BBC Dialogues: CA Drought Official’s Tips for Ag Tech Entrepreneurs

BBC Dialogues: CA Drought Official’s Tips for Ag Tech Entrepreneurs

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

California’s worse drought in decades has spurred everyone to pay close attention to their water use. Farmers are especially thirsty for water saving ideas, so it’s a sector ripe for innovative Ag Tech solutions. On July 10th, I joined Fergus Nicoll of the BBC’s Business Matters to discuss the challenges and opportunities the drought has created. The program also featured an interview I did with California State Water Resources Control Board member Dorene D’Adamo.

Check out the extended transcript of our interview below, in which D’Adamo shares some tips for Ag Tech entrepreneurs. Number one: Get your hands dirty on the farm, talk to farmers…

The conversation starts @42:30 in the BBC World Service podcast. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Photo caption (above): Alison van Diggelen interviews avocado farmer and drone entrepreneur Jon Tull of Farm Solutions at the Silicon Valley AgTech Conference, May 2015)

BBC Dialogues at Fresh DialoguesFergus Nicoll: Let’s talk about drought. We’re what…three years now into this prolonged drought in California, Alison?

Alison van Diggelen: This is the 4th year now.

Fergus Nicholl: So what are new incentives that (CA Governor) Jerry Brown has come up with?

Alison van Diggelen: Last April, Jerry Brown made his historic executive order. He mandated a reduction for residential consumers: they have to reduce on average 25% of their water use. He’s carrying a big stick on this. He has the ability to fine water districts up to $10,000 a day and allow water districts to charge surcharges for people who’re not reducing. It really is biting…

Fergus Nicholl: This is being measured presumably?

Alison van Diggelen: This is being measured and in May, Californians were patting themselves on the back…it was just released a couple of weeks ago that in May we actually reduced on average, 29%. So we’re getting there, but depending on which city you look at, some are reducing by up to 40% and some are not doing their fair share, so there is still some rankling.

Fergus Nicholl: So what happens with that? Is it public naming and shaming if you don’t get to 25%?

Alison van Diggelen: Absolutely. Drought shaming is going on and basically, they’re using the price mechanism. People are going to see it on their monthly or bi-monthly water bills and they’re going to feel the pain of using too much water.

Fergus Nicholl: I told you about Alison’s interviews on Fresh Dialogues… Let’s hear from the California State Water Resources Control Board. This board reports directly to the Governor and we’re going to hear from (board member) Dorene D’Adamo.


Dorene D’Adamo: We’re currently in our third year of drought and it is a very serious situation. We’ve had back to back dry years and of course the soil in many areas of the state is very dry and in addition, we’ve had a very low, dismal snow pack. In fact less than 5% (of the average) snowpack.

We also have a different situation than last time we had a serious drought, which was 1977. Our State has grown in population significantly. We also have a hardened demand (for water) because we have a lot of permanent crops that have been planted (e.g. fruit and nut trees). We also have a healthy respect for the environment, so we have redirected some of our supplies to environmental protection, to protect fish and wildlife.

Alison van Diggelen: What do you say to people who complain – urban dwellers – who complain that farmers are using 80% of the (State’s) water…we’re having to cut back and not water our lawns etc.?

Dorene D’Adamo: Well, we all need to be part of the solution and without a doubt, agriculture has vastly improved its irrigation efficiency over the last decades but it’s possible for them to do more and it’s also possible for the urban sector to do more. This 80% of agriculture supply…others will say it’s 40%. The number is probably not as important as is the fact that we all have to do our fair share. Agriculture and urban dwellers can do more which is why we recently called up on implementing the Governor’s Executive Order that Californians state-wide reduce their use by 25% for urban uses.


Alison van Diggelen: We’re here in Silicon Valley, and of course it’s full of entrepreneurs with lots of hot tech ideas. Are there any particular tech ideas you’ve seen today…and can you comment on drones?

Dorene D’Adamo: Now that we have this new groundwater legislation in California, local entities will be called upon to put together a groundwater sustainability plan…to determine how much is being taken out of their aquifers, going into their aquifers. The question I have for this (AgTech) group is this: What technology…satellite or drone technology can be used?

Alison van Diggelen: Were there any other technologies you saw here that you feel have potential?

Dorene D’Adamo: What we’re looking for is assistance with monitoring…groundwater, contaminants, and also monitoring (water) use. There’s so much the Silicon Valley has to offer not just in terms of monitoring but data…putting together the data and the analysis. And I would encourage this industry to be looking at water supply and water quality much in the way they have in the energy sector. We have gone a long way addressing the greenhouse gas emission targets in California, in large part because of the innovative ideas that have come from Silicon Valley. This (water) area is ripe for investment and if we saw the investment in water quality and supply that we have did in the air quality and energy sector, in years to come, we’d see a huge improvement in both areas.

Alison van Diggelen: For young entrepreneurs who have ideas…what advice would you give them for making their idea a reality?

Dorene D’Adamo: Get out on the farm, get your hands dirty…go out and meet with farmers; learn from them directly as to the challenges they face. Even when there are these smart systems (soil probes, precision irrigation etc) implemented on farms, sometimes they’re not used properly, so I think the tech industry needs to better understand the needs of the farmer and that would help them put systems in place that would be used effectively.

Read more about Tech and the CA Drought at Fresh Dialogues (From “BBC Letter from Silicon Valley” archives)

Find out more about the potential of Ag Tech here

More from the WSJ’s Ilan Brat

BBC Dialogues: California’s Drought and Your Lawn

BBC Dialogues: California’s Drought and Your Lawn

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

As news broke about Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandatory water restrictions in California, I joined Roger Hearing on the BBC’s Business Matters program to discuss the state’s historic drought and the governor’s slow response.

“We are standing on dry grass, and we should be standing on five feet of snow,” Mr. Brown said. “We are in an historic drought… a new era…The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past.”

Although the governor’s mandate calls for a 25% water use reduction, it probably won’t go into effect until June and will barely impact the farming community, which accounts for 80% of the state’s water use (almond farmers alone use 10%). According to a report by Lisa Krieger, the CA Department of Water Resources confirms that agriculture water use has already been heavily restricted, however the new rules will not restrict groundwater pumping.

Experts at NPR’s KQED say the most worrying part is that this crisis is a glimpse of the future: the low rainfall and high temperatures we’ve experienced in the last four years are now the “new normal,” thanks to climate change.

Here’s an extract of our discussion that starts at 29:00 in the BBC podcast:

Hearing: We know California is sunny…but it’s rather too sunny and not quite rainy enough…and for the first time in the state’s history you have mandatory water restrictions. How does it affect your life and what’s going on there?

van Diggelen: Yes, this is big news here. Governor Brown went up into the Sierra this morning and he stood where normally there would be about five foot of snow and he was on grass. It was such a powerful image to relay to people the extent of the problem: 2013 was the driest on record in the state, 2014 was the warmest. It was like a one-two punch for the environment and finally he’s getting round to doing something. A lot of people, myself included, are asking: Why didn’t you start something a year ago? We saw this coming…(A recent San Jose Mercury News editorial describes Brown’s action to date as “lame.”)

Hearing: What’s it actually look like? Do you notice the lakes ebbing away, the rivers drying up?

California_Drought_Dry_Riverbed_Photo: Wikimediavan Diggelen: There are a lot of reservoirs in the south San Francisco Bay area that are completely dry or close to being dry. A lot of locals are letting their grass go brown. There are a lot of visible ways of seeing this, however you’re also seeing beautiful verdant grass on golf courses, so you could say there is a cover up going on. This is long overdue, there really needed to have been mandates before this, but at least there is something happening now. Gov. Brown is calling for reduction in water use of 25% for the next year.

Hearing: But he can’t make rain. Is there any sign of it coming?

van Diggelen: Our rainy season is almost over. We’re now in April and the majority of our rain falls between September and March, so it’s not looking likely. We may get one or two light showers, but the experts are saying the window of opportunity for a big storm has passed.

Hearing: It’s going to be a long hot summer.


Toward the end of the program (at 48:45 in the podcast), Don McLean fans will be interested to learn that we discussed the “American Pie” manuscript, which goes to auction on April 7th. I couldn’t help remarking how relevant the classic contemporary song is to California today:

“I drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.”

Sadly, as climate change progresses, dry levees, lakes and rivers are going to be a widespread sight in California. Indeed, that and brown lawns are going to become “the new normal.”

So bye-bye verdant green lawns…

It’s been nice knowing you.

BBC Dialogues: Koch Brothers vs Tom Steyer on Climate Change

BBC Dialogues: Koch Brothers vs Tom Steyer on Climate Change

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

News that the Koch Brothers are planning to raise almost a billion dollars in the run up to the 2016 Presidential election is sending shock waves through U.S. politics. The Kochs are closely linked to the Heartland Institute, an organization described by the BBC’s former environment correspondent, Richard Black as follows:

To itself, it’s a think-tank; to critics, it’s a lobby group, paid to oppose regulation on a number of fronts – including climate change. It’s probably most notable (or notorious) for holding an annual “climate-sceptic” conference in Washington DC.

On the other side of the climate arena is Tom Steyer, a self-made billionaire who launched Next Gen Climate, a Super PAC with the following mission:

“Working at every level, we are committed to supporting candidates, elected officials and policymakers across the country that will take bold action on climate change—and to exposing those who deny reality and cater to special interests.”

Steyer put $74 Million into the 2014 elections,  targeting Republican candidates who reject climate science.


BBC Business Matters features Alison van Diggelen, Feb 2014Last week, I joined Roger Hearing, host of BBC’s Business Matters to discuss the influence of big money in US politics and the Koch brothers in particular. Hearing talked to Andy Kroll a senior writer at Mother Jones about his insightful article, “The Koch Brothers Raised $249 Million at Their Latest Donor Summit” (@26:30 on the BBC podcast).

Here is a transcript of our conversation. It has been edited for clarity (starts @35:00 above, 32:00 on the BBC podcast)

Roger Hearing: What do you think is the effect of money in this scale – we’re talking a pretty massive scale – on US politics?

Alison van Diggelen: It is massive and it seems to be growing. It’s a little bit scary. I can assure you, because I cover climate change, I’m very aware of the Koch brothers. They’re secretly funding climate denial, basically a climate denial machine

Hearing: Can you explain that?

van Diggelen: They have been funding various foundations with wonderful names that you’d think you would get behind, like the Heartland Institute. But what the Heartland Institute spends most of its time doing is pulling apart real scientists’ studies and reports; and trying to undermine them….scientist by scientist, report by report, trying to undermine the credibility of the scientist or the report.

Hearing: I guess they say they’re putting their money behind different views, airing views that are perhaps not mainstream?

van Diggelen: That’s the interesting thing. There’s a huge difference between what people think about climate change in America versus in Europe and the rest of the world. I think, for the rest of the world, it’s a done deal, it’s an accepted truth. But here an America, and I think a lot of people would agree with me on this, the Koch brothers’ machine of climate denial has helped muddy the waters so a lot of people aren’t quite sure, especially if you look at Republican candidates, a lot of them talk about “the science isn’t a hard fact.” They’re wary of actually admitting that there is such a thing as global warming going on.

Hearing: Alison, are there any moves to…we heard that  there was a case some time back going to the Supreme Court…where there was an attempt to try to clear the position as far as money and politics were concerned. Is there any renewed attempt, ahead of the 2016 election to try to restrict in any way how much money can be put into the campaign?

van Diggelen: Not that I’m aware of. There seems to be the dominance of the 1% here in the US. They’re influencing what is happening in the US in four ways: through policy, courtroom decisions, TV ads, and the education system. They seem to be unfettered in their ability. Perhaps the court case you were referring to is Citizens United? But that effectively gave more power to these political action committees and allowed them to create dark money groups where they’re not actually declaring where the money is coming from. It’s all rather doom and gloom.

Hearing: We talked there about the Koch brothers, and they tend to be backing Republican candidates…but where you are, around Silicon Valley there are a large number of very wealthy individuals who have quite a liberal outlook and could deploy their money there. Similarly people in Hollywood. Does that happen too?

van Diggelen: It is happening. The person of note is Tom Steyer. He’s a San Francisco, former money man, who’s now putting a lot of his millions into an organization called NextGen Climate. They are getting involved in politics and they are targeting mostly Republican candidates, those that are rejecting climate science. I’m all in favor of that: exposing these people with their crazy science ideas

Hearing: But that’s big money too…

van Diggelen: I agree. That is big money but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what the Koch brothers are able to leverage from the other side. Tom Steyer has the science behind him and to be honest, it’s shameful that big money from the Koch brothers is being used to fund this anti-science and impact not just America, but the rest of the planet

Hearing: Although the people you’re talking about are trying to put big money in the other side.

van Diggelen: Yes, but I think they’re just trying to make things clear. Science is science. They’re trying to expose the truth of the science and the lies of the anti-science.

Hearing: We’ll leave the argument there. It’s an interesting one…

More from the BBC’s Richard Black story:

“The Heartland Institute is largely behind the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), a project that purports to mirror the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by producing reports downplaying the extent of global warming as well as the involvement of greenhouse gas emissions in producing it.”

Read more from Coral Davenport in the New York Times re a January 2015 US Poll on Climate Change

“Although the poll found that climate change was not a top issue in determining a person’s vote, a candidate’s position on climate change influences how a person will vote. For example, 67 percent of respondents, including 48 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of independents, said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who said that human-caused climate change is a hoax.”

Correction: I mistakenly called the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation during the interview. The transcript has been adjusted to correct this error. The Koch brothers are known to be contributors to the Heartland Institute, via their family foundations, as verified by the Center for Media and Democracy.

Lesley Stahl: Climate Change Needs Alarm Bell

Lesley Stahl: Climate Change Needs Alarm Bell

One day after the sweeping new rules to limit power plant emissions were announced by the EPA’s Gina McCarthy, China just announced a major carbon emissions cap. Yet the climate change deniers and the the coal lobby are campaigning to preserve carbon polluting energy. It’s valuable to reflect on why these new rules are critical to the future of mankind.

As McCarthy described it, “We have a moral obligation to the next generation to ensure the world we leave is healthy & vibrant.”

Others might be more direct: It’s climate change, stupid.

I recently interviewed CBS 60 Minutes Correspondent Lesley Stahl and she shared her emotional reaction to climate change. She witnessed the rapid ice melt in Greenland and reported about it for Years of Living Dangerously, the documentary series on climate change.

“I thought global warming needed an alarm bell rung before I went, but it was extremely emotional for me to see first hand the ice melt,” says Stahl. “…knowing what it’s going to do for the rest of the planet.”

She’s talking primarily about global sea level rises, but there’s also the devastation that will occur due to rising temperatures, widespread drought and the increasing frequency of deadly storms like Hurricane Sandy.

Find out more about Stahl’s report for the Years of Living Dangerously series here. It’s produced by David Cameron and features reports from Tom Friedman, Matt Damon, Jessica Alba and Don Cheadle.

The interview was recorded at the Foothill College Celebrity Forum Series in Silicon Valley on May 15, 2014.

Check out my interview with Lesley Stahl on Barbara Walters’ legacy.

Gavin Newsom Argues for National Carbon Tax

Gavin Newsom Argues for National Carbon Tax

Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

In this exclusive Fresh Dialogues interview, Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor of California and new father, explains why the U.S. requires a national carbon tax. Newsom was attending the NY Times Global Forum in San Francisco, June 20, and shared his views on climate change, oil companies and his dream of being Governor of California one day.

Newsom, whose wife Jennifer Siebel, just gave birth to their third child on July 3rd, frames the argument in a way that even a five-year old can understand.
“You wanna move the mouse, you gotta move the cheese,” says Newsom, who describes other measures to combat climate change, such as composting, green building, plastic bag bans etc., as “playing a bit in the margins.”

Newsom argues that putting a price on carbon is the real macro solution to climate change.  Nevertheless, he praises the entrepreneurial spirit of many city mayors who have proved that you can grow your economy and reduce your Green House Gas emissions. Local case in point: San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed’s Green Vision

Here are some highlights of our conversation

On Oil Companies and Interesting Bed Fellows

Newsom: “Some of the big oil companies are talking about a carbon tax as they’re more and more concerned about cap and trade…especially in California with AB 32. Now they’re saying, ‘now wait…a carbon tax may make sense.’ Interesting bedfellows now. I think there’s a different dialogue that could potentially be held. I’m not suggesting for a moment that Chevron is saying ‘time for a carbon tax’ but in the private conversations that I’ve had with a lot of these big energy producers, you don’t have that negative reaction that we had four or five years ago…”

Fresh Dialogues: What’s in it for the oil companies?

Newsom: “I don’t want to put words in their mouth. The bottom line is: what most of these big producers want is consistency across jurisdictions.”

On Leaning In to Green Growth

“I want to see a standard that could bring this country back to international prominence in terms of leaning into a low carbon green growth strategy, so that we can dramatically change the way we produce and consume energy and lead the world as a pace setter in terms of efforts to reduce Green House Gas emissions and radically reorient our economy in a 21st Century manner that could produce jobs and address stresses on the economy: inequality, lack of middle income…and create sustainable opportunities.”

On Being Governor of California

“No one knows what the future holds politically speaking. I have got an entrepreneurial energy. I like doing, not just being. I’ve long talked about the position as governor, as a platform to really engage in bottom up thinking and go local in terms of economic development strategies, workforce development strategies and find substantive solutions to deal with the issue of climate change. So inverting the pyramid, but being there in Sacramento to begin to scale those best practices is something I’ve long wanted to do.”
See more videos and stories on energy policy  and join the conversation at our Fresh Dialogues Facebook Page

This exclusive Fresh Dialogues interview was recorded at the New York Times Global Forum in San Francisco, June 20, 2013. The forum organizers provided the painful background music, which sadly couldn’t be removed from the audio track.

Steven Chu: On Obama, Carbon Tax and Cooking Tips

Steven Chu: On Obama, Carbon Tax and Cooking Tips

In this exclusive Fresh Dialogues interview, former Energy Secretary Steven Chu shares his reaction to Obama’s major speech on climate change; explains how a carbon tax will drive U.S. competitiveness; has a message for climate deniers; and even shares tips for being more energy efficient in the kitchen. When did you last get cooking tips from a Nobel Prize winning physicist who’s been described as the One Hundred Billion Dollar Man? It’s time to listen up folks! It’s time to listen up folks!

Here are some highlights of our conversation:

On Obama’s Climate Speech (which focused more on climate change, and less on green jobs)

“This is a real issue. We have to do something about it!”

When asked if he wrote or was involved in writing the speech, Chu joked that he has ‘been involved’ for 4 1/4 years and recently regaled several heads of state (including President Obama) with his powerpoint pitch for raising appliance efficiency standards, reminding them that “there’s money to be made…and saved.”


On Carbon Tax

“A carbon tax must be non-regressive and revenue neutral. It will drive efficiency…competitiveness. Educating the public (on climate change, energy policy) is very important, but it’s about economic opportunities and (creating) a growth market. Change will be partly market driven.”

On Climate Change Deniers

“I’d put them in the same category as people who said, in the 60’s and 70’s, that you haven’t proved to me that smoking causes cancer.”

On Chu’s vision for distributed energy

“Distribution companies partnering with the private sector have the opportunity to access fairly inexpensive capital and be part owners in distributed power and energy storage in benign environments, like inside a home or building. When you do that, the price of electricity will go down (3 to 4 times). All of a sudden utility companies will be in a growth business…Utilities should wake up and see there’s money to be made!”

Chu cited the advantages of black-out reduction thanks to demand control; and underlined the multitude of opportunities that  low-priced software and sensing equipment offer.

Steven Chu shares cooking tips with Alison van Diggelen of Fresh DialoguesOn Cooking with Chu

Tip #1: “If you’re boiling a pot of water: if you put a lid on it, it comes to boil much more quickly.”

Tip #2: “Pick the right sized pot, don’t pick a pot five times bigger, twice as big.”

– Steven Chu, Nobel Prize winner in physics 1997, Former Energy Secretary, 2009-13.

No word yet on whether Steven Chu is planning to give up his new job at Stanford University for a prime time cooking show…Though we hear there is an opening.



The interview was recorded at the Silicon Valley Energy Summit, presented by the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, Stanford University on June 28, 2013. Photos by Lina Broydo.

See Keynotes by Steven Chu and Jeff Bingaman at Vimeo and more interviews about energy policy at Fresh Dialogues YouTube Channel.