If You Give Them a Job, They’ll Find Something to Do

After years of working as an economist, seeking “Lima’s Lemma” I’ve finally found it.

Lima’s Lemma: Adding a natural disaster to the title of any bureaucrat makes the disaster permanent.

Case in point: Despite full reservoirs and an overall pretty good water situation, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has declared that water shortage pricing is in effect for the summer of 2010.  Their Drought Emergency Coordinator undoubtedly had significant input into this decision.

A more recent example: Sunday (August 23) we discovered two things.  First, the temperature Monday and Tuesday would be above 90 degrees for the first time since June 27 (92 degrees, matched on June 12).  Second, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District declared that Monday would be the first “spare the air” day of this summer.

For those living in areas with somewhat sane governments, let me explain what this means.  On spare the air days, residents of the greater San Francisco -San Jose – Oakland SMSA are supposed to cut down on our driving, avoid using lawn mowers, and not do any charcoal grilling.  Oh, yes, no fires in fireplaces either (although that probably isn’t an issue this time around).  The idea is to reduce smog.  Not our smog.  The Bay Area is blessed with coastal winds that export our smog to the Central Valley and points east.  Nevertheless, as good neighbors, we try to comply.

But not this time.  We routinely take a 4 mile hike that reaches an altitude of about 900 feet.  Here’s what we saw about noon Monday:

View north to San Francisco
The view north from 900 feet up August 23, 2010

Looks pretty clear from 900 feet.  In fact, this is as good as we’ve seen the view since the storms in January!

Taking the same hike August 24, we saw this:

The view north August 24.
The same view August 24.

Spare the air?  Looks to me like the folks at BAAQMD needed something to make their jobs worthwhile.  (If you’re wondering about the haze, it’s the normal Bay Area fog.)

Conclusion

Lima’s Lemma is declared proved for these two cases.  Readers are invited to submit their own examples.

But remember — without people none of these problems would exist!

Population growth

Even economists have come around to the idea that high rates of population growth can inhibit economic development.  Dr. Larry Summers of Harvard has estimated that the rate of return to educating a woman in a less-developed country is 26%.  A large part of that return is caused by education deferring the age at which a woman has her first child.  Thus lower population growth is a result of educating women and allowing them to fully participate in society.

But there’s more.  People emit greenhouse gases.  According to another blog, an average human emits about 0.9 kg of CO2 per day. 0.9 kg per person x 365.25 days per year x 6.6 billion people = 2,169,585,000,000 kg per year.  For non-metric speakers, that’s 493,087,500 English tons of CO2 per year.  According to the previously-cited blog that’s about ten percent of annual CO2 emissions.

The conclusion is clear.  People cause global warming.  The obvious solution is fewer people.