By Scott Ragsdale
This monthly column follows a long line of people who’ve decided to regularly contribute to their local discourse here in Davis – be it Flatlander, Enterprise or Vanguard. My hat is off to David Greenwald who works tirelesslessly and to good effect on daily additions to the Vangaurd – that level of productivity is well beyond me.
I refer to regular columns on energy infrastructure and regulation written by John Mott-Smith and co-columnists Jonathan London and Jann Murray-García social justice must reads. And while I do not agree with the premise of beneficent free market Rifkanism or that progressives are not well thought out – Rich does his homework. De Angeline – I’m a fan – she brings it home and I aspire to be as spontanies and cogent – won’t happen. Bob Dunning – who covers it all. And while I reference these thinkers – ok – not as much Dunning (I can’t keep up); I’ll try to take a different but no less personal take on things that I think readers care about.
Some of The Vanguard’s readership might be familiar with me. Since moving back to Davis in 2005, I’ve been a regular contributor to letters to the editor in the Enterprise. I came back to Davis with my family to continue my solar energy industry work. I was a 1979 DHS graduate and attended UC San Diego and Irvine. My family has resided in California since the 1850s – both sides. I run a business development consulting practice, “Stones Throw Strategies” which emphasizes local soil-to-soil product development.
I have a long privileged history in Davis and I have a few things to share with you about my view of our perennial predicament. It’s not my objective to drive to any foregone conclusion – that there is some purpose to this discussion about how to live well on this planet – even if there is. But it is important to me to relate to the intensely local and broader global inconsistencies and successes as they appear. And I do this because I believe we can shape them – avoiding the former and emphasizing the later.
If there’s anything that the last 16 years of political and technological experience has demonstrated is that life, as we know it, is malleable. The laws/patterns we subscribe to are much more important than the tools we use in determining the fate of living systems and how we treat each other.
I think we have long understood, in Davis, that we are Terra-forming the earth at an ever accelerating – now alarming – rate. Even if you don’t believe in atmospheric science, discarded plastics alone have infiltrated every body of water on the planet – the tooth fairy did not make that happen.
So what have we been doing in Davis since Earth Day 1969? Educating our kids whose success at gaining admission to colleges and universities of their choice is legendary. We have admirably kept our public school system, their underpaid teachers and overpaid administrators, in good order while offering stellar – if expensive – artistic and athletic extracurricular experiences.
The parents of those kids kept their jobs as duel income earners, single mom’s and dad’s – driving cars, buying goods that were and are contained in plastics whose origins and destinations we don’t have time to contemplate. Not to harp on plastics – ok – to harp on plastics. (It’s always impressed me that the readily disposed of peanut butter and jelly sandwich bag has a half-life of a redwood tree.)
In part what happens to these high-school students is – that prior to their raising their own children – they look around at the natural sciences they learned about in K-12 and quickly come to the conclusion that most of what they learned about how to play nice with nature is being ignored. After you start raising kids – then the gloves truly come off and it’s all about them. The choices between this or that is split second and – all things being equal – you go with price.
And we learn this as the Davis intelligentsia of corporate America that many of us are. Why fight it? The race to the bottom has been discussed, and this is where the adults in the room have failed. In the last five years we have resurrected the Hostess Twinkies, but failed to come up with a pathway to a renewable energy infrastructure.
The Hostess boarded up in late 2012, came back and was sold for $2.6 billion in 2015. The “glory” story of the Twinkie – with 32 grams of sugar and 37 artificial ingredients – made it’s way back to 400 million units per year. That’s 285,714 pounds of sugar in the American bloodstream annually. New owners automated the bankrupted company bringing the workforce down from 9,000 to about 2,000 with distribution being entirely outsourced to contract truck drivers – how is this a good result except for the very few and even then – such inequity can’t be comfortable.
Twinkie’s Miracle Comeback: The Untold, Inside Story of a $2 Billion Feast, Forbes: Steven Bertoni APR 15, 2015
Hostess Twinkies return to stores, but unionized jobs disappear The Christian Science Monitor By Akane Otani, Contributor JULY 15, 2013
We don’t see this in Davis. I don’t know where the Twinkies are in the grocery store. But there are scientists whose engineering and chemistry knowledge is employed to the craft of processed foods – that has been the direction for a long time. We don’t eat Twinkies in Davis – and yet we house the knowledge of this mercenary economy
that we educate our children to either lead or to resign themselves. – we could do a lot better to harness more equitable and wholesome value chains of goods and services generally. There are steps to soil based carbon biologics that naturally sequester green house gases – and to making great food at the same time.
Food is us – as we contemplate hosting the World Food Center in our town.
This little tomato patch can integrate farmers market values with larger institutions. There is a choice about the rules and patterns we use to bound our technology. The people in the academic centers and board rooms have children at our schools – neighbors all – with service workers, scientists and professionals – all getting there hands in the dirt.
Davis has a big role to play in determining how just and equitable our food culture will be. The story will be told about how to make regenerative soil building practices personal – a story that his a big part of playing nice with nature.