Growing the Future

by Carolyn Chase


o grow, or not to grow, is not even the question. Growth is a religion, with the first article of faith being that nothing can be done to stop our increasing population.

"They are coming, therefore we have to build it" is the reigning ethos. We simply cannot bring ourselves to believe that if we don't build it, they won't come. After all, we've all come here.

This is the best place to be. We cherish day after day after day after day of unrelenting, pleasant beauty. The warm is not too hot, the cold is not too cold. The rain is a nice interruption. We all like to say we care about the environment here in American's Finest City. But the truth is, what we care about is the weather.

This truly is paradise. This is a large part of why we feel powerless to resist the creative power of SANDAG's population forecasts showing ever rising numbers of residents. flowing in. That's just the way things inevitably have to go.

But there is a deep ambivalence amongst San Diegans about trumpeting local virtues too loudly. In our heart of hearts, we do understand the problems of bringing too many mates aboard a lifeboat. At some level, we understand that growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. But how many is too many? If another million want to come, and another after that, shouldn't they be able to? How could we stop them anyway?

Most people are beginning to understand clearly how our quality of life is dependent on the way that growth is pursued and accommodated. The higher the population, the more demands are made and the greater the infrastructure, environmental and social pressure. The practices that were acceptable to support 500,000 are inappropriate to support a million and then another million and another million after that. Population growth puts us on a collision course with restrictions of our freedoms, as the demands of the community and environment increase.

Depending on how we move to support another million residents, our quality of life will be overwhelmed. If the choice is not if San Diego will grow, it must be how San Diego will grow.

Where should the next million of us live? How much should current residents pay to provide for their water, sewer, trash, safety, transportation? Will it be urban-sprawl from the sea to the mountains and on to the desert? Or will we learn to grow up and not out? What should we sacrifice? How should we pay to support the growth? If we don't move to support it, will we be overwhelmed?

One fact that is obvious by any standard is that anywhere that can be overrun, will be overrun. If left to the business-as-usual, the powers-that-be will have us crawling on the freeway at 25 mph with ever-increasing commute times with the ever increasing stress and pollution.

I've been thinking about this for a while now - pondering the roots of our cultural addictions to growth. Why do developers still feel it's OK to destroy the few remaining wetlands? Why are we still planning to fill canyons with trash? Why are we still selling mining rights at 1872 prices? Why are they still killing 1,000 year-old trees to make phone books? When will they ever actually clean anything up? When will we admit that we can't clean some things up?

Most of it is related to the belief that economic prosperity requires growth, regardless of the environmental consequences. But economic prosperity also requires a strong, healthy environment supporting a healthy and sane population.

It's not that there are aren't smart and environmentally-sensitive ways to pursue wealth and development. It's just that few with any power seem to know and be willing to invest the time and energy to make it happen. It's just so much easier to keep plodding along, doing what you're doing, cutting deals with the status quo. It's much easier than getting folks to clean up their acts and make smart investments in environmentally sound markets and technologies. But for environmentally sound alternatives to price out, environmentally destructive practices must be curtailed. Without enforcement, behaviors are seldom changed.

Our regional health and quality of life is directly related to the health of the ecosystems that sustain us. In an era where development is going through the roof - so to speak - we need stronger commitments to protect the environment, not weaker ones. Reducing environmental protections is not the way to strengthen the economy. It's the way to off-load costs onto the public and sacrifice our quality of life.

Now, I admit that they are trying to change the way they do business downtown. Unfortunately, it's going the wrong way. It's going the way of "streamlining," because who could argue with that? We would all like to see the government "streamlined." But if streamlining means less environmental protection and more environmental destruction, then we need to do it a different way. If anything, streamlining must be combined with increased environmental protection. Unfortunately, the prevalent political culture of feel-good environmentalism currently feels that in every case mitigation is a substitute for conservation. This just isn't the case.

Carolyn Chase is editor of San Diego Earth Times and Chair of the Sierra
Club, San Diego Chapter. She can be reached at .