20 April 2015

Adopt a Californian: Systems, and the California Drought

I'd like to invite you to #AdoptACalifornian ("...before we're all extinct!" ;-)  It's extremely easy, and may just be good for you, too.

The System We Live In

You've likely heard that we're experiencing a long drought here in California, and nearby states.

It's been an interesting problem from a systems perspective, particularly when the system being examined includes politics, really old water rights, and staple food items for other nations.


And you may have heard about the economics of almonds.  It takes a lot of water to grow almonds. And, almonds have been a highly profitable crop for farmers. So they've been planting more almonds, and using more water (by drilling, which isn't regulated)...

I love California, but since moving here in 2000 I've noted that one of our most popular cultural exports seems to be nationwide economic bubbles (aka "irrational exuberance").  There are a lot of great inspect/adapt experiments that happen in this gigantic petri dish of innovation, but when an experiment fails, we tend to try it again, just in a different sector.  The dot-BOMB practically led to the housing bubble here in CA.

The "good" news is that, when faced with an existential crisis, people start to think in terms of the larger systems they live in, and are willing to make personal sacrifices for the health of the overall system.  This article, particularly page 2, hints at longer-term systems-thinking. Apparently some Californians are discovering that chasing profits can be quite unprofitable.


It's Personal

The title of this article caught my attention. (It was clearly designed to do so.) Since I was already thinking about water-usage and almonds, I assumed that this was going to appeal to liberal guilt. Fortunately, it's more about the economics of selling what amounts to little more than flavored vitamin water.


I like eating almonds. They're one of the world's "superfoods":  Nutrient-dense, little processing, very tasty.  Was I going to curb my almond consumption?

But remember that organic farmer in the Slate article who is planting almonds where he used to graze dairy cows?


Consequences, Intended and Otherwise

This is not a Californian problem, but a national one, as the Slate article makes evident.

California is the nation’s leading producer of almonds, avocados, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, grapes, lettuce, milk, onions, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, walnuts, and dozens of other commodities. 
One way to try to get this system to stabilize is to consume fewer water-intensive resources. Of course, abrupt changes in demand would be painful for the system, as well. Replacing flood irrigation with drip irrigation takes a lot of effort, and farmers cannot simply plow over a cash crop in the middle of growing season.

And there will surely be those unintended consequences that we cannot predict.  Systems are tricky that way.

But the U.S. has been through similar droughts before, and we can weather the dry weather (in the West), only together.  (Yeah, if only there were an efficient way for us to move megatons of snow from the inundated East coast to the bone-dry West coast! :-)

Adopt a Californian

My colleagues and I are asking you to voluntarily reduce the amount of water-intensive drought-region-grown products you consume.  Be creative, and choose something that will have an impact (however small) and that you can personally maintain without going through severe withdrawals.

We're looking forward to seeing what the crowdsourced experience of Agile, Scrum, Lean, Theory of Constraints, and Systems Thinking practitioners can accomplish.

And we'd enjoy seeing your pledge on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.), so please include the hashtag #AdoptACalifornian.  Here's a sample:

I'm addicted to dairy.  I drink about 1/2 gallon of nonfat milk a day.  Yeah.  Addicted.  I'm going to try to replace some of that with plain water, and homemade rice milk (not almond, not soy). Hopefully, that's the optimal way to obtain water for my metabolism without wasting water systemically.  (Let me know if you know otherwise.)  So that's my #AdoptACalifornian pledge for all my Bay Area neighbors.