I’m reading my January copy of the Natural Hazards Observer; if you aren’t subscribed to the Natural Hazards Observer, I don’t know why not. In a summary of the International Disaster and Risk conference 2008, the author wrote:
An anticipated outcome of the conference was to be “100 Ideas for Action” generated by the panels or from the experience of the assembled participants. The organizers did seek innovative ideas, but in this ambitious goal the meeting was not entirely successful. As acknowledged at the final session, many of the resulting videoed comments and even more of the solicited “new ideas” were conventional statements of positive intent.
Oh hell yes. This is all we get, all the time. Fucking platitudes. You feel like a grinch resenting statements of positive intent, but when you talk to bureaucrats you hear generic crap about working together and educating the public every single time. And they need more funding. Or, because it is our duty and our desire, we want to bring the public into our decision making. But in some ways, laypeople are the worst. They have just enough information to tell you the basics of your field. I swear, if you ask the broad public what to do in water, I guarantee you will hear one of two themes. If it is agriculture, you get the echoes of Cadillac Desert. If it is urban, you will hear that we should switch to pervious concrete. I’m not quite sure why pervious concrete has captured people’s attention so, but you can count on that recommendation. I love me some concrete, but that is not a new idea.
I’m not sure where to go for new thought. My friend suggests more demanding facilitation at meetings. I have to confess that I want to put a list of the platitudes that we always hear up on the wall, and if someone offers one, we point to it and cut him or her off. We know. Bigger pies, power of collaboration, efficiency, the children are our future. We know. But I am afraid that bureaucrats are so cowed they are afraid to say more than the platitudes that satisfied people last time. I read the comments to newspaper stories hoping that some crackpot will present such a skewed view that it will trigger something new. It is a pretty punishing search. I’ve said before that I’ve enjoyed the transcriptions of public comments for other processes. They aren’t dense, but there is some signal in that noise. I think my best sources for thought right now are the trade journals: Western Farm Press, the Journal of Light Construction, the Natural Hazard Observer or university presentations.*
My favorite recent thought came out of watching testimony to the Blue Ribbon Delta panel. That day, a county supervisor or city councilperson or someone stood up to say that it wasn’t the Delta that was broken, it was the rest of the state. Now that was an interesting prospect. The Delta in its current configuration, sinking peat islands behind shaky levees, is the priority. The remainder of California should act as a vassal state to support the farming lifestyles of a few thousand people farming in an untenable physical circumstance. The purpose of Silicon Valley and Hollywood is to accumulate money to hold back the rising seas in the Delta. I had never seen it like that before, but I got a lot of mileage out of that concept that day. It was way better than hearing another round of conventional statements of positive intent.
*I know you will die of jealousy –I am spending all day tomorrow at seminars on climate change and evapotranspiration. If I can, I will live-blog it for you. Now that is some riveting reading.