The latest episode of Ikonokast, the science podcast Mike Haubrich and I do, is now up. This is an interview with Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick. We talk about the California drought (past, present, and future), Syria, virtual water, El Nino and climate science denialism.
Last month, listening to NPR, I learned that Sacramento, California is struggling with the installation of water meters on homes. There were two things I learned, both ungood: 1) Sacramento was installing water meters on homes, meaning, that they hadn’t been there all along. I found that astounding because water meters are the first line of defense in controlling water use. Charge people for the water and they’ll pay attention to the drippy faucet, they’ll be more likely to remember to turn off the sprinkler, maybe they’ll think about investing in more efficient water-using appliances. Or maybe they’ll just throw a brick in the back of the toilet. 2) The way they were installing the water meters seemed to guarantee that it would take the longest possible time to complete the job. I wondered if this was a deal, tacit or otherwise, between the contractors and the city, because the way they are doing it involved a lot more work for the contractors. Seemed to me that getting the water meters in place would be urgent, and dealing with other aspects of the infrastructure could be handled later.
In January, Governor Jerry Brown asked Californians to use less water. They didn’t. That is surprising because I thought everybody in California was a tree-hugging ex-hippie liberal, the sort of person who would come up to the plate to save the earth any day of the week, not just on Earth Day. Turns out, that’s only the people I know in California. Now, California is imposing mandatory water restrictions, which include fines. Now the Libertarians will have to pay if they want to be all Libertarian about using water.
In the meantime I’ve had a few conversations, on Twitter and Facebook mainly, but also here, about this. My friends and I found ourselves grumbling about California. Hey, I live a few miles from the Mississippi River on a glacial lake covered with a sand sheet. Couldn’t get much better aquifer than that; the rain falls, goes straight underground with minimal evaporation or runoff, and sits there ready to pump into the ubiquitous water towers that define most upper Midwestern and Plains cities. But we have mandatory water restrictions, usually for several weeks starting in mid summer, every year. Also, I’ve lived in several sates and there were always water meters. Always. How is it that California, suffering a severe to extreme drought statewide, has entire cities (at least a couple) without water meters, and only now has considered serious water restrictions? What gives, we grumbled? Why should we feel sorry for California when they seem to have brought at least part of this water shortage problem on themselves?
The whole thing made so little sense that I guessed that there was more to it. There must be context I’m unaware of, nuance I’m missing. And, a colleague of mine, it turns out, is one of the world’s leading experts on water in California. So, I sent him, Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, a note asking him if he could ‘spain all this. (Peter also blogs here at Scienceblogs.) He wrote back that I had just ruined his weekend by adding the last straw to the camels’ back; this is an issue he’d been thinking about writing a blog post on, and now he was going to have to do it.
Peter’s post contextualizes and adds nuance to most of my questions. I still think we have an open question that applies generally, not just to California: Why is it that we humans are so bad at doing what we already know is the right thing? Or, in some cases, don’t know but would if we only looked around a bit. As a New Yorker (who also lived in Boston for quite a while) this question has troubled me since the day I moved to Minnesota. I see so many problems here that are developing (or in some cases well developed) with the undirected evolution of our infrastructure, cityscape, sub- and ex-urb layout, and other things that, I think, could be avoided if only those in charge of planning, and local political and economic leaders, would spend a year or so living in the East Coast Metropolis. Apparently, California isn’t as coastal as often claimed. It is a former frontier, a frontier not so long ago, settled by people who forgot their roots the moment they pulled them up.
Years ago I visited the Las Vegas History Museum at the University of Nevada. Among the many displays there was a post card that blew my mind. The post card sported a photograph of dozens, possibly hundreds of artesian wells that had been tapped and let blow. It was a large, very gently sloped plain (the part of the city that today slopes down towards Lake Mead, east of the main core of the city) and each of the wells was sending up what looked like a geyser but was really just water spewing out of the ground. The point of the photograph, said to have been widely distributed back east, was to show that there is unlimited water here in the middle of the desert. Don’t let thoughts of aridity dry up your plans to come here and build! The water spews out of the ground!
The think is, not long (weeks?) after the artesian wells were tapped, tapped entirely for one purpose, to make this photograph of unlimited water, the wells ran dry. The marketing effort caused the demise of the local aquifer, right then and there. And Las Vegas, with its fountains, golf courses, extensive unchecked development, is as stupid today as it was then. This poignantly exemplifies the true frontier spirit that facilitated the settling of the west. That and a lot of guns.
Go read Peter’s post before you get mad at California for the reasons cited above, for only now metering and only now restricting water. Don’t worry, you can still be mad at California, but with the additional context supplied by Peter, your annoyance will be appropriately nuanced and informed. They are still doing it wrong. They are just doing it wrong in ways more complex and, in some cases, depressing, than you may have been thinking.
But also, Californian approaches to water management have been an issue. I recently learned that there are communities in California that don’t even have water meters on people’s houses. What the heck? A while back the state asked people to use less water. They didn’t. Just now, the California Water Board implemented a fine for overuse of water, and local communities are asking people to turn in their neighbors who do so.
Here is an interview on All In with Chis Hays of Peter Gleick of The Pacific Institute, on the drought and the response to it.
Peter Gleick, my sbling here at scienceblogs.com (see his blog here) is famous for a lot of things, but about one year ago he went up against the Heartland Institute and in a daring effort of investigative (if avocational) journalism, revealed that right wing conservative/libertarian “think” tank’s nefarious plans to interfere with science education in an effort to discredit climate scientists in the eyes of the American public and our students through a series of rather smarmy tactics, including some really obnoxious billboards.
Scott compares the “accomplishments” of the Heartland Institute over the last year with Peter’s activities to produce a rather lopsided score card that resembles what would happen if the local High School football team went up against the Baltimore Ravens.
Peter Gleick has been reinstated in his position as president of the Pacific Institute.
The Pacific Institute is pleased to welcome Dr. Peter Gleick back to his position as president of the Institute. An independent review conducted by outside counsel on behalf of the Institute has supported what Dr. Gleick has stated publicly regarding his interaction with the Heartland Institute. This independent investigation has further confirmed and the Pacific Institute is satisfied that none of its staff knew of or was involved in any way.
Dr. Gleick has apologized publicly for his actions, which are not condoned by the Pacific Institute and run counter to the Institute’s policies and standard of ethics over its 25-year history. The Board of Directors accepts Dr. Gleick’s apology for his lapse in judgment. We look forward to his continuing in the Pacific Institute’s ongoing and vital mission to advance environmental protection, economic development, and social equity.
“I am glad to be back and thank everyone for continuing their important work at the Pacific Institute during my absence,” said Dr. Gleick in a statement. “I am returning with a renewed focus and dedication to the science and research that remain at the core of the Pacific Institute’s mission.”
Peter Gleick has been cleared of faking a key memo. Who is Peter Gleick, and what is this memo of which we speak? Here is a refresher of events over the last 3 1/2 months:
You will recall that last February 14th, we were all given an interesting Valentine’s Day present: A cache of documents had been acquired from the Heartland Institute, and these documents revealed important details about Heartland’s effort to interfere with science education and otherwise agitate and lobby to promote climate science denialism. The documents were released to the public by an as then unknown activist, and then redistributed by numerous bloggers including this one.
Heartland is the organization that made itself famous by working for the tobacco lobby in their effort to prove that smoking cigarettes was not really harmful. Over recent years, Heartland has received funds from a wide range of organizations and individuals to support climate denialism. Most recently, Heartland gained considerable notoriety (the bad kind) with their noxious and ill-conceived billboard campaign that equated “believing in global warming” with being a deranged serial killer (Tool Time: Heartland, Ted Kaczynski, and Education).
So, it turns out that Heartland was behind the Heartland leak after all.
The evidence seems to suggest that Heartland’s Joe Bast wrote a memo, then he and/or Heartland-symp blogger Steven Mosher sent it secretly to Peter Gleick. Peter Gleick then obtained additional material from Heartland, which came to him at his request but all to easily to be explained as a mere oversight on the part of some administrative or secretarial staff. The only thing missing here is evidence that Bast or Mosher or someone suggested to Peter that he verify the memo by asking for related documents from Heartland. But that would be too easy.
Anyway, it now seems clear that the document, the allegedly faked internal strategy memo with the most damning text in it (but nothing really different from what is shown in other verified Heartland documents) was fed to Gleick, presumably in an effort to engineer his downfall as an incipient board member of the National Center for Science Education.
Brilliant. Heartland: 1 … NCSE: 0
The evidence for this is the analysis just published by Shawn Otto. Shawn does not go quite as far as I do in suggesting the details of this conspiracy, but maybe he’s just a nicer guy than I am. Shawn notes that Heartland did not expect the tables to be turned on them. I’m thinking they did, and that the outcome that occurred … setting the NCSE back in their efforts to address climate science denialism … is what they were looking for, and what they managed to engineer. Shawn Otto’s analysis is here.
First, let me catch you up. On Valentine’s Day, there was a release of documents from the Heartland Institute documenting their budget and the status of their fund raising, as well as their strategy for protecting corporate interests in light of overwhelming evidence that Anthropogenic Global Warming and other climate change requires us to alter our global energy strategy. Heartland has been involved in science denialsm for some time. They are one of the groups that worked to deny evidence of the negative health effects of smoking, among other things. Heartland, a Libertarian “think” tank is a relatively small player in the overall climate discussion, and the documents indicate that the annual balance of their budget has been diminishing owing to reductions in contributions. Nonetheless, the documents painted a picture of systematic dishonesty. In particular, the documents seemed to indicate that Heartland was launching a bought and paid for effort to interfere with the teaching of good science in our K-12 educational system, replacing honest science with the willful misdirection we know of as science denialism. Continue reading Peter Gleick, The Heartland Revelations and Situational Journalism→
The best available evidence now suggests that the most damning of the “Heartland Documents” — the strategy memo which explicitly states that Heartland’s strategy is to interfere with good science education in order to advance their political agenda — is legitimate. The legitimacy of the document was being questioned because it was physically and stylistically different from the other documents with which it was released. We now know that the strategy memo was sent to climate scientist Peter Gleick and that Peter then took steps to acquire corraborating documents from Heartland (see “The Origin of the Heartland Documents.”) The “one of these things is not like the others” defense is now obviated. Continue reading The Heartland Science Denial Documents and the Future of the Planet→