Squandering Our Natural Resources ... Why We're ALL To Blame

ALPERN AT LARGE - On vacation in South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming, it becomes pretty clear that there are certain precious resources--particularly in our national parks--that just won't come back if we squander them.  Open space, beautiful and pristine wonders of nature such as Yellowstone (with Old Faithful and the other myriad of geysers, waterfalls and other attractions that bring in tourists from throughout the globe) and the Black Hills, and the flora and fauna that thrive within these precious lands, are all at risk of being lost.  But we keep forgetting about the natural resources that are human in nature...and are being squandered on a regular and daily basis.

One need not get into theological discourse to suggest that human beings have the innate ability to preserve or destroy the gifts bestowed upon us by Mother Nature. We also have the skill set, however, to enhance or ruin our human resources--resources such as work ethic, kindness, generosity, open-mindedness and moral fortitude--as well, and while it's difficult to determine whether we're naturally self-centered or idealistic, it's not difficult to conclude our society needs a major reboot that will require iron will but with a very delicate touch.

It's not only in the City of the Angels that we see these natural (including human) resources being wasted, but examples are particularly evident.  One of the last few open spaces in the Westside was lost when Playa Vista was smashed through an enabling City Council, but was the fault that of its developers or the lack of foresight of the rest of us to buy out that open space when we had the chance?  And are the examples of the failed Bundy Village and the ominous, looming Casden Sepulveda projects a failure of planning, mere greed, or both?

The Expo Light Rail Line has an opportunity to create wonderful new opportunities for business and residential development, but while this project was built with public funds the question of whether this development should be built with private or public funds is as timely a question as any--as evidenced by the explosion of development in Culver City.

As with water and other natural resources, fiscal resources are finite.  Just as pro-business conservatives have had to be brow-beaten into recognizing that natural resources are finite, too many liberals have had to be brow-beaten into recognizing that fiscal resources are finite...and the inherent conflict of interest (along with human nature) on both sides of the political spectrum have provided numerous examples of hypocrisy.

For example, poor planning and the willingness to build and attract too many people for our City and region's water and infrastructure has proven to be the greatest threat to our environment.  Much of the reason why South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming have so much preserved land is that those states are relatively underpopulated.  

But who funds that preservation, and most of our nation's government and economy?  Our urban regions, where the business and financial transactions are so numerous as to fund the priorities of our rural neighbors...but which too often does not receive its fair share of federal tax revenues to maintain its infrastructure and which too often suffer from local elected leaders who waste fiscal and human resources on frivolous, self-defeating and feel-good projects that hurt the economy and our quality of life.

Much of our problem--particularly brought to light during our ongoing economic downturn--is the fiscal shenanigans that were years (if not decades) in the making but which are only now on the verge of seeing prosecution and resolution. However, the legal line-crossing pales before the tremendous economic and moral line-crossing that made no financial or mathematical sense.

Christopher Dodd and Barney Frank may have come up with a bill to provide more restrictions to misbehaving Wall Street entities, but were entirely guilty of allowing too much lending to too many borrowers who never had the ability or desire to truly pay those loans back.  George W. Bush may have provided some warning about the subprime lending crisis and the inequity and nepotism of corporate America, but his failure to articulate and promote a series of timely solutions hurt and smashed our country and world in ways that al-Qaida never could.

Being overly "nice" or adhering to hard, cold capitalistic principles won't get the job done, either for preservation of our natural resources or for preservation of our human quality of life--which are both under ongoing and withering attack.  Too much austerity won't get the job done, but while public investments are part of the answer, recent programs such as the 2009 stimulus package have been horribly and inefficiently misspent.

Furthermore, while corporate America hoards its money during this economic downturn--and suffers from too much greed, nepotism and lack of job-creating vision--our nation's federal and local governments are also guilty of hoarding public funds (as vital a resource as natural resources) and suffer from too much greed, coziness with lobbyists and lack of job-creating vision as well.  Our state is particularly guilty of this problem, as most recently evidenced by the $54 million stashed away from our state park system while it was cutting services and threatening to close parks.

The answer, or answers?  Again, iron will combined with a delicate touch, but with the mandatory understanding that while natural and human resources are finite, they are both wonderful and capable of amazing things:

1) Rather than require large corporations to undergo more regulations that even liberal economists recognize makes American businesses uncompetitive with the rest of the world, enhancing transparency of profitability and comparative senior-level reimbursement for investors makes as much sense as does publicizing and printing the number of calories and nutritional value in food.  

2) On a similar note, publicly-traded corporations and being bought and sold too much by robot/computer-generated programs rather than by human beings who can recognize market manipulation and which stocks are truly worthy of investment.  Our stock market must regain its credibility and investability for our economy to thrive.

3) We need to revisit and return to allowing stock options and fiscal incentives to even the lowest employees in publicly-traded (and maybe even in privately-held) companies in order to ensure that all hard-working workers in a corporate entity enjoy the results of a well-performing business.

4) When public stimulus funds are spent, they must be spent more like the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930's (which provided subsistence wages during that economic nightmare) and not the lip-smacking, kick-butt salaries that are not sustainable in the public sector and which are a huge part of our trillion-dollar-plus annual national deficit.

5) When possible, train government workers to work with the community as supervisors to fix broken sidewalks, alleys, parks and infrastructure instead of paying relatively few workers to complete a to-do list that is just too long and expensive to keep up with.  For example, I have seen numerous examples in the Mar Vista Community Council turn expensive projects into completed and efficient successes with a small public investment and an extraordinary amount of grassroots volunteer effort.

6) Think outside the box and let human capital heal our cities and environment--there are myriads of nonviolent criminal inmates, illegal immigrants and families burdened by debt and student loans who want to break free of their past and be offered the promise of a brighter future.  Let their sweat equity pay off their financial burdens and improve our landscape as well so that we can all take ownership of our community and nation.

7) Let compassion be balanced with reason and experience--too much and inappropriately-applied affordable housing, immigration policy and overdevelopment will destroy a city, state or nation's environment, economy and quality of life.  Being "nice" need not be "stupid" or "unsustainable".  For example, when there's no more water or infrastructure for further development, there comes a need to STOP.

Being human means being courageous as well as cowardly, being selfless as well as selfish, and being thoughtful as well as thoughtless.  While the recognition  that our natural and human resources are indeed finite is both sobering and disappointing, the recognition that our innovation and iron will can enhance both natural and human resources to almost infinite possibilities is as empowering and uplifting as anything one can imagine.

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at Alpern@MarVista.org . He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line, which strives to get the Green Line to LAX, at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)

Vol 10 Issue 59
Pub: July 24, 2012