Thursday, April 11, 2013

Letter to a Good Friend Who Calls Me an "Environmental Wacko"

August 14, 2008

Dear Friend, Andy;

Yesterday was my boyhood friend, Nick’s birthday. He is seventy. We became friends in high school. We spent a lot of time at each other’s home, and were essentially adopted by each other’s parents. After high school, he went to Pepperdine and I went to USC. We still spent a lot of time together, but after graduation, he went to dental school in San Francisco and I joined the Air Force.
We saw less of each other, of course, but still kept in touch via PO Box – no email back then. Once he sent me photos of the cadavers the dental school students were dissecting. Another package contained teeth molds he’d made. I got back to LA on leave and went to see him in SF. We went to see a movie about a man who was a career officer in the Royal Scots Regiment, but could never live up to the legend or expectations of his father. A great movie. Can’t remember the title.
Nick was anxious to get away from big city life and settled in a small community in northern California called Avila Beach, where he opened his practice. He bought some property there, which he intended to build on, but when Avila Beach started booming, he sold to a developer, made a bundle of money, and moved to San Luis Obispo, a sleepy little college town roughly midway between SF and LA.
When I talked to Nick yesterday to wish him a happy birthday, he told me that he and his wife, Hedy are planning to move again. “SLO has gotten too big. Traffic is awful,” He said.
I found it hard to believe. The place was idyllic. A little hippy, as you’d expect in a college town, but nice, laid back, unspoiled. Now traffic clogs winding roads that were never laid out to accommodate the population growth, air pollution is creeping up aided and abetted by smog seeping over the hills from LA and Santa Barbara, fishing stinks, as does the air and water. Too bad, but that’s progress.
There’s lots of progress in California. The population of the state has grown from just under 16 mil when Nick and I graduated from college, to well over 36 mil now, not counting undocumented aliens, who, as the name indicates, are not documented. Some estimates of illegals in California reach 3 million, but the number varies from day-to-day, as they are rounded up and deposited back on the Mexican side of the border and take a day or two to get back. They generally start out in San Diego county, whose population has more than doubled since Nick and I drove through there in 1960 on our way to Tijuana, where we hoped to improve our Spanish language skills.
I blame growing up in California for turning me into an “environmental wacko.” You see, I was born there way back in 1938. You can’t even imagine what it was like there then. In the spring, you could smell the orange blossoms, in the evenings, you could smell the night-blooming Jasmine. I could lie on the lawn at night and see the sky lit up with the billions of stars. In the morning, I could look out across the valley and see the San Gabriel Mts. It took us a while, but we could catch the “Red Car” electric streetcar and go to the beach, cross the sand without stepping in blacktar goo, and swim without worrying about used needles bobbing about in the surf. I watched the Hollywood freeway being built at the bottom of the street on which we lived. I wasn’t smart enough to realize what the implications were when it went in and the Red Cars went out.
I’m afraid Nick isn’t moving far enough from SLO – he’s just moving north fifty or so miles to some out of the way place NW of Paso Robles. Another 10 years and he’ll want to move to Nevada, except there won’t be any water there.
But thanks for sending me the op-ed by Daniel Henninger, a conservative columnist who’d rather be clever than objective. Despite Henninger's snarky word invention, the United States absolutely must transform its economy in order to survive and thrive in the world to come. And the transformation should have started long ago – changing a consumption economy into sustainable economy will take a generation, be costly, and be painful. Corporate America will fight it every step of the way, because they are invested in the way things are, not the way they should be. Your conservative credo of letting unfettered market forces take care of things became untenable when corporate earnings started exceeding most countries GDP. Corporations pay to let democracy work for them, not you. Henninger’s “environmania” is not “messianism,” its righteous indignation.
Why you’d want to trust corporations to operate in your best interests is a mystery to me. Try to picture the boardroom of a corporation and look at the people around the table. They are not abstractions. They are people whose livelihoods depend on making money for the organization for whom they work, not on making the world a better place by providing products and services that work to better the lot of mankind and, in the process, making the organization a profit. That would be socially responsible. Forget about it. Corporate officers actively work to circumvent regulations and, when it suits them, break the law. I could give you examples (like Halliburton destroying evidence in the Gulf Oil spill), but you know the history of corporate greed and corruption. You just choose to ignore it, because the facts don’t jibe with your view of the conservative landscape.
You are so skewed in your thinking that you’d relieve corporations of any tax burden. “Why should they pay taxes? Their employees pay taxes.” Well, you might be surprised to learn that revenues from corporate taxes have fallen to historically low levels, due to subsidies, tax cuts, and a wide variety of avoidance strategies, such as moving headquarters to foreign locations. Our effective corporate tax rates are significantly lower than the rate in many other developed nations. The corporate operations are still employing our highways, waterways, airwaves, and polluting whatever they please, but they aren’t paying any taxes to do it. But not to worry, our budget deficits and national debt are now projected to be so enormous that you won’t have to worry about a transformation of our economy. It is in the process of transforming and the result ain’t going to be pretty.
You might as well send a note to your grand kids and tell them about what a great life you had and say you’re sorry they won’t be able to enjoy the same benefits you had – you used them all up. And oh, by the way, send them the Henninger article. I’m sure they’ll get a charge out of reading it, just as I have, and they'll ask themselves, "Were people really this stupid?"
Yep.

Richard
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

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