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SMa.r.t. Column: The Big Reset

Part 2 of 2 articles

Last column we considered the illusions that keep us from facing the real dangers of climate change. The illusion that events far away (eg melting ice caps) do not impact us, the wishful thinking that technology will save us and the illusion that we can keep doing what we have always done, all conspire to allow us to ignore the gravity of our situation. To read the full article please see https://smmirror.com/2022/08/are-you-surprised-part-one-of-two-parts/. But essentially, the conclusion is that humanity is running out of time to adjust to the new climate cooked world. 

As always, the question then, is what can be done? SMart (Santa Monica architects for a responsible tomorrow) believes we may not be able to solve all of our problems we face immediately, but one thing we can do now is instantly change our minds. In other words we need a giant reset of our perspective. After we peel away the comforting illusions and fairy tales that have paralyzed our response to a fatal threat, we can replace them with a philosophy that is more survival favorable. We can leave behind the doomed guideposts of infinite profits from infinity growth. Instead we would propose two simple guideposts to lead our future decision making.

Does it help us live within our means?

First, we should always view any proposal with this lens: does it help us live within our means? For example a college or school district bond that piles new lcrushing debt  totaling Billions (with a B)  of dollars on future generations, when the college and school population is actually shrinking, is not an example of living within our means. A city that agrees to 8874 units of new construction without the permanent water for those 18,000 new residents is committing a form of suicide. A city that does not mandate net zero buildings (buildings that produce all their needed power locally) is digging itself into a hole that will require forever wars with its neighbors as to who will pay the outsourced cost of oil pollution (extraction, refining and combustion) and  nuclear waste disposal. Even if the City outsources its windmills and photovoltaic collectors, it is still destroying someone else’s  environment to build those seismically vulnerable, ponderous and wildlife  killing facilities. A city that does not recycle the preponderance of its waste again is entering into unnecessary landfill wars with its neighbors. Santa Monica’s recycling program collapsed when China refused to accept our garbage. Conversely, the Japanese town of Kamikatsu recycles 80% of its urban waste while the United States recycles a pitiful 9%. Even the urban waste stream is a resource:  it can be recaptured help us to live within our means .

One of the best side effects of true sustainability is that it reduces forever wars between regions and peoples. This conflict reduction decreases the chance of wars, the ultimate expression of failing to live within your means. All wars end in exhaustion of one side or both and now presage the exhaustion of the entire globe. We have been at war with our environment for centuries and its now reaching terminal exhaustion.  It does not matter if the issue is energy, social justice, materials, health, land, waste, trust, money, water, affordability, good will, clean air or food; we cannot consume or squander more of any of those necessities than we can produce sustainably for the life of humanity. 

Doing more with less

Second, to live within our means, since resources are finite, we need to do more with less. For example we now have only two sizes of parking stalls (standard and compact). We need a third size for micro cars (Le Smart, the Fiat 500) as more small electric cars are purchased. Those small cars can fit about 2 per standard stall so parking structures/lots/garages can start to shrink or if they stay the same size can serve more residents/customers within the same size footprint. Such waste reducing and utility optimizing initiatives are all forms of doing more with less. But obviously we can go even further and use buses, scooters, bikes and shoes as a way of doing even more with less cars, but it does require dedicated bike lanes, wider sidewalks etc.. 

There is an infinite number of such opportunities because of the gross wastefulness of our society. From throw away packaging to throw away fashion, our commercial product stream is full of waste reduction opportunities. For a larger example, instead of tearing down the acres of empty retail and office buildings, it would be better to save the structures by adaptively reusing them for new purposes (see the repurposed Westside Pavilion). Doing more with less can happen at any scale. Finally the best example of doing more with less is the humble tree. This ordinary object provides shade, fruit, habitat for wildlife, seasonal drama, wind protection, carbon sequestration, thermal stability, water retention, building materials, slope stability and  most importantly oxygen all in one living package. Therefore, to remove a tree, unless its diseased or dangerous is the ultimate wastefulness. To plant and maintain a tree is the ultimate investment in our sustainable future. 

Your choices make a difference

The best thing about starting to live within your means and doing more with less, is that none of this requires any leaders, group or organizing effort. You can do a lot of this now by yourself in so many areas of your life. Of course, much will require group consensus, but all of us know where the low hanging sustainability fruit are in our own lives.  Living within your means and doing more with less are not radical concepts. Most Santa Monicans have been doing this individually successfully for years. But individual actions do not guarantee group success.  Even if every Santa Monican paid  off their individual credit cards religiously every month (living within our means), that does not mean our City could not suddenly be crushed by a ballooning unfunded pension liability. Individual actions while vital, need to be augmented by group actions up to and including globally scaled actions.

Naturally the question of why we should even try to live within our means or do more with less, needs to be answered. Why should we change and deny ourselves anything when all around us conspicuous consumption reigns? Why not just party to the max leaving the whole mess to the next generation? The answer is that is exactly what we are already doing now.  You can see how well its working. Its working so well, that there may not even be a next generation willing to pick up our mess or enough survivors who can. 

The benefits  of population stability

The better answer is that now, the whole planet is shifting to survival mode. The sooner we all shift in that direction, the greater the possibility of avoiding unnecessary suffering including the possibility of mass extinction. In other words, in this transition to a fully sustainable world, our job is damage control from our previously spendthrift ways including rebalancing the social equity costs.  We are already moving in the right direction in our City, County and State by being very close to almost no population growth. This is panicking the establishment: “Oh my god, California, for the first  time,  lost a representative in Congress!”  They are trying every trick they can, to have you believe this is a real problem. Instead, we should embrace this as a beneficial opportunity.  This fortunate drop in population demand allows us to bring the supply of other critical variables such as water, power, food etc. into alignment with this stable population demand and therefore possibly create a sustainable City and eventually state. If that is not possible, a population decrease will become unavoidable.

When population is always growing in a city or state or country or world, sustainability is inevitably vanishing. So those that want to rapidly increase our City’s population or say things like cities must always grow, are just blind apologists for an unsustainable, doomed way of life. They are setting us up for an avoidable  bigger collapse by forestalling the sustainability changes that could be accomplished today. This fetishizing of growth will cause a much more painful disintegration that the survivors will inherit.

Looking for a soft landing.

However, as we transition to true sustainability, we should have no illusions that we will still face many other tests (earthquakes, heat waves, mega storms, epidemics, forest fires, tsunamis, riots etc.) short of mass extinction that could destabilize our already shaky City. These tests will create immense suffering for our residents. The more sustainable we make our City now,  the more survivable these intermediate tests will be. In other words the same changes we do for sustainability will also increase our resiliency to these inevitable crisis.  

Just like the Fed is dishing out strong medicine, trying for a soft landing from our overheated inflation, we need the strong medicine of a Big Reset  to bring the City, State, country and world back into sustainable balance.  Thus hopefully we can attain a soft landing for the current and future generations of the entire planet. As the cliche states clearly: “There is no Planet B”. Now is the time for the Big Reset by really living within our means and doing more with less. Our descendants will thank you.

By  Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA

S.M.a.r.t Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow

Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Architect, Dan Jansenson, Architect & Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect & Planning Commissioner, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA & Planning Commissioner, Marc Verville M.B.A, CPA (Inactive), Michael Jolly, AIR-CRE.
For previous articles see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing

in Opinion
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