I remember California rain. When I was little, it rained often in the winter, and fairly regularly in the fall too: Lazy early morning showers that darkened the pavement; steady afternoon downpours that coaxed the ocean into a broil; sudden, desperate late night thunderstorms that woke me from deep sleeps and illuminated my bedroom in bright flashes of lightning.
These days, California rain hardly exists outside those memories. For the past four years, my home state has faced one of the most severe droughts in its history. Precipitation and snowfall have reached record lows. Reservoirs have dried up almost to the point of disappearing entirely. A number of inland areas no longer have access to running water, some for more than a year. In another year, the state will have completely exhausted its reservoirs.
Environmental issues feel abstract and distant in Philadelphia, experienced in their extremes only through news items and stories, through conversations in science and political science classes that end at the close of a lecture and through brief bouts of social activism like the campus referendum for fossil fuel divestment. But in California they have become unavoidable as the drought has progressively worsened, coloring the landscape and creeping into residents’ daily routines.
As a result, Californians have been forced into action. Many responses, including Governor Jerry Brown’s, have focused on decreasing water consumption. Restrictions have made waste punishable with hefty fines in an effort to encourage Californians to reduce water usage by a quarter. Fresh from a wet spring in Philadelphia, I arrived home in May to find the lawns in my neighborhood dead and brown and the cars parked along the curbs streaked with dust. At home, we minimized our water usage by reusing water in multiple household tasks and limiting our daily showers to under five minutes, always trying to keep water from escaping down the drain.
In Santa Cruz, the debate over what should be done continues in full force. Battle lines have been drawn between those who advocate building a desalination plant that would convert saltwater into drinkable freshwater and those who argue that such a plant would be too expensive, too harmful to local fish and wildlife and too high in energy usage.
What these latter arguments often fail to acknowledge is that the proposed alternatives to desalination — more water restrictions, conservation-oriented changes in landscaping and construction and aquifer restoration, to name a few — are at best temporary fixes for a problem that some scientists estimate may last for decades. If the drought continues, such efforts are more likely to only delay the establishment of desalination plants while Californians suffer through increasingly untenable drought conditions and restrictions in order to put off taking more dramatic action.
When it comes to the environment, this tendency toward half measures and stall tactics is hardly new — not in California, a state which has garnered a reputation for eco-friendliness and routinely set the standard for environmental policy in the United States, and not in the rest of the country either. In recent years, exceptions for the automotive, lumber and gas and oil industries have weakened environmental legislation. Florida officials have reportedly banned the term “climate change” from their public speeches and documents. And improvements to climate-friendly public transportation infrastructure have been repeatedly put off or eschewed entirely.
I understand that these projects don’t come without a price — and a high one. But now, as the effects of climate change can be felt from flooded Vermont to snowy Massachusetts to arid California, I think the price for not acting may be even higher.
We should always be weighing those costs against the costs of inaction: the agriculture revenue that will be lost, the people that will go without running water, the memories of California rain that grow hazier with every dry year. And, as we move toward the next referendum, the next vote for politicians who control policy, the next point at which we have a say, we should stop pretending that what we’re doing now is enough, that all the small sacrifices we’re making to avoid the big ones will somehow fix the world without us paying steeply along the way.
ANNIKA NEKLASON is a rising College junior from Santa Cruz, Calif., studying English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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