Houston Texas, than in the entire state of California. We republished Perry’s article earlier this week, “California vs. Texas in one chart.” The population of greater Houston is 6.3 million people. The population of California is 38.4 million people. California, with six times as many people as Houston, built fewer homes.

And when there’s a shortage, prices rise. The median home price in Houston is $184,000. The median price of a home in Los Angeles is $530,000, nearly three times as much as a home in Houston. The median price of […] Read More

The Unholy Trinity of Public Sector Unions, Environmentalists, and Wall Street

Taken at surface value, there ought to be minimal identity of interests between these three special interests. But if you follow the money and power instead of the rhetoric and stereotypes, you will find this unhealthy alliance is alive and thriving. For example, unions use “greenmail,” the threat of a lawsuit on environmentalist grounds, to block developments until the businesses involved concede to union demands. Once they back down, the environmental problem magically disappears.

California’s much vaunted high-speed rail and delta tunnel proposals are also examples of the unhealthy rapprochement between unions (public and private) and environmentalists. Because the construction unions, God bless ’em, want thousands of good new construction jobs, and the only big projects that are environmentally correct are these monstrosities. The unions have a choice – fight the environmentalists in order to lobby for public works that actually yield economic benefits to society, or enjoy their considerable support for a couple of misguided mega-projects.

Beyond obvious examples, how unions, environmentalists, and America’s overbuilt financial sector collude – often unwittingly, does not lend itself to emotionally resonant, simple narrative. It can’t be expressed in a few declarative sentences. But because this web of collusion is stunting the economic growth of America and systematically destroying its middle class, it is a story that must be told. Here are some points that all exemplify the chain of cause and effect, linking the interests of public sector unions, environmentalists, and Wall Street.

Public sector unions demand, and get, over-market compensation and […] Read More

Agroforestry is Regreening the Sahel

The African Sahel is the arid belt of land that forms a buffer between the Sahara desert to the north and the more temperate savannahs to the south. From the coast of Mauritania and Senegal to the west, the Sahel stretches over 3,500 miles to Sudan and Eritrea’s Red Sea coast to the east. Over 500 miles wide, this vast area forms the biggest front line on earth in the relentless battle against desertification.

For decades there has been nothing but bad news. Population increase led to overgrazing and unsustainable harvests of fuelwood. Equally if not more harmful to the Sahel ecosystems were the imposition of western methods of agriculture and forestry, techniques that began under colonial administrations and have been perpetuated over the past 50 years by well-intentioned aid agencies. A fascinating article by Burkhard Bilger in the December 19th issue of The New Yorker, entitled “The Great Oasis (subscription required),” documents a new and hopeful trend in the Sahel that may reverse over a century of environmental decline.

Back in the 19th century and through the first half of the 20th century, French colonial administrators in the Sahel attempted to develop commercial agriculture according to Western techniques that worked well in temperate zones, where sunlight needed to be maximized, but were disastrous in the arid Sahel, where crops responded better if they were beneath a protective tree canopy that attenuated the sunlight. The areas designated as forest were considered state property and were protected, […] Read More

Redefining Environmentalism

The “Breakthrough Institute,” was founded in 2003 by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, authors of “The Death of Environmentalism” and Break Through, and aspires to be “a paradigm-shifting think tank committed to modernizing liberal thought for the 21st Century.” Last week Nordhaus and Shellenberger delivered a lecture at Yale University that provided myth-shattering explanations for recent failures of the environmental movement. Equally significant, and very encouraging, is that in their lecture, Shellenberger and Nordhaus also set forth principles for redefining and revitalizing environmentalism that are realistic and thoughtful. The full text of their remarks, entitled “The Long Death of Environmentalism” are posted on their website.

Here is the problem with environmentalism according to Nordhaus and Shellenberger:

“Today, environmental efforts to address climate change and build a green economy lie in ruins. The United States Congress this summer once again rejected climate legislation that even had it succeeded would have had virtually no impact upon U.S. carbon emissions over the coming decade. The magnitude and consequence of this defeat are poorly understood outside of Washington. Greens had the best opportunity in a generation — a Democratic White House and large Democratic majorities in Congress. But they banked everything on a single bill and walked away with nothing — or rather worse than nothing, since today environmental credibility with lawmakers of both parties is today at an all-time low. Meanwhile, green stimulus investments ended up creating very few jobs. Those that it did create […] Read More

California’s Green Godfathers

It is an article of faith among environmentalists, conventional wisdom in the media and academia, and a massive delusion afflicting California’s voters, that the climate skeptic community receives massive backing from oil companies and other corporate “polluters.” But when you start to look at who stands to gain from climate “mitigation” policies, and really examine the money trail behind legislative lobbying and political campaigns, the notion that the money is on the side of the deniers doesn’t hold up.

Where the money really is in the global warming debate, as well as reasons why anthropogenic CO2 may not be pollution after all, has been explored at length already here in previous posts including Investigating Climate Alarmism, Credible Climate Skeptics, The Hijacked Public Interest in California, Public Sector Deficits & Global Warming “Mitigation”, California’s Proposition 23, Who Are The Carbon Criminals?, Implementing California’s Global Warming Act, The Climate Money Trail, and The Climate Alarm Industry. In this post, the intent is to take a closer look at who was behind the annihilation of California’s Prop. 23 last November, a citizens initiative that would have suspended implementation of California’s “Global Warming Act,” tepidly backed by a handful of oil companies (most oil […] Read More

Investigating Climate Alarmism

Prior to launching CIV FI, I edited EcoWorld, a website dedicated to “reporting on clean technology and the status of species and ecosystems.” My belief in the urgency of many environmental challenges; declining fisheries, deforestation, 3rd world development, depleting aquifers, endangered species, etc., is undiminished. But from 1995 until the spring of 2009, while writing or editing nearly 1,000 reports on these vast topics, I slowly changed from a person who believed in the urgency of reducing anthropogenic CO2 emissions, to someone who is a confirmed skeptic.

One reason I began to question the conventional wisdom on climate change was because whenever researching a particularly horrendous claim, I would inevitably discover the reality was far less significant than the headline. The alleged melting of the ice caps is a good example of this, because all you need is basic competence in high school algebra in order to realize the supposedly ominous quantities of ice-melt being parroted by alarmist journalists are utterly trivial. Here are some posts from several years ago where I ran the numbers and realized the amount of melting being reported in Antarctica and Greenland was actually so minute it was below the level of detectability:

The Real Facts on Increasing Antarctic Ice, 30 April 2009 Pessimistic Reporting, Optimistic Data, 26 December 2008 Antarctica’s Ice Mass, 17 April 2008 Greenland’s Ice Melting Slowly, 20 […] Read More

Entrepreneurial vs. Casino Capitalism

This week’s New Yorker editorial “Puppetry” by Hendrik Hertzberg properly takes Fox Commentator Glenn Beck to task for distorting the life-story of financier George Soros. There are plenty of reasons to criticize George Soros, but how he survived the Holocaust as a pre-teen in wartime Hungary is not one of them. What bears mention is the fact that Glenn Beck may have overplayed the “holocaust” card, but Glenn Beck is one man, a frothy, overwrought pundit who offers a lot of useful insights to his viewers, but isn’t always right. Beck may be condoned by his network, but he hardly represents a movement.

It is indeed appropriate for the New Yorker to condemn Glenn Beck for demonizing George Soros, but the New Yorker is being hypocritical. New Yorker writers routinely participate in character assassination when they criticize climate change skeptics, and they too devalue the holocaust, every time they taint anyone who may disagree with the theory that anthropogenic CO2 is going to destroy our planet as a “denier.”

In last week’s New Yorker editorial, for example, entitled “Uncomfortable Climate,” author Elizabeth Kolbert leads off by calling attention to the behavior of Congressman Darryl Issa, who as a teenager was accused of car theft. This, along with the fact that Issa is “one of the richest men in Congress,” precedes Kolbert’s discussion of Issa’s intention to reopen investigations regarding whether or not it is justifiable to regulate CO2 emissions. In her editorial, […] Read More