Grey infrastructure drains jobs, energy and water: a new tragedy of the commons

Desalination plantTwo weeks ago, at a conference panel on water policy issues and green jobs, an engineer consultant explained why major water agencies are slow to change and don't adopt new technologies readily.

They need to ensure reliable service, and therefore they default to mega-systems: dams, canals, large treatment plants. Most importantly, he said, "We don't want anybody to get hurt."

We can all support agencies' efforts to protect the health of their consumers, but this "no-one-gets-hurt" stance doesn't take into account the hurt that falls on people outside the agency's purview. If we click back to look at the big picture, we see that the policies, actions, costs and impacts of agencies acting within their limited jurisdiction - or "silo," in management parlance - does harm people, although that harm may not be visible.

But who are these people who are getting hurt without being seen? Who are these invisible victims?

Green jobs are red, white and blue

Chart of $ relation to jobs for green industriesThis past March President Obama signed a jobs bill, noting "there's a lot more we need to do."

Multiple wins if Mayor Villaraigosa succeeds with accelerated transit plan

A train stopping at a station well-planted with treesA shout out to LA Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa for carrying a visionary plan to Washington DC this week that could jumpstart LA's economy while accelerating our sustainability.

He's traveled to Congress to gather support for his "30-10" plan to accelerate construction of the 12 mass transit projects funded by LA's voter-approved Measure R. This measure was passed in 2008 to increase sales tax by a half cent over the next 30 years to build an electric rail system in our traffic-gridlocked city.

The Mayor's request to Washington: give us (federal deficit-neutral) loans to get all 12 projects built in 10 years, instead of 30.

Coordinating our emergency response to the economy and the environment

Los Angeles' economy and ecosystem are in pieces: we need to start connecting the dots, and quickly. Today's combined crises in climate, drought, and economy call for us to urgently recognize the true emergency we are in.

One solution is to look to a rarely used government structure that could be updated and expanded to address our current state of threat.

LA's new Emergency Operations CenterIn the case of a "significant crisis" the heads of agencies - police, fire, sanitation, building and safety, water and power, etc. - are called into an Emergency Operations Center. There they literally look at the big picture, supported by information and intelligence from multiple sources. Together they craft solutions and pool and direct public resources - people, equipment, and funds - in real time, until the crisis is solved.

The city of Los Angeles happens to have a brand-new such center, completed last year. Most of the time it sits unused, perhaps because we don't recognize that we're in the midst of a "chronic emergency."

But it's pretty easy to argue that today's situation - in the economy and the environment - represents a chronic emergency as well as a significant crisis.  Consider:
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