Great Salt Lake and the New Normal of Drought

Great Salt LakeBrad Plumer wrote a disconcerting article over at Vox, NASA Images Show Utah’s Great Salt Lake Shrinking Dramatically. Over the last five years, Farmington Bay, which leads into the Great Salt Lake, has been reduced to one-quarter of its previous size. It’s basically just a river now. And this has huge environmental and economic ramifications.

(This is something that the modern world has forgotten. We are so focused on quarterly profits that we don’t see that most of the time economic and environmental interests go hand in hand. Interestingly, you would think that conservative economists would be most interested in this. But in general, they aren’t. Sure, they’re talk of externalities. But they aren’t much interested in it, because they are committed to having little government interference in the market. And dealing with externalities requires the government. Or business people who are enlightened — rarer than unicorns.)

No Mention of Global Warming

Brad Plumer is the guy at Vox who normally writes about global warming. But in this article, he didn’t mention the issue at all. Instead, he talked about the drought and the diversion of water. Currently 40 percent of all the river water flowing into the Great Salt Lake is diverted. Of course, that hasn’t changed. The real issue is the drought. And my question is: why the drought?

Now I get why Plumer didn’t mention global warming. There is no way to know if the current drought is due to global warming. But I think it is a mistake to get too caught up in what you can know for certain. For one thing, it just plays into the the denial industry. And as I have said many times before, the biggest issue with global warming is rainfall, not temperature.

Temperature-Rainfall Correlations

There has been a lot of work looking at temperature and rainfall correlation. My first year in graduate school, I shared a cubical wall with a young Chinese student. He looked at the last century of data for the United States. And it was frightening. The northeast had a positive correlation: more rainfall with higher temperatures. But everywhere else it was less rainfall with higher temperatures. And that was especially true out here in the west.

Note that just because there has been a correlation in the past, that doesn’t mean that global warming will cause the same effect. But as you may have noticed, we’ve been seeing drought in the west and very wet winters in the northeast. And it makes sense. So far this season in northern California, we’ve seen good rainfall. Most people are very hopeful. I’m not. I fully expect us to be below normal rainfall at the end of the season. That’s because I think “normal” rainfall is now a lot lower than it used to be.

Death of the Great Salt Lake?

So I think things are going to be very bad for the Great Salt Lake. They can stop diverting water and that will help. But my working theory is that they aren’t in the middle of a drought. They are just getting used to the new normal. And that new normal may be that there is no Great Salt Lake. It will be like the Owens Lake. But that one dried up due to the actions of the people who lived there. If the Great Salt Lake dries up, the culpability will be far broader.

Why Trump Is the Greatest American Idol

Donald Trump - Hero of Republican EstablishmentLet us salute the greatness of lazy men.

It was bound to come to this. We’ve demeaned workers and the very concept of labor long enough. Now the person who gets up, has coffee, puts in their eight, and comes home, doesn’t feel like “I did an honest day’s work.” No. They feel like a sucker.

Because the clever ones, the “winners,” are those who figured out how to make gazillions doing as little as possible.

Once upon a time, we were fascinated by con men and grifters precisely because they were weird. And weirdos are interesting! The grifter or the hustler — someone who abhorred regimented labor — was an amazing figure. Everyone would enjoy giving the finger to their boss and never filling out a time card again.

Old and New Grifters

Of course, the classic grifters are not lazy. To become a master con man takes years of practice — and probably a lot of beatings. It’s actually much harder than having a regular job. But that’s not how we view them. We see the grift as easy money.

Over the last four decades, we have seen the rise of a new kind of gift. And these new grifters are Our Heroes. Don’t think Joseph Weil. Think Gordon Gekko.

Forget the blather about soldiers and teachers and people who bring wounded abandoned puppies back to health. They’re saints. As is, we’re glad they exist, because we sure as hell don’t want to do that stuff. But they aren’t heroes.

No. A “hero” is someone we look up to — someone, at our best, we think we could be.

Greatest American Hero

And Trump is the Greatest American Hero.

He’s never done an honest day’s work in his life. Never had to. Early on, he figured out that the American lip service paid to a work ethic was quickly becoming blather. So, rather than pretend to a work ethic like his kind did in generations past, he was simply “deserving.” His schtick was, “I’m too awesome to work.”

Truly, a man ahead of his time.

Sociopathic Society

This attitude is sociopathic, of course. In a sane culture, you’d never be proud of laziness. Even if you hate a co-worker, you do what needs to be done for them. If for nothing else, you assume this creates an environment where they do the same for you.

But that was Old America. Before we learned that every human interaction must be weighed by a cost-benefit economic analysis. Before free riders — the people who don’t obey social norms, yet get away with it — became Our Heroes.

American Idols

Trump’s art form is the “reality” show, and what are those? They’re quick, easy cash for TV networks. You can spend a bundle on period decor and fabulous actors and talented writers for Mad Men. Or you can produce a bunch of cheap crap and hope something sticks.

Notice the title of late, unlamented American Idol. It was never about singing. Your local PBS station has programs about singers in your community who are unbelievably good at their craft, totally unknown, and stick with it for the joy of honing their skills and sharing this joy with others.

American Idol was about becoming an “idol.” About “winning.” Not being a “loser,” like those local musicians who are so damned good. Pride in a difficult task, well accomplished? Save that for the nerds.

The losers.

The people who haven’t “figured it out.”

Valueless Work

Trump is an idol for a nation that’s devalued workers so badly, we’re not sure helping our fellow employee (or fellow anyone) makes sense anymore. Sure, it seems right. But what does that matter? Maybe the liars and hustlers were the smart ones, all along.

I don’t believe that. I think it’s destructive madness, ultimately. But is cashing in on it currently rewarding? Yes.

Yes, it is.