Some of us baby boomers remember the heady days of the flower power era; the spirit of peace and goodwill was supposedly mixed with sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.
The Mamas & The Papas sang California Dreaming, Scott Mckenzie’s flower-powered If you’re going to San Francisco, and the Beach Boys extolled the idyllic beach lifestyle with California Girls. Post-war England didn’t quite have the same vibe, but we dreamed of the California sun and surf as we shivered in the unusually cold period of the forties to seventies.
In more recent times, the state has become Woke Central – the site of the birth of many activist movements, and, as these movements progress, the phrase ‘Go Woke, Go Broke’ seems increasingly appropriate.
California has certainly had its ups and downs.
Although Sir Francis Drake claimed California for England in 1579 during the Elizabethan times, the Spanish were the first invaders followed by the Mexicans after their independence. California became a republic in 1847, and then in 1848-55 it played host to the world’s biggest gold rush. The Native Americans were displaced to reservations, the railroad came through from the East, and the area boomed. Unlike in the East, slavery played little part in its success, although there had been some slave-taking by the Native American Indians until the conclusion of the US Civil War and new legislation. Sacramento became the focus of mining and ultimately the capital of the new state.
The significant 1,300-kilometre-long San Andreas geological fault runs down the American West Coast. It caused a major disaster when the 1906 earthquake, and subsequent fires, destroyed San Francisco. Measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, it resulted in 3,000 deaths and the destruction of 300,000 homes over 500 city blocks. A preceding major event in 1868 has been forgotten, a smaller earthquake, at 7.1 in 1989, reminded the residents of the power of nature.
The otherwise healthy environment encouraged investment and the largest city, Los Angeles, now has a population of 19 million, while San Francisco has 10 million, making it the most populous state in America. With its Mediterranean climate, agriculture boomed, and the small farming town of Hollywood subsequently became the centre of the booming film industry in the 1920s. Farming moved on to more lucrative crops and the wine industry became a major employer; having been grown on a small scale since the early 1800s, it now produces around 90 per cent of the country’s wine.
Another claim to fame was San Francisco’s role as host for a post-war conference in 1945 which led to the formation of the United Nations, perhaps a factor which led to its reputation as a leader of free expression. Starting in the sixties, the Free Speech movement demanded a political voice for students at Berkeley University’s campus.
Civil rights movements followed, with The Black Panthers starting in California in 1966; initially a Marxist-orientated social movement to support the Black population, it became increasingly militant and violent. After numerous armed clashes with police, resulting in multiple deaths on both sides, it was disbanded in the 1970s. The Black Lives Matter movement, with a similar Marxist ideology, was subsequently formed in Los Angeles in 2011 and has gone on to become a political force, with similar aims.
The anti-Vietnam war movement escalated from small beginnings in the sixties. After 10 years of war, the biggest protests were organised out of Berkeley University, San Francisco. One event attracted 35,000 protesters in 1965 with protests continuing until the end of American involvement in the war in 1973.
Another offspring of Black radical politics was the disastrous Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ; founded in 1954 by the infamous Jim Jones. Initially based in San Francisco, it moved to Mendocino, California. Focused on civil rights and ending segregation, the founder members were poor Blacks, subsequently increasingly joined by White middle-class families from the counter-culture. People and money flowed in from like-minded idealists, violence was not part of the plan and, although increasingly political, the movement went in a different direction to the Black Panthers.
With disillusion rising, the entire community decided, in 1972, to move to a ‘promised land’ in Guyana, South America. Relatives at home pushed for the cult’s investigation, leading to a violent confrontation with American authorities that year, with some on both sides killed. The final act of The Peoples Temple that year was a mass suicide of the 900 members, (including children), by drinking Kool-Aid laced with cyanide – the drink lives on in modern politics (sometimes without the cyanide)!
Another dark side to the history of the so-called progressive state is provided by its history of forced sterilisation. Starting in the early 1900s, the eugenics legislation was eventually repealed only in 1979 after an estimated 20,000 were deemed unfit to have children and sterilised. However, although no longer obligatory, the process continued in prisons, with 150 sterilised between 2006 and 2010; it was only in 2020 that it was finally banned.
Times have changed since former movie star, Republican Ronald Regan, was Governor in the sixties and seventies. The current fashionable Californian protest is about Climate Change; the Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) was established there, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lead to a sustainable future. Legislation was introduced into State Parliament in 2006 and was expanded in 2016, putting strict limits on fossil fuel energy production, currently at around 40 per cent renewable. On occasions, this percentage has momentarily risen as high as 95 per cent, producing much self-congratulatory back-slapping; routinely, California continues to need the state’s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, and interconnector supplies of electricity from fossil fuels from other states, to keep the lights on. A result of its renewable strategy is making electricity 70 per cent more expensive than the American average; grid operators are also predicting power outages this 2022 summer.
Local support for the Climate Change debate is encouraged by misleading reporting of ‘extreme’ weather events; as in Australia, examples of increasing droughts and bushfires appear prominently, although the evidence of a deteriorating environment is open to dispute. The presence of Hollywood glitterati and social media tycoons add glamour to the enthusiasm to ‘save the planet’.
Another current fashionable movement is the #MeToo movement. Started in New York in 2006, it returned with a vengeance after the Harvey Weinstein case in 2017, with stories of predatory male behaviour. Silicon Valley became a focus of embarrassing attention, when male executives at both Uber and Google were accused of similar behaviour, much tarnishing their Woke credentials. Several years of ongoing complaints resulted in the state passing legislation on the matter this year.
California is now the fifth largest economy in the world; the ever-expanding high-tech Silicon Valley workforce has had other consequences, with increases in demand for electricity, water shortages, and shortages of accommodation. Homelessness has become a major problem, with numbers rising from 70,000 in 2010 to 110,000 in 2020, around half of the American total. It also has an enviable record of 49th of the 50 states in its level of poverty.
Deaths on the street have increased from 600 in 2015, to 1,600 in 2021, complicated by the legacies of the flower-power era, with drug and alcohol abuse resulting in 40 per cent of those deaths. In 2021 there were an estimated 10,000 deaths from overdose in California, out of the US total of around 100,000. Poverty levels for Blacks and Hispanics are a third higher than the American average. Rather than addressing these important issues, the state has introduced legislation to prevent the sale of non-gender-neutral toys, and has established an ethnically-based maths education system.
These awful statistics sit uncomfortably alongside the wealth and image of Silicon Valley; the area of San Jose and Santa Barbara has the third highest GDP in the world (behind Zurich and Oslo). From its small beginnings in electronics in the 1950s, this area is now home to 4 million people; out of the 400,000 high-tech jobs in America, Silicon Valley is now home to 225,000. This younger immigrant population has, for the last 20 years, tended to vote green and engage in activism, whilst increasing energy demands as big tech moves in; forecasts are for a doubling of electricity demand by 2050.
As in Australia, the insatiable demand for a reliable power supply produces a conflict with ideology, a conflict that will only worsen as population numbers expand and electric cars are encouraged.
Current droughts have reduced water storage in California, with 17 per cent of the state’s power coming from hydro this has led to rolling blackouts, as well as affecting agricultural irrigation, and electricity costs are 75 per cent higher than the American average. The magic word ‘unprecedented’ is increasingly used, although a look at history reveals this is not new and the problem has been created by over-reliance on renewables; history reveals two lengthy droughts of around 100 years each in the Medieval warming period a thousand years ago.
Even NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) sees no evidence of decreasing rainfall, and relates these events to natural variability such as the El Niño-La Niña weather pattern; when it rains heavily in Australia, as currently in 2021-22, the La Niña weather pattern produces dry conditions on the American West Coast, El Niño reversing these effects. Major flooding events can also result from earthquake damage to the levees which protect low-lying areas.
The graph above demonstrates the unimpressive rise in temperature and change in annual rainfall over more than 60 years.
Of greater concern are the geological fault lines, realising that it is not ‘if’, but when the next event is due; it is overdue. In the past, small earthquakes occurred every few years, there was an ominous pause of around 70 years until 1979; there have been six small events since then, suggesting the strain along the fault line is building.
Predictions show that there is a 25 per cent chance of a Richter 7 earthquake in California by 2025, and a 50 per cent chance by 2050. The epicentre of the 7.1 magnitude event in 1989 was 70 miles from San Francisco; it resulted in 66 dead and $6 billion in damages. Risk assessment for Los Angeles suggests an even higher probability of a magnitude 7 earthquake event, closer to the city with resultant greater damage, in the next 20 years.
The coastal land is also sinking with the fault-line compression, with the increasing need for higher levees; in combination with rising sea levels means that, if it survives a quake, a large part of San Francisco will go underwater by 2100.
Meanwhile, there is a different story on the other side of the country. Florida has a similar latitude but a different climatic challenge; there are no earthquakes, but regular cyclones can do damage. There have been around 170 of varying intensity in the last 70 years, with some events most years, but few making landfall. There are also regular droughts and bushfires, with a severe fire event in 1998. As in Australia, a land of droughts, floods, and fires, there is no evidence of increased frequency or severity of cyclones, droughts, or fires, but the left-wing media continue to push this agenda.
The main differences between the two states are financial and ideological. Florida is a retirement area with around 20 per cent over 65 and an older mean age at 42, compared with 13 per cent over 65 and a mean age of 35 in California. It has a predominantly right-wing, Republican ideology and regularly legislates against Woke activity in education and public areas. Democrat-dominated California is the second most expensive place to live in America; taxes, rents, power (more than double the Florida price), and eating out are all cheaper in Florida, the result is a homeless rate, per capita, a quarter of California’s. The ideological differences also played out in the management of the Covid pandemic. California enforced a lock-down and school closure agenda, similar to Victoria’s, resulting in a higher unemployment rate. By comparison, Florida’s approach was laid back, with no school closures and non-enforcement of mask-wearing, but greater protection for the higher proportion of elderly. The result, allowing for the different age profiles but similar vaccination rates, was a similar mortality but significantly lower economic cost to Florida.
The ultimate American lifestyle comparison is the cost of a Big Mac, at over $5 in LA compared with under $4 in Orlando. By contrast, activism is, so far, less developed in Australia, perhaps the better place to be – although a big Mac does cost more than Orlando, at $4.70 US, ($6.50 Australian)!
The Californian 1960s activist ideology lives on, with its resulting social and economic consequences; will ideology lead to its decline, or will the looming earthquake bring it to a more abrupt end? Maybe it’s time California ended the Woke crusade, woke up from its flower-power dreaming, and addressed the real environmental threat to its existence.
Dr Graham Pinn, FRCP, FRACP, FACTM, MRNZCGP, Retired Consultant Physician.
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