Water under the bridge

In an effort to dam the rising tide of indignation at the news that Oravida (yes, them) have been bottling precious Kiwi water and selling it overseas at a fat profit, and after paying a pittance in water-drawing consents, Environment Minister Nick Smith may have let an unintended cat out of the bag.

Dr. Smith dived into the fray, with a breathless press release confirming that out of some 500 trillion litres of freshwater flowing through our lakes, rivers and aquifers, only 10 trillion is extracted: 6 for farm irrigation, 2 for urban drinking supplies and 2 for ‘industries’ which are mostly water bottling ones. Hence, the Greens and others calling for a moratorium on selling precious bottled water are ‘idiots’ because it amounts to just ‘0.004 per cent’ of the total available water. Once you correct Dr. Smith’s poor maths – 2 trillion is 0.4% of 500 tn, not 0.004% (0.004 is the fraction you tap into the calculator) – it is still an impressive rebuttal.

Water, water, everywhere and, er, plenty to drink

So far, so good. Yet it got me thinking: why was there so much indignation about selling water in the first place? After all, it seems that agriculture is a much more thirsty business, not to put too fine a point on it. Eric Crampton has a good piece on it here. Essentially, irrigation for dairy requires some 250 litres of water on average to produce one litre of milk. For beef and lamb, that figure rises even further, to almost 1000 litres. Yet one litre of water will provide, er, one litre of bottled water.

I am oversimplifying, and I should add that for all the valid criticisms of ‘dirty dairy’, some of that 250 litres does go back into recharging the aquifer. However, Nick Smith may have produced a lightbulb moment for a growth New Zealand industry. Imagine the poster: come and visit clean, pure and green NZ, where the water is so good, we sell it back to the climate-affected, drought-ridden world. Or as Crampton more succinctly puts it:

Main point of the article: why are y’all getting so upset about water being put in bottles and shipped to China when it takes (ballpark) 250 times as much water to make a litre of milk, which is then dried out and shipped to China? They’re both selling water.

Quite. Naturally, this argument will be about as welcome to the NZ farming lobby as Ken Livingstone at a bar mitzvah, but the anti-economic, protectionist grumblings of a community that has been no friend of parties of the left should not concern a future Labour/Green government. And by that same argument, greenies should not get in a tizzy about ‘squandering our precious resource’ when it is the very definition of a drop in the ocean.

Of course, putting a price on water will not be quite as easy as Gareth Morgan envisages, although he makes further salient points for doing so. Yet the fundamental problem of cows shitting up the waterways, so to speak, is perhaps best solved by reducing the number of cows doing so, and selling what is really NZ’s greatest resource: clean, fresh water. If we sold 0.1%, and either taxed it or allocated consents valued at 1c for every $1 worth sold, it would generate $5bn in revenue, that could certainly clean up the mess left by dairy. And agriculture would not die – it would go back to being the rather less lucrative but more sustainable industry it was before the dairy boom.

So Trump triumphed. He went from being not remotely credible last year, through to a 2% long shot in January according to Nate Silver, to a near certainty just four months later. House Speaker Paul Ryan, unofficial Republican leader, is not impressed. He is refusing to endorse the star of The Apprentice. In fact, the wailing and gnashing from ‘real’ Republicans is a delight to behold. Ever since the #NeverTrump hashtag started doing the rounds, ‘real’ Republicans have been at pains to point out how unsuitable Trump, and how much he will alienate core GOP voters, let alone persuade swing voters.

Well, I think they are wrong. This is perhaps the future of the right-wing electoral coalition in the US, Trump has cottoned on to that fact, and it ain’t pretty. Trump has galvanised the angry white male voter like never before. The trouble is, the other half of the GOP base is the rich elite, who see nothing wrong with ever greater tax cuts for them and for giving Wall Street exactly what it wants. Finding a campaign message to stitch these two together will not be easy. Trump’s bizarre, on-the-hoof populism has made him as many enemies as supporters. Leaving aside his casual misogyny and xenophobia which seems to indicate an almost insouciant disregard for voting blocs like, y’ know, women and minorities, his anti-establishment rhetoric is anathema to the RNC bigwigs and they do not like it one bit.

The next President? Shudder…

A word of caution: this election will not necessarily be a shoo-in for Hillary. If we were wrong to write off Trump’s primary campaign, then we would be foolish to assume he will crash and burn in November. It is true that outsiders and extreme candidates have flopped badly before (think Goldwater on the right in 1964 and McGovern on the left in 1972), but they were usually also poor communicators as well as lacking in broad electoral appeal. The demographic electoral calculus may well not favour Trump, but the delegate maths didn’t either. He will fight a brutal but savvy campaign and if Hillary makes too many gaffes she could lose. But even were he to win, he would be the ultimate disappointment. Congress will never pay for his wall or his other barmy promises. And another blowhard from the right will damage the GOP’s credibility still further.

And finally, some thoughts on TV’s hottest show: The Bachelor. Nah, just kidding.