A crucial time

On the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, ECOS acknowledges our environmental stride—and urges to pick up the pace

ECOS Board of Directors

Forty years ago, we celebrated the first “Earth Day.” It’s almost that long since the Environmental Council of Sacramento was formed. ECOS started as a meeting place where groups could talk, educate each other, develop strategies and learn how to make environmental protection laws, like the California Environmental Quality Act, protect the Earth as intended. Battles have been won: Air is cleaner, water is cleaner and hazardous wastes are no longer dumped carelessly. Yet here we are, plunging headlong into an environmental disaster of immense proportions—climate change.

Environmental activism alone is not enough anymore. Now we have to think bigger than that. As industrialization spreads and nations like China and India try to emulate the United States, demand for fossil fuels rise greatly. If the whole world consumed resources at the rate we do, it would take almost six Earths to supply those resources. Globally, we are currently using 1.3 Earths—and we only have one! Every reputable scientific analysis shows that we cannot deal successfully with climate change unless we change the way we use our planet.

In 2005, California lost 6,000 acres of farmland each week, mostly to residential and commercial development. Stein’s Law (Herb Stein was an economist for Richard Nixon) says, “Things that can’t go on forever—don’t.” No farms, no food. Preserving open space, habitat and agriculture is the flip side of the compact-urban-development coin. This is the way ECOS’ 50-year transportation vision complements our Habitat 2020 California Heartland Project (see www.ecosacramento.net). If we do one, we can do the other. If we do not plan development intelligently, we cannot preserve natural habitat.

This is a crucial time for the human race. The iconoclastic “deniers” of “global warming” and the increase of catastrophic weather events due to environmental pollution get a lot of press. Currently, there is a legislative effort to postpone California’s standards to reduce the generation of greenhouse gases, established by the forward-thinking Assembly Bill 32, “until the economy improves.” This is shortsighted—depriving future generations of California’s natural wonders in the name of profit today.

Feeling powerless? Don’t! There is a lot you can do. Drive less. Many of us just cannot do that because of where we live. So we have to demand more housing choices closer to public transit and where we work. We need to limit development to those areas that are already developed, and stop “sprawling” farther and farther out. Communities have to plan responsibly. (Hear that, Elk Grove?) Vertical and infill development (as opposed to sprawl) will be the name of the game.

April 2010, Sacramento Earth Month, is a celebration of what we have accomplished in the Sacramento area, and inroads we are making for the future as we plan sustainable communities. The Sacramento Area Council of Governments’ Blueprint that merges planning for land use, public transit and greenhouse-gas reductions in the Sacramento region, codified in Senate Bill 375, is a step in this direction of which we should be proud.

Happy Earth Month, everybody.