This changes everything
By Linda Hale, Valley of the Moon Alliance
I woke up one morning to a national news alert. There was flooding in Fernley, Nevada, which was a geological impossibility. Fernley sits on a plateau at the edge of an ancient dry seabed. In other words, it’s currently in the middle of a desert. Their local levee had partially collapsed and housing tracts near it were flooded. Our friends who had left Sonoma Valley for Fernley were safe, but it made me think of the power of water and geological change over time. Fernley sits in the Great Basin, which starts at the Rocky Mountains and ends in the foothills of our Eastern Sierras. For tens of thousands of years it was a drainage plain filled with large lakes that occasionally flooded, their waters flowing all the way to the Great Salt Lake in Utah.
Change is a constant that has shaped human existence. Climate change, specifically global warming, is what’s in the national news today. And folks have finally come to agree that humans are accelerating this warming and contributing to changing weather patterns. The U.S. is experiencing unusual weather patterns that have caused flooding in Houston and drought in California. Environmental scientists have been sounding the alarm, but we really haven’t made the leap we need to make: the connection between economics and the environment. Partially (and politically) it’s because important studies have been filed in government archives without any action. But mainly it’s because in traditional economics, natural resources were considered raw materials that needed to be harvested by entrepreneurs. Our destiny was to manifest progress and wealth. Things have changed.
Sir Nicholas Stern, Head of the U.K. Government Economic Service, has written a book titled The Economics of Climate Change. An editor at Vanity Fair magazine offered the following review: “National wealth, it turns out, will begin to disappear along with the countless species that aren’t adjusting fast enough to the changing environment. Stern’s report warns in economic terms that humanity might be one of those species ... Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank, approached the scientific evidence with a fresh eye and rapidly became convinced that if we act now we can avoid the very worst ... [His] message succeeds because he appeals not to sentiment, nor even to environmental responsibility, but to the naked self-interest of capitalism.” (Vanity Fair, The Green Issue, May 2007). In the interest of full disclosure, this issue of Vanity Fair was printed on glossy, non-recycled paper with high fashion layouts. And Mother Jones magazine did an estimate of the carbon dioxide emissions added to our carbon load from flying two planes with Leonardo DiCaprio, Annie Lebovitz, and entourage to cover the photo shoot in Iceland and it wasn’t pretty.
So let’s get real: we need to start comparing the costs and benefits of moving forward with practical solutions. And we can start in our own back yard. For $12 per household per year we can see the benefits of protecting our own tidal basin, the San Francisco Bay. Species like salmon and smelt are on the endangered list and state Measure AA could leverage more state and federal funds for the San Francisco Bay which now receives much less federal support for water quality improvement and restoration work than other major watersheds, according to People for a Clean and Healthy Bay. This would help restore thousands of acres of tidal marsh, accelerate projects that protect shoreline communities and infrastructure, and improve public access to trails and recreation.
Economically, passing Measure AA is a win-win: The Bay supports commercial fishing, attracts visitors, and encourages quality employers to relocate to the region. All of these smart moves have economic benefits. And I would not like to wake up to flooding should our Bay Area levees and wetlands not be ready to contain the rising tides of global warming.
Stay tuned for upcoming VOTMA columns about water and a local showing of the award-winning movie The Russian River: All Rivers. Let’s take a realistic look at the future of water together.