State Senator Simpson opposes “investment in water speculation” draft legislation — The #Alamosa Citizen

Center, Colorado, is surrounded by center-pivot-irrigated farms that draw water from shrinking aquifers below the San Luis Valley. Photo credit: Google Earth

From The Alamosa Citizen (Chris Lopez):

COLORADO State Sen. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa said this week that a legislative bill in draft form that tries to address “investment in water speculation” is not a good bill and isn’t convinced there is a “need for a bill like this.”

“What you’re really trying to do is keep water attached to the land and productive agriculture,” Simpson said in a wide-ranging interview with The Alamosa Citizen. “So for me, rather than trying to force it this way, I take the advice of (state) representative Marc Catlin, that the best way to protect that is to make sure ag stays profitable, because profitable operations generally aren’t looking to sell their water or water rights.

“I encourage people to think about the things we do in the legislature,” he added, “either from a tax policy or environmental impacts. Just don’t overregulate or overtax the industry so much and give them a chance to succeed.”

The draft bill, “Concerning A Prohibition Against Engaging In Investment Water Speculation In the State” cleared the Colorado Legislature’s Water Resources Review Committee in October and is expected to be introduced in the 2022 Legislative Session. It is being sponsored by Sens. Kerry Donovan of Eagle County and Don Coram of Montrose County, and by Rep. Karen McCormick of Boulder.

One section of the bill addresses the sale or transfer of shares in mutual ditch companies. Simpson said he is a shareholder in a mutual ditch company and doesn’t support how the draft legislation attempts to control how shares are sold or transferred.

“I just think they’re better ways to do that versus you’re on this fine line of interfering with people’s private property rights,” Simpson said. “It’s like very generally going to you and saying you bought a house and going, ‘Well, you can’t sell the house for either a profit or you can’t buy a house on speculation and then sell it for more than you paid for it.’ There’s just this fine line we’re walking down about trying to protect water and ag, and people’s private property rights.”

Why it matters:

In addition to his state senate role, Simpson is general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and is among the Colorado water experts working to address climate change and impacts on irrigitable ag land.

Through his role at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District he has worked to implement a variety of conservation measures to address the declining Upper Rio Grande Water Basin and the 20-year drought the San Luis Valley has been experiencing.

He also has been battling an effort led by former Gov. Bill Owens called Renewable Water Resources, which is a project that aims to purchase SLV ag land for its water rights and then control enough water on private land to pipe into the Front Range. Owens’ front man for the project is a person named Sean Tonner.

Asked if the draft legislation could help blunt the Renewable Water Resources project, he said it could help but he is still more concerned about the unintended consequences of the proposal.

“We have a handful of pretty rigorous and substantial barriers that make those kinds (RWR) of acquisitions and transfers pretty hard,” he said. “Not impossible, but pretty hard. I guess on the surface, this bill might give you another protection and maybe make it almost impossible. But then the unintended consequence again is, what does it do to everybody else?”

After the failure of @Cop26, there’s only one last hope for our survival: It’s too late for incremental change. By mobilising just 25% of people, we can flip social attitudes towards the climate — George Monbiot

Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

From The Guardian (George Monbiot):

Now it’s a straight fight for survival. The Glasgow Climate Pact, for all its restrained and diplomatic language, looks like a suicide pact. After so many squandered years of denial, distraction and delay, it’s too late for incremental change. A fair chance of preventing more than 1.5C of heating means cutting greenhouse gas emissions by about 7% every year: faster than they fell in 2020, at the height of the pandemic.

What we needed at the Cop26 climate conference was a decision to burn no more fossil fuels after 2030. Instead, powerful governments sought a compromise between our prospects of survival and the interests of the fossil fuel industry. But there was no room for compromise. Without massive and immediate change, we face the possibility of cascading environmental collapse, as Earth systems pass critical thresholds and flip into new and hostile states.

So does this mean we might as well give up? It does not. For just as the complex natural systems on which our lives depend can flip suddenly from one state to another, so can the systems that humans have created. Our social and economic structures share characteristics with the Earth systems on which we depend. They have self-reinforcing properties – that stabilise them within a particular range of stress, but destabilise them when external pressure becomes too great. Like natural systems, if they are driven past their tipping points, they can flip with astonishing speed. Our last, best hope is to use those dynamics to our advantage, triggering what scientists call “cascading regime shifts”.

A fascinating paper published in January in the journal Climate Policy showed how we could harness the power of “domino dynamics”: non-linear change, proliferating from one part of the system to another. It points out that “cause and effect need not be proportionate”, a small disturbance, in the right place, can trigger a massive response from a system and flip it into a new state. This is how the global financial crisis of 2008-09 happened: a relatively minor shock (mortgage defaults in the US) was transmitted and amplified through the entire system, almost bringing it down. We could use this property to detonate positive change.

Sudden shifts in energy systems have happened before. The paper points out that the transition in the US from horse-drawn carriages to cars running on fossil fuels took just over a decade. The diffusion of new technologies tends to be self-accelerating, as greater efficiencies, economies of scale and industrial synergies reinforce each other. The authors’ hope is that, when the penetration of clean machines approaches a critical threshold, and the infrastructure required to deploy them becomes dominant, positive feedbacks will rapidly drive fossil fuels to extinction.

For example, as the performance of batteries, power components and charging points improves and their costs fall, the price of electric cars drops and their desirability soars. At this point (in other words, right now), small interventions by government could trigger cascading change. This has already happened in Norway, where a change in taxes made electric vehicles cheaper than fossil-fuel cars. This flipped the system almost overnight: now more than 50% of the nation’s new car sales are electric, and petrol models are heading for extinction.

As electric cars become more popular, and more polluting vehicles become socially unacceptable, it becomes less risky for governments to impose the policies that will complete the transition. This then helps to scale the new technologies, causing their price to fall further, until they outcompete petrol cars without the need for tax or subsidy, locking in the transition. Driven by this new economic reality, the shift then cascades from one nation to another.

The battery technologies pioneered in the transport sector can also spread into other energy systems, helping to catalyse regime shifts in, for example, the electricity grid. The plummeting prices of solar electricity and offshore wind – already cheaper than hydrocarbons in many countries – are making fossil fuel plants look like a filthy extravagance. This reduces the political costs of accelerating their closure through tax or other measures. Once the plants are demolished, the transition is locked in.

Of course, we should never underestimate the power of incumbency, and the lobbying efforts that an antiquated industry will use to keep itself in business. The global infrastructure of fossil fuel extraction, processing and sales is worth somewhere between $25tn (£19tn) and $0, depending on which way the political wind is blowing. The fossil fuel companies will do everything in their power to preserve their investments. They have tied President Joe Biden’s climate plans in knots. It would be no surprise if they were talking urgently with Donald Trump’s team about how to help lever him back into office. And if they can thwart action for long enough, the eventual victory of low-carbon technologies might scarcely be relevant, as Earth’s systems could already have been pushed past their critical thresholds, beyond which much of the planet could become uninhabitable.

But let’s assume for a moment that we can shove the dead weight of these legacy industries aside, and consign fossil fuels to history. Will that really have solved our existential crisis? One aspect of it, perhaps. Yet I’m dismayed by the narrowness of the focus on carbon, in the Glasgow pact and elsewhere, to the exclusion of our other assaults on the living world.

Electric cars are a classic example of the problem. It’s true that within a few years, as the advocates argue, the entire stinking infrastructure of petrol and diesel could be overthrown. But what is locally clean is globally filthy. The mining of the materials required for this massive deployment of batteries and electronics is already destroying communities, ripping down forests, polluting rivers, trashing fragile deserts and, in some cases, forcing people into near-slavery. Our “clean, green” transport revolution is being built with the help of blood cobalt, blood lithium and blood copper. Though the emissions of both carbon dioxide and local pollutants will undoubtedly fall, we are still left with a stupid, dysfunctional transport system that clogs the streets with one-tonne metal boxes in which single people travel. New roads will still carve up rainforests and other threatened places, catalysing new waves of destruction.

A genuinely green transport system would involve system change of a different kind. It would start by reducing the need to travel – as the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, is doing with her 15-minute city policy, which seeks to ensure that people’s needs can be met within a 15-minute walk from homes.

It would encourage walking and cycling by all who are able to do so, helping to address our health crisis as well as our environmental crisis. For longer journeys, it would prioritise public transport. Private electric vehicles would be used to address only the residue of the problem: providing transport for those who could not travel by other means. But simply flipping the system from fossil to electric cars preserves everything that’s wrong with the way we now travel, except the power source.

Then there’s the question of where the money goes. The fruits of the new, “clean” economy will, as before, be concentrated in the hands of a few: those who control the production of cars and the charging infrastructure; and the construction companies still building the great web of roads required to accommodate them. The beneficiaries will want to spend this money, as they do today, on private jets, yachts, extra homes and other planet-trashing extravagances.

It is not hard to envisage a low-carbon economy in which everything else falls apart. The end of fossil fuels will not, by itself, prevent the extinction crisis, the deforestation crisis, the soils crisis, the freshwater crisis, the consumption crisis, the waste crisis; the crisis of smashing and grabbing, accumulating and discarding that will destroy our prospects and much of the rest of life on Earth. So we also need to use the properties of complex systems to trigger another shift: political change.

There’s an aspect of human nature that is simultaneously terrible and hopeful: most people side with the status quo, whatever it may be. A critical threshold is reached when a certain proportion of the population change their views. Other people sense that the wind has changed, and tack around to catch it. There are plenty of tipping points in recent history: the remarkably swift reduction in smoking; the rapid shift, in nations such as the UK and Ireland, away from homophobia; the #MeToo movement, which, in a matter of weeks, greatly reduced the social tolerance of sexual abuse and everyday sexism.

But where does the tipping point lie? Researchers whose work was published in Science in 2018 discovered that a critical threshold was passed when the size of a committed minority reached roughly 25% of the population. At this point, social conventions suddenly flip. Between 72% and 100% of the people in the experiments swung round, destroying apparently stable social norms. As the paper notes, a large body of work suggests that “the power of small groups comes not from their authority or wealth, but from their commitment to the cause”.

Another paper explored the possibility that the Fridays for Future climate protests could trigger this kind of domino dynamics. It showed how, in 2019, Greta Thunberg’s school strike snowballed into a movement that led to unprecedented electoral results for Green parties in several European nations. Survey data revealed a sharp change of attitudes, as people began to prioritise the environmental crisis.

Fridays for Future came close, the researchers suggest, to pushing the European political system into a “critical state”. It was interrupted by the pandemic, and the tipping has not yet happened. But witnessing the power, the organisation and the fury of the movements gathered in Glasgow, I suspect the momentum is building again.

Social convention, which has for so long worked against us, can if flipped become our greatest source of power, normalising what now seems radical and weird. If we can simultaneously trigger a cascading regime shift in both technology and politics, we might stand a chance. It sounds like a wild hope. But we have no choice. Our survival depends on raising the scale of civil disobedience until we build the greatest mass movement in history, mobilising the 25% who can flip the system. We do not consent to the destruction of life on Earth.

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist.