The Great Water Conservation Grift

Governor Gavin Newsom shoveling something with Stewart and Lynda Resnick. Source: CalTech.

For many years we’ve been in a drought here in California as a result of climate change. In response our elected officials, through the mainstream media, push out a message of water rationing in cities. Here in Los Angeles we’ve all been asked to restrict watering to two days a week.

There’s no doubt that we’d all benefit from ditching lawns in favor of native and low-water landscapes. However, I believe these calls for household water conservation are a kind of misdirection from what’s really going on. In short, we as individuals are being blamed for a water shortage that would be better attributed to a class of Central Valley agricultural oligarchs whose profligate water use dwarfs what we use for our urban landscapes.

Journalist Yasha Levine did a superb story on the unholy relationship between governor Gavin Newsom and billionaire pistachio/pomegrante/Fiji Water oligarchs Stewart and Lynda Resnick that deserves more attention. Levine details a hustle typical for our billionaire class. The Resnicks launder their destructive, extractive capitalism through “philanthropic” schemes, in their case things like art museums and a “sustainability center” at the California Institute of Technology. Of course, they are also generous donors to politicians such as Newsom. Here’s now Levine describes Newsom’s trip to the opening of that sustainability center,

“Philanthropists” is an interesting way for the Governor of California to describe one of the most powerful forces in farming in the state — a billionaire family that owns something like 300 square miles of Oligarch Valley land, has its own toxic corporate farm worker town, and, from their ridiculous mansion in Beverly Hills, has been on a destructive quest to eviscerate the state’s river system and plunder its aquifers, helping fuel a mass extinction in the San Francisco Bay Delta…all so they can grow and export pistachios, a fringe snack food that people around here barely eat.

But then calling these rapacious oligarchs “philanthropists” is exactly the point. Governor Gavin was going out to Pasadena to do some public relations work: to lend his name and image and the respectably of his public office to Stewart and Lynda Resnick’s ongoing effort to rebrand themselves as do-gooders and environmentalists, rather than the industrial-scale destroyers of the environment that they are.

Levine also notes the irony of a family that exports water from Fiji and even had a journalist deported for digging around into their sleazy business practices in that country.

In addition to the misdirection issue, hastily conceived water conservation policies have gone poorly when it comes to our urban landscapes. Take, for instance, LA’s horrible lawn replacement rebate program that ended up in the hands of fly by night operators who exploited their workers and left us with acres of gravel and plastic lawns. Or, since most homeowners don’t have any understanding of climate or horticulture, we just get dead lawns or, at best, decomposed granite and a few sad cacti. Coastal California is not a desert yet, and our landscapes can be both lush and not use a lot of water. Plus we might want to use water for things like parks, schools and athletic fields especially when that use is small compared to what the Resnicks extract to make their billions.

My big fear is that, while technically the water restrictions don’t apply to trees, in practice people withhold water from trees and we end up with a further destruction of our already stressed urban tree canopy. Our cities get hotter and the Resnicks get richer.

Climate Crisis Summit


Climate scientist Peter Kalmus, a friend of Root Simple and a guest on our podcast (116 and 39), took a long train trip this past week to be a part of the Climate Crisis Summit in Iowa with Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Here’s what Peter had to say on the Twitters,

I’ve found two articles since Bernie’s climate summit. One in NYT which focused condescendingly on the “buddy movie” aspect (not climate), and one in the Iowa State Daily that led with a climate denier. This event was a huge deal. The media continues to fail on climate.

In the interest of not failing on climate here at Root Simple I’ve embedded the summit in its entirety.

134 Eric of Garden Fork on Mental Decluttering, Washing Machine Repair and More!

On the 134th episode of the podcast we talk to DIYer, YouTuber and podcaster Eric Rochow of Garden Fork TV on some eclectic DIY notions and projects including why he’s quitting beekeeping, mental decluttering, washing machine repair, print making and more.ing,

Watch Garden Fork on Youtube and subscribe to the Garden Fork Podcast. You can also find Garden Fork on Patreon.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Our Hot Streets Are an Opportunity

I can’t remember where I got this idea from but I think it was Alissa Walker or someone she was writing about who had the bright idea to go out and check the temperature of our streets on a hot day with a IR thermometer. Since I have one of these handy gadgets for firing up my pizza oven, I thought I’d head out in the neighborhood at around 2:30 in the afternoon and take some temperature readings.

The asphalt in front of our house measured an egg-frying, temperature of 135.3º F (57.3 C).

A rare, tree-lined Los Angeles street one block over was a lot cooler at 80.9º F (27.1º C).

A few blocks north, and to much fanfare, our city coated an asphalt street with a gray coating as part of a “cool pavement” program. The temp on this street was 120.8º F (49.3º C).

Being a crank I have two conclusions:

1. Let’s plant trees.

2. How about instead of painting streets gray we do something really radical and pull them up entirely and start cooling people rather than serving cars?

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Recent research has found that when manufacturing emissions are taken into account, most cool pavements hurt the climate more than they help.”

So, as is typical for our mayor Eric Garcetti it’s all about the press conference and not so much about the actual science. The one glimmer of hope that I have is that people younger than myself are catching on to the empty gestures of neo-liberal, pseudo-environmental politicians like Garcetti and the rest of the Los Angeles City Council. They are beginning to see a more radical alternative to business as usual. As Mark Fisher says in a book everyone should read, Capitalist Realism Is There No Alternative?,

The long, dark night of the end of history has to be grasped as an enormous opportunity. The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect. The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.

So how about we tear a hole in these hot streets and plant some trees?

Save Civilization With a Toilet Auger

What is most important of all human tools? My dear brothers and sisters, today we need to talk about the toilet auger, guardian of the real “flow state” that keeps us all civilized.

First a caveat. If you have a serious plumbing issue you should call a plumber. In the past I’ve made the mistake of trying to do things in the plumbing realm myself causing damage and insulting the collective intelligence of the plumbing profession. A good plumber is a trained professional able to solve the mysteries of proper venting, install rigid copper pipe in tight spaces without burning the house down and willing to crawl through spider infested basements and even face sleeping mountain lions.

That said, sometimes you’ve got to unclog the toilet before the plumber can arrive to solve the underlying problem. I know about this because, and there’s no way to say this discretely, our last toilet lacked the proper geometry and force with which to banish the previous evening’s intemperate feasting. Because of our crappy crapper, my toilet auger and I had a once-a-week conclave.

Unlike a regular plumber’s snake a toilet auger has a graceful bend so that you won’t scratch the porcelain. And it works a lot better than a plunger. Go down to your local hardware store and get one today. Or, better yet, make thee a dry toilet and you’ll never have to flush or use a toilet auger again. But until that day and, my brothers and sisters we’re not there yet ourselves, wield your toilet auger as a righteous sword! Or would a better metaphor be as a lasso of filth? You decide.