Water Rights

An interesting Yahoo News article recounts the attempts by California to learn from Australia how to handle the drought that has brought that state to near crisis status. It is interesting in light of the fact that fracking is still legal in California despite the fact that it takes millions of gallons of the precious liquid from the earth and ruins it for human or animal use forever. In any event, the article focuses on one major difference between California and Australia which may make the lesson very hard to learn from California’s perspective: Californians, like most Americans; have no practice in sacrificing for the “common good. The Australians are quite good at it apparently. As the article points out, in part:

But Californians may find Australia’s medicine tough to swallow. Australians are accustomed to living in a dry land, expect government intervention in a crisis and largely support making sacrifices for the common good. For much of their history, many Californians have enjoyed abundant water, or were able to divert enough of it to turn deserts green, and highly paid lawyers ensure that property rights remain paramount.

The original Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, defended “life, liberty and property,” borrowing from the English tradition and, specifically, Locke’s Two Treatises of Civil Government. The term “property” was later replaced by “pursuit of happiness.” but the focus on property is apparent in so much of our common law. And as the article suggests, property rights are fiercely defended by highly paid lawyers who must be confronted by the state in the event of an emergency. The notion that folks should be willing to make sacrifices for “the common good” is alien to the American way of doing things — and has been so almost from the beginning. The trend has grown worse, as we can see if we stop to consider the sitting Congress that has no concern whatever with the common good and focuses its attention exclusively on the demands of their political party. But, truth be told, we all seem to be focused in our own “rights” and tend to ignore the rights of others.

This is sad and especially disturbing when we consider, for example, that a few small sacrifices might go a long way toward dealing with, if not solving, our huge waste of precious natural resources. If we were willing to ride bicycles or walk or take mass transit, or, perhaps, purchase economical cars, or if we  reached for a sweater during cold weather rather than turn up our heating systems, we might reduce the waste of gasoline, natural gas, electricity,  and heating oil. But the sweater is inconvenient and it is so much easier to nudge up the thermostat a bit, so that’s the path we tend to choose. And the car dealers have us convinced that power is what it’s all about. These are habits. And habits are what the article mentions when it refers to California’s enjoyment “of abundant water” for years. Habits are hard to break.

As it happens, however, these habits may be changed by cruel necessity as Californians may find out when they run out of water and are forced to do “the right thing” by conserving and reducing consumption “for the common good.” It will be a new experience and it will be one that will come only after considerable noise has been made and litigation has been undertaken in the name of “property rights.” Indeed, rights have always been our concern — even though they imply responsibilities which we tend to ignore altogether. To the extent that I can claim to have a right, say, to drinking water, I also have a responsibility to recognize another’s right to that same water. There’s the rub. Rights and responsibilities are reciprocal: if we demand one we must acknowledge the other. This will indeed be a hard lesson for the folks in California to learn — as it will soon be for the rest of us.


Embrace the ‘Morrow!

Has it struck you that it is a bit curious to see people buying weapons and stockpiling foodstuff to prepare for an angry tomorrow when many of them don’t think tomorrow will come? The English call these people the “nutters.” I refer, of course, to the brew-ha-ha out there about the end of the world that was to have come on the winter solstice. Apparently just in case the world doesn’t end as the Mayans predicted, some people want to be prepared for the worst. Moreover, the “worst” in their minds seems to be earthquakes, flood, and other maniacs carrying guns.

In the wake of the shootings in Newtown there has been a flurry of activity in the nutter-world (not to mention the world of the NRA — or is THAT the “nutter-world”?): a frenzy of blogging activity, mountains of rhetoric, much tearing-out of hair, beating of the chest, and crazy proposals aplenty. The HuffPost just notified me by email that some Minnesota legislators have proposed a law requiring that all school teachers in Minnesota carry weapons. The idea is apparently that if shooting someone is a bad idea, the more who can do it the merrier. That makes about as much sense as the law in Minnesota increasing speed limits on country roads in order to slow down the traffic. I kid you not: that’s what the legislature did in this state. But Minnesota politicians aren’t the only ones vying for the Darwin Award for stupidity: the Congress of the United States refuses to pass tough gun restrictions while at the same time they require metal detectors to protect themselves from gun-carrying maniacs. Emerson once said that consistency is the hob-goblin of tiny minds. I would say that inconsistency is the hob-goblins of mindless idiots.

There are times when one wants to crawl into a hole and hide. I remember the day when I was proud to say I live in Minnesota where the people, for the most part, are smart enough to do the right thing most of the time and where they tend to vote for remarkable politicians like Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale. Now they vote for people like Michelle Bachman and talk about arming the teachers. And not long ago the legislature passed a law permitting all and sundry to carry concealed weapons. Sigh.

All of the evidence supports the view that more people carrying weapons will result in more deaths, though the NRA would have us ignore the data and just listen to Charlton Heston. Surely, what we are seeing is simply the way some people express their fear and even, perhaps, their grief over the deaths of very young children. Cooler heads will prevail in the end, will they not? Eh?

In any event, I write this on the eve of the coming of the end of the world confident that tomorrow will come and I will greet it with open arms ( though I will not be carrying any — tomorrow or even the day after). I hasten to add in closing, as a fellow-blogger from Australia reminds me, it was tomorrow yesterday in that part of the world. Were the Mayan’s aware of that, I wonder?