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Thoughtful things; bait

bluepapercup recently sent me this article about the state of aboveground and belowground water usage and rights in Texas. While living in Texas, I'd heard bits and pieces of stories about this situation. The article is correct that many urbanites in parts of Texas are oblivious about where their water comes from, and at what cost (or, more generally, where their lifestyle comes from, and at what cost). Farmers, on the other hand, are highly aware, but don't always know the best ways to keep up with their changing landscape and shifts in water availability.

I think about these subjects almost every time I get on an airplane. In Texas, flights often took me over areas that have recently become hotspots for fracking. The above article doesn't even talk about what fracking has done to water use in Texas. There are towns in western Texas where some people have decided they get more value out of selling the municipal water supply to frackers than they'd get out of ensuring that citizens have access to clean drinking water. I'm not even talking about hysteria over wastewater pumping in this case.

In Nebraska, when I look down from an airplane window or when I ride my bicycle through the countryside, I see compact pumping stations and enormous irrigation pivots. This region, too, is dependent on the same twin resources, oil and water, to grow the corn and soybeans that are used as livestock feed, in the manufacture of processed foods, and as a cheap export. This year, at least, has been wet, so wet that rivers and streams are clogged with cornstalk runoff from the fields. The creek that I ride along on my commute to work is currently a study in eutrophication, choked with algae.
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What will the future look like? Shifting focus, here's a talk on technological innovation and web design, which contains vivid anecdotes about human progress and visions for the future of the internet. I am agnostic about whether or not the offered perspective is correct, but I find it to be way more balanced than many opinions offered on the subject of our technological future.
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Although I know I tire easily if I read too much psychology literature, I might still give this guy's book a read. He at least sounds humble, and also well-versed in thinking about human cognition.

Lastly, some experiences on Social Media Platform Brand F have gotten me pondering the category of "intellectual clickbait." First, after seeing a New Yorker article about Seattle's earthquake-apocalypse future, I was amused to observe this curmudgeonly response, which may or may not be factually accurate, either. At around the same time, I learned in a conversation with S that certain large agro-industrial corporations have been engaging in highly strategic brand management efforts, particularly with respect to the buzz-phrase "genetically modified organism." I became one of the suckers who re-shared a misdirecting article on the topic, although this action led most of my friends to restate a shared opinion that the article was a misdirect. None of us immediately caught on to the fact that it was an intentional misdirect, however, which is concerning to me. Sometimes it's hard to stay ahead of the media. These two experiences are leading me to ask myself whether the things I encounter on the internet are "intellectual clickbait," which will affect whether or not I decide to share such things with others.

Comments

( 9 remarks — Remark )
bluepapercup
Jul. 22nd, 2015 07:25 pm (UTC)
There are follow-on articles planned for the one that I sent you, I think the organization is aiming to eventually cover many of Texas's major water issues. I am interested to see how they cover fracking.
rebeccmeister
Jul. 22nd, 2015 07:44 pm (UTC)
Nice! Yes, one gets the sense from that article that it holds only part of the story, although even that one part is quite complex.
twoeleven
Jul. 23rd, 2015 01:54 am (UTC)
This region, too, is dependent on the same twin resources, oil and water, [...]
Well, that's true of all our agricultural activities these days. More generally, of course, nothing we do happens without water. :)

But there's certainly an argument to be made that pumping water laughably faster than the aquifer refills is a bad idea, though I view this as a self-correcting problem.


I became one of the suckers who re-shared a misdirecting article on the topic, although this action led most of my friends to restate a shared opinion that the article was a misdirect. None of us immediately caught on to the fact that it was an intentional misdirect,
Misdirecting? How so? Misleading title or lead paragraph compared to the rest of the content?
rebeccmeister
Jul. 23rd, 2015 03:00 am (UTC)
Hmm, I suppose it will be a self-correcting problem, but I wonder about the degree of human suffering it entails, depending on whether or how it's addressed.

Misdirecting in terms of placing the GMO argument focus on certain popular ideas, namely that GMO's are unsafe for human consumption, rather than on the use of GMO labels as a way of making people aware of the agricultural origins of the things they eat (e.g. Big Ag), or of the ecological implications of large-scale monoculture farming methods. The gist of the article is, "There's nothing wrong with GMO's," but without providing context beyond individual consumer consequences. Most of the people I know aren't opposed to GMO's per se, so much as opposed to the suite of other things correlated with GMO's (added financial burden for poor farmers in developing countries, added and widespread pesticide use, monopolistic behavior).
twoeleven
Jul. 23rd, 2015 03:31 am (UTC)
I expect the practical exhaustion of the Ogallala aquifer will be gradual. It's not like everybody will suddenly find their pumps dry. Local rock formations should force some people to use less water than others sooner. That will probably get other farmers' attention. The area is fine for crops that need less water (mostly other feed crops, such as alfalfa) or grazing, so it's not like farmers will suddenly go out of business either.

Clever water management would certainly help, but given how much fun California is having, I'm not expecting much before a crisis.

opposed to the suite of other things correlated with GMO's (added financial burden for poor farmers in developing countries, added and widespread pesticide use, monopolistic behavior).
Well, that's a set of complicated issues!

I mean, plants have been patented in the US since (IIRC) the late 19th century, and certainly since the development of hybrid seed in the early 20th century. So that's nothing new. Farmers have mostly been buying hybrid seed every year since then anyway, due to the high yields (etc) of hybrid plants.

Providing seed for farmers in the developing world is pretty interesting all by itself. "Low input" farming (little/no fertilizer/ag chemicals) requires different plants than "high input" farming. Climate differences already drive the plant breeders to sell many different varieties/hybrids of food crops, so maintaining more lines is part of the business. (I used to work with a seed company's breeders and geneticists. I'm no expert in the business, but I know how the game is played.)

"Added and widespread pesticide use" is really ugly to tease out, since there have been a number of changes in agriculture during the last 20 years, which overlap the period of the uptake of genetically engineered crops. I mean, for a start, cutting edge ag chemicals are a lot safer and more effective (kill more bugs/weeds/fungus per unit weight) than their predecessors. But the old compounds are still legal, though under increasing restriction. In many cases. Your mileage may vary.
twoeleven
Jul. 24th, 2015 01:25 am (UTC)
While we're on the subject: a paper on aquifer data from the GRACE satellite suggests ground water above the Ogallala aquifer increased a little over the decade 2003-2013. I've only skimmed the paper the page points to, and it seems to be saying that the groundwater increase is an artifact of their simple model.
pigshitpoet
Jul. 24th, 2015 06:34 am (UTC)
ack!
in british columbia canada the provincial government made a deal to sell water to nestle for $2.25 per million litres, that's one million litres for less than the price of one later of bottled water.. sumofus.org raised a enough signatures to convince the government to revisit this loophole to establish fair pricing. apparently it costs about $180 to fill up an olympic size swimming pool, so why a corporation like nestle who thinks that humans have "no right" to water, is a fucking joke. do me a favour, everyone boycott nestle.

; P
rebeccmeister
Jul. 24th, 2015 09:10 pm (UTC)
Re: ack!
The list of corporate wrongs is so long and keeps growing, so that I instead find myself focusing on ferreting out the good so I can focus on supporting it as much as I focus on denying the wrongdoers. Nestle got no love from me already, and this won't help their cause, either.

There are so many insane stories about water use and water rights across the globe.
annikusrex
Jul. 24th, 2015 04:18 pm (UTC)
I do think, with respect to the GMO article, that the conflict you've identified is inherent to the diagnosis/policy prescription and not necessarily or simply propoganda on the part of GMO proponents. I definitely had these conversations with people when the Washington GMO initiative was being debated: Some people were against labeling, but their argument was "GMOs aren't actually unhealthy or dangerous and people are just afraid of science." And I was like, I don't think they are necessarily unhealthy or dangerous, but I would like to avoid Round-Up Ready crops because they promote excessive indiscriminate pesticide use and monocultures, and having GMO products identified would help me exercise my consumer choice with respect to those products. It is true that some people who share my policy preference have unscientific reasons for their support, but that is not my concern. Some people didn't get it.
( 9 remarks — Remark )

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