One wants to believe, and there’s tons of evidence, that we’re Paradise Strong and Butte County Strong. Like the mythical phoenix, we will rise from our own ashes and be reborn; yet, we are still mucking around in the ashes, remembering those who perished in the Camp Fire nearly five months past, and trying to make sense of it all.
Paradise was hit so hard it knocked the population down and out. The diaspora has Paradisians bumping into each other in our new neighborhoods and in the unfamiliar places we now frequent, different shops and restaurants, and often different work sites. We’re still friends on Facebook and other social media, getting updates from each other.
One such acquaintance, Allan Stellar wrote recently about the diaspora. He’s a healthcare professional, displaced by the fire, reporting from the Red Bluff and Redding area. He wrote to me about people who survived the initial fire only to die from the health effects of the fire. He said, "I see the vacant eyes of fire victims... We are all affected -- respiratory wise, for sure. That smoke has killed a couple of my clients. That smoke decreases our life expectancy."
There are so many kinds of stress that we fire victims carry. They’re the same kinds of stress we all have known for years, but intensified and clustered. The time stress of having an overload of extra work to get through to keep the ball rolling, such as having the usual job and family responsibilities plus dealing with changes of address, insurance, and acquiring the basics.
I evacuated with the fall clothes I wore and little else. We have four seasons here. One pair of shoes, in any case, is not enough… We manage each little time stress. As I’ve always done, I make lists of things to do. I do something in the present, and I knock items off my list one at a time; yet, I keep adding necessities. My list is always long, but the kinds of things on the list are not like they were before the fire.
Some of the list I write down. Most of this list was in my head: Find the remains of my little coin collection in the ashes of my home (because I failed to grab it in the panic of the evacuation). Soak, scrub, and sort the coins. Find out if and when the local coin shop is open. Take the mangled silver coins to Paradise Coin to get a little return on that investment. Buy a few replacement coins while I’m there, just because. My brother would give me a Silver American Eagle every once in awhile, like for my birthday.
My head is filled with time stressors, mitigated by my management techniques. I also have an inordinate amount of anticipatory stress since the fire. I find myself managing not only my own concerns about the future, but also those of my family members. The decisions these days are large, involving our life savings. We look down the road, trying to figure out which turns to take, making decisions that will affect us for a very long time, for example, our decision to purchase a home nearly an hour’s drive from work, adding to time constraints. (I write in the middle of the night.)
As I recognize the extra psychological and physical stresses in the aftermath of the fire, I remember, “what doesn’t kill me makes me strong”. What doesn’t kill us makes us strong.
Take care of yourselves and each other. Get a bike and ride it in the fresh air. Encourage a friend to get a bike again and ride with that friend. Walk with your dog. Hear the birds carry on in the Springtime. Attack your to-do list after you’ve had some coffee.
Play a little every day. (Get enough sleep.) Work together. Figure out what’s wrong, and make smart decisions.
A falcon flew into our garage today. He kept banging his head against a closed window, trying to fly outside. He was stressed. Finally, with the distraction of a gently placed broom handle, he turned around and saw the wide-open garage door.
Sometimes one must stop and look around in order to see which way to fly. Don’t bang your head against a closed window. The phoenix doesn’t rise that way.
Like a Phoenix? was published in the Paradise Post on April 3, 2019.
Four months since the devastating fire, we have little choice but to cope with the circumstances. Trying to recover feels like walking up a mountain of sand, as I recall from a childhood visit to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. Even as I was with my brothers, I walked each step up with my own legs, slipping half a step back for every step forward. Walking was slow, so we tried to outrun the slipping sand and got really tired. We made it to the top of one big dune, just to enjoy running and rolling and slipping back down. The sand was hot, but we were determined and full of energy, so we climbed up a few times. Coping with this fire has me remembering the feeling of the steep sand climb.
According to the American Psychological Association resilience is, “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.” Their webpage called The Road to Resilience includes a number of pointers, one of which is to stay flexible. Being too rigid and closed minded can make recovery tough.
What makes sense depends on variables. The recovery is a 1,000 piece puzzle. I look for the edge pieces so I can build a frame, but sometimes I find pieces in the middle that fit together first.
Shifting sand and puzzles and grief. These feelings accompany me as I try to refigure my life. It is an important time, with crossroads. It’s not a puzzle with a completed picture to guide the rebuild. It’s choices and circumstances, opportunities and realities.
I keep going back and looking through the remains. The home is dead and the remains are not yet buried. Every time I notice another thing we had, burned and broken with glass and metal melted on it. I look for things which might have survived but that, not found, seem to have disintegrated with no trace. I’m pretty much done looking, but each rain clears some ash, revealing colors from my dishes, beads, and jewelry – broken, melted or cracked, and stuck with muck. I keep going back, if only to cry some more over what all was lost. I probably will keep doing this until the debris is scooped up, wrapped, and removed. Then it will be buried.
Otherwise, I carry on, viewing Paradise from the valley. I can almost see it from the hills of Tehama where we are in the process of purchasing a home. With no place for us in Paradise, we cope from afar. If we do not return, it’s not because we did not love it there.
I went to one of the big planning meetings, held at the Paradise Alliance Church. The place was packed. I do not have any doubt that Paradise will recover and in that time be a more beautiful community than ever before.
Coping from Afar was printed in the Paradise Post on March 9, 2019.
A decade or so ago I came across James Howard Kunstler’s 2005 book The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century. Kunstler argues that the resulting unsustainability of our civilization, the one we live in, including globally — won’t manifest in one big crash, but will be many emergencies, each of which occurs as we attempt to recover from the others. Now, as I write on this gorgeous February morning in the North Valley, I feel the long emergency has arrived.
On my way to work in Butte Valley Tuesday, the buttes in the foreground were bright green and those just behind white with the freshly fallen snow. I so appreciate this beauty and the natural wealth of the land where we live. I can appreciate the beautiful morning while being a survivor of the Camp Fire.
As a survivor, I live in a limbo — and will for who knows how long — with grievances for myself and family. I grieve too for those who did not have insurance for one reason or another. My husband’s friend lost half a million dollars invested in his home and belongings — everything he worked so hard for, for decades — to the fire. How can he recover? His insurance company cancelled his home policy just weeks before the fire, and he did not find new insurance in time. He is not alone. FEMA’s help is a drop in the bucket, and he and his family are living with relatives like so many other families, packed into a single family home like sardines with no plan except to start over.
The local foundation that is collecting and redistributing money for the Camp Fire survivors is not taking grant applications from individuals. This is unfortunate. Instead organizations like the City of Chico have submitted grant applications and received money, such as Chico’s request for money for policing their “invaded” territory. That’s done, and there certainly is a need for policing; however, in the future I hope that local foundation will not grant money that way. Money should be going directly to Camp Fire survivors to rebuild their lives.
We are fortunate that there’s a delicious beer being brewed and sold to benefit the survivors called Resilience. (It’s in short supply as there is not currently enough to be available in many outlets.) Thank you Ken Grossman and Sierra Nevada for organizing this nation-wide relief effort. The word resilience appears in many places lately.
In light of the long emergency it’s good to use this word resilience and to build on its meaning.
A few decades ago, at the founding of Paradise as a Town, the nation was thinking more seriously about things like solar energy, the population explosion, shortages, and crises. People were putting forth initiatives, like the solar system President Carter had installed at the White House to heat the water for showers. Since then there has been some progress with solar systems, but today the population explosion continues, the economy keeps growing along with national debt, and there are many related issues with water, soil, forests, species, and climate change. We’re undoing ourselves in a way the Romans could not have imagined. If they understood the demise of their empire was coming, it happened anyway. Just what are we facing?
Paradise’s motto In Harmony With Nature emerged at a time in our nation when we were more collectively attuned to the end of growth and associated problems. Let’s review and recall Paradise’s founding documents as we try to decide who we want to be now, as 2020 approaches, and how we want to rebuild. The Paradise General Plan update is a decade overdue, per California law, and Paradise will be working on this soon I’m certain. Opportunity abounds to make Paradise “All Its Name Implies”, but our mindset, financial situation, and time constraints put us on track to rebuild for a future that looks like what we were used to. It turns out it was not at all in harmony with nature. Yet, we were used to abundance in the form of relatively cheap and available water, energy, and food. In a time of a long emergency, our future is probably not going to be like it was pre-November 8.
Let our initiative be to build unconventional with homes that have grey water systems and cisterns for gardens, providing some food security in Paradise. Resilient systems have built-in redundance, in case, for example, the trucks stop rolling in the food from somewhere else. We should have naturally energy efficient homes, in case the electricity and natural gas stop flowing from our designated provider, PG&E.
Let’s seek out those architects and designers who know how to build a different kind of home than the current standard, and ask them to help us. Let’s find contractors who can build this way and train others in these skills quickly. Let’s rebuild even more efficiently than California requires.
If the emergencies do not end after we rebuild, as is predicted by the climate scientists and people who study sustainability, our only hope is in building for an unconventional future. Building for the new normal, that long emergency, is our best bet for surviving in the near future. Imagine a Town of Paradise that has a re-localized economy and community that can help us through whatever hard times come our way.
Resilience During the Long Emergency was published in the Paradise Post on Feb. 6, 2019.
As the debris and ashes are removed, this year we can rethink before the big rebuild. If we could envision even two or three innovative ways to rebuild Paradise, we could raise a more resilient Paradise ridge.
What’s our target, and how can we hit the bulls-eye? Being “resilient” or “sustainable” are words used within a philosophy that hasn’t had much success really, so how can little old Paradise shoot for an unrealized ideal? While our building codes are California’s best, so were our fire codes. Let’s ask at this crucial time, “If we rebuild according to the best codes, such as we have, would we become the town and county we desire?”
We need better circulation for our roadways. Now is our opportunity to design as we rebuild. The Town should facilitate leadership for planning, incentivizing, and implementing a rebuild that matches the Town’s name, a Paradise for 2020.
The Town will coordinate with Butte County and should ask for help from as many agencies as will listen and assist. As we live in a democratic republic, we are the government; let’s think and act with the power invested in us.
Estimate, for example, how many new toilets will be heading up the ridge as we rebuild. Tens of thousands of toilets will be needed. This item is particularly relevant to rebuilding Paradise, renown as we are for being without a sewer.
If we cannot get funded by the State or Federal governments now for a town-wide sewer system, let’s rethink the need. There are advantages to septic systems, and they have served us well, with exceptions that we can remedy. With so many of our business corridors and neighborhoods burned, the Town has a greater opportunity than ever before to facilitate clustered wastewater systems.
What we flush makes a difference in how well septic systems work. Paperless toilets exist; let’s demand a good price for an array of 30,000 or so intelligent toilets that will clean our butts and greatly reduce the amount of toilet paper used in Paradise.
By implementing a few good ideas, our downtown business corridor could become reminiscent of Paradise’s past, integrating homes and businesses, allowing more people to live in a downtown that can host the restaurants, shops, and activities that we want.
What are your best ideas for rebuilding?
In this new year let’s resolve to transform Paradise from being the biggest fire disaster in California to becoming the most resilient town in the State. With that resolution in mind, we’ll meet and have committees. It might get messy; yet, organized, open, informed talk is the best way to come to consensus, indeed it’s the only way. I’m anxious to see official committees meeting face-to-face.
We need smart leaders now more than ever. To rebuild Paradise we need sets of capable individuals who will come together to make things right. Right now, in January is the perfect month for our restart.
If you join a planning group or are in the market for a new toilet, why not, for starters, rethink the flush?
Rethink the 'flush' while rebuilding was published in the Paradise Post on January 5, 2019.
Despite the terror of the last month and our suffering losses which cannot be undone, we are not defeated. Our resilience is showing despite Paradise and Magalia residents being scattered. Most of us have at least temporarily or partially integrated into Chico and nearby communities in the valley floor, since the Nov. 8 fire that incinerated ninety percent or more of our town and ridge communities, making them virtually uninhabitable.
In some of Magalia and nearby foothill communities, people are returning to unburned homes while others find their belongings in ashes. Most of us are anxious to return to see our home sites, knowing there’s virtually nothing left to salvage. The devastation of our houses, businesses, and belongings does not mean our beloved town is gone. As long as we are alive, we are the people of the foothills. Paradisians will return to rebuild Paradise and make it stronger than it was before. We’re Paradise Strong and Butte Strong. It’s that togetherness that make us strong.
There are so many ways we find strength to carry on and rebuild. We’ve been noticed by the President of the United States and the Governor of California, who visited and provided assistance as well as words of wisdom and sympathy, even some unintended humor (you know, the suggestion by President Trump that we should spend more time raking the forest …).
I’ve witnessed the transformation of the former Sears building to a disaster help center, and found comfort there from talking to fellow residents also seeking help. I talked to members of the Paradise Town staff at their information table. In that one building our family received much appreciated assistance from DMV and Butte County in getting the official documents we needed. FEMA gave us a number, which helped us get assistance from organizations that I didn’t even know about, like the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation who gave comforting words, hugs, and a significant amount of money. So many people from across the whole country, even internationally came and continue to come to help.
But the most important thing we have is the knowledge of the community we had. For me, that’s Paradise. I can see through the personal connections I have to the people of the town that Paradise is imprinted in our minds and that for most of us being in the valley, as much as we appreciate it and also call it home – the valley cannot replace our mountain home. We will rebuild, replant, and encourage some of the trees to grow tall again, perhaps not as many and not too close to our homes.
Resilience means many things. In the future I will work with my neighbors and say something should a wood pile appear five feet from my house. That will not be tolerated. We are only as safe as the weakest link in our neighborhood. Every home must be fire safe and consistently maintain fire safety. Yes, we will rake even more faithfully than before, and make sure the leaves and branches are not sitting on our roof tops or those of our neighbors. We will keep tidy yards and porches. This kind of devastation must never happen again.
For now, we must patiently wait to return to Paradise. As we wait, we prepare. I have shovels, a rake, a sifter, boots, goggles, a respirator and a truck. I’m ready to return and start our clean-up. I have suggestions for the Town Council as well, as you can imagine. We will rebuild together.
Resilience in Action was published in the Paradise Post on Dec. 8, 2018.
Halloween is such a sweet event, all those gorgeous little monsters requesting candy at our doors, a temporary reversal of normal, when it’s not okay to do that. There are limits to what is appropriate, according to politically correct administrators and some academics, who are running a campaign stating that cultures are not costumes. And, remember, too, that wearing a public safety uniform might not be the best idea, for those more grown-up costumers who might dupe unsuspecting door openers.
Let’s not be fooled. We know scientific method; let’s keep that in mind. There’s so much wishfulness guided by magical thinking that could lead us into another full-fledged witch hunt, as happened in the McCarthy era when many innocent people’s careers and freedoms were curtailed in the fear that communism would overtake us.
Face it, witch hunts work. There’s no longer a Communist party in the United States, and being a socialist is akin to being a communist. No one wants to be accused.
Here in Paradise we watch a lot of television news, one channel and another. We use social media a lot. Both affect us. In two widely discussed Twitter reports on Monday, our President asserted,
“There is a great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the people, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame…”
“CNN and others in the Fake News Business keep purposely and inaccurately reporting that I said the ‘Media is the Enemy of the People.’ Wrong! I said that the ‘Fake News (Media) is the Enemy of the People,’ a very big difference. When you give out false information – not good!”
I ask you, what’s the problem? The news is not as good as it could be; yet, we know there are bigger issues. We need to identify the source of the problem before we can act to resolve the situation; however, we may be in a predicament, where, at best, we can manage the outcome. We have a monetary predicament in the U.S., with insurmountable debt - $21.7 Trillion, rounded up, and increasing by millions a minute. Check out usdebtclock.org, one source of many. While we know this at some level, we hang on every report that jobs are increasing, unemployment is decreasing, budgets are balanced. We want to believe. We are considering bonds as a solution to problems. Count the number of Propositions for new bonds on your ballot. These, if passed, are sure to increase our State debt. At this point, we need to pay as we go, or not pay at all. There are services we cannot afford.
We voters try to be helpful, but when we are only guessing our actions will do good, we can cause more harm than good. There is a limit to debt, despite whatever height officials, or citizens, give our debt ceilings. The economy will crash at one point or another.
We’re stuck, and that’s when witch hunts begin. Leaders tell us what’s evil, and foot soldiers start attacking scapegoats. If you’re wondering what’s going on with the violence, stop the magical thinking and wise up. Our Democratic Republic is based on our confidence in common citizens to resolve issues.
Wishfulness, Magical Thinking, and Witch Hunts was published in the Paradise Post on October 31.
The poor will always be with us, and when the poor ask for help, those who are asked should help. Christians probably recognize this statement. Others may also. Flashback popular culture a few decades ago on radios across the country the lyrics, “Feed the babies, don’t have enough to eat. Clothe the children, with no shoes on their feet. House the people, livin’ on the street. Oh, oh, there’s a solution”. The lyrics to this song, Fly Like an Eagle, are etched in my brain. I can’t fly, but I want to walk the streets and trails of Paradise freely and safely. More importantly, I want all our children – everyone – to be free to roam, to feel and be safe outside.
The Steve Miller Band first performed the song in 1973. It was number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1977 and is on Steve Miller’s Greatest Hits album. It’s in my archive and streams in my mind often. Miller was right when he wrote, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” Find solutions now or we’ll have the same problems later.
Reality check 2018. Paradise Post “For the Record” column on Tuesday, Sept. 18… Transient Activity: 1:29 p.m. North Star Real Estate on Wagstaff Rd. Evidence of transient camp at location. Reporting party will clean up property, requests extra patrol for evening hours. Referred to Patrol…
“Transient Activity: 2:16 p.m. at Quail Run Professional on Clark Rd. Transient camps set up in woods behind professional offices. Reporting party requests extra patrol as available. Referred to Patrol.”
For the Record often contains reports of transient activities, suspicious circumstances, trespass, intoxicated subjects, theft, pedestrian checks, prowler calls, vandalism, narcotic violations, and more calls keeping police busy. Our new Police Chief may have some ideas on patrolling the Town for homeless camps. Not all the violations, of course, are attributable to those without a home, but the numbers of such people, with children, is growing.
Having a legal place to lay one’s head, keep one’s stuff, fix food, and hang out with family and friends is an amenity of life that folks with homes may take for granted, but most of us live a mere few paychecks away from homelessness. How long would you be able to stay in your home if you or your sponsor lost a job, ran out of unemployment, and for whatever reason cannot make ends meet?
The reasons for living in the streets vary widely – job loss, mental instability, drug dependence, belief in anarchy and unwillingness to work, insufficient social services, inability to deal with available social services, too expensive child care, too low wages to pay rent, and unavailability of affordable housing, to name a few.
How can we “house the people livin’ on the street” – and in the woods, in town and adjacent to town; how can we alleviate the problem now? The economy, improved as it may be, isn’t trickling funds and jobs down fast enough to keep the homeless population from growing.
We need manufacturing jobs in this town as well as service jobs. We know we need more businesses in this town that keep us shopping here and that attract outsiders to shop here. Taking steps, like organizing clustered septic systems or building a sewer system, would help to improve our local economy. I’m voting for candidates working on these issues.
Whether we’re talking about the town or families or individuals, life doesn’t hand out cards fairly; the deck is stacked. Some cities have more assets than others. Some families have more assets than others. Some individuals are, as the saying goes, “born on third base and think they got a triple.” Let’s recognize the privilege of being born on one of the bases, have some empathy, protect our local assets, and work on enacting policies in this town to help the homeless.
I’m not a socialist. I don’t want the government making too many laws or over taxing and over spending. It wouldn’t hurt for the Town to encourage and organize more truly low income housing from the private sector. The government terms homes without certain amenities like kitchens and bathrooms “substandard housing” and doesn’t allow it. Can we find a new name for a community of tiny homes that share facilities?
We could also encourage very small homes to be built that do have essential amenities. Clearly there is no incentive for builders, bankers, and realtors to support tiny homes; the shotgun homes and small homes in company towns of days past aren’t being built nowadays.
We can’t depend on a growing economy or raised minimum wages to house everyone. The raised minimum wage is causing more unemployment and more homelessness as employers cut the number of workers to pay for the increased wages.
Let’s get together – school board, town council, people who know about property owners’ associations, Sojourner’s House On the Ridge, and anyone interested in truly low income housing – and decrease the homelessness the Paradise way.
On Time and Solutions was published in the Paradise Post on October 3, 2018.
There were eight shore excursions in fourteen days. For two weeks in July my mom and I depended on a cruise ship for our well-being, and the captain and crew delivered. So much could have gone wrong, but it was a well-oiled machine. They fed us, kept us healthy and entertained, organized everything, and provided space for us to do nothing if we wished. I have confidence that plans were in place for any contingency, to keep all three thousand of us alive and as comfortable as possible. The camaraderie I felt among those sharing the ship seemed mutual.
The veil of civilization may be as thin on a ship as it is on land, but it felt a little thicker as we could plainly see we were far out at sea, pretty much on our own, and we all just wanted to have fun. We weren’t the only ship on the circuit, however. There was an even larger ship not far behind us, which we saw at the ports.
For me it was a relief to be out of the dry, smoky heat of the North Valley and out on the humid, warm Caribbean with just the sea all around and occasional islands in sight. During the shore excursions I got a sense of what it’s like to live on an island. St. Thomas didn’t get the media attention or recovery funds, I was told, that Puerto Rico received, but they were slowly recovering from last year’s hurricane. St. Maartin, not a U.S. territory, fared worse and may have been hit harder. There the devastation to the homes and hotels from Hurricane Irma has many people living in open ruins still. The beaches remain gorgeous, and the people living there are doing the best they can. They seem to appreciate the arrival of the cruise ships.
Back in Paradise for a week now, I find our ridge is like an island, or else we’re all cruising, all 27,000 of us in Paradise, plus those in the upper decks, Magalia and Stirling City.
With smoke all around, our sister ship Redding is besieged by fire, devastation, and loss of life. We know we could be next, but I have faith that the help showing up for Redding would be there for us too. There are plans, mechanisms in place to keep us alive and as comfortable as possible.
It is with that confidence that I continue to live in Paradise, knowing that the professionals – the firefighters, police, national guard, and others who safeguard us – stand ready to assist. I don’t know how many more fires California and the West in general can take; yet, firefighters are well-connected, helping people regionally, even around the world. I see so many organizations and individuals doing everything they can to help those in Redding that my faith in humanity has jumped up a couple notches this past week.
That’s a good thing, to depend on one another for support, especially as we realize there may be no place safer to go. We must ride out each storm, whatever kind, and help each other deal with the outcome.
Maybe it has to do with getting older, but I get the notion from a growing number of academic sources that an Armageddon will happen in my lifetime. There could be a post-civilization, even post-human era starting in just a few years. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine global dystopia when I see how beautiful the world still is and how nice most people are to each other. We’re all voyagers, shipmates in a way, whether on land or at sea.
Cruisin' on Sea and Land was published in the Paradise Post on August 4, 2018.
It’s been so dry, surely the raindrops, heavy as they were, would pass quickly. Showers were predicted to be intermittent. We figured that the isolated thunderstorms wouldn’t stop the celebration. As darkness set in, we waited where the fireworks display would be awesome.
I was with my mom in Colorado Springs on the 4th of July, at her friend’s home just a bit above the city. Colorado Springs is second, I was told, only to some city in Florida in being the lightning capital in the nation, or maybe in the world. That evening rain was intermittent, with lightning which was strangely without much thunder.
The rain paused about 9:30 PM, good timing for the fireworks show. The four of us towel dried our deck chairs. As we settled into our spots on the porch awaiting the traditional highlight of the annual Independence Day celebration, the lightning bolt show continued over the city.
I said that the fireworks show might pale to the lightning display. There was horizontal lightning, vertical lightning, point lightning with bolts every direction like a flower, and bright spots illuminating huge clouds, all across the horizon for nearly an hour. When the hair on my arm raised from static electricity, I decided to get off the porch and join the ladies inside the sliding glass door.
Inside as we waited for “our fireworks”, we saw fireworks in the distance, at several city parks. We heard the booms of fireworks from the Broadmoor Hotel, and from the front of the house saw them through the trees. But the display where we were wasn’t happening on time. Mom’s friend called, and she was told that if there were no fireworks by 10:00 PM, they were cancelled. Ten o’clock passed, and the rain got heavier. We were grateful for every drop, but the timing was bad. I jumped streams of water getting to Mom’s car, and that was it. We went home. The thirsty city got some water, we enjoyed the company of friends, and we got a different kind of show than we came for.
I had expected to be thinking about America’s independence that evening, and my thoughts turned instead to whether fireworks are to lightning as human activity is to earth’s. It’s humbling to witness the power of nature outshine, and in our case cancel one of the biggest displays of human exuberance. Earth’s shows are bigger. Consider, for example, the energy bursting from volcanic eruptions versus from nuclear bombs or rocket launches. Earth’s power is humbling. About all we can do is try to adapt and survive.
Paradoxically humans are so great that we changed the climate. Civilization generates heat as humans burn fuels and emit massive quantities of greenhouse gasses. Our emissions are warming the oceans, contributing to more atmospheric water vapor, fueling more violent storms. The list of troubling changes caused by human activity is long. Even if civilization stopped now, voluntarily or by some crisis, global warming would not immediately improve due to global dimming. Without the daily generation of pollutants, the air would clear of particulates, and global warming would increase. Greenhouse gasses plus clear air produces a double whammy of heat. Again, all humans can do is to try to adapt and survive.
Despite our brilliance, our world is made of both fireworks and lightning. Nature rules.
Reflections on Fireworks vs. Lightning was published in the Paradise Post on July 7, 2018.
The more unpredictable the future, the more difficult it is to cope with change. Failure to adapt is a leading cause of collapse and extinction. Resilience – the ability to adapt – can also lead to failure if it creates short-term stability but long-term vulnerability. If resilience gets us from one crisis to the next, but we don’t transform our community we could still fail.
The Town of Paradise, like all modern municipalities, was essentially designed to operate in an environment of growth. Our annual budgets grew, as did our debts, and to justify raises and pensions, we imagined growth would fill the gaps. This logic prevailed because economic growth has been reliable. Inflation is so dependable that employees expect and generally have received regular raises.
The change that may be permanent is the end of growth. If we don’t adapt, the town could fail to manage its resources, could go bankrupt and then continue to fail such that the town government would cease to exist.
On the next ballot, the Town will be asking for an extension of a modest sales tax increase already in effect, known as Measure C. The extension, if passed, would sunset after a decade. The Town might be, the logic goes, in a better position at that time to get by without the sales tax increase. Without the extension, the Town’s budget could be pinched so tightly that either another round of salary decreases would have to be negotiated, as was done in 2012, or there would be more layoffs and fewer Town services. The Town already downsized in recent years to a bare minimum of employees, including public safety personnel. The Town’s revenue streams have not kept up with expectations, necessities, and debts, namely the pension obligation bond. While the sales tax extension would be set to expire at the same time the pension obligation bond is scheduled to be paid off, there is no assurance that the Town would have sufficient funds then either.
Growth may not return, even while the cost of living may continue to increase. When employees’ cost of living goes up, and their incomes do not, it is frustrating and somehow un-American. The Town proposes Measure C be extended to “maintain Town services such as Police, Fire, Roads and Animal Control.” This means that if the extension of the one-half percent sales tax increase is not passed, such services cannot be maintained.
The key question here is this, “If voters pass the measure, will that make Paradise more, or less resilient?”
We would get short-term stability, but long-term vulnerability because while we hope that the economy will stabilize into its historical growth pattern, that’s just not likely. Obtaining gas will inevitably be costlier because producing petroleum is more expensive now that the high grades of crude in the world are depleting. Our economy, as it is, depends on cheap petroleum.
We’d be more resilient if we developed an economy that does not depend so much on cheap petroleum. That’s hard to imagine, but we don’t have to look that far back to see that our economy used to be local, not global. Of course, that was before refrigerators and cars, but even those products used to be American made, from American fuel, steel, parts, and labor. There was a time that bread in Butte County was local, from locally grown wheat; extraction, production, distribution, and consumption were local.
The Butte County Grand Jury recently reported that, “The town should be proactive in developing a long-term strategy to address future budget requirements.” We need to make fundamental changes to our budgets and to our economy. Passing the Measure C extension is not enough. Shopping locally is not the answer either, if we don’t use local resources to produce what we sell and consume. Relocalization is the way to be less vulnerable to crisis after crisis and to transform our community to cope with change. Let’s do whatever we can to encourage and support those among us who produce, or are thinking of locally manufacturing, products we can use.
I’ve drawn some ideas for this column from The Community Resilience Reader: Essential Resources for an Era of Upheaval, edited by Daniel Lerch. 2017. https://reader.resilience.org/
Too Much Resilience was published in the Paradise Post on June 6, 2018.
Robin Huffman lived in Paradise, California from 1989 until she evacuated from the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018.