Saturday, January 16, 2016

The California Goal - Us Four And No More

Subtitle: California Dreamers Need A Lesson In Reality

This post is about the long-term goals in California, as a state, as an economic entity, and the public policies (official, and unwritten) that are or will be implemented to achieve those goals.  The opinions here are mine, but the facts are publicly available.  

In short, California has zero appetite for growth, not population growth, nor economic growth.   The title block, "Us Four And No More" refers to my slogan for this phenomenon, but it is adapted from usage long ago.   Each of the "Four" in the California slogan refers to 4 million population, so "Us Four" is then 16 million population.   A quick look at the population history shows that 16 million is almost exactly the California population in 1960.  

Year      Population, millions

1950       10.5
1960       15.7
1970       19.9
1980       23.7
2015       39.1 (estimated)

The California of 1960 is spoken of wistfully by many people, how it was unspoiled, uncrowded, air was clean, water was plentiful, it was an ideal place by many accounts.   Of course, many of the state highways and interstates were not built then (the first interstate highways began construction in the late 1950s). 

In sharp contrast to today, where the population is straining 40 million, air is polluted, freeways are jammed, parking is impossible to find, housing is outrageously expensive, rents are also very high, jobs are scarce, companies are moving away instead of into California, liberal or progressive views dominate every election and almost every elected seat, water is in chronic shortage, crime is bad and getting worse, racial tensions are high and grow worse with each year, illegal immigration is a big and growing problem, schools are scary places for students to attend and little is learned in them, unemployment is high, taxes are high, in short, there is very little to like about modern California.    

Modern California also imports many things that formerly were made in-state, this list includes automobiles, airplanes, oil for refineries, natural gas for all its uses including power generation and heating fuel, even water is imported from the Colorado River.    Importing Colorado River water is perhaps not a fair criticism since the river does border part of California.  However, it is a fact that automobiles are no longer made in California, unless one counts the few electric cars made by Tesla and perhaps a few other small players.   Airplanes were built here once, but no more.  Oil is and has been for many years imported via tanker ships into the state's refineries, although some oil is also produced in-state.  Natural gas is also imported via pipeline, but again a bit of natural gas is produced in-state. 

What the state seems to have in abundance is food.  California has great amounts of farmland, dairies, and beef cattle production.  However, the agriculture is heavily dependent on water availability.  

One can observe the state's long-term intentions of zero growth, or negative growth (back to the Us Four And No More - 16 million population) by simply observing a few basic infrastructure issues.  First, is water.  

Water in California is a perennial topic due to frequent shortages, droughts, and woefully inadequate storage.  In a state with adequate rain and snow, plus a huge and extensive mountain range with hundreds of valleys, one might expect that water storage would not be an issue.  Yet, it is.  The explanation is that state officials may say one or various things, but the reality is that no more storage is being provided.  Instead, state officials insist that citizens must conserve, use less.  There are now fines and penalties if one does not conserve enough water.    It is notable that the state has a token budget for modifying or expanding the water storage, but even the popular Governor Schwarzenegger could not obtain legislative approval for a new major dam and lake.   In my view, it is never going to happen.   More water means more population, and that simply cannot be tolerated by those who run the state. 

State water managers also make the problem worse by wasting perfectly good water, letting the few storage lakes that exist send precious water down the rivers and into the ocean.  This is done, they claim, to provide adequate room in the storage reservoirs for the Spring snow melt and runoff.   The storage lakes perform double-duty in California, as is the case in many other states: the lakes mitigate or prevent catastrophic flooding, and they provide water year-round.   Many of the lakes also have a third purpose, they generate electricity as the water flows through hydraulic turbines.  (update: note that it is also nearly impossible, and quite time-consuming, to obtain all the permits required to desalinate seawater to provide fresh water to California.)

The next issue is transportation fuels.   The California utopia as seen by the Us Four And No More includes no gasoline cars, instead there will be only electric cars.  They also (not being engineers nor physics majors) intend to ban diesel fuel also.  No word yet on a ban on jet fuel.   With the universities having at least a few professors who understand such basics, it is a wonder that someone has not spoken out and explained that electric-powered trucks simply cannot transport the goods without rapidly draining the batteries.  It is also fairly difficult to imagine how jet airplanes will obtain enough power at sufficiently low weight to take off and fly, absent using jet fuel.  (update 1/13/2018:  Tesla has announced in late 2017 a fully-electric, battery-powered heavy truck for production in 2019 or 2020.   Time will tell if this is an economic choice for trucking companies; see link- end update).  

It is true that the ports in Los Angeles now have some electric-battery powered drayage trucks.   These exist only due to government mandates, not an economic improvement over existing diesel-powered trucks.   It is also true that a battery and solar-cell powered airplane flew in a much publicized trip last year, however, it failed in the round-the-world journey and stopped, exhausted and broken, in Hawaii.  

It seems that the California dreamers equate these things to events in the previous centuries, where if we can just prove it works, the thing will become commonplace.   The Wright brothers and the first airplane flight led to our aviation industry, they point out.   What is apparently lost on these dreamers is that a huge airplane, powered by batteries and solar cells, was able to barely keep itself aloft with one person, the pilot.   Filling a plane like that with 100 people as passengers, and the food and drink they will expect, and a bathroom, and soft chairs with cushioned seats, and various electronics to entertain them in the air, plus any luggage they will insist on bringing along, is simply out of the question for electric powered flight.   Any competent engineer or physics major can and should explain this to the California dreamers. 

Now, to the heavy industries and especially the oil refineries in California.   The dreamers want those shut down and permanently gone.  The goal is, as stated above, only electric vehicles.  One supposes that the state tax revenue that presently flows into the treasury from gasoline taxes will no longer be needed.  It is also somewhat unclear where the lubricating oils and greases will be manufactured to keep the electric vehicles operating and the wheels spinning.     More than this, it is certainly not clear how any construction work will be done, or maintenance of existing infrastructure, without diesel-powered heavy equipment such as cranes, bulldozers, and motor graders.  

Recently, I posted an article on SLB about the ExxonMobil refinery explosion in Torrance in February, 2015  see link.   One of the outcomes of investigations into that explosion is an increased call with greater fervor for yet more regulations on oil refineries.   There was an earlier fire in the Chevron refinery at Richmond, in the San Francisco Bay Area.   With their zealous desire to get rid of oil refineries, the legislature now is considering more stifling regulations (see link to Interagency Refinery Task Force, led by the California Department of Industrial Relations. )

There are of course other regulations in place in California, including climate-change prevention rules under California law AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.  These regulations also impact refineries in a negative manner, but refineries are not alone.  Cement plants, that provide the binder for making concrete used in construction, are also impacted. 

UPDATE 1:   Other future industries in California will include the shipping ports with their unloading and transporting containers across the country.  However, even there the Us Four And No More club made a valiant effort to shut down the ports: they required massive upgrades to the facilities, and forced visiting ships to use a lower-sulfur fuel.  The result, predictably, is a huge and modern port is now under construction in Mexico, where rail will take the containers full of cargo and send them north into the US.  

Airports will also likely continue, because all but the largest aircraft cannot fly much farther than the West Coast when making the trans-Pacific routes from Asia.    However, if and when technological improvements give aircraft longer range, it is already anticipated that many flights will fly over California on their way to destinations such as Dallas, Houston, Denver, and Chicago.   Such improvements already exist with the lighter construction, greater fuel efficiency and longer range as demonstrated by the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Finally, clean industries such as computer technology from Silicon Valley, and the entertainment industries such as tv and film will continue.    

-- End update 1. 


The California dreamers in the Us Four And No More club have a dream: 16 million people, zero industry, and only tourism to bring in money.  Apparently, they think that California is actually Hawaii-East, and tourists will flock to the coastal areas, spend their money and live it up.   Having lived here for 30 years and seen this all at work first-hand, it is now obvious how the game is played and what the end result is.    

It is of course an impossible dream, but the California dreamers have never let that give them pause.   

UPDATE 2: 1-17-2016 -  A bit more on the water issues in California.  Knowing that fresh water is a critical prerequisite to increased population, a state has only a very few choices.  

One, each person and business can consume less water, i.e. conservation.   This is what California has now mandated.  

Two, the state can manage its existing water supplies better, i.e. send less down the rivers into the oceans where it becomes unfit to drink (even for California elites).  This is what California refuses to do, manage the existing resources better.   As stated above, the locations exist for future dams and reservoirs but California refuses to build those. 

Three, the state can obtain additional water supplies from outside the state.  This also is what California refuses to do, with the minor and token exception of one or two very small seawater desalination plants.   Many opportunities exist to import fresh water, including my own idea of NEWTAP, as described here on SLB a few years ago.  see link.   Essentially, a canal or pipeline would be established from the Missouri River to northern New Mexico, where gravity would bring the water through existing rivers into the Colorado River for storage in the existing Lake Mead and Lake Powell.    There are other ways to import water, some are easier to accomplish than others; a pipeline from Canadian rivers to Los Angeles is one idea.  

Four, the state can recycle waste water back into clean water, i.e. treat the effluent water from wastewater treatment plants until it is sufficiently clean for human consumption.  This is another of the things California does.  One can only hope that not too many people become sick or die from drinking improperly purified water from the wastewater treatment plants.   

--  end update 2

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved. 

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