Many journalists are beginning to talk about the end of California, about how California was before the days of devastating firestorms that destroyed whole forests, towns and thousands of homes all in a few hours.
When I was a kid in the early 1950’s my Dad, who was a college teacher, would often schedule a summer course for himself somewhere in California. The rest of the family would camp on a nearby beach and play in the surf until Dad’s course was over. Then we would usually spend a month touring the California coast, camping in wonderful state campgrounds along the way. Often Oregon and Washington was included in this odyssey.
One year Dad had a course in UCLA and we camped on some great beach nearby. At the time, Dad’s youngest sister was an undergraduate at the University. She was probably about 20 and I must have been ten or twelve. I thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world, and maybe she was.
Those summer days of my childhood in California still remain my memories of the pristine California that once existed, at least in my imagination. For me this was the golden state of amber hills rolling up to distant blue peaks, flowers everywhere, the swallows of Capistrano, and endless days on sun drenched beaches with booming surf and green- blue seas all the way to Hawaii.
I know this is pretty romantic and unrealistic, but still California in the early 1950’s did feel something like this.
But after the recent years of fires all over California that dream has pretty much died for me.
In the New York Times this morning, Farhad Manjoo published an article called “It’s the End of California as We Know It.”
Manjoo started out as the tech writer in the Times. He wrote about the best new cell phones and why one iPad was better than another. But in the last five years or so he has been morphing into the lyrical, philosopher of the new digital age. Lately his articles have been about the horrors of Facebook and whether greed in Silicon Valley can coexist with maybe some value to society. And his answers have gradually become louder and louder NO’s.
Instead of the part time childhood I had in California, Manjoo’s was full-time . He says, “I have lived nearly all my life in California, and my love for this place and its people runs deep and true .”
Until recently that is. Majoo says that lately things have turned a little sour. And for the rest of the article he extrapolates this into an essay on the problems California has always had. Problems that have been under the surface for years.
It isn’t just the fires he says. ” We’ve got the wrong design, we bet on the wrong technologies, we’ve got the wrong incentives, and we’re saddled with the wrong culture. The founding idea of this place is infinitude — mile after endless mile of cute houses connected by freeways and uninsulated power lines stretching out far into the forested hills. Our whole way of life is built on a series of myths — the myth of endless space, endless fuel, endless water, endless optimism, endless outward reach and endless free parking. “
Manjoo goes on to say that the solutions to California’s problems are actually pretty obvious. We need a whole new kind of culture.
He says that:
“All of our instincts seem to make things worse. Our de facto solution to housing affordability has been forcing people to move farther and farther away from cities, so they commute longer, make traffic worse and increase the population of fire-prone areas.”
“We ‘solved’ the problem of poor urban transportation by inviting private companies like Uber and Lyft to take over our roads. To keep the fires at bay, we are now employing the oldest I.T. hack in the book: turning the power off and then turning it back on again. Meanwhile, the rich are getting by: When the fires come, they hire their own firefighters. (Their gardeners and housekeepers still had to go to work, though.)”
He goes on to say that the solutions are obvious but we don’t seem to want them. To fix the housing problem we need to live more densely, like in small apartments in taller buildings that use up far less natural resources. We have to stop moving further and further from cities into pristine pine forests. We need to ditch our cars and the use the high speed commuter technology that we know works very well and very efficiently. We need to give up on the endless suburban tracts of super expensive houses, each with its own swimming pool, huge backyard and cinema sized TV.
Unfortunately no one really wants to do this Manjoo says:
“But who wants to do all this? Not the people of this state. Sure, we’ll ban plastic bags and try to increase gas-mileage standards (until the federal government tries to stops us, which of course it can, because our 40 million people get the same voting power in the Senate as Wyoming’s 600,000).”
“But the big things still seem impossible here. In a state where 40 years ago, homeowners passed a constitutional amendment enshrining their demands for low property taxes forever, where every initiative at increasing density still seems to fail, where vital resources like electricity are managed by unscrupulous corporations and where cars are still far and away the most beloved way to get around, it’s hard to imagine systemic change happening anytime soon.”
“And so we muddle on toward the end. All the leaves are burned and the sky is gray. California, as it’s currently designed, will not survive the coming climate. Either we alter how we live here, or many of us won’t live here anymore.”
Manjoo says that he has always kind of felt like this. But in the past it was easy to forget all these problems living just under the surface of sunny, golden California.
This time, he says it’s different. This apocalypse feels deeper and more real. It feels like this time things are happening on the more fundamental levels of climate and geography. This time around it does feel like the end of California for real.
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