The fires and the blackouts are connected to a larger problem in this state: a failure to live sustainably.
SAN FRANCISCO — I have lived nearly all my life in California, and my love for this place and its people runs deep and true. There have been many times in the past few years when I’ve called myself a California nationalist: Sure, America seemed to be going crazy, but at least I lived in the Golden State, where things were still pretty chill.
But lately my affinity for my home state has soured. Maybe it’s the smoke and the blackouts, but a very un-Californian nihilism has been creeping into my thinking. I’m starting to suspect we’re over. It’s the end of California as we know it. I don’t feel fine.
It isn’t just the fires — although, my God, the fires. Is this what life in America’s most populous, most prosperous state is going to be like from now on? Every year, hundreds of thousands evacuating, millions losing power, hundreds losing property and lives? Last year, the air near where I live in Northern California — within driving distance of some of the largest and most powerful and advanced corporations in the history of the world — was more hazardous than the air in Beijing and New Delhi. There’s a good chance that will happen again this month, and that it will keep happening every year from now on. Is this really the best America can do?
Probably, because it’s only going to get worse. The fires and the blackouts aren’t like the earthquakes, a natural threat we’ve all chosen to ignore. They are more like California’s other problems, like housing affordability and homelessness and traffic — human-made catastrophes we’ve all chosen to ignore, connected to the larger dysfunction at the heart of our state’s rot: a failure to live sustainably.
Now choking under the smoke of a changing climate, California feels stuck. We are BlackBerry after the iPhone, Blockbuster after Netflix: 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.
One by one, those myths are bursting into flame. We are running out of land, housing, water, road space and now electricity. Fixing all this requires systemic change, but we aren’t up to the task. We are hemmed in by a resentful national government and an uncaring national media, and we have never been able to prize sustainability and equality over quick-fix hacks and outsize prizes to the rich.
Read more: NY Times
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