The fish that eats California | Raucous Caucus | Tom Cushing | |

Local Blogs

By Tom Cushing

The fish that eats California

Uploaded: May 9, 2015

It's not the delta smelt. Nor the salmon ? it's the carp.

Indeed, the actions of one species present California with its biggest challenges in coping with the mega-drought: it's us. As Yunel Harari reminds readers in his recent bestseller "Sapiens," we are the species that most divides its own members into 'we' and 'they.'

That defining characteristic may have had some utility in the days of foragers, when life could depend on a quick discrimination between friend and foe, tribe or stranger. But that instinct has lost much of its evolutionary benefit generally; it gets in our way ever more often these days, especially when 'them' is 'us.'

For an example, look no further than the Danville/San Ramon Town Square discussion of East Bay MUD's new water supply ? which may taste and smell a little different from the wonderfully clean norm around here (most of which we don't drink, but our lawns and clothes are grateful, I'm sure). The change is needed to protect the ecosystem, according to EBMUD GM Alexander Coate, and the water will continue to meet all safety standards. "Alternatives would be even tougher to swallow," he adds, in a nice turn of phrase.

The very first comment, so-far subscribed-to by 25 (count-em) other readers, blames the damned ecosystem, and emphatically demands that unspecified criminal charges be brought against a random gang-of-three 'theys': Governor Brown, and Senators Boxer and Feinstein (only one of whom regularly even drinks the local water). You can tell the commenter is serious by all the exclamation points.

Then, when a few brave souls question the wisdom of that approach, they are promptly derided as 'brain-dead' 'idiots' with 'bleeding hearts,' who need to 'wake-up.' Other posters blame other 'theys:' home-builders, undocumented immigrants, water bottlers and the pols with whom they share sack time, educators and Democrats, in general, because the "Republicans haven't run this state since 1878" (whew). I'm not sure how the almond growers have escaped this onslaught, but the thread's still young.

Now, I'm aware (boy, howdy) that internet posting boards inspire a particularly avid subset of the population, and that anonymity breeds more emphasis(!) than forethought. But that said: really, torch-and-pitchfork set, are these the best comments you can offer to this community?

First, 'it' hasn't even happened yet, so drink-up and count the current blessings of our little green oasis before sometime next week, when the new water may actually reach your tap.

Second, kindly ponder exactly how much actual water you actually drink, out of how many gallons you actually use. It is a miniscule share. For those most discerning palates, carbon-based filters are cheap and easy. In other words, the burden here barely warrants any punctuation at all, much less multiple exclamation points. I'd need a whole lot more than "99 Problems" before this one would even make the list.

Third, this drought emergency is unprecedented in our history as a state community. I will speculate that many of the most vocal whiners hereabouts are also passionate proponents of limited government. If regulators had protected your sensibilities for up to, say, a dry decade, you'd be complaining about wasteful government spending for something that'll just never happen. You can't have it both ways in life, except on the internets.

Finally, this drought emergency really is a natural calamity no less severe than an earthquake or sharknado -- it's just happening in very slow motion. Do Oklahomans blame their elected reps when their houses and belongings are strewn across their landscape, such as it is?

In situations like that, communities manage to check their we'n-and-they'n, and their exclamations, at the door -- and then pull together toward a recovery. We can call the drought just the arbitrary act of capricious deity, if it helps: bad things have happened, and no one's to blame. And we all need to adjust and adapt, together, to ride it out.

It may get worse before it gets better. But it'll get a lot less-worse if we quit with the carping, try to evolve beyond our basest blaming instincts, and remember that Pogo was right.