By the Bay

June is bustin’ out all over, as Oscar Hammerstein put it, and in California June arrives in March. This is a most fortunate March. General climate projections have 40 million Californians living under the stresses of a drawing West Coast, winter shorter, snowpack smaller. But all this is in the future. The present is most enjoyable. Just stand on our upper deck, look out and see the neighborhood to our southeast, the Excelsior. The distant streets with their no-longer-cheap wood and stucco houses seem slightly lost. The faintest touch of smog, a sign of warmer days hangs in the air.

My nephew is visiting from Seattle, and the two of us share a general interest in things urban, particularly things involving urban planning. He has a degree in the latter and a fairly new job with a Seattle NGO that builds low-cost housing in the western US. To celebrate this spectacular day we went to a spectacular place, San Francisco’s Embarcadero, a wide open boulevard running along the edge of San Francisco Bay. It is a place where the water sparkles, ferries glide and oceangoing freighters churn by so close that one could almost throw a stone at them.

The Commonwealth Club of California has a magnificent new home right at the water’s edge. We went to the roof garden for a better view of everything and got one. The Bay Bridge slings itself over the water. Sailboats and seagulls and tankers and tourists all lounge in the sun.

We were there to hear a talk by an Indian economist. His message was clear and simple. The planet faces environmental catastrophe, demands massive intervention – and this can only come from governments. And to put a finer point on it, strong governments. No example of which can be found in these United States. In fact, our society is all about pleasing individuals, rather than pulling people together to get things done. Such as saving our collective skins.

He highlighted certain cultural myths. That technology is a wondrous thing and will somehow save our planet. That ideas from Asia are probably inferior. That banning plastic straws does great good (this does not reach the scale of action currently required, although a global ban on plastic bottles comes closer). That people who run corporations necessarily know important things about the world. In short, life is 
(not) one big Ted talk.

Meanwhile, the dying planet looked especially beautiful on this fine day. In fact, it looked so beautiful that one could be seduced into thinking that all was well.

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