All posts by elias

In case you were wondering…

With recent events in Oregon once again giving us a reason to contemplate American Exceptionalism, I’ve found myself involved in some discussions where the question “Why can other developed nations control the public health threat posed by gun violence when the USA cannot?”

Two answers I’ve recently heard proposed to this question were as follows. A) The United States is too racially/ethnically/culturally diverse to be able to control gun-related violence; and B) Other developed nations, by controlling gun access and availability, have merely shunted the inevitable violence and murder to other means.

As a response to the first assertion (putting aside the implications of horrific intolerance, which I don’t accept as an inevitable consequence of living in a racially, ethnically, or culturally heterogeneous society), I’ve plotted gun-related homicides vs ethnic fractionalization and cultural diversity indices (two different metrics of diversity), for nations with a “very high” Human Development Index. It turns out that while the USA is more diverse than average by either measure, it is certainly not the most diverse of the highly developed nations – but as one might expect, this nation is a very high outlier in terms of gun-related murders. Incidentally, although the available data are a very poor fit (r2 <0.1), there is some indication of a positive correlation between diversity and gun violence - but if we did take that weak relationship as valid, the USA still comes out with far more gun deaths than we'd expect based on diversity. SO THAT CONJECTURE IS RIGHT OUT. Gun Homicide vs Diversity

The second claim is interesting to me because it dovetails so neatly with a couple of related firearm industry propaganda factoids: 1), that the presence of guns can actually reduce deaths from violent crime; and 2) that guns are irrelevant to murder because “killers gonna kill”. Plotting deaths from violent crime of any kind (not just gun related) against gun ownership rates for the very high HDI nations, we find once again that the United States is indeed quite exceptional, and that the above two conjectures are not supported by publicly available data.

Gun Ownership vs Violent Crime

Of course this is all pretty much off teh cuff, so if anyone has better data or a better analysis I’d love to see it.

Data sources:

Life Cycle Assessment of California Almond Production

Very pleased to announce the open-access publication of the first two chapters of my dissertation in Yale University’s Journal of Industrial Ecology, here and here.

In other news, our earlier work has been cited in an op-ed highlighting the potential climate benefits of perennial crop production in California, a facet of the climate-water-agriculture nexus that is too often passed over in favor of water consumption histrionics (Mother Jones, looking in your direction…. just saying…).

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Although the overall gist of the article is correct, the values he cites are based on an earlier white paper and do not represent our most up-to-date findings. New sh*t has come to light, man, which supersedes the work mentioned in this article – which hopefully will be updated soon.

ISIE at University of Surrey, Guildford UK


Enjoying the 2015 conference for the International Society for Industrial Ecology here in Guildford, UK. Presenting the poster this afternoon, and looking forward to the food systems sessions tomorrow. Not to mention the gala dinner tonight. Pictures soon.

UPDATE: Actually forgot I never registered for gala dinner. Good thing though, we had an excellent evening on the town. Call-out for The Drummond, excellent local gastro-pub which became our evening home base for most of the week and was kind enough to reprint my receipts at the end of the night.

cathedral group shot guildford

Almond Field Day

April 9th – Down outside of Fresno to give a semi-formal talk for the Sustainable Cotton Project’s Almond Field Day. Touched the basics of agricultural LCA and some carbon footprint results for almond and other major energy crops. See the videos here or here. Thanks to Marcia Gibbs and Jenny MacDonald for making this opportunity available!

There was a lot of interest from growers about the recent media frenzy surrounding almond water use – we discussed the LCA implications and important points about the return on water use for perennial crop production.

Take home: we need to carefully consider what we (the good people of California, the grower, and the fruit and nut consumer) are getting for every gallon of water used – including land use benefits from carbon storage, biomass coproduct production, and biodiversity, and what alternate land uses might be expected in the absence of perennial cropping; where the water is coming from and being used and what is its ultimate fate (return to water cycle in CA vs export); and what are appropriate agricultural products for comparison.

Without examining the complete picture, metrics can be chosen arbitrarily for use as propaganda (for example, almonds use a gallon per nut! Shocking!) and as such do more to obfuscate than to inform. And of course, this is where LCA can step in and save the day.