August 24, 2014

COMING TO YOUR DINNER TABLE: California’s Drought.

That does not mean that California will become an uninhabited desert, scattered with wind-scoured ruins providing a silent and reproachful testimony to Man’s hubris. California has enough water to support quite a lot of population growth — if it cuts out a lot of that agriculture. It may even be able to support most of the agriculture — if people start leaving. The problem is, it may not be able to manage both unless the rains return or it finds some clever way to reclaim low-cost potable water from the sea.

In a worst-case scenario, my money is on agriculture losing out; its lobbyists are motivated, but they’re simply outnumbered by all the city dwellers. So it’s worth contemplating what a dramatic scale-back in California’s agricultural production would do to California — and the rest of us. . . .

If California’s agriculture has to scale back, the first and most obvious effect is that the quality of food would decline to something closer to, though still at least somewhat better than, what you get in a major urban area in the Mid-Atlantic states. The second and almost as obvious effect would be on the rest of us: Much of the produce in your supermarket would become dramatically more expensive, especially in the winter. The Midwest could basically take over the job in the summer, and imports from South America could probably make up some of the remaining difference, but most of us would be relying a lot more on frozen fruit and vegetables, and a lot less on fresh.

That’s not all bad — I actually prefer frozen fruit for cooking, because it’s picked and frozen ripe, rather than picked green and rotten by the time it hits store shelves. But it would be a massive change in how many of us cook. It would also widen the divide between how the upper middle class and beyond eat, and how the rest of the country does.

Widening the gap between the upper-middle classes and beyond, and the hoi polloi, is one of the main functions of environmental and land-use rules.