Craving a dose of reality

I left the City Council candidate’s forum at Andrews Hall last week feeling uncomfortable. It’s not that the candidates did not conduct themselves well or acted inappropriately; to the contrary, as a group they were polite, friendly, good-natured, well-spoken and heartfelt. Yet, as I walked home, the entire event assumed an air of unreality; given what’s going on in the world and our community, it just did not feel real. The evening was very nice–too nice, perhaps. The questions were unsurprising and the sixty-second answers non-controversial. Taken at face value, one would assume all is well. Yet, all is not well.

This past week the United Nations released a report on climate change and global warming that indicates unless drastic measures are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by 2040 our planet will suffer suffocating heat and tidal disruption affecting hundreds of millions of people. In Washington, DC, Republicans are complicit in the egregious undermining of American democracy, led by a bullying President on the verge of inciting mob violence against his perceived enemies. Capitalism has run amok: wealth inequality at levels never seen before, basic safety net programs abandoned, essential drug prices and basic medical care costs soaring out of reach. And yet, our nice candidates’ forum did little to disturb romantic assumptions about the positive future of our semi-rural community, as if this place we inhabit is an island cut off from the world.

If there was a theme for the evening, it was “More.” “More” diversification of our local economy, “more” housing, “more” tax money, “more” parking, “more” tourists. All this “more” talk ignored that, if anything, our world needs to begin planning for “less.” Assuming life-as-we-know-it will continue ad infinitum into the future sounds nice, but it’s not the full story, and I crave honest conversation about the truth of our situation. We will not make things better by simply thinking in terms of “more.” To the contrary, our addiction to “more” is exactly what has gotten us and the world into this terrible mess.

When asked about environmental impact reduction, for example, the candidate response was to create more local affordable housing to reduce commuting. Some mentioned bicycles. Both of these ideas are sensible 20th century solutions still looking for acceptance. Increasing reliance on local, sustainable agriculture (home gardens, for example), was not mentioned. Neither was city-wide free internet service to bolster at-home work and reduce commuting. Ending subsidies for the tourist industry and putting that money into local-serving infrastructure like homeowner solar panels or financial incentives for switching from gas to electric vehicles was not offered. Overall, the idea of making do with “less” rather than thinking in terms of “more” seemed forgotten.

As long as this Valley continues to plan using “more”-based paradigms of the past we won’t succeed and we won’t have any lessons to offer others except the record of our mistakes. And globally, if we are not prepared to shift our thinking–and fast–the community and world we’ll leave to our children and grandchildren will be neither nice nor pretty.

If we choose to live in the land of make-believe, we’re in for a rude awakening. We live in perilous times, and such times call for serious planning by serious people and promptly implementing serious solutions.

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