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Monday, July 4, 2011

No city actually serious about sustainability would do this


Salem's official flirtation with sustainability -- or at least the language of sustainability -- is one of those mixed bags.

On the one hand, it's basically at least a micro-step in the right direction. Anyone who really engages with the concept of what it means to be sustainable -- living so that the life chances and choices of people in the future are not degraded as a result of your own choices -- quickly recognizes how vastly different that would be from our automobile-dominated world and our foolish thoughts that we can continue "growth" forever.

The downside is that, once you start stamping a corporate style logo about sustainability everywhere and congratulating yourself for merely having gassed about it in enough big meetings, you make people who are actually concerned about it crazy when you do things like:

  • Allowing corporations to spam doorsteps with littervertising, like the weekly coupon dump that the Statesman-Journal spews out each week, and the tons and tons and tons of worthless "yellow pages" that get vomited all over town each year, only to go directly into recycle bins;

  • Willfully acting irrationally and wastefully as a government, showing that you really have no clue about sustainability or even smart governance.

    Case in point:

    Each month for three years now, the City of Salem has spent 34 cents to send me

    (A) a paper bill every month that is marked "DO NOT PAY" (because I have my water and sewer/stormwater bill automatically debited from my checking account)

    (B) Another piece of blue paper begging me to give a little extra money for people who have problems with their bills,

    (C) AND a spanking new return envelope.

    (D) In a business envelope.

    Every month, the entire thing goes straight into the recycling.

    In other words, even as budget troubles force Salem to cut back on essential services, there is apparently nobody in the entire city bureaucracy who both cares enough and is sentient enough to ask "Hey, if we're going to be all hot for sustainability, why don't we stop wasting money by letting the people who auto-pay their utility bills to opt-out of the paper bill?"
The real trouble with this kind of nonsense isn't just the huge wastes it represents.

It's also that it absolutely demolishes your credibility as far as concern for the environment, concern for smart use of the taxpayers' money, and concern for organization credibility.

That's a lot of damage from a single, stupid mailing each month, but there it is.

On the other hand, once in a while, when I'm in full rant mode about this, someone says "Hey, ease up, it's just a stupid little thing, don't get so upset."

Naturally, this about doubles my rpm, because if it's such a little thing, then why isn't it fixed yet? Why do I have to keep posting this same damn rant every year? There are so many easy ways this could be fixed, and the fact that it isn't just says volumes about Salem's priorities. We have a whole city agency devoted to the fantasy of bringing airlines to Salem, but we're not even smart enough not to pour money down the drain mailing non-bills to people who don't want them and don't need them. Pitiful.