The essence of the climate problem is local. Political leadership is inadequate. Individual behavior is antithetical to what needs to be done. We are frozen in time, unable to move, inebriated by privilege or desperation or self gratification to the point that any action to change anything is viewed as inadequate or unnecessary or ridiculously naïve. So we do nothing as we sit in our bubble of self-fulfilling prophecy and pretend that the problem will go away. My own experience with local government is an example. When it comes to changing behavior and practice, to affect our impact on the planet, it is an uphill struggle against inertia and apathy.
I live in a 55 and older community. It is a nice comfortable community of single-family homes and villas and duplexes and condominiums. Back in the early 80’s this community was carved out of a1500-acre watershed woodland of which 350 acres remain. The covenants and by-laws were written back then to reflect the flavor of that time. Most of the people who live here just want to live the remainder of their lives out in comfort and can’t be bothered with the more pressing social issues of the day, like climate change.
The leadership reflects this attitude of complacency. There is reluctance to change the policies and practice ingrained over the past 40 years. The local elections of community leaders are something of a joke. Almost no one votes and candidates are hand picked by the existing power structure. No one asks too many questions or raises concerns for fear of confrontation with the autocratic community administrator. After all, everything seems to be running ok and nothing is to be gained by rocking the boat. The President of the association told me that he was elected by four votes. Not a margin of four votes mind you, but just four votes.
Most local government has this ‘leave things as they are and don’t make waves’ leadership attitude. New and progressive approaches are vilified and discouraged. ‘Best Management Practices’ (BMP), for storm water control and woodland management, is perceived as a threat to the established order and rejected with lame excuse. “Our natural areas do not need attention. They are self-sustaining wilderness. The policy is to do nothing and that’s how we like it”. This was the reaction to a sensible proposal, presented to community leaders, regarding minimal but meaningful monitoring and restoration of the woodlands. This proposal was rejected without so much as fair discussion and was not even acknowledged as something that might be of value to the community.
On another occasion it was brought to the attention of this concerned citizen, that several old majestic trees, within the common woodlands, had been condemned. This because another resident thought that there was a possibility they might fall on
or near his property and cause some damage. The community board, charged with deciding the fate of these trees, sent an arborist to evaluate them and he promptly condemned the trees. Curiously, this same arborist has a tree removal service and was awarded a ‘no bid’ contract to take them down. When an objection was raised, supported by logical reasons why the trees were not a danger, and were, in fact, an asset to the community, the reaction was to hasten the execution of the tree removal ‘without delay’. The questioning, of this tree decision was never respected or appreciated. Furthermore, a simple tribute to the trees, prepared for the community newsletter, was rejected as being divisive and was not published.
One more incident will clarify the extent of the problem faced when one tries to change attitudes and practices that are detrimental to the climate and our collective well-being. An application, to install a permeable driveway surface on a driveway was properly submitted. Permeable surface driveways are encouraged as BMP for residential wastewater management. This practice is recommended by City, County and State environmental agencies. The proposal was presented with diagrams and pictures and a clear explanation of the benefits of such a practice. Once again, the community board, whose role it is to evaluate and approve such changes, denied this initiative with the explanation that it is not the established practice and could not be done because no one else has done it.
These examples shed light on the challenge confronting those who seek to make meaningful changes that can help mitigate pollution and climate change. The headlines throughout the media, regularly decry a ‘climate emergency’, but these declarations move no one to take action, and the status quo continues to devastate the planet. One good citizen, Lars Kristiansen, recently offered some very practical and meaningful actions we can all take to help combat climate change. Sadly most will not hear see or read these suggestions and fewer still will heed them.
It is hard not to be cynical as I look across my cul-de-sac and see the lush thick green carpet of lawn grass, that should not be there after a ten-week drought, decorating my neighbor’s property. This display is the result of chemical treatments that contribute to pollution and does nothing to nurture wildlife or slow global warming. But who can blame them? Green grass is more important to some than just about anything else.
The author is a Master Watershed Steward and a lifelong environmental activist.