It’s a Very Wicked problem. Have we said that here already? It’s worth repeating. According to the scholars from the Environmental Humanities Working Group at Stony Brook University, climate change is a “wicked problem” because
It avoids straightforward articulation and is impossible to solve in a way that is simple or final. Our changing conversations around climate science and conservation, the unique regional factors that determine the local consequences of climate change, and our ability to present endless possible solutions (as well as the irreversibility of these solutions) require we approach climate change with holistic and collaborative reasoning in search of long-term, future-focused solutions.
Sonoma County, prompted by public and city declarations of a “climate emergency”, was stirred to accept the reality. It set itself the very ambitious goal – especially for a region reliant on cars and dependent on tourism – of zero emissions by 2030, ahead of the federal effort and probably most counties, cities and states. No small task. After all, managing a county involves transportation, buildings, housing, land management, water and its infrastructure, electricity, natural disasters, health, local roads, local schools, etc. These all have separate agencies and separate budgets. And they all have to change.
But how do we handle it? The problems just keep on coming. Now add water shortage and drought. And a nine-month fire season, with our first Red Flag Alert on Mother’s Day weekend. Gee, thanks. ‘Course it’s only in Napa… the alert, that is. An actual fire might easily transgress that artificial construct of county boundaries.
We’re still dealing with the pandemic! Now the mental health impacts are rolling in – and the shortage of adequate services. As an older adult living alone, I was too preoccupied with loneliness to consider what it was like to be housebound with kids who were supposed to be sitting transfixed by boring lessons at the computer and not leaping about or swinging from rafters while you tried to adhere to the usual nine-to-five. Yikes. If there were holes in your co-parenting arrangements, they were surely about to implode during a year in sequestration. But how would I know? I would have loved to help out, but I couldn’t even visit.
Sequestration. It’s the theme of the time, it occurs to me just now, staring at the word as the letters pop up on my screen. Unpleasant but necessary during a highly contagious pandemic. But in climate change, an unparalleled solution! How can we assure busy folks finally released from recent lockdowns to suddenly become passionate about the benefits of sequestration?
Yet sequestration is the most elegant solution for a world choking on carbon. The plants do all the work, making sugars from soot and miraculously exuding Blessed Oxygen to recharge our lungs while producing FOOD! Can you really make a better machine than that, Mr. Gates? Oooh, don’t get me started on all the inelegant hi-tech solutions being considered now. Why, given a simple solution, must humans discard it in favor of something…wicked?
Of course there’s an explanation. Hi-tech makes money, as Microsoft knows. Nature makes food.
And therein lies the rub. Our society is based on an economic system that has to produce money, or fail. It has to grow, or collapse. Not only does the system fail, but people who do not make money are considered to be the most reprehensible failures. Just ask a Republican what (s)he thinks about welfare. Disgrace! And the homeless?
Climate change and all that comes in its wake seems to scrape off the window dressing to reveal the shabby assumptions underneath, and that is why it’s so huge.
One person attending the Board of Supervisors’ Climate Workshop yesterday, May 11, spoke of systems change, crediting the great icon Donella Meadows in her book Limits to Growth. “If we can get to the problem at the level of mindset, we’ll have a much better chance of meeting our climate goals,” he said. (I’m sorry that I missed his name. The sound wasn’t good, and I couldn’t access the chat.)
Yes, if only we had started 30 years ago! Although it’s become commonplace among progressives to say that capitalism is at fault with its grow-grow-grow mentality and its dig-dig-dig extractions, even the leftist political thinker Noam Chomsky cautioned that we don’t have time right now to build a new structure; we’re better off working with what we’ve got, for now.
The economic system might very well collapse all on its own, says Jem Bendell, who rang a chord when he published his 50-page paper called “Deep Adaptation” four years ago, inspiring a movement of the same name. We can expect to endure the inevitable collapse of our civilization and with it, the material means for its repair. In a letter to policy-makers signed by some 500 scientists, he wrote, “Only if policymakers begin to discuss this threat of societal collapse might communities and nations begin to prepare and so reduce its likelihood, speed, severity, harm to the most vulnerable, and to nature.”
Instead of trying to change the mindset embedded in the system, perhaps we would do better to address the problem itself, and let it change us. That has been true of the pandemic, which generated a more widespread attitude of global interconnection, and certainly more bicyclists; like all life’s trials, climate change will likely have an even greater impact on values and indeed, our way of life. As Duane Elgin writes in his recent book, Choosing Earth: “Our evolutionary journey will either become conscious of itself or descend into darkness. This is a pivot point in human history.”
Tragically, he believes “It is now too late to choose a path of gradual change.” First, we have to let the crisis wake us up.
Spaghetti on the wall?
The Supes have been working on climate change since declaring a State of Emergency on Climate in September, 2019. It was Susan Gorin’s intention as Chair to focus the following year’s work on climate, but the urgency of climate was blind-sided by the immediacy of the pandemic. The Board held its next meeting on climate in July, 2020; in the meantime, those agencies most responsible for repair were working (at home, in their pajamas) on developing strategies to address a situation with the urgency of a world war that was, well, invisible, like the virus.
There were so many impacts to address that Linda Hopkins likened their task to the time-worn test: throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.
The phrase became a sort of slogan for this discussion, leading finally to a suggestion by Supervisor Rabbit to stop right there and ask the ad hoc committee and staff to set priorities for the work at hand and bring a proposal back to the Board. The Supes leaped on it as relief from a strenuous task on a difficult day that was expected to continue until dinnertime, with the sexual abuse charges against Windsor Mayor Foppoli and a cannabis issue still ahead. In minutes, the Board approved a motion and passed it.
Priorities, that’s what was lacking. It seems obvious, but if it weren’t, the Supes could have asked Ellie Cohen of The Climate Center. She has her priorities lined up, and the top noodle, if you will, is clearly to reduce emissions from their three main sources: gas-powered cars, agriculture, and buildings. This may be the toughest, but clearly it’s where we’ve got to begin.
We could postpone Gore’s key concern, county procurement of enviro-friendly products, a worthy goal, but not directly related to arresting climate change.
Equity, while critical, is not separate but needs to be embedded with everything else.
And we’ll get back to sequestration as soon as we talk about agriculture.
Hopefully it will not take the ad hoc committee too long to decide the relationship of all the parts to the over-arching Whole: bring that carbon D-O-W-N. And good luck with that.
Let me make two requests to add to the pot. First, please add food security to the priorities to be addressed. The county needs to focus on the food supply, not only for the poor but for all of us, not only at Safeway but in the fields of local farmers some of whom are reportedly switching to growing cannabis – or leaving town. We must support our family farmers so we are not dependent on the global supply chain laden with GMOs, and remember: wine tastes better with food.
Second, please consider funding a promotional campaign to inform and inspire the public to accept the difficult lifestyle changes ahead, and get on board. Including that most delicious of concepts. Sequestration.
It’s not going to be an old fashioned hay-ride.