Sustainable Sonoma – What It Is, and Isn’t

Fueled by nearly five years of discussions with you, our beloved neighbors in this feisty Bear-Flag-loving pueblo, The Sun has asked us to comment on a surprisingly moveable topic: ‘Sustainability’.

Like Thomas Jefferson, we generally find the truths about sustainability to be ‘self-evident’. Nevertheless, we offer up a few observations we find neither too obscure nor too convenient to ignore.

What We Know

“Sustainability is permanence.” Soil advocate Lady Eve Balfour said this almost 40 years ago, and it still rings true today. She went on to quote Aldo Leopold, “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise”.

Sonoma is blessed with an abundance of natural — and increasingly cultural — amenities that inspire our spirits and make almost all of us happy to live here. Sonoma also has a proud tradition of iconoclastic independence. It should come as no surprise that our new vecinos de Michoacán have independence in their tradition too. We have much to learn from one another in the years to come.

To be honest, we must acknowledge that the quality of life we now enjoy comes as a direct result of the agrarian sensibilities and economic conservatism of our forebears. Rather than sell out to the highest bidder, most had the auspicious foresight (or just plain stubbornness) to preserve Sonoma’s integrity, stability and beauty instead of building freeways, strip malls, chain stores, monster hotels and hospitals, and for the most part, even the generic fast food franchises and boilerplate housing developments that have proliferated all around us.

Sonoma’s uniqueness today is our inheritance, and its authenticity is our duty to preserve.

We all know that our permanence in the Valley is increasingly at risk; that our present economy and lifestyles are not sustainable, and that by most indicators, matters are getting worse, not better. We know that aspirational goals and marketing campaigns alone won’t change this.

Any claim of ‘sustainability’ must acknowledge that we have much hard work ahead, and indeed sacrifices to make, before we can declare ‘Mission Accomplished’ and expect anyone not to mock us.

Sometimes our leaders may need our help to remember this. That’s when we cheerfully remind them that the permanence of this place is greater than all of us, and will always be more valuable than the sum of everything else we may fleetingly possess in our brief time passing through here.

We can be thankful that some of our best community leaders seem to be ready to understand this. Just this week, our raceway neighbors (and generous benefactors) to the south made a tough decision for the better, one that many of us appreciated. It’s always wise to face in the right direction when the answers are blowin’ in the wind.

What We Don’t Know

Much more important than what we think we know is what do not know.

When will it rain again? Will it be too little, or so much that we flood again? How badly over drafted is our groundwater already? When will we get the data to measure this precious common resource so we can begin to manage it? How much will our most vulnerable have to suffer before we reach out to help? How will they, we all, respond to survive… perchance to thrive?

At Transition Sonoma Valley, we seek to be a catalyst bringing people to together to start asking the tough questions and to celebrate the joys of living in a community that is committed to transitioning away from our current unsustainability and risk to a world that future generations are depending on us to deliver.

– Transition Sonoma Valley Steering Team (4/24/2015)

An abridged version ran in vol. IX Issue 35 of The Sun.

Image: TSV montage of enviro-econo-social Venn diagram (by Sustainable Sonoma) over Amazon España por dentro (by Álvaro Ibáñez, Madrid, Spain, CC2.0). Image added 2020-12-26.

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