September 1, 2014
City of Carson
Environmental Commission

Dear Commissioners:

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts at your August meeting. Your interest encourages me to keep thinking.
Two bits of news, and I get this from NPR so you know it’s true:

1. We’re in a drought
2. The world is heating up because of the way we live

I’m worried about both of these, even though only the first will really affect me. That’s because we live in a desert and we live as if we have all the water in the world. That isn’t going to last very long. I think I heard that the Metropolitan Water District is preparing a rationing plan that local governments and users will have to comply with. But we should deal with this right now.

Global warming won’t affect me so much, because I’m old and I’ll be dead soon. But I worry about it more, because I think we are setting up our children and grandchildren for a world of hurt.

In my own life, I try to think about what impact I’m having. I think about it a little every time I turn on a light or a faucet. I try to recycle and conserve. I know that my little acts can have virtually no impact on our troubled world, but I still try to do what I can. I hope that by working on my own consciousness, I can make a small contribution to a sustainable future.

With these preliminary thoughts, let me turn to some specific issues.

1. City Hall Fountains

Very pretty. Not so pretty is the underlying message: “Don’t worry about conserving water.” This is so wrong, and it would be so easy to turn off the fountains for the duration of the drought. I was just at the Getty, and that’s what they have done. And they’ve put up signs that explain why they are off.

This is great. We should do this, too. In fact, just yesterday I got a letter from the California Water Service Co. You probably got it, too. They say: “Do not use potable water in a fountain or other decorative water feature, unless the water is part of a recirculating system.”

I’m guessing that our fountains DO use a recirculating system. But we’re still losing water to evaporation, and more importantly, we are losing the opportunity to send an important message.

Let’s turn these fountains off for the duration of the drought!

2. City Hall Lawns

The city hall lawns are beautiful, and beautifully maintained. Lawns are totally inappropriate in a semi-arid region like ours, and really everywhere because of their inordinate consumption of water and fossil fuels. But we love them, and even if we changed our mind, we’re stuck with them. So let’s do them better. Maybe the city hall lawn would be healthier and even prettier if it were cut half as often. Maybe it would thrive with less water. Let’s be sure we are maintaining our lawn with the least possible environmental damage.

Once again, in addition to saving water and fuel, there is the importance of the message that it would send to the community. Less is more. Let’s demonstrate it.

3. Street Sweeping

I brought this up when I spoke to you in August. I pointed out that my street is the same before and after the weekly sweep. Saied, one of the commissioners, and a number of my neighbors pointed out that some streets really need it, and that it serves a variety of functions in addition to clean-up. Protecting run-off and forcing intransigent residents to move their permanently parked vehicles, for example. We have tools that could be used to make this more targeted (http://ci.carson.ca.us/content/files/pdfs/GIS/mapgallery/Sweeproutes.pdf), but I think the drought is a great opportunity to try a simpler approach: Let’s try sweeping every other week, everywhere, and see if we can live with it. Be a little messier in the interest of reducing our environment impact.

My street, before and after street sweeping.

I’m reminded of the title of a talk by the Australian physician and environmentalist Helen Caldicott, “Let’s Be Hot.” Her message is that to live sustainably, we should set the air conditioner slightly higher. Let’s be just a little less comfortable, if and where we can, so that we don’t destroy the world we love. Again, the little things we do in our homes or in our small city won’t have much impact on the global environmental problems we are facing. But it’s what we can do, and it is our contribution to a movement of consciousness that we need to live sustainably.

Can we live with slightly messier streets so that maybe future generations can live in a world that is not horrible?

4. Leaf Blowing

For me, this line of thought began one morning last year when I was looking for a place in Carson Park to sit and read for a while as I waited for my car to be worked on. Impossible, because a city employee was going over the large park with a noisy leaf blower. And, once again, the park looked the same before and after. I’m sure the man was doing a scheduled task. We’d better re-examine that schedule, if not the task itself, to be sure that we are not squandering our resources for no benefit. I have to assume that I didn’t accidentally stumble upon the one incidence of this. I think the city should routinely review its maintenance practices.

I was talking about this at my computer class at the Carson Library, and someone told me an interesting story. I think it was at some castle in Europe…I can’t remember where. A reporter noticed a guard standing all day in the middle of a garden, and he began to wonder why. He asked the guard. It seems that generations earlier, a princess loved a rose, and was very worried that something would happen to it. The king posted a guard. The girl lost interest. The rose died. The order was never rescinded.

That’s it for now. I hope I don’t sound like a scold. I don’t mean to. I’ve just been thinking, and I wanted to share.

Thanks,
Peter Rashkin

The time is now. Or is it?

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