Friday, September 23, 2011

#266 / Living Within Our Limits

In Marin County, California, community activists concerned about a proposal to build an incredibly costly and environmentally damaging desalination plant went to the ballot box. They proposed an initiative measure that would have required the Water District to get affirmative voter approval before spending more money on such an enterprise.

The community-sponsored initiative measure passed, but a competing measure, sponsored by the Water District, got more votes, and thus superseded the community initiative, and became the law. The Water District measure allowed continued spending on planning and design, but said that no such desalination plant could actually be constructed without an affirmative vote of the people.

In the City of Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz City Council is moving full steam ahead, in a joint effort with the Soquel Creek Water District, to build an incredibly costly and environmentally damaging desalination plant here. No surprise, community activists in Santa Cruz are thinking about possible initiative measures.

The initiative process allows voters to legislate directly, and is almost always brought into play only when significant numbers of people start believing that their elected representatives are not doing what the majority want. We do write the "laws," and "make the rules," that govern both our individual and collective actions. Usually, we write those laws only indirectly, by electing the people who legislate on our behalf. With the initiative, however, we can write the laws ourselves. In other words, we write down exactly what we think we should do, and if the majority agrees, then what we have written down becomes a political prescription that we then have to follow.

If I were writing out a prescription about water, I think I'd say: let's live within the limits of the water supplies we have, and not try to "manufacture" fresh water out of the ocean.

Turning seawater into fresh water is incredibly costly, and is environmentally damaging. So, as an alternative, let's learn to live with what we've got. Let's respect the limits of the world of Nature, and not always think we have to build a "better Nature" in its place.

What a concept!

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