Better days ahead

In different ways and on many different fronts, 2006 was a year of tipping points—a pivotal time when events came to head, public opinion shifted and big changes suddenly seemed possible. If it’s true that history runs in cycles, then 2006 felt like a year in which one cycle was ending and another was beginning.

Dare we say it? It feels like hope.

The most obvious tipping point came with the November election, as dissatisfaction over the war in Iraq enabled the Democrats to take majorities in both houses of Congress. Other changes quickly followed: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld resigned, his successor became the first member of the Bush administration to admit that the war was not being won, a bipartisan commission confirmed that circumstances in Iraq were “grim and deteriorating,” and the mainstream media suddenly began reporting on the situation there as a civil war. After three years of Bush administration denials, the country’s collective realization that we can’t simply “stay the course” in Iraq amounted to a tipping point of historic proportions, and offered hope to all of us who want to see the war end in 2007.

Another important change came with regard to global warming, as California approved a plan to significantly cut greenhouse-gas emissions. Just a short time ago, a bipartisan agreement on climate change would have seemed little more than an environmentalist pipe dream. But 2006 was a year when concern over global warming went mainstream, with millions watching the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth and Fortune 500 CEOs joining the call for change. With more than two-thirds of Americans now citing climate change as a serious concern and with Democratic majorities in Congress, there’s reason to hope that 2007 will finally see some form of federal greenhouse-gas legislation.

Another positive trend was the growing consumer demand for organic foods. As deadly outbreaks of E. coli bacteria joined longstanding concerns about pesticides, growth hormones, mad-cow disease and other unsavory aspects of industrialized agriculture, consumers flocked to organics, making it the fastest-growing segment of the grocery business and prompting Wal-Mart and other giant grocers to establish organic brands. Despite justifiable concerns over how these corporations might impact organic-farming practices, it was clear in 2006 that consumers were having a positive impact on food production and changing the system.

On the local front, 2006 saw a poorly conceived plan to spend $500 million on a new arena for the Kings go down to well-deserved defeat, and as the year drew to a close, a new—and hopefully better—plan was in the works. Also encouraging during the final days of 2006 was the possibility of progress on Central Valley flood-control issues, as legislators began drafting plans for the $3 billion in flood-control bonds approved by voters in November.

Needless to say, not all the news was good in 2006, and all of this barely scratches the surface. But as 2006 passes into 2007, change is definitely in the air. It feels possible—just possible—that better days might be ahead.