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California Drought: Natural Causes and an Insane System

Tuesday, May 19, 2015
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Event Type:
Panel Discussion
Revolution Books
2425 Channing Way, Berkeley, CA 94704
Location Details:
Revolution Books, 2425 Channing Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

California Drought: Natural Causes and an Insane System
Presentation & Discussion
Tuesday May 19 at 7pm

This is a natural crisis, brought on in its immediate sense by changes in weather patterns, bringing a drastic lack of precipitation. But this is also a crisis amplified by record high temperatures causing evaporation and drying of soil, connected to human-caused global warming.

More deeply, this is an unnatural crisis that is rooted in and intensified by relentless capitalist economic development and growth over decades that has had no regard for the limits of natural resources, (water in this case) and the dependence of humans and nature on water. This growth has also taken place with no appreciation of, or even attempt to take into account, the long term climate history of California or the Southwest and what this would really mean for a society and economy built in this region.

For years this crisis has been looming and the state has done little to address it. But now things are cracking open. Millions of people and natural ecosystems are being impacted. The effects of the drought will be widespread and long-lasting.

This year the drought has intensified, with more of the state entering more extreme drought. Even more troubling-the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains this year, which large sections of the state rely on for a release of melting water into reservoirs, rivers and aqueducts in the late spring and summer months-is only 6 percent of normal. So this summer the situation will very likely worsen. Last year the Association of California Water Agencies said that another year of drought would cause "disastrous consequences". According to Jay Famiglietti, a water scientist for NASA and professor at University of California, Irvine, the three main water sources for California-snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada, local groundwater, and imported water from the Colorado river-are all declining.

In April, California governor Jerry Brown instituted mandatory water restrictions aimed at cutting water usage for residential users by 25 percent. These measures are tiered so that communities that have already cut water usage aren't required to cut as drastically as others. Across the state there is a crazy and complex patchwork-where certain cities and peoples have been innovatively seeking to conserve water in all kinds of ways, while many other areas continue to mindlessly use water in frivolous ways-watering golf courses and lawns in the middle of the desert, etc. Some of this will be curtailed with the restrictions. But so far at least, these restrictions don't even address the heart of the matter. 80 percent of water in California goes to agriculture and much of this water use comes from completely unsustainable gobbling up of groundwater reserves. While agriculture is only 2 percent of the economy in California, it has been built up to be a keystone of food production for the U.S. and exports worldwide. California produces 50 percent of the country's nuts, fruits and vegetables. Farmers have been driven to plant large areas with almond trees to try to cash in on the high price of almonds on the world market. But these trees require large amounts of water and are vulnerable because, once planted, they need to be watered just to keep them alive. And increasingly there is a drastic lack of water. State regulations cannot deal rationally with transforming these kinds of contradictions-which lie deep in the anarchic workings of the capitalist system. Decisions are made based on short-term profitability-not on the needs of the masses of people, the health of the environment, or on the actual limits of availability of water and long-term climate trends.
Added to the calendar on Fri, May 15, 2015 9:20PM
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