Viable Solutions

Dirt! The Movie airs nationwide on PBS April 20th to celebrate Earth Day

Dirt! The Movie poster "A story with heart and soil."Why should we care about dirt? With more than half the people on earth living in cities, what’s the big deal about something we work hard to keep out of our homes and streets? As it turns out, dirt – the earth’s living soil - is a huge deal when it comes to our sustainability, resilience, adaptation to climate change and protection from its effects, in fact our very lives.

Dirt! The Movie addresses many basic things we’ve forgotten – why we need healthy soil to survive and thrive as humans…whether for water supply, to protect from floods, or to feed people.


The soft path out of LA's financial mess

Path at watershed demonstration schoolTo find its way out of the current financial crisis, the City of Los Angeles will have to do more than just trim jobs. The city must reorganize itself under enormous fiscal pressure to save hundreds of millions of dollars, even as the services it provides to protect the safety and health of its citizens are more needed than ever.

This much is well-known. What has gone virtually unnoticed are the roots of this crisis in environmental mismanagement. Waste and duplication are unwittingly built into the very structure of our city government, costing us hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Water provides the best example.

Drops in the bucket

My new rain barrelI just installed a rain barrel at my home, provided by the city of Los Angeles' rainwater harvesting program (which is not accepting new applicants, but does have a waiting list).

This isn't the most viable solution for making us in LA more water-secure. It only collects 60 gallons of rainwater, a thimble full. But it is a solid step in the right direction.

Instead of 60 gallons, we should be collecting thousands of gallons per household so we can replace a substantial amount of the water that must be imported to water our landscapes.

Grey infrastructure drains jobs, energy and water: a new tragedy of the commons

Desalination plantTwo weeks ago, at a conference panel on water policy issues and green jobs, an engineer consultant explained why major water agencies are slow to change and don't adopt new technologies readily.

They need to ensure reliable service, and therefore they default to mega-systems: dams, canals, large treatment plants. Most importantly, he said, "We don't want anybody to get hurt."

We can all support agencies' efforts to protect the health of their consumers, but this "no-one-gets-hurt" stance doesn't take into account the hurt that falls on people outside the agency's purview. If we click back to look at the big picture, we see that the policies, actions, costs and impacts of agencies acting within their limited jurisdiction - or "silo," in management parlance - does harm people, although that harm may not be visible.

But who are these people who are getting hurt without being seen? Who are these invisible victims?

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