February 2007

As wary as I am of any move to restrict border crossings because of the often racist motivations behind those restrictions, this is problematic. As part of NAFTA, we agreed to allow Mexican trucks full access to our roads, and we’re finally being forced to give it a try. There’s two main problems with this: 1) safety concerns because there are no restrictions on the number of hours Mexican truck drivers can work (and driver fatigue is a major cause of road accidents), and 2) pollution concerns, because of higher levels of sulfur in the diesel south of the border and trucks that aren’t held to U.S. emissions standards (much less California standards).

The article notes that there is a California law requiring that Mexican trucks meet U.S. emissions standards, but “It remains unclear, state environmental officials said, what that law will mean for the new pilot program.” In other words, NAFTA’s Chapter 11 provision means that Mexican trucking companies could sue California or the U.S. for environmental regulations that cost them money. So, in other words, all of the gains that California has achieved in improving air quality over the last few decades are about to go out the window in the name of global trade.

So, it looks like SoCal is on its way to the driest winter ever, based on the current rainfall totals. Yet another example of the Mediterranean climate; after nearly breaking the record for the most rain in a winter a couple of years ago, now they’re on their way to breaking the record in the other direction. Gotta love that “average” rainfall.

Of course, this winter might just be a taste of things to come, as climatologists think we’ve been in an unusually wet period over the last century or so. As global weather patterns shift, SoCal could be looking at a lot less moisture, so that the small water districts that are able to use groundwater and snowmelt are going to have to rely on outside sources like the Colorado River or the L.A. Aqueduct, putting a tighter and tighter squeeze on those sources.

Makes me glad I’m probably moving back to the Midwest this year…

I’m sure I’ll come back to this topic many times, since I’m a) from Chicago originally and b) interested in the Olympics from a professional POV, but right now I wanted to get this on the record before I forget:

How much do you want to bet that Mayor Daley shut down Meigs Field in 2003 so he could use Northerly Island as part of an Olympic bid?

“Geography matters!” says the New York Times. Or, more grandiosely, “When It Comes to Innovation, Geography is Destiny.” Now, “geography as destiny” generally makes geographers twitch; too many shades of the racist environmental determinism that marred the discipline in the early Twentieth Century, too many shades of the ancient Greeks decreeing that dark-skinned people were lazy because of their climate and blond-haired, blue-eyed people were too hard-working because of their climate and that people born around the Mediterranean, like the baby bear, were just right. (This is also why a lot of geographers disapprove of Jared Diamond’s work, but that’s best saved for another post.)

So, geography as destiny. The reporter did interview Anna Saxenian, author of one of the classic studies on Route 128 and Silicon Valley that is cited in pretty much every paper about the clustering of high-tech economic activity. But they missed Ann Markusen, who has pointed out that Silicon Valley is not the example of pure innovation and market-driven ideas that everyone thinks it is. Silicon Valley is where it is and is as successful as it is because of the subsidies provided by the U.S. government via military contracts. Lots and lots of them. Markusen’s Gunbelt follows a path from the Bay Area around through the Southwest and South, home to not just a lot of military bases, but a lot of high-tech innovation centers that were originally funded by the military.

Geography: what is where, why is it there, and why should I care?