By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Will the fatal Tesla crash slow or even derail the development of self-driving cars? That was the topic we discussed on this week’s BBC World Service program, Click.
Despite complaints by consumer advocates that Tesla should disable its autopilot feature and not beta test “an unproven technology” on the public, Tesla is standing by its strategy. Today the BBC’s Dave Lee reported from the Gigafactory that Elon Musk has no regrets about how Tesla rolled out the autopilot.
“We have the internal data to know that we improved people’s safety, not just in fatalities but in injuries.” Elon Musk, CEO Tesla at Gigafactory, July 26 2016.
Remarkably, federal regulators at the Department of Transport (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) appear to be siding with Tesla and urging a “full-steam ahead” approach. They’re focused on self-driving technology’s potential to save lives.
“No one incident will derail the DOT and NHTSA on its mission to improve safety on the roads by pursuing new life saving technologies. We…can’t stand idly by while we wait for the ‘perfect.’ We lost 35,200 lives on our roads last year. We’re in a bad place and we should be desperate for new tools that will help us save lives. How many lives might we be losing if we wait?” Mark Rosekind, Head of the NHTSA at the Automated Vehicles Symposium, July 20 2016.
The NHTSA is expected to release its new guidelines for self-driving (autonomous) cars any day now. I’ll post a link to them here as soon as they’re available.
Listen to our Tesla autopilot discussion below or at the BBC Click Podcast. The first broadcast aired on the BBC World Service at 2:30pm PST on July 26th.
Here’s a transcript of our discussion (a shorter version aired on the BBC).
BBC Click Presenter, Gareth Mitchell: Now the first death of a Tesla driver on autopilot earlier this year was bound to overshadow the recent Automated Vehicle Symposium in San Francisco last week. But those at the meeting were also looking forward, at the latest innovations in driverless cars. BBC contributor, Alison van Diggelen was there for us, and she’s been telling me a bit more about what was being discussed.
Alison van Diggelen: The 3-day symposium assembled some of the top government authorities, academics and tech experts in the field of automated vehicles. The main topics included: the promise and challenges of automated vehicles; the federal guidance about to be released; and whether the Tesla crash will derail the development of automated vehicle technology. Mark Rosekind Head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“Nitsa”) spoke about all three topics and emphasized the technology’s potential to save lives.
Mark Rosekind: We’re not in a good place that we’re trying to make better. We lost 35,200 lives on our roads last year. We’re in a bad place and we should be desperate for new tools that will help us save lives. How many lives might we be losing if we wait? We have to do everything we can to make sure the new technology doesn’t introduce new safety risks, but we also can’t stand idly by while we wait for the “perfect.”
Reports around the country seem to be sounding the alarm: they are shocked, shocked (!) to discover there’s vehicle automation that’s already here…they’re demanding to know: where was the government to stop this?
I am not going to comment on an ongoing (Tesla) investigation…but I can say three things:
- We know there will be incidents that occur with highly automated vehicles and NHTSA will always be ready to use its authority to investigate and take whatever action is necessary
- New highly automated vehicles offer enormous opportunities for learning…When something goes wrong,…that data can be taken, analyzed and the lessons can be shared with all automated vehicles.
- No one incident will derail the DOT and NHTSA on its mission to improve safety on the roads by pursuing new life saving technologies.
We’re writing the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. It’s the first step that will lay the road map to the next generation of vehicle technology – a harmonized approach not just across states but perhaps even internationally. It’s an approach that’ll provide certainty to manufacturers, to make sure you’re focused on safety in the right ways.
We see a future where disabled people can reclaim independence and freedom in a personal vehicle. We even see a future when a fully automated car can relieve the occupants of all driving responsibilities, leave them free to read a book, make a phone call and yes, catch a few more Pokemon.
Gareth Mitchell: There was also talk of innovation, refining the technology and one UK voice in particular. Who was this, Alison?
Alison van Diggelen: Ian Forbes is head of the Center for Connected & Automated Cars, a joint policy unit of the UK government. I chatted to him briefly after his presentation, where he gave a flavor of the opportunities and challenges ahead. Forbes played a short video that showed a junction in a UK city. The simulation showed that connected & autonomous vehicles bunch closer together when they approach the red light. This means that when the light turns green, more cars can go through, making that junction more efficient. He says it was a result they weren’t expecting…and they expect further simulations will help predict other benefits of self-driving cars. He also talked about the importance of public perceptions and behavior. They’re starting a 3 year study…
Ian Forbes: In the UK we share a problem with everyone in this room. Like everyone here, we can see the potential benefits: fewer crashes, more efficient transport, new high value jobs. It’s also likely we face the same challenges: how do you design a regulatory framework when so much of the future technology is uncertain? How do you get maximum value for your research so that it delivers something new? One tool in our toolbox is Micro-simulation using agent based models to understand the impact of different transport scenarios to inform our future transport traffic predictions.
Gareth Mitchell: Finally Alison, the meeting was overshadowed by the tragic death of a driver in autopilot mode in a Tesla. What kind of reflections were there about how that leaves the whole driverless project?
Alison van Diggelen: I spoke with a number of conference attendees from the academic and tech worlds, including Bob Denaro, a member of United States’ Transport Research Board (TRB) and venture capitalist advisor to Motus Ventures. He reframed the the Tesla crash in its historical context, talking about the Wright brothers and one of their early passenger deaths, during a demo for the U.S. army. So I think that gives the Tesla crash an interesting historical context. He and a lot of people said, this seems a disaster short term but in the long term, it’s going to be a small bump in the road.
Bob Denaro: If we look at early days of aviation – the Wright brothers killed (one of) the first passengers….Frankly I’ve been surprised that the public reaction has been more muted than I feared it would be…I don’t think it’s going to be that big of an impediment to our progress and the speed of our progress.
The traditional automotive approach is: let’s test exhaustively over years and then put it on the market. Sometimes we make mistakes…maybe there are fatalities, recalls…The approach that Tesla is taking is: let’s put it out there early, before it’s completely done – let’s learn quickly, and because of the software updates over the air, let’s make changes…They may be on to something there.
My advice to Elon Musk would be: yes, be careful, make sure you test it, understand the results…But this approach – as different as it is to the traditional approach – just may be a better approach to minimizing the accidents we have to have along the way before we get close to perfection.
Ian Forbes shared a video that didn’t make the final cut. With a little help from Queen Elizabeth and a humorous Tweet, he sent ripples of laughter throughout the global audience. Here’s the transcript (it’s a wee bit awkward).
The Queen (via video): My ministers will ensure the United Kingdom is at the forefront of the technology for new forms of transport, including autonomous and electric vehicles.
Ian Forbes: That was the Queen, in the UK, back in May setting out the future legislative program of the UK government. My favorite response was on Twitter: Ah Britain – the only parliament in the world where someone turns up in by horse drawn carriage to promise everyone else driverless cars.
Find out more:
Fresh Dialogues reports on Tesla and Electric vehicles (from the first Master Plan to date)
More from the BBC about Google and Self-Driving cars
Fresh Dialogues reports on government policy
Fresh Dialogues report on Inspiring Women
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
As the seismic impact of Britains’s vote to leave the European Union rocks the political and financial world, the long term impact is still unclear. But it’s likely that the creation of a new political divide could have incessant repercussions around the world. What does it mean for globalization, and for U.S. presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton?
I was invited to take part in a live discussion on the BBC World Service last night with Simon Long, Banyan columnist for The Economist in Singapore; and Diana Furchtgott-Roth, director of Economics21 in New York.
I see Brexit as part of a larger trend: a widespread shift to nationalism and anti-globalization. It could be the beginning of the end of capitalism as we know it – the majority of Britons have voted against the status quo. Globalization is NOT working for them. In the US, it’s a big wake up call to establishment politics here. Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party need to take note.
BBC host, Fergus Nicholl led a lively discussion on the pros and cons of the Brexit vote. Here is a transcript of the globalization discussion (edited for length and clarity). Listen to the entire podcast at the BBC (Globalization focus starts at 38:38) or below:
Robert Hormats (former Under Secretary for Economic Growth for President Obama and Vice Chairman of Kissinger Associates) explained the U.S perspective:
Robert Hormats: We have a great stake in the global economic system…the global economy has a big effect on our own economy, as it does on other countries’ economies and if we give up that leadership or turn inward, it will hurt our economy…
Laura Trevelyan (BBC Correspondent, Washington D.C.): What can be done to restore economic stability?
Robert Hormats: I think it’s very important that political leaders try to help people who do not feel that they’ve benefited from globalization or from technology, to feel more included, to listen to those people. If these people feel more confident about their own lives, they’ll feel more confident about the global economy…We need to make sure the global economic system works effectively and that is now in jeopardy.
Diana Furchtgott-Roth: I’m fully in favor of globalization, but it doesn’t have to mean that Brussels can control what kind of vacuum cleaner you can buy…The EU has become too intrusive. And that’s why the majority of people voted to leave… not having to do with globalization but intrusion in everyday life…
Fergus Nicholl: Simon, take us into Asia with this issue of globalization…
Simon Long: It’s not just that people are uncomfortable with globalization, they’re uncomfortable with some of the byproducts: increased inequality, entrenched elites making decisions for them. And in that context this (Brexit) vote has resonated in some parts of Asia as a revolt against doing what you’re told is best for you. It’s a phenomenon one’s seen in elections in Indonesia in 2014…in the Philippines with the election of Rodrigo Duterte on an explicitly anti-elite, anti-establishment platform. It’s part of an anti-globalization trend…a general revolt by the people who feel excluded from the elites.
Fergus Nicholl: Alison, you’ve got friends and family back home in Scotland. I wonder how they’ve been reacting over the last few days…
Alison van Diggelen: It looks to me like another referendum on Scottish independence is almost inevitable. I’ve heard anecdotally that some Scots who voted “No” to independence in 2014 are now inclined to vote “Yes” – they don’t want to be part of what they see as an isolationist, xenophobic “little England” mentality.
I see Brexit as part of a larger trend: a widespread shift to nationalism and anti-globalization. It could be the beginning of the end of capitalism as we know it – the majority of Britons have voted against the status quo. Globalization is NOT working for them. In the US, it’s a big wake up call to establishment politics here. Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party need to take note of it and start doing more to address the people who’re not benefiting from globalization and doing something to help them.
Fergus Nicholl: Simon, that’s a very bleak message: a sense of fundamental danger to the global financial system?
Simon Long: I think it’s justified. What we have seen is a big step back to the international order of the past 40-50 years. It does reflect a sense of resentment, not just in the UK, against the EU, but felt around the world, against the current economic system. If one looks at pioneering trade agreements, for example, The Trans-Pacific Partnership, it’s hard to find any country where that’s a popular idea: people think it’s either nothing to do with them or is against their interest. The popular mood has disassociated itself from what governments are doing in globalization.
Read lots more BBC Dialogues and reports from Fresh Dialogues
Politics: Mexicans in Silicon Valley Respond to Trump’s Vitriol
Tech: How to Get More Women in Tech?
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
If you’re a techie in Silicon Valley today, chances are you have a six figure salary and a pretty comfortable living situation. But what if you don’t work in tech? What’s it like being in Silicon Valley when you have to struggle to make ends meet and you see twenty-year-olds with million dollar mansions?
Zoe Kleinman, a presenter for the BBC’s Business Daily asked me to explore the “underbelly of Silicon Valley” for the BBC World Service. I found some some people who experience the underbelly of glamorous Silicon Valley every day, and others deeply resentful at being forced to leave the “Valley of Heart’s Delight.”
“I resent the people that got lucky and got to just go to college, get a job, buy a house, be rich instantly and by the time they’re 30, they’re super rich.” Radel Swank (school teacher)
You can listen to my report at BBC Business Daily (starts at 11:00 in the BBC podcast). The program aired on November 3rd, 2015 on the BBC World Service and San Francisco’s public radio station, KALW.
“When I first moved out here 23 years ago, if I’d’a bought a place then at $140,000 I would’a sold that place and been long gone. I’d’a been on Easy Street…” Bruce (lives in a Silicon Valley trailer)
Here’s an edited transcript of the program and report (plus some bonus material from the most articulate cop I’ve ever met).
Zoe Kleinman: We gave Silicon Valley journalist, Alison van Diggelen the difficult assignment of popping out for a drink in the local bar, to find some people not in the tech sector…Some less than enthused residents of Silicon Valley…
Sounds of Britannia Arms Bar, San Jose (includes bar hubbub and cursing when beer is spilled on a precious iPhone by a tech worker )
Alison van Diggelen: I’m here at a popular watering hole in SV to explore the economic and social impact of the tech boom on the local community. It’s a tale of two communities: the haves and the have-nots; the techies and the non-techies. When I speak to people working in tech, they have no complaints. Life is good. Biz is growing, and there’s plenty of money flowing. Yet for those not in tech, like teachers, police officers and the service industry, life in Silicon Valley is not so rosy, especially if they can’t afford to buy a house.
Home ownership is the great divider in SV. With house prices growing to an average of $1M this year, most homeowners are sitting pretty with a healthy nest egg for retirement. Those forced to rent are feeling the pinch.
Here’s Bruce, a longhaired Grateful Dead fan, who lives in a trailer in San Jose. He works in the sports industry.
Bruce: I live in a trailer, it’s pretty cheap. Costs me about $2200 a month.
van Diggelen: That a lot for a trailer, is it not?
Bruce: Yeah, but I heard there was a trailer in the Hamptons that sold for a million dollars…so I thought that was a pretty good deal.
van Diggelen: So tell me: why do you live in a trailer here?
Bruce: Cos it’s the only thing I could afford. When I moved out here in ’93 I shoulda bought a place…. By the time I decided I was gonna stay it’d went through the roof. I couldn’t afford it, so I just rented. Anything that we woulda wanted woulda been about $650… $700,000. It woulda been $5000 a month, so we bought a nice little frickin’ trailer in an over 55 (years) area. Works great for me.
When I first moved out here 23 years ago, if I’da bought a place then at $140,000 I woulda sold that place and been long gone. I’da been on Easy Street…
van Diggelen : For others like Radel Swank, a teacher in her 50s who recently lost her job and her home and plans to leave SV for good, life is a daily struggle.
Radel Swank: If you’re one of the lucky people and you’re in the tech groove, everything’s great. You’re making great money, you’re riding the wave. It’s great. But if you’re not in the tech groove and you’re a teacher or a waitress, you’re unlucky. I resent the people that got lucky and got to just go to college, get a job, buy a house, be rich instantly and by the time they’re 30, they’re super rich. I feel like luck is part of it.
Right now I’m renting a room in a house… It’s just weird after having my own place and my own space for 10 years, to be in a little room, sharing a bathroom with some guy I just met yesterday.
Alison van Diggelen: Does part of you wish you were in the tech community, ride the tech wave?
Swank: I am a little envious. My roommate, the one who owns the house. She obviously has an awesome job (in tech) because she owns a beautiful house and she’s in her 20s. I’m a little resentful and envious that she is that young and that successful. When I was that age, I was waitressing and working my way through college. How do some people get so lucky?
Anyone who’s not in this tech environment can’t afford to live here any more. SF rents are like $2500 for a studio. You can’t live on $15 an hour and pay that kind of rent. It’s out of line with reality…a lot of people who’ve been in SF a long time are being pushed out…unless you bought your home 30 years ago, then you’re OK.
If you’re someone like me in the middle you can’t make it here…I’m really in a pickle.
van Diggelen: With SV rental rates averaging $2300 a month and growing faster than average incomes, it’s putting a squeeze on many residents in SV.
Even those with a steady job are feeling the pinch. I spoke to Officer Nabil Haidar who’s been with the SV police force for almost 20 years and has witnessed the seedy underbelly of “glamorous SV.” Even inside million dollar mansions, he’s seen real suffering. For some, Spam Valley might be a more apt description of Silicon Valley.
Officer Haidar: When I started 19 years ago, we didn’t have the homeless population that we have now…because everything is getting more expensive and the economic situation is pushing people onto the streets.
van Diggelen:So they’re getting priced out of the housing market?
Officer Haidar: Priced out of everything…Me? There’s no way I can afford to buy a house with my salary…we make good money but it’s not enough. You’re talking about small apt going for $2500 a month, or small condominium going for six, $700,000. That’s ridiculous.
Everything is going up, homes prices are through the roof, rents is ridiculous, even food. Everything is expensive.
van Diggelen: Officer Haidar is concerned about the disconnect between the haves and have-nots in SV.
Officer Haidar: I see the poor and I see the rich. I go to (emergency) calls…rich people getting involved in domestic violence and I go to poor people who cannot even afford to eat. So I see it all.
van Diggelen: What do you think would wake up the tech community to the plight of people less fortunate? They’re so focused on the next tech gadget.
Officer Haidar: They need to go out on the street and start walking around and opening their eyes and seeing the homeless. I’m here in SJ…I talk to people on the west side, they’ve never been to the east side. They have no reason to be on the east side, but that’s where the poor, the hardworking, the blue collar people live there. If they just had the time to drive down on the east side and see really what’s happening, maybe that would be a wake up call for them… I hope that my interview will wake up some people.
There is disconnect between the rich and the poor and from my experience, as law enforcement, I realize that 80% of the problem going on in SJ has to do with financial. A lot of people they went and they bought homes…all their money going into the homes and they cannot really afford it.
Some people, they work two jobs, even three jobs.
Alison van Diggelen: And in their efforts to keep up with their neighbors and their million dollar mortgages, the impact of the tech boom on families can be fatal.
Officer Haidar: You get drugs, domestic violence, people get depressed. The peer pressure. People want to catch up to the Joneses. And then they stretch themselves too much and realize they’re over their heads with bills and money. Then they go to things against the law: fraud, theft…it’s all like domino effect. When you are desperate, people do desperate things.
People get depressed, suicide. People get ashamed that what they did. Some people use drugs to cope, some people are in denial. That’s SV: there are so many things behind the scenes no one knows. As a police officer, I’ve seen it. I’ve dealt with it.
van Diggelen: You feel some in SV are neglecting their families, their kids to make the big bucks, to make the big mortgage?
Officer Haidar: Of course. I see it all the time. They’re just catching up to the Joneses, but the problem is, they don’t know that the Joneses are also having a problem. It’s very sad story. They want to pay that million regardless of what expense.
Here’s Rachel Massaro, a senior researcher at Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a local nonprofit. (Interview took place in July 2015)
Massaro: 40% of SV renters are technically burdened by housing costs. Which means they spend more than 35% of their gross income in housing. And because of that, they’re really struggling. One third of our young adults 18-34 are living with a parent and 10% of SV residents are living in poverty.
If you look at all households in SV, about a third of them are not self sufficient, which means that they rely on public or private informal assistance, like living with a friend or a family member, free babysitting, food from food banks, other services from churches and others.
Housing prices are high…in some places (in SV) homes are selling for 200% of more than the national average, rental rates are as high as 185% of the national average, but also the cost of goods and services is higher here by about 6%
The top 5% earning households in SV make over 400,000 (dollars) more than the bottom 20%….Income does include stock options and interest on investments.
The top 5% of households in SV make more than 31 times the income of the bottom 20%.
Find out more about the less glamorous side of Silicon Valley from Joint Venture Silicon Valley’s latest report on Income Inequality
Check out the KQED Radio Sereis “Boom Town” featuring reports by Rachael Myrow and her colleagues
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)
Fergus 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.
WHY THIS DROUGHT IS DIFFERENT
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.
ADVICE FOR ENTREPRENEURS
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
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?
van 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.
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.
Last 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.