Sugar high

According to last Friday’s news release from the U. S. Department of Agriculture, American sugar growers are still able to stick it to American consumers. Well, no, that is not an exact quote from USDA economists, but they aren’t allowed to speak directly. Instead, they present a colorful graph with a damning title and caption:

USDA sugar price speads

These subsidy and other sugar industry problems were addressed at the June 20 Big Sugar Summit hosted by the Sierra Club of Florida. Florida is a major U.S. sugar producer, which has all kinds of water implications. For example, seepage irrigation for Florida sugar cane requires about 110 gallons for each pound of sugar. The Florida sugar industry uses collectively (depending on rainfall conditions) about  400-1000 mgd of water.

All of that is is facilitated by an expensive array of trade policy protections. Straightforward capitalism, and free markets, would make a lot more economic and environmental sense.

“Rain” (a disguised climate polemic)

rainCynthia Barnett’s third book, Rain: A Natural and Cultural History,  is markedly different from her first two on water issues. Her personal website is still titled “Cynthia Barnett, Journalist” but in this book she is venturing beyond journalism into new lyrical and personal territory.

The book touches affectionately on all things precipitation but it seems to me that the true heart of Rain is her concern that we are “approaching a climate catastrophe faster than we realize.” She argues, though that the “history of rain offers hope that our political system is capable of overcoming such selfish interests and our divisions to work together on climate.” (Chapter 12)

Barnett draws on diverse scientific, historical, cultural, and literary rainy connections. She starts the story of rain way, way back:

As even-tempered as it grew up to be, Earth started off 4.6 billion years ago as a red-faced and hellish infant. The universe had been unfolding for about 10 billion years. A new star, the sun, had just been born. Its afterbirth—cold gas and dust and heavier minerals and flaming rocks—was flying about, beginning to orbit…..About half a billion years after it started, the blitzkrieg began to wind down. As the last of the flaming chunks fell to the surface or hurtled away, the planet finally had a chance to cool. The water vapor could condense. At long last, it began to rain. (Prologue)

After touching on many other rainy subjects, from Thomas Jefferson’s meteorological record-keeping, to 19th century American attempts at rain-making, to a trip to the Hoh rain forest on the Olympic Peninsula, we reach the penultimate chapter, “And the Forecast Calls for Change.” That change is the climate of the entire planet. Rain is not focused on specific policy recommendations. Here, however, Barnett does quote meteorologist Eric Holthaus, “If anything is to change, it will have to come from individuals taking ownership of the problem themselves.”

The final chapter of Rain recounts a trip to “the rainiest place on Earth, Cherrapunji.” The monsoon is missing during her visit and local scientists fear that rainfall there is changing permanently along with the rest of the Earth. Shouldn’t that matter? If we care enough about rain, we might also realize that the giant fossil fuel experiment now underway needs to be terminated. Otherwise, rain and much else we love will be harmed irreparably.

Water use incentives and disincentives

The tax legislation just passed by the Florida Legislature (HB-33A) provides an incentive for using more water. The law creates a permanent sales tax exemption for farm irrigation equipment (while continuing to impose a full sales tax on water efficient devices, like certified WaterSense products):

Irrigationexemption

 

Exempting farm irrigation equipment from the state sales tax, while keeping it for water-efficient devices, is–kinda bonkers.

They don’t like you very much

Too many Florida legislators think of voters as annoying intruders on their very conservative bubble. To them, the 75% of voters who favored Amendment 1 are like fictional town idiots:

 

 

One reason they don’t like you is that you don’t have enough money. A third or more of Florida legislators are millionaires; all of them know that political donations come mostly from the wealthy.  A recent paper confirms that public policy is responsive almost entirely to the wishes of the well-off:

Money and political power

 

If Floridians continue to accept this state of affairs, then they truly will be the idiots. Florida’s natural heritage will be a prime victim.