During the second part of this century, the human population of Sonoma County has more than tripled, growing by 29.5% in the last decade alone. Both population and economic growth, although slowing, have been proceeding at rates higher than the state average. Population density in Sonoma County currently stands at about 268 people per square mile. Planners estimate the county will officially become "urban" by transit standards, with a population topping 500,000, before 2010. Although multi-family home construction is on the upswing, single-family residences continue to dominate the home building market. At the same time, the number of people per household is shrinking. Most job growth continues to concentrate in the service, retail, construction, and government sectors, whereas, prior to World War II, tourism, lumber and agriculture employed the most workers.
Our land uses reflect our priorities, and what this report tells us is that during this surge of growth and economic transformation, the human concerns of the moment have in many cases taken precedence over the care of our common heritage--usurping prime soil, compromising air and water quality, driving some species to local extinction and threatening the survival of others. Although controls on environmental impacts are now stronger, the carelessness of earlier decades has left as its legacy plumes of contaminated ground water and fouled land, areas of massive erosion, wetlands and riparian forests obliterated, and portions of the landscape in fragments:
Urbanized land has expanded at the rate of 1,100 acres annually, with more than 900 acres converted from agriculture each year.
We've been building roads at the rate of 23 miles a year, driving 8.8 million miles per day, and carpooling less.
Our energy use, of which gasoline consumption accounts for more than half, is equivalent to burning 25 pounds of coal per person daily.
The county casts an estimated 539 tons of pollutants into the air every day--2.64 pounds per person--as well as emitting a hefty 716,713 pounds of airborne toxics per year, including, in 1990, about 125,000 pounds of chlorofluorocarbons.
In 1991, we landfilled nearly a half million tons of garbage, produced at a rate of 6.84 pounds per person daily. Each household generated nearly seven pounds of hazardous waste per year, and much of it has been disposed of illegally. Illegal disposal of small quantities of hazardous waste appears to be widespread; for each day of 1986, an estimated 2,700 gallons of waste oil found its way onto the ground or into streets and storm drains.
Waste oil, diesel, heavy metals, pesticides, or agricultural runoff have polluted an estimated 245 miles of streamway to some degree, along with 13 square miles of groundwater around the county, affecting numerous wells and some publicly-owned water supplies.
Despite the damage, Sonoma County remains for many a beautiful and desirable place to live. The question before us now is, What will we leave our children? In the present moment, do we find ourselves working to somehow better our world? Or are we asking, What's left in it for me?
This choice is at the root of every decision we make that affects the environment. In that respect, it shows us what we are making of ourselves together, for our impacts are cumulative. Are we acting in harmony with one another? Do material goods figure prominently in our thoughts? Protected hillsides, some innovative development, and big box stores answer back.
By its nature, the environmental dilemma calls for a cooperative solution. Towards that end, we need to know two things: what our current condition is, and what we hope to make it. This report responds to the first concern. The second is up to all of us. A document cannot form a vision nor act in faith on it; for that, we need one another.
How do we attain a brighter future?
The members of Sustainable Seattle, a community-based quality-of-life index project, set before themselves the image of their own children, grand- or great-grandchildren (or the descendants of someone they've loved) "being well, happy, fulfilled...and living in a healthy world." They then asked themselves, What would best inform the decisions we must make on their behalf? The result was a list of 40 indicators, pared to 20 for the first year's report, arrived at by consensus among more than 150 participants.
The piece of work they produced is itself an inspiration. But, just as we've seen in our own planning process, documents don't induce intentional living. The only real template we have for our future is the current
configuration of our desires. Those who have mastered the lower impulses to live out the higher are those who can affect the future for the common good. When the hearings close, the public process follows us into our private lives.
In offering solutions to environmental problems, government and technology have a place. But it is human interaction that holds the key to what a community can achieve. When someone personally affects us in a positive manner, we're able to align our attention more with the forward-looking and less with the sideways-glancing. The potency of this renewed perspective can inspire us to act in ways that cumulatively will produce a better place to live. In this way, an environmental index can serve as a meeting ground for dedicated people to refresh one another's vision of a future for us all.
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