Is there not something pathetically ridiculous about seeing these tens of thousands of Californians crammed into their huge vehicles, which guzzle massive amount of fuel, as they leave their vast properties in Los Angeles, surrounded by gardens that are costly to water, or their charming wooden houses in San Francisco, and fleeing fires caused by climate change for which they are largely responsible?
It is not the first time this has happened: for several years, such fires were reported during the autumn season. And many think it is becoming routine. There are even talks of a so-called “fire season.” But is it really routine when 17 fires occur simultaneously, when 50,000 hectares of forest go up in smoke, when in the San Francisco area alone, more than a million people are without electricity and 200,000 people have had to abandon their homes? Is it really irrelevant when, for the majority of Californians, the air has become unbreathable, and drinking water scarce?
Is it really anecdotal, when all of this is happening in the most advanced American state, where the headquarters and laboratories of some of the world’s most important companies (media, software, biotechnology), the most promising start-ups, and some of the most prestigious universities in the world are located?
It is also where many brilliant minds, from all over the world, including France, earn a fortune developing technologies that are often anecdotal, and spend monies on sumptuous houses, green parks, large numbers of cars, planes and boats? In places that are totally isolated, in the midst of human misery and that of nature.
Furthermore, it is a country where the world’s main problems are at their worst levels: disastrous roads, electrical infrastructure in very poor conditions, unreliable networks of potable drinking water, neglected public services, food waste, record numbers of homelessness and working poor folks who are often undocumented.
It is all easy to explain: you can make a lot more money in California developing the latest fashionable video game than you would if you created software that can reduce energy consumption, save water or improve education and health outcomes. Or if you were to build bridges, roads, waste management plants, dams or power plants.
When California becomes truly unbearable, these firms will have to move to Oregon, Washington, or Massachusetts. It will not happen on simple terms. It will lead to immense and lasting chaos, which will contribute to the decline of the American superpower.
Looking at this in a proportionate way, it is eerily similar to what happened twenty centuries ago in Pompeii: in 62 AD, the warning signs of the impending disaster appeared in the form of earthquakes; from 70 onwards, the rich left the city, which declined, before being destroyed in 79 by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. It was never rebuilt. One of the first signs of the slow decline of the Roman Empire.
The Americans still have every opportunity to react. They have done so several times in their history when faced with equally difficult situations. If they are to do so again, infrastructure will once again become the major sector of their economy. We will save energy, water and land. America can thus be reborn, once again, as the world’s leading power.
Europe, too, would benefit from embarking on this path. But not, as so many people believe, by dreaming of being a new California.