Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I have been commenting about the apparent split between urban related issues and rural issues in the Green Party. It could also have been seen as a division between social justice issues and environmental issues. There is a common perception that environmentalism is dead. In fact, the entire environmental community was shaken to its roots with the publication of The Death of Environmentalism by Michael Schellenberber and Ted Nordhaus. I even commented on the subject at my PomboWatch blog.

I believe this to be a directional issue for the Green Party. It helps define whether the Green Party has a set of core values of its own or is constrained to be the political embodiment of some greater progressive movement, as some would have it. Perhpaps one way to address this is to consider whether the divisions in perception or focus are truly divisions on issues. Is the perceived rural / urban divide meaningful? What about the environmental issues as something separate from social justice issues? I don't think that most have the experience to know the answer.

The current issue of Weekly Grist has started a seven week series on Poverty & the Environment. Their opening statement suggest that maybe, most of us have it all wrong.
Consider this central paradox of U.S. environmentalism: In much of popular and political culture, the movement is dismissed as the pet cause of white, well-off Americans -- people who can afford to buy organic arugula, vacation in Lake Tahoe, and worry about the fate of the Pacific pocket mouse. And yet, the population most affected by environmental problems is the poor.

If I go back and quote some more fact from the same sources that I used yesterday, you find that Weekly Grist has got it.

  • (rural) population tends to be older with 60% of the population above 35 compared to 49% for the state as a whole.
  • exacerbating the age differences between rural and metropolitan areas is that many of the youngest and most highly educated people are moving away from rural areas.
  • 18 percent of rural populations in California are below the poverty level as compared to 14 percent of urban.
Here is another example. We know that the Centeral Valley has 4 Metropolitan Statistical Areas that rank near the bottom in terms of poverty in the US: Sacramento, Stockton/Lodi, Fresno, Bakersfield. To put that in perspective, the Rural Migration News published by UC Davis compares San Joaquin Valley to Appalachia. Let me add a few quotes from that report.

Trends. In the mid-1970s, Fresno county's unemployment rate was almost a point below the state average, eight compared to nine percent, and the county's per capita income was 90 percent of the state's. In 2005, 30 years later, Fresno county's unemployment rate is twice the state rate, and its per capita income is about two-thirds of the state's.
And, if you want to know about the ties between urban solutions to their problems (often to export them) you only have to examine what we do with sewage.

The city of Los Angeles and other southern California cities own farm land in Kern county on which they spreads treated sewage sludge. Kern residents have qualified an initiative for the June 2006 ballot that would ban the practice of using human waste on fields used to grow hay and grains. Three counties - Sutter, San Joaquin and Stanislaus - have already banned the import of sludge for spreading on farm land, and nine others have strict rules that make the importation all but impossible.
I wonder what the results would be if Los Angeles were to mandate that all lawns in the San Fernando Valley would have to have their soil ammended with Los Angeles Sludge before the they would be allowed to use Metropolitan Water Districe water on them.

This is just one more illustration of the fact that we are all in this together. It is one more illustration of the fact that Greens need to be involved in all land use issues at the intersection of urban and rural living. At the very least, we need to continue reading this series in the Weekly Grist.

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