“Fixtures for sale today.”
– Sign in Healdsburg store window.
A tough week, wasn’t it?
The national economy continued to spiral down, taking jobs and consumer confidence with it. All of a sudden, financial experts were talking about nationalizing the banks. (Who would have predicted that three months ago?)
The embarrassment that we call state government continued to implode – with devastating consequences for education, social services, public works projects and home-state pride. IOUs come next.
And a newspaper photo of Lake Mendocino, looking like a small pond in the middle of a large desert, testified to the coming drought emergency. Of course, it may not be a short-term emergency at all. It may be the state of our world as climate change creates new weather patterns. An international panel of scientists last week warned of withering drought and rising sea levels without new curbs on carbon dioxide emissions.
After we unfold ourselves from the fetal position, we are left to ask: What are people supposed to do about all this gloomy news?
For what they’re worth, here are my four suggestions for getting Sonoma County through the tough times:
-Get back to basics.
For a long time, we embraced every seemingly good idea that came our way – as if we could afford to do them all. Now, it’s time to recognize we’re not as wealthy as we pretended to be.
When we have money to build a tunnel that carries salamanders from one side of Stony Point Road to the other, but we don’t have money for children’s health care, or for making sure school kids have books and computers, something is out of whack.
Starting now, we need to identify what is important. We need to promote education and jobs. We need to admit to financial commitments we can’t afford. We need to figure out how to do things better and cheaper. And we need to come down to earth.
-Embrace efforts to re-invent government.
On Thursday, a survey from the Public Policy Institute of California pegged the state Legislature’s approval rating as 21 percent. By way of comparison, when President George W. Bush left office in January, his approval rating was 22 percent. It isn’t easy becoming less popular than George Bush, but the state Legislature managed.
In the last decade, Californians have learned the hard way that their current political leadership is, well, hopeless. It’s time to create a new system of governance that can respond to the state’s most basic needs – and not just the demands of selfish interests.
Fortunately, the idea of a state constitutional convention is gaining momentum. Since government has demonstrated that it won’t change, Californians will have to take back their government, probably through a ballot initiative that contains key reforms.
-Resolve to do more about the threats posed by climate change.
In Sonoma County, we view ourselves to be pioneers in the effort to curb global warming. We promise to cut carbon emissions, we insist that the federal government do more, and we congratulate ourselves for our good intentions. But words and deeds are not the same thing.
The coming drought provides the immediate motivation, but we hardly needed it. U.S. military policy is in shambles because of the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. The economy is sinking under the weight of energy costs and the associated debt. And the last time I looked, this was the only planet we’ve got.
Talk to local politicians about ways to limit water consumption for, say, landscaping, and you’ll get blank stares that say: Oh, that would be too hard. But the dialogue is about to change. Unless it rains buckets and soon, water rationing will be mandatory come summertime.
We also need to incorporate climate change into other political decisions. I have no idea whether a controversial asphalt plant in Petaluma is a good idea or a bad idea, but I do know that Petaluma, recently called the pothole capital of the Bay Area, uses asphalt.
If the asphalt to fill Petaluma’s potholes must be hauled long distances in trucks spewing more carbon into the atmosphere, that needs to be counted as part of Petaluma’s contribution to global warming. (But don’t forget that the garbage from your hometown is now trucked to a distant landfill – which means all of us have added to the supply of greenhouse gases as well.)
-Resolve to look out for each other.
Economists don’t talk a lot about compassion and generosity, but what could be more important right now than supporting local businesses, making an extra gift to your favorite non-profit, volunteering in a program that helps workers find new jobs, or just letting your neighbors know that you will be there for them? To do these things, we don’t have to wait for the economy to right itself.
In a frenzy of greed and debt, we’ve made a mess of things. We could wish for do-overs, but it won’t help.
Beginning now, we begin to manage the consequences. Beginning now, we learn what it means to sacrifice and to be patient in the face of adversity.