I like the phrase ‘all politics is local’ and have coined a corollary phrase ‘war starts at home.’ We must find solutions that work at the local level, including resolving conflict. My twist on these issues has an environmental focus, and I want to illustrate our local situation in this essay.
If locals were judged for those they elect, how environmentally-minded would anyone think we are? I can’t think of a single local city council member who purports to prioritize environmental conservation. None of our County Supervisors advertises environmental conservation as a primary concern. Likewise, the local State Assembly members do not have strong environmental conservation platforms. Only when you reach the level of State Senator do we get an inkling that our local constituencies support environmental conservation: John Laird has long been an effective environmental conservationist, and conservation is one of his main priorities.
As we consider voting, how are we to be informed about which candidate might best serve environmental conservation? My experience has been that it is not easy. Unfortunately, there is no reliable environmental conservation organization informing local votes through their endorsement process. The Santa Cruz Group of the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club used to serve this important role, and the Group still ostensibly considers making endorsements – apparently only if a candidate seeks their endorsement. For 2022, the Group posted a list of endorsements, though without any analysis explaining their reasoning. Upon examination, most of the candidates they endorsed had little or no mention of environmental conservation in any of their election materials.
Lacking other means, you must follow environmental issues yourself and watch how politicians and political candidates react to those issues. Even if you track a single issue, you will find it helpful in illuminating for whom you should cast your vote. As a reminder from my past columns, priority environmental conservation issues for our area include: habitat protection for maritime chaparral and coastal prairies, creek and river habitat conservation, water pollution, and wildlife habitat connectivity/corridors. Of course, there are many issues to address when conserving rare and endangered species throughout our region, and those must be prioritized as well. If one of those priorities strikes your fancy, watch it carefully to see who is active and how politicians navigate to address them…and vote accordingly.
Environmental Advisors for Politicians
One of the ways environmental conservation conflicts might get resolved is through governmental advisory bodies. Locally, cities and the County have advisory bodies that ostensibly COULD advise on environmental matters. However, I cannot think of a time when City Council Members or County Supervisors sought out those advisory committees for advice, let alone acted on any of the advice otherwise offered by those committees. I suppose that’s a reflection of politicians’ assessment of how much local voters care about environmental matters. You might ask yourself, ‘are there environmental conservation conflicts locally?’ I hope you recognize that the answer is, ‘yes.’ The next question is ‘how are those conflicts being addressed?’ The answer is, ‘they are not.’ ‘Why?’ The answer to that question is ‘one side, the one in power…the one that destroys the environment…is winning.’ Why would anyone seek to resolve conflict when they are already winning? Two reasons come to mind: the primacy of environmental conservation for life on Earth and, consequently, avoidance of war which is the natural result of the degradation of the environment. All politics is local, and we’ve punted on this issue to our peril.
The following section lists the advisory groups that could be tasked to help resolve environmental conflicts, should politicians ever realize the importance of doing so.
City of Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz City Council has a Parks and Recreation Commission to advise the City Council. Unfortunately, as reflects the views of the politicians who appointed them, the majority of those advisors care so little for environmental conservation that they fail to address those issues as part of their advisory role. This is a shame because the City’s parks contain a wealth of biological diversity, including many rare and endangered species, and these advisors could be valuable in helping to address most of the priorities I outlined above.
County Political Advisors
The County curiously has two bodies to advise the Supervisors about environmental matters: the Fish and Wildlife Advisory Commission and the Commission on the Environment. The Fish and Wildlife Advisory Commission membership historically has included a majority of experts with strong environmental conservation track records. After years of that Commission, there was the anomalous creation of a second advisory body, the Commission on the Environment – this one appointed with a majority of members without any environmental conservation interest, expertise, or experience. If you’ve got insight into why that second commission was convened when Supervisors could easily turn to the first, I’d love to hear from you.
Joining Together: Activism
Another way locals can affect change democratically is through organized activism. The list of environmental conservation groups acting at our local level includes the Valley Women’s Club of San Lorenzo Valley, California Native Plant Society, Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, Watsonville Wetlands Watch, Surfrider, Friends of the North Coast, Friends of the Greenbelt, Friends of Pogonip, Save our Shores, the East Meadow Action Committee, the Habitat and Watershed Caretakers and the Santa Cruz Group of the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club.
From time to time, other groups including Audubon Society, Earthjustice, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the First Amendment Project, Save the Redwoods League, Peninsula Open Space Trust, Sempervirens Fund, and the Center for Biological Diversity have stepped into the Monterey Bay area to assist with environmental conservation.
Each of the groups above has a history of success in their own issue areas in our region. But, even with all of their work, major environmental crises still plague our area and are going virtually unaddressed. Those crises are getting worse. And, despite the work of all of these groups, we have the bleak political landscape that I outlined in the opening of this piece. Simply put, none of those groups has affected the political change we need to sustain environmental conservation in our region.
Rating Activist Groups
If we want to donate money or join a group, how do we know how effective it is? Unfortunately, there isn’t an organization that rates our local conservation groups for their effectiveness. Nationally, if you want to give money to a group for environmental conservation, you might use Charity Navigator to peruse groups’ effectiveness. But that group’s ratings don’t really reflect our local situation. For instance, if you looked at the Sierra Club, you might find Charity Navigator’s high rating for the Sierra Club Foundation, whose work (despite the nomenclatural similarity with the Sierra Club Santa Cruz Group) doesn’t address our local conservation issues. Here again, if you follow even a single local issue, chances are that you’ll get to witness the effectiveness of a local conservation group. I know the groups I’ve been impressed with…but, we have so much more to do!
Working Together to Healthy Nature and a Lasting Peace
Only by working together, through democratic institutions and processes, by supporting the leaders and groups that are most effective, can we create the local changes from which others can learn. Together, starting locally, we will create a world that embraces successful environmental conservation and achieves a lasting peace. I hope that you will do something to help.
-this post originally published at BrattonOnline.com, a dependable source of interesting information especially for the Monterey Bay area. Sign up and enjoy.
In order to work together through democratic institutions and processes, by supporting government elected representatives and groups that are most effective, we must be actively engaged in government on a regular basis, We have to communicate with electeds and their staff, attend board of Supervisors, City Council and county and city commissions. We must make our voices, our opinions and our valuable experience heard in local government.
Democracy is far more than periodic voting. Democracy is an active daily process. If we neglect our responsibility to take part in local government, we can only accept what others decide in our absence.
Santa Cruz Online (https://santacruzonline.org) provides a weekly compendium of county, city and non-governmental organization meetings for the coming week, with links to agendas and descriptions of critical agenda items.
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Excellent points! Thanks. Grey