View Electronic Edition

20th Anniversary Rendezvous - Huey Johnson

I have learned from experience that one can work on immediate opportunities that can be projected over the long term. My preference is looking to the future in 100-year segments,

I often use the word permanence in speaking about the future. I came across this concept years ago when I decided to become an environmentalist full time and became specialized as a preserver of unique land. After several years as the Western Regional Director of The Nature Conservancy, and later founder and first president of the Trust For Public Land, I moved toward broader policy directions. But to this day the greatest reward in life is to go back and explore those places that I helped preserve and see the stewardship by the people who care for them. Because of this sense of caring and pride, there is every chance that the land will still be in a natural state not just a hundred years from now, but a thousand years from now.

America has gotten in the habit of thinking about the here and now, and little about permanence. The way that we have mangled and overused our national resources is the best example of this kind of short-term thinking. For instance, there is scarcely an acre that is not bleeding its top-soil into the sea. Since civilizations thrive or die depending on the quality of their soil, this is a great threat to our permanence.
Until now many people discounted the threat of environmental problems, but the cumulative abuse of air quality, and now the warming of the atmosphere from C02, ozone, and other gases and chemicals is so serious that the majority are concerned enough to demand a global response. I believe that now is the time to move toward a rational and global policy of permanence.

I know it is possible because I have experienced a time when the nation pulled together in preparation for World War II. I can look back to when I was eight years old, standing with a hoe in the burning sun, filling in for farmers who were gone to war, or wandering the countryside picking up nails to add more scrap steel to the war effort. I will always remember the tremendous focus of the nation and remain hopeful we can do it again, this time lor the true national security that will come with improved environmental quality and natural resource recovery.

A more recent example, and a source of great optimism for me about the future because we all participated, is the overwhelming response to the energy crisis since the beginning of this decade. In 1977,1 accepted a public post as California's Resources Secretary and soon had to publicly defend my opposition to a nuclear power plant. The Brown Administration was chewed up in the public arena by the public utilities who said that the state would be functioning in the dark if the crazies got away with blocking nuclear power.

The utilities projected a 7-percent growth rate forever. But we stood fast and after the smoke cleared we not only won our case, but everybody joined us, including the former opposition.

Having lived through that experience of viewing what seemed to be an impossible condition, and learning that by trying all kinds of energy experiments wind, solar, biomass that each of those alternatives presented a statistical gain in energy accumulation. Currently, 12 percent of California's peak energy is coming from alternative energy sources, not nuclear or coal. And it is soon to be 25 percent. That experiment was a huge billion-dollar undertaking on an enormous scale.

Because we succeeded then with energy issues, I know now that we can reforest the earth, that we can clean our water, that we can ensure a higher quality of life for future generations. But we have to have the vision and be creative enough to structure and carry out those functional ideas that make sense.
When humanity does decide to pull together great things can happen. We have done it for war, we can do it to ease the Greenhouse effect. And this is possible on a global plane in order to respond to air quality conditions. The massive reforestation that must go on and I use the word must is a great substitute for munitions manufacturing. Soldiers would be better off planting trees.

That is my immediate grand-scale vision; one I've been working on full-time for several years.

The very role of this magazine, and the Point Foundation, which owns and administers it, is to explore the courageous thinking about the future, and to help publish contemporary ideas that offer a transition point. The reason that I am on the Board is that this foundation is the most relevant begin-I ning point for this transition to the future that I can access easily. And it is another sign for optimism.