While the national news media has suddenly discovered that California is in the midst of a severe drought, garnering big headlines in publications such as The New York Times, there’s been an odd element of I-told-you-so in the coverage. Steven Johnson, writing in Medium.com, calls it “apocalyptic schadenfreude.”
For example, the Times helpfully noted that California “is forcing a reconsideration of whether the aspiration of untrammeled growth that has been so long this state’s driving engine has run against the limits of nature,” which seems rather apocalyptic from a newspaper in a city that, shall we say, isn’t really environmentally sustainable on its own. “Untrammeled” is always a scolding word.
After all, New York’s Manhattan Island has jammed 1.6 million people onto a space about 13 miles long and 2 miles wide. As far as I can tell, it has no agriculture to speak of, other than rat herds and whatever grows in Central Park. I don’t think that could feed 25 percent of the nation, unless you like eating oak leaves.
Don’t get me wrong. I love New York. But every time California gets into some sort of trouble, the rest of the national news media swoops down to write our obituary. You know, because we have sinfully moved water around to make our cities, towns and farms work, we Californians must biblically atone for our transgressions. It’s almost like some in the media think we deserve what we get.
We don’t. We’ll get through this, just like we always have. If you talk to professional water managers in this state – not some NASA scientist who says we have only a year’s worth of water left – they don’t express alarm. They say what Gov. Jerry Brown and everyone else have expressed: we have to be prudent, we have to conserve, and we have to get smarter about storage and extraction. No one is saying we’re all going to die.
I saw lots of Evian and Perrier at the 7-Eleven the other day if it all goes south.
Let’s look at other cities that are under one kind of threat or another.
Seattle and Portland are situated on the Juan de Fuca plate, which makes the San Andreas Fault look like a prime building location in comparison. Many geologists say the Pacific Northwest is way overdue for a magnitude-9 seismic event. A magnitude-9 quake would be a very, very unpleasant day.
In addition, Seattle and Portland live in the shadow of Mount Rainier and Mount Hood. They are indeed mountains, but they are active volcanoes. You may recall in 1980, Mount St. Helens, situated between those two lovely cities, erupted. Had it been Mount Rainier or Mount Hood that exploded, you could kiss I-5 goodbye, for openers.
Mount Hood erupted in 1781, and sent a wall of mud and ash down through what was mostly beaver dams and forests. Now they have an international airport there and lots and lots of malls and homes.
Funny, no front-page headline in The New York Times about that last week. No scolding editorials about why arrogant people with big dreams would build in such a location.
Chicago? Millions of people cling to the edge of a wind-whipped, icy lake in subzero temperatures. Minneapolis-St. Paul? Under constant threat of tornadoes. Miami? Well, despite the fact that Florida Gov. Rick Scott denies it, sea level rise may sink most of the state. And, hurricanes are a seasonal threat to keep you on your toes. New Orleans? See aforementioned hurricane issue, when in 2005 about a third of the city left town forever.
To recap, yes, California is experiencing a drought. Yes, it’s bad. But we’ll deal with it. We always have. We rebuilt San Francisco after 1906. We made Los Angeles work. We put in levees to protect Sacramento. But we’ll figure out a way to work through the drought.
We’re not going anywhere. Our dream keeps us here.