Living here in the future ghost state of California, I have a special fascination with water. But I’m hardly alone. It’s interesting to watch the local news and see people upset that it is not going to rain. People here are far past being concerned about their weekend plans. As our drought drags on, people see it as more and more of an existential threat. And while I’m pleased that people really are taking the situation seriously, fear is not the best of motivators. It tends to act as a cancer, and so it isn’t surprising that we are seeing people use the current crisis for some nefarious ends.
This last week, Kate Linthicum reported, Group says California Immigration Policies Contributed to Drought. It seems that a group called Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS — get it?!) is demagoguing the issue real good. They’ve produced a series of commercials. In one, there is a whiny little boy who asks, “If Californians are having fewer children, why is it so crowded?” It continues on with the boy asking other questions including, “Why isn’t there enough water?” A man in voice-over explains, “Over 98% of California’s population growth is from immigration. Let’s slow immigration and save some of California for tomorrow.” Meanwhile, the little boy looks dejectedly into the camera.
What’s amazing about this commercial is that it could have run in the 1930s. Now the subtext is, “Let’s get the spicks!” But in the 1930s, it would have been, “Let’s get the Okies!” Linthicum reported that earlier this month, the group asked its Facebook followers to “like” the statement that “California’s drought could have been prevented with responsible immigration policies and limited population growth.” And that is, you know, totally crazy in addition to be bigoted and generally evil. Even if no humans lived in California, it would still be going through its worst drought on record. What’s more, only 10% of California water use is from urban use. So the CAPS claim is just as wrong as it could possibly be.
Michael Hiltzik provided some great data about water use in California. It turns out that per capita water use among urban residents is way down: from 232 gallons per day in 1995 to 178 in 2010. That doesn’t even include the current drought, so I assume that number is even lower today. But even more amazing is that California’s total water use — with a huge increase in population and agricultural productivity — has actually gone down in an absolute sense: from 35 billion gallons per day in 1990 to 31 billion in 2010. That actually shocks me; I wouldn’t have thought it possible.
Linthicum quoted one expert who noted that if Californians actually care about the drought, they should be campaigning against lawns, not immigrants. Hiltzik put it well:
But of course, CAPS is most definitely not interested in the drought. The group has been around since 1986. It’s like Matt Yglesias’s analogy about Quakers wanting to balance the budget with military cuts: CAPS is just using drought to push their real issue. And their issue is the same one that Californians have had for decades: I’ve got mine so stay away. It’s sad. But it has nothing to do with environmentalism.