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Valley Forum: Earth Day at a crossroads


It’s been a wild ride in our Valley, through four years of drought to this brilliant, lush spring. And it’s worth a moment as we approach Earth Day to set the situation in context, to think about this time in our history as a marker of what’s happening around the world, and to consider the future -- especially at home.

There’s some good news. California has decided to manage its groundwater instead of using it up. There’s strong momentum toward electrifying transportation, and shifting to clean sources of electricity. Our county’s Open Space District has now protected the agriculture and open space of more than 10 percent of the county, and we voted to protect lands that separate urban areas.

We have also created a host of challenges for ourselves. Ocean acidification, habitat loss, species loss, biological invasions, loss of farmland, groundwater depletion, desertification, and more —all magnified by climate change — certainly don’t add up to a sustainable future for our children. Global leaders’ interest in forming partnerships to address complex issues, after some years of progress, appears to be waning.

Locally, though, things are not so dismal. Some of these big issues — which cross over between environmental, social and economic concerns — can be resolved better at a smaller scale and linked upward into broader solutions. There is a process underway in our own community that may become one of these scalable local solutions.

Sustainable Sonoma is a project concept that has a simple premise. There are over 100 organizations and agencies working in our community for public benefit, each addressing social, economic, and environmental issues in their own way, and no one group is charged with watching out for the whole. The City of Sonoma oversees just two of the 160 square miles of our Valley, the County has just one person representing the entire Valley, and all the groups are geographically limited or have a narrow focus. Without a process to articulate our common interests and act in unison, things constantly fall through the cracks and our quality of life is increasingly at risk.

Sustainable Sonoma brings the many threads of our community together to discover our common goals, set targets, create a framework for measuring progress, and select projects to work on together that have multiple benefits across the multiple sectors of our community. Interestingly, for how obvious this idea seems, there are few models to look to. Once again, our community may be breaking important new ground.

The project will launch this year, with public meetings and an interactive website (launching April 22). Already, several groups representing health, business, social services, agriculture and the environment have met, and are working to assure that the structure is transparent and supports the full range of our community’s interests. A generous donor has helped fund a coordinator. It’s on its way! We urge anyone with a stake in the future of Sonoma Valley to visit SustainableSonoma.net, consider the questions that ask for your perspective, and raise your voice as Sustainable Sonoma takes shape.

It seems that people across our Valley, to a remarkable degree, share a common vision of how they hope and dream their community can and should be. This may be a unique time and place in history to act on this shared vision. If not here, where? If not now, when?

Happy Earth Day.

Richard Dale is the executive director of the Sonoma Ecology Center.