Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A question of parity

Although it doesn't get talked or written about nearly enough, equity is one of the fundamental elements of a sustainable society. As I look about Minnesota and the rest of the country these days, it's clear to me we're becoming less equitable in a number of ways, including our failure to account for resource constraints and markets as they are likely to be in the future, rather than as they have been in the past. Billions of us regularly use and abuse resources and leave a mess for someone else to clean up.

composite of earth, north america
there is no Planet B
Photo by J. Harrington

We attended a memorial service yesterday. One of the sights that caught my eye was the fire marshall's sign about maximum occupancy in the room. It put me in mind of a growing number of stories about the effectz of California's drought, and some comments made by local Minnesota legislators regarding environmental conditions in parts of Minnesota. I'm not sure what calculations the fire marshal uses, but I have been sure for years that much of planet earth's occupancy limits have been pretty well laid out in Limits to Growth. A defining characteristic of that study is that the system (earth) is a fundamentally closed system with the exception of sunlight/energy (and the occasional asteroid). No so with California's drought. Although 80% of the water used in California goes to grow food, much of which is consumed elsewhere, I'm not sure that almonds, for example, are a critical food item for many people. I'm cynically wondering how often we're going to be told to pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain. Capitalism and current resource economics push California "farmers" to grow crops, like almonds, that yield high profit margins. So, an argument that California's food production means we're all responsible for that state's water consumption seems to me to be a very leaky bucket that won't carry water too far. Almond consumption isn't likely to be a noteworthy limiting factor in anyone's quality of life (except for growers) and may not be the "best and highest use" of a limited resource like water.

southwest Minnesota row crops
southwest Minnesota row crops
Photo by J. Harrington

California offers Minnesota the basis for some interesting comparisons. Most of Minnesota has again experienced a moderate amount of drought. The southwest part of the state, which almost uniformly fails to meet water quality standards, is trying to importing water from outside water rich Minnesota. The governor has proposed $48 million to complete the Minnesota portion. This is one of several areas in greater Minnesota that are also looking for additional subsidies for "workforce housing" to support additional growth. I'm wondering about the equity, or to use a term I've heard farmers using, the parity, of state funding a multimillion dollar water supply system to support an area where many question the need for and equity of 50 foot buffers to protect water quality. I'm going to raise the question, which I suspect others may have beat me to, of whether Minnesota should raise fewer row crops for the world market and more for local consumption, just as California could conserve water by growing local veggies instead of almonds. I don't want my tax dollars to support unsustainable growth in southwest Minnesota any more than I want my great grandchildren to have to pay to clean up past or future mining messes in the north. It's a variation on a ponzi scheme, isn't it?

National Poetry Month

Out of Water

By Marie Ponsot 
A new embroidery of flowers, canary color,
                        dots the grass already dotty
                        with aster-white and clover.

I warn, “They won’t last, out of water.”
The children pick some anyway.

In or out of  water
children don’t last either.

I watch them as they pick.
Still free of  what’s next
            and what was yesterday
they pick today.

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