The jobs are never coming back

If you listen to Donald Trump, he can bring back all of the jobs that we’ve lost in the last several decades. Yes, Donald Trump, all by himself, is going to reverse three decades of globalization. It’ll be a thing of beauty, believe him. It was all he could talk about at the first presidential debate.

Except that those jobs aren’t coming back, ever. Those jobs and the US are just like Taylor Swift and any of her exes–they are never, ever getting back together.

To think otherwise is just plain ignorant. Those jobs are gone, it’s impossible for them to come back, and they probably would have left no matter what. I say this based on several things:

Automation. All of the jobs that Trump talks about bringing back are based in the manufacturing area. We lost a lot of those jobs because foreign labor is cheaper (more on that in a bit). But we also lost a lot of those jobs because technology started making workers obsolete. And guess what? That threat continues today. Technology will continue to replace workers for years to come, in all sorts of industries, not just manufacturing. In fact, some estimates show that by the next time we’re ready to elect another president, the world’s biggest economies will have lost a little over 5 million jobs to automation. And this time that extends to business and administrative work.

It’s no secret that workers are more productive than ever, but wages and employment haven’t kept up. The reason for that is technology, as laid out here by these fine folks from MIT. I’ll let the infographic do the talking:


Those jobs that Trump likes to talk about were destined to be lost one way or another. If it wasn’t because of trade deals, it would be because of technology.

Wages and Benefits. Those jobs also left because companies suddenly found themselves in a position to pay a whole lot less for labor by outsourcing it to countries where they could pay employees pennies on the dollar. Why would a corporation bring back jobs to the US if it means having to pay higher wages and provide benefits like healthcare, sick days, etc? No American worker would settle for less than minimum wage and benefits, and many companies wouldn’t provide them for employees if they didn’t have to. It’s a pipe dream to think that someone could bring those jobs back. In order to do so, they’d have to essentially make the American worker equivalent to the overseas worker, and that wouldn’t fly.

No, taxes aren’t the problem. That’s the problem if you listen to Trump and other conservatives. The taxes here are just too high! How can anyone do business at a rate of 35%? First of all, that’s a rich argument coming from someone who probably hasn’t paid one red cent in taxes for the last twenty years. But two things come to mind whenever I hear this argument. First, American businesses and individuals have paid a lot more in the past, and the economy did just fine. Great, in fact. As evidence that this tax business is a red herring, Exhibit A:


Corporations have never contributed less to the economy than they do now. Companies like Apple proudly boast that they stash billions or dollars overseas. Which bring me to Exhibit B:


Many companies don’t actually pay 35%. What they’re taxed on paper and what they actually pay is quite different thanks to lots of loopholes, legal maneuvering, and offshore funny business. In fact, many companies end up paying pretty much 0% in taxes, like these assholes. So unless Trump plans to drop the tax rate to 0%, I don’t think there’s really anything else he could do.

But more to the point, how does Trump plan to increase military spending after he’s lowered the nation’s income? How does he plan to pay down the debt if he’s reduced the nation’s income? He could slash other programs, but that would mean either cutting or eliminating popular programs like social security, which wouldn’t go over well with voters and politicians.

It’s all empty rhetoric. I get why it resonates for people in the rust belt, who did lose out thanks to globalization and automation. But to believe that Trump can somehow “bring jobs back” is absolutely not true. The best thing to do would be to put forth a policy that created new high paying jobs in sectors where automation and globalization weren’t as influential. And right now, that probably means infrastructure building and rebuilding, because the last time I checked robots still didn’t repair bridges or roads. And it isn’t like our country isn’t in dire need of such repairs.

But I’m sick and tired of political seasons where we continually have this debate about a fictional economy. Conservatives love to talk about an economy that doesn’t exist, and Donald Trump has just upped this game by a factor of a thousand. In this fictional economy, employment never rises, the economy never grows, and stimulus packages never work. However, all of those things are demonstrably false. It’s great to have a robust debate about the state of our economy and the direction that we’re headed in, but it’s impossible to do when one candidate is essentially basing his entire campaign on an economy that only exists in the halls of Fox News.

Stressed out? You’re not alone.

In a previous post about healthcare in the United States, I talked a little bit about stress and its role in health. With this post, I’d like to delve a little bit more into its prevalence in American society. In order to do this, I’ll be summarizing and analyzing the latest stress report from the APA–the American Psychological Association–entitled, “Stress in America: Paying with our health.” You can find the full report here. It’s a fascinating read, and I highly encourage everyone to read it. I’ll then provide my own insight into the matter. First, a little background.

The APA has been conducting this study since 2007. That’s not a terribly long time for any long term trends to emerge, but I think the data is still valid and relevant for a short term snapshot of the American psyche. This last survey was conducted in February of 2015. 3,068 adults were included in the survey, which was conducted by Harris Poll. There were 1,204 men and 1,864 women across all generations and all regions of the US. Now, to the results.

The top causes of stress

The top four things that cause us stress are:

  1.  Money (64% of respondents)
  2. Work  (60%)
  3. Family responsibilities (47%)
  4. Health concerns (46%)

Money, not surprisingly, is the top concern of most people and the biggest cause of stress. 54% of those surveyed reported having “just enough or not enough money to make ends meet at the end of the month.” Specifically, Americans worry about paying for unexpected expenses, essentials, and saving for retirement. Unexpected expenses are a big one, considering the plight of the average American.

62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts, and 21% don’t even have a savings account at all. That means that, in the big picture, a whopping 83% of Americans don’t have enough money to pay for something big that happens out of the blue: an injury, a car repair, etc. It’s no wonder that the average American has $4,717 in credit card debt, and US credit card debt currently totals close to one TRILLION dollars.

The financial picture is just as bleak when it comes to retirement. I’ll let the pictures do the talking for me:


Clearly, the average American is not prepared to retire. This means that they have to work longer, which is a source of stress. However, the impact of not being able to retire goes beyond simple stress. Aging workers are more likely to suffer injuries on the job. They’re also more likely to have chronic health problems, which means they use their insurance more than younger workers. Ultimately this means that employers wind up paying more for an aging workforce.

But how does money specifically impact individual health? Well, according to the survey, nearly 20% of American report skipping or thinking about delaying visits to the doctor. 32% of Americans say that they don’t have enough money to live a healthy lifestyle. It also affects relationships. 41% of respondents with a spouse or partner reported that stress had caused problems in their relationship.

But perhaps the biggest effect on our health is how we manage stress. Spoiler alert, it’s very poorly. In order to deal with stress, the Average American will 1) Watch television, 2) Surf the internet, 3) Sleep/nap, 4) eat, 5) Drink, 6) Smoke. The order of those things changes depending on which generation you’re surveying, but you’ll notice two general things about all of those activities: they’re either sedentary or they’re actively bad for you. And about 20% of Americans say they don’t engage in any sort of activity at all to manage stress.

Now, let’s talk about some of the good things to come out of the survey.

First, self-reported stress is down. Yay! On a scale of 0-10, Americans in 2015 had an average stress level of 4.9 , which is down from 6.2 in 2007. However, that’s still far short of the level of stress that Americans think is a healthy level–3.7. Also, the number of Americans who say that stress has a “very strong or strong” impact on their physical and mental health appears to be decreasing as well.

Okay, now for some thoughtful analysis. First off, I think it’s very tempting for some people and pundits to look at this data and say, “Well if those lower income people would stop spending their money on fancy phones and tattoos and all that garbage they’d have more money left over!” It’s a new variation on the old “Welfare Queen” trope and quite frankly it’s pitifully stupid. The data clearly show that this isn’t the case. 53% of Americans reported using coupons or shopping during sales this year, 52% are cooking more at home, and 51% are cutting back on non-essentials. In short, people are tightening their belts, contrary to the conservative narrative. Now, does that mean that there aren’t people out their who spend and manage their money poorly? Of course those people exist. But they’re the exception, not the standard. And they even include wealthy people–actors and professional athletes can go broke making stupid purchases, too.

Second, there have been lots of reports about how, “The middle class is shrinking because more of them moved into a higher class!” Well, that’s certainly a nice talking point, as you can see in this article. And there’s even recent data that shows that median household income has nudged upward. However, let’s keep several things in mind.

“Middle class” is a relative term. It’s simply a multiplier of the poverty level. Also, it’s not a reflection of purchasing power. It’s not a statement on inflation. I can make more money, but if the price of goods increases at a rate greater than my income, the extra income means nothing. Similarly, if my debt increases, the extra income also means less. My newfound income may also push me into a higher tax bracket. In short, it’s entirely possible to make more money but be worse off than you were before. Being “middle class” or “upper middle class” is a purely linguistic term, and it’s very subjective. And if this report is any indication, any new income gained by the average American has not done much to impact the level of stress they feel regarding money. Which leads me to my last point, which is more philosophical in nature.

People who regularly read this blog know that I’m not a big fan of money. I hate it. I hate the way it’s used, I hate the way it’s idolized. At the same time, I recognize that in our society money is obviously necessary. I have to eat, put a roof over my head, etc. But the problem with money isn’t a conceptual one. I have no qualms with the idea of creating a system wherein we have a currency that represents labor. The problem is a cultural one, how we promote and utilize such a system.

In American culture, money has become synonymous with success. The more money you have, the more successful you are. The more material objects you own, the more successful you are. Indeed, it’s ingrained into the American psyche that spending money is tantamount to patriotism. Remember W imploring everyone to go out to mall or the terrorists will win? In the grand scheme of things, our society promotes money over all else.

It promotes money over science: the fossil fuel industry spends millions of dollars every year trying to discredit climate science and buy legislation.

It promotes money over public policy: The NRA and gun control. Lobbying by the food industry (hello soda and corn products!)

It promotes money over family: We spend much more time working than we do with our family and in our relationships.

It promotes money over the environment: Who cares about pollution if it provides us with cheap goods?

And it promotes money over health as the survey here shows.

But even if money is necessary, is it really important? And more crucially, is it really the metric we should all be using for success? Who lived the richer life: the man who died wealthy but never knew his kids or the person who lived a modest life and spent more time with their family? I realize that’s a subjective call, but my point is that culturally, we as a society only view one of them as being successful.

As a final thought about money, stress, and society, I would encourage everyone to read this article. It’s about a book written by a palliative care nurse who recorded the regrets of the dying patients that she took care of. Here’s the list of what people reported regretting on their deathbeds the most according to this nurse’s experiences:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”


2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”


3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”


4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”


5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

”This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

I would argue that what society tells us we should value really isn’t what we inherently want to value. And that disconnect more than anything is probably the biggest cause of stress in our lives.

Check, please!


An article I read the other day got me thinking about the practice of tipping servers, bartenders, etc. I was perusing the internets, as I am wont to do, and I came across an article about DeAngelo Williams, who plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Apparently he left a lousy tip at a restaurant–to the tune of $0.75 on a $128.25 bill. Now, in his defense, the service was apparently horrible.

He waited an hour and half for his food, then got the wrong order, and generally put up with lousy service. Thus the lousy tip. That seems fair. Naturally, the server didn’t think so. So she put him on blast on Twitter. She was promptly fired by the restaurant. Which is probably a good move on their part. Shaming customers after you gave them bad service, especially famous customers who have the eyes and ears of many followers, is just bad business.

But it made me think about tipping in general. I realize it’s probably not going to make me popular, but I hate the idea of tipping. And I hate how pervasive the practice has come. It seems like everyone is obligated to tip people in the food service industry, no matter what they do. They even have a spot for a tip on the receipt at the local ice cream parlor. For someone who literally spent 30 seconds scooping ice cream and putting it in a bowl.

The problem is that for a lot of people in the food service industry, the tips are what they depend on to survive. And I get that. I empathize with that. But it doesn’t make me the jackass. The jackass in this scenario is the employer, who refuses to pay their employee enough money to, you know, actually live. In many states it’s perfectly legal for employers to pay people below the federal minimum wage, because the tips will make up for it. And so you have someone who makes $4/hour who will pretty much be screwed if I don’t leave a tip.

The situation is certainly shitty for the employee, but I’d argue that it’s also shitty for the customer. The employer is essentially making ME subsidize a cut in their employees’ wages. That’s the egregious part, that some asshole thought, “Hey, if people are tipping my employees, I can pay them less.” At the risk of sounding like a commie pinko, people should be paid for the job that they’re doing according to the law and human decency. It’s abhorrent that people are allowed to pay some employees wages that essentially impoverish them while passing the buck to the consumer.

It’s the perfect system. If I protest it and don’t tip, I’m the bad guy because I’m taking away someone’s livelihood. If I tip, then I’m just letting the assholes win. Of course the argument from the assholes is that if they pay their workers more that the prices at the restaurants and bars will increase. You know, that old chestnut.

First of all, bullshit. We all know you’re overcharging us for food and drink in the first place. Don’t act like $12 for a Mai Tai is a steal.  Second of all, if I end up paying $20 for a $15 meal because of the tip, then I’m already paying more, you ass. Forcing me to tip is already making me pay an artificially inflated price. But this “Oh, I’ll have to drastically raise your prices to be fair to my employees” threat is completely hollow. There’s this place that tripled their profits after getting rid of tips and paying their employees more. In my neck of the woods, several places are eliminating tips. They are, of course, raising their prices…by 18%. Which sounds like a lot, until you realize that in some places “expected gratuity” can run to the tune of 20-30%.


I’ve never really understood why this business model only exists in the food business and not other industries, but that’s the way it is. And that’s the social convention. To the point that even thinking about not tipping someone makes you a douche. But instead of being mad the customer, the employees should really be mad at the real douche–the one who won’t pay them fairly to begin with. It’s not that I don’t think you deserved the tip–it’s that I think you deserve a decent wage to begin with.


Income and Wealth Concentration


Being against income and/or wealth inequality has become synonymous with communism in our public discourse. This charge is commonly made against liberals and progressives like Bernie Sanders. In reality nothing could be farther from the truth. Although on the surface, I could see why the argument would be tempting (aside from the obvious political rhetoric it generates). If someone is anti-inequality then it must naturally follow that they are pro-equality. While this is technically true, it’s that word “equality” that really throws a wrench into things, because it makes it sound like if you’re against income and wealth inequality you’re then for income and wealth equality. And from there it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to “everyone makes the same amount of money.”

Of course that’s never what Sanders or his followers have argued. And as far as I know, nobody in this country–even the most progressive liberals–is arguing that everyone should make the same amount of money. Bernie and his supports were never anti-money or anti-wealth, they never wanted to punish success and redistribute the country’s wealth until everyone was equal. That’s a nice conservative political narrative, but it isn’t factual.

What we progressives need to do in order to take back the conversation is to re-label the issue. Instead of income or wealth inequality, I would propose that the term be changed to “Income and wealth concentration.” Because really, the problem isn’t that wealth and incomes aren’t equal–the problem is that too much of the wealth is concentrated in too few hands. 

Now we can debate until the cows come home what “too much wealth in too few hands” actually looks like, but I’d be willing to wager that any economist worth his or her salt and anyone with a modicum of common sense would agree that giving too much of the money to too few of the people is bad on several levels.

This might be a good place to start defining what’s “too much”

First there are the social and political consequences. When too much wealth and income goes to a small amount of people, everyday folks are going to stop and look around and say, “Hey, I’ve worked hard my whole life and I just can’t seem to get ahead.” And that’s how you get this man as a presidential candidate:

Pictured: a sack of shit with a tie and bad toupee.

And they have a point to a certain degree. Most people, regardless of political affiliation, would agree that the amount of work put in should be reflected in pay: the harder you work, the more you make. Makes sense, right? Well, take a CEO who makes $20 million a year and compare him to his janitor who makes $20,000. Does the CEO really work $19,980,000 harder than the janitor? Put another way, does the CEO work 1000x harder than the janitor? Well unless he works 40,000 hours a week, no.

Now obviously, that isn’t the same thing as saying that the janitor and the CEO should make the same amount of money. Clearly, the CEO has the job that carries more responsibility, that requires more education, experience, and expertise. The CEO should indeed make more money. But there’s no magic economic formula that justifies the dramatic differences in pay between the top brass and their workers. Making 1000x more than your employees is pure greed. If someone can mathematically demonstrate to me why the enormous gaps in pay we see are good, I’m all ears. Saying that income is tied to labor and value sounds great, but when you look at the work that people do and their pay, that clearly isn’t the maxim that we follow.

Which brings me to the economic reasons why wealth and income concentration is a big deal. At any given moment, there is a finite amount of money or resources in the economy. The economy is capable of generating new wealth and new resources, but at any one time there is a discrete amount of economic capital available. Now, what happens when more and more of the existing AND new capital is given to fewer and fewer people? The short answer is that it’s taken out of the economy, i.e. consumer purchasing power and spending stagnates or falls.

You know when someone says, “That’s more money than you could spend in one lifetime!” Well, yeah, that. Rich people don’t spend their money. That’s precisely why they’re rich. Give one man a billion dollars and he’ll save or invest most of it–give a million people $1,000 and they’ll spend it, pumping it right back into the economy. That’s why wealth and income concentration is important.

Now, we can have discussions about how to prevent those bad things from happening, and that’s where we’ll fall along ideological lines. What gets me the most is that even if we can’t philosophically agree on what exactly constitutes greed, we can very much objectively look at the quantitative data related to wealth and income concentration and the economy. I like data, so I’ll let the data do the talking:


Now I know that correlation doesn’t imply causation. But a trend is worth investigating. It seems to me like it would be a truly remarkable coincidence that those lines just happen to peak right before the Great Depression and again right before the Great Recession. It also seems like it would be an improbably huge coincidence that the flat part of those lines happens to fall during the booming decades between WWII and the Reagan years.

It’s, I don’t know, almost like when too few people have too much of the money the economy tanks, and when the wealth is less concentrated at the top we have a stable if not booming economy. Imagine that. Food for thought.

Why does sex ruin a career?

Anthony Weiner just couldn’t keep it in his pants…again. And this time his wife has had enough, apparently. And truthfully, I can’t say I blame her. I’d leave him, too. Certainly, the end of a marriage is hard on both parties and difficult enough to go through. But for this couple, there’s an added layer of complexity–both of them are in the public eye thanks to their political careers.

Weiner is an ex-congressman and was a mayoral candidate in NY. His wife, Huma Abedin, is working on the Hillary campaign. Certainly, Abedin will come out of this unscathed, since she’s the one who was cheated on. But Weiner’s comeback is completely derailed. Again. The first time this happened, he resigned his seat in congress.

Several things about this seem somewhat ridiculous and perplexing to me. The first is the nature of the scandal itself. Weiner loves sexting–sending women lewd photos of his junk, basically. But as far as I can tell, that’s the extent of his activity–he never actually consummated things with any of the women he corresponded with; they were just dirty pictures. Certainly his wife has every reason to be angry with him and to leave him. But why does the outrage extend to the general public? Which leads me to my second question.

Why does sex ruin a political ruin? And in this instance, not even sex, just racy photos? By all accounts, Weiner was a talented and effective politician. So who gives a fuck who he texted his dick to (aside from his wife, of course)? Why is this an issue as far as his job goes? It shouldn’t be. And quite frankly, no sex scandal should be career-ending for a politician, unless it somehow kept them from doing their job. Otherwise, if their job performance doesn’t suffer, leave their personal life out of it.

Really, cheating on a spouse isn’t anything new. Millions of American’s cheat on a spouse or significant other every year. Should all of them lose their jobs? If not, then why are politicians held to such scrutiny? Certainly they live in the public eye. But so do celebrities. If an actor cheats on his wife, he isn’t blackballed by Hollywood studios.

Okay, maybe it’s because politicians are supposed to be moral paragons? But where in any political charter or document does it say anything about that? Thomas Jefferson banged his slaves. Ben Franklin liked to get it on with Parisian prostitutes. Can you imagine if someone had told them, “Sorry, but because you guys couldn’t keep it in your pants we’re erasing your names from the Declaration of Independence and forbidding you from being politicians.” Get out of here.

Many of our politicians throughout history and into the present day have had a sexual appetite that extended beyond their spouse. And that includes politicians on both sides of the aisle. Republican or Democrat, doesn’t matter–they’ve all had their share of cheaters. Whether we’re talking about JFK or Bill Clinton, or Newt Gingrich or Rudy Giuliani, cheating happens. But it should stay a private matter (unless whatever happened was criminal in nature, of course).

Really, what I suspect is that we have been ruled by the “Moral Majority” on the right for so long that this arcane Victorian standard we hold politicians to has just become commonplace. Which is really stupid, because it’s the not the job of our politicians to be model spouses or celibate. It’s to effectively govern. Which someone can totally do while being a lousy spouse.


White Salmon River

Another water post! But this time it’ll be a lot more lighthearted. Instead of talking about the fragile state of our planet’s water system, I’ve decided to talk about a white water rafting trip I took this weekend.

I love water. I love being around it, in it, you name it. I’ve always been into kayaking and rafting, but I’ve never taken a guided trip. My girlfriend’s sister recommended we try a tour on the White Salmon River, and I can honestly say it didn’t disappoint.

A little background. The White Salmon River is a 44 mile stretch of water that empties into the Columbia River. There used to be a damn up there, Condit Dam, but it was demolished in 2011. Part of the trip was a little history lesson, and we went right through where the dam used to be. You could still see the high water marks on the canyon walls, and holes in the rock where they blasted. Our guide was also very familiar with the geological history of the river and the Columbia Gorge in general, which was pretty cool. Oh, and there were Steelhead everywhere.

Now, for the trip. The launch site is up in Washington, right across the river from Hood River, OR. It took us about two hours to drive there from where I live in Portland. Very reasonable drive, and very scenic.

The bridge from Hood River to Washington

Once we got the launch site, there was an orientation for all the newbies who weren’t used to being on the water. Then we all got to gear up. Each raft holds up to six people (not including the guide). In our party were: me, my girlfriend, my girlfriend’s sister and her boyfriend, and her sister’s boyfriend’s brother and his wife. Wow, what a convoluted chain of people. Anyway, here we all are, suited up and ready to depart:

Yours truly is third from the right

As it turned out, it was the perfect day to be on the water. It was about 85 degrees out, and the water was about 40; it’s snow melt from Mt. Adams. Needless to say, being soaked felt nice in the heat. It was also perfect because the water level was low enough to allow us to run Husum Falls, which was what I was most looking forward to.

Husum falls is the largest commercially navigable falls in the US. It’s about a 10 foot vertical drop. That doesn’t sound like much, but in a rubber raft it’s monstrous. And a hell of a lot of fun. Luckily, part of the package was to have pictures taken as you went over the falls (For those souls not brave enough or not old enough to go over the falls there was the option to portage). I was lucky enough to be one of the people at the front of the raft (it was super awesome!). I’m the one on the front left of all these pictures.

The approach
It was brisk, to say the least
Nobody fell out! My girlfriend, Kelly, raising her fist in triumph. Or doing her best Judd Nelson in “The Breakfast Club” impression.

We were the first ones to make the run, so we got to chill out and watch everyone else behind us go over. It was pretty entertaining. Nobody else fell out either which is both wildly successful and not very entertaining. After Husum falls was Rattlesnake Run. Our guide had us all sit up at the front of the raft as we ran the rapids.


This doesn’t seem so bad…
Oh God, what have I done?!

And this time, someone fell out! My girlfriend’s sister’s boyfriend took a tumble out of the raft on ol’ rattlesnake. It was hilarious.

Nothing to see here, folks!

All in all it was a pretty epic day full of laughs and adventure. If any of my readers are in the Pacific Northwest or ever plan to visit, I highly recommend this trip.

Where’s the water?

I read something deeply disturbing to me the other day in a CNN article. You can read the story here. The disturbing part of that story isn’t that Trump and Clinton are virtually tied in Nevada. Well, actually, that is disturbing. But it isn’t the *most* disturbing part. No, the most disturbing part comes at the very end of the article, where it talks about the top three issues for Nevada voters.

  1. Jobs and the economy
  2. Terrorism and national security
  3. Supreme court picks

On the surface, these aren’t really very surprising. I’d guess that they reflect national concerns as well. But there’s something missing from this list that I would think that Nevadans would be particularly worried about.


In case nobody has ever been, Nevada is literally entirely desert. The whole state only receives 9″ of rainfall annually on average. For some perspective, my hometown of Portland, OR gets 39″ per year. That’s a pretty big difference. And it’s especially important given the fact that Nevada is running out of water.

Actually, a lot of states are running out of water, but you never really hear about it with the exception of the California drought. What’s amazing to me about California is that, although the plight of their water system and supply is reported on in the news, people don’t really seem to care. Which is really a shame, because, you know, you can’t live without water…

You’d think that California’s neighbor to the east would be paying very close attention to that situation. But alas, polls seem to indicate otherwise. But there’s something that Nevada can’t escape from: a dwindling water supply.

Lake Mead is created by the Hoover dam, and supplies most of Nevada (and several other states, including California) with water. The problem is that for the last 14 years, Lake Mead has been shrinking. In fact, according to one estimate, since the year 2000 the lake has lost 4 trillion gallons of water. That’s a metric shit ton of water. And it only gets worse.

As of writing this, the lake is currently projected to hit 1,079 feet at the end of December; federal guidelines call for a shortage at anything less than 1,075 feet. And there’s a 59% chance that the government will have to declare a shortage in 2018. The reservoir hasn’t been that low since 1937. Why are these levels a big deal? Because the water pumps sit at 1,000 feet–anything below that and the pumps won’t have anything to pump (AKA nobody gets water).

A little before and after. Lake Mead hasn’t been filled to capacity since 1983.
The white on that hill is where the water level used to be.

To be fair, Nevada has done a good job at enacting efforts to conserve water. Even though the population has grown, water consumption is down. But conservation only goes so far, because people watering lawns is only a tiny fraction of the problem. The biggest problem is that the planet is warming and drought is increasing, and flushing a toilet less isn’t going to stop that pattern.

The problem is actually twofold. First, an increasing population has a greater demand for water. Second, a warmer planet means less snowfall, and decreasing snow packs mean less run off, which means rivers and lakes receive less water. And this problem isn’t limited to the Southwestern United States. It’s global.

In fact, in 2015 the World Economic Forum declared the water crisis the world is experiencing to be the #1 risk to the globe based on impact the society. Think about all the clean water does.

Obviously you need water to drink. But we also need it for sanitation. And for agriculture. No water, no food. No modern sewer system. Industry relies upon water, too. You can’t have life and you can’t have an economy without water. Let’s take one of those examples, agriculture, and look at it further.

It takes 1,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of wheat. It takes 1,400 liters to produce the same amount of rice. And it takes a whopping 13,000 liters to produce 1 kg of beef. In Nevada, agriculture consumes 80% of the water supply. In point of fact, the USGS estimates that 38% of freshwater withdrawal in 2010 was due to agriculture, but that agriculture accounts for 80%-90% of consumptive water use. You can read the report here.

There are certainly things we can do to help mitigate things. Better irrigation systems. Growing less water-intensive crops. Simply growing less. We currently produce more than we consume and export, which is a huge waste. But the problem won’t be solved until we address climate change, since that’s the biggest contributing factor to the problem, and it’s only going to get worse as time goes on and we continue to burn fossil fuels.

Which is why it’s so disheartening for me to see that in our political system, the link between the environment and the economy and jobs and security is either ignored, downplayed, or outright denied. It’s preposterous to me that people who are actively experiencing drought that will significantly impact their lives for potentially generations to come care more about who gets to pick supreme court justices. And I know conservatives get a lot of flack for being science deniers, but the left has their share of it too, especially when it comes to this issue. I was very dismayed to hear Bernie and Jill Stein talk about the evils of GMO foods. Not only is their no evidence that they’re harmful, but genetically engineering crops to use less water is going to be a very important part of future conservation strategies.

Ultimately, though, I’m waiting for a candidate to really spell it out for the people: all of the petty political things we argue about mean diddly squat if the environment collapses. Some politicians kind of dance around that or pay good lip service to the environment on the campaign trail, but inevitably the conversation returns to creating jobs and ISIS. There is no economy without water. There is no life without water. Who gets to pick supreme court judges is important, but not because of abortion or trade deals or gay marriage; it’s important because of who gets to rule on future cases involving conservation and the environment. And at the same time, realize that taking action on the climate *is* taking action of the economy, and jobs, and national security. They’re all tied together.