Friday, March 27, 2009

The Future is Fresno

I am getting a sense that the world is beginning to pay attention to Fresno. The first inkling came when I saw the article Tarp Nation in High Country News. The picture was not pleasant. I made reference to the Hoovervilles that sprang up around this country during the 1930's, when a great depression held this country in it's grip for years and the climate brought clouds of dust rolling through the Midwest. There is great irony in HCN's choice of a title, in that the people living under the tarps of Taco Flat are not part of any T.A.R.P.

Then, last night, I watched Brian Williams paint a different picture of Fresno on the Nightly News. It is the same Taco Flat, but with a sense that people are doing something about it rather than the despair.

Click Read more! and see why neither manage to capture the reality of life in the Central Valley.

Neither of these stories get to the reality of the Central Valley. Fresno is an easy city for journalists to cover. You can fly in, look around, fly out again. Maybe, Brian Williams should start reading the Fresno Bee. There, Chris Collins gives us a close-up of conditions much worse than Taco Flat. Try Mendota, where drought and the lack of water for irrigation this year have dried up the entire agricultural economy, where the jobless rater exceeds 40% and hope has disappeared.

It is beginning to look more like the double hit of the 1930's with climate and the economy but affecting lives in ways that we had forgotten about. We have not yet seen the likes of a 1930's dust storm, but the photo's of Mendota carry just as much despair. Dorothea Lange captured that as well as any photographer.

The climate threat now is being positioned as a temporary drought and that the farmers would be OK if only the environmentalists would quit protesting. You definitely get that from the West's biggest Agricultural news source, the Capital Press which calls for more dams, more canals.
California's lack of a long-range water plan puts more than the state's substantial agriculture economy at risk. The ever-expanding population depends on a diminishing resource. Conservation will always be an important part of any water plan, but that alone won't solve the problem. While there's nothing the state can do to create more rain or snow, there's a lot it could do to catch, retain and move what does fall.

Opposition to these plans comes from expected sources. The Sierra Club has said that new dams are unnecessary.

Tell that to the growers who are losing income. Tell it to the merchants who depend on the farm economy for their livelihoods. Tell it to the families of the 80,000 displaced workers, who like the withering crops are fighting to survive.
Whenever California Agriculture needs more water, more anything they always end up railing against the environmentalists, even though some of the most organized opposition to the plans for the San Joaquin Valley come from organizations like Restore the Delta that have brought environmental and agricultural interests together.

So, while Brian Williams made the story about the economy, a story that can be written with an urban view and give a glimpse of a happy ending, he must have thought that bringing climate into the picture was just too complex for us to understand. All of the projections for the effects of our human induced climate change call for an increased desertification of California. These worst effects will be in the San Joaquin Valley and the prospect for economic growth is bleak... but the news wants to be upbeat.

The other danger is that of looking to scapegoat immigration as the cause for the high unemployment. Read the Fresno Bee story linked above and then the comments that follow.
FTNE wrote on March 24, 9:01 AM:

maybe if all the illegals went back to thier native country there would be jobs for the 41% unemployed
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There are answers for the problems of Fresno. There are answers even for the problems of Mendota. They are not filled with slogans or scapegoating or up beat news programs that are supposed to help the nation feel good. They are Green solutions, community based economics, ecological solutions that look at the way a living system functions and how it is changing over time. These are the type of solutions that the Fresno Bee celebrates, small business helping the community rather than mega-projects that enrich the developer with the aid of tax breaks and all the other tools of exploitation.

The Green Party needs to be in Fresno, in Mendota. We need to be engaged where people are in need and that isn't marching down Market Street yet again. This is one more chance to show that we are relevant.

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