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UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM : When It Pours, It Rains (and Other Bright Ideas for Improving the Planet)

Maybe it’s the time of year. Or maybe it’s the time of man. Whichever, it’s time for another stab at improving the lot of my fellows and fellowesses. In the Soviet Union, such signposts to social improvement are lumped under the rubric New Thinking. I prefer to call them Bright Ideas.

Let’s start with the drought. The ironies of a situation where the water bureaucrats beg us to save water, we save water and then they blame us for saving too much water have been rich indeed. But the problem doesn’t start with those who want to punish us with higher rates for our compliance with their orders to conserve. It goes all the way back to a place I like to call Square One.

Recall, if you will, that the Earth and its atmosphere are a closed system. With the exceptions of satellite launchings, meteorite impacts and the arrival of imaginary extraterrestrial creatures, nothing leaves or enters our little bundle of life. All the water that was ever part of our biosphere is still here. We’re not losing water to Mars, and the moon isn’t leaking any onto us. The Original Water stays here, somewhere.

And since the only way water gets into the air, from where it rains down on us, is by evaporating from land or sea, it follows, as Letterman follows Carson, that the less water we use, the less water there is to evaporate and form rain. We have been making the drought worse with every gallon we’ve conserved.

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This leads to the good news, and the Bright Idea: All we have to do to end the drought is use more water. Take longer baths, refill the pool, wash the car twice daily, sprinkle the lawn till the grass yells “Uncle!” All of that extra water will evaporate and, unless some weird El Nino phenomenon interferes, will eventually come back to us as rain. Purely as a side benefit, the water agencies that have threatened to raise rates because we’ve been saving too much will be forced to lower rates since we’ll be using so much more. This alone should provide a much-needed jump-start for the economy. Just in case it doesn’t, there’s Bright Idea No. 2.

Go look in the trunk of your car. It’s OK--I’ll wait.

Gee, hunky models in the Guess ad today.

You back? OK. Assuming you’re like most people, and you’ve bought your car in the last 15 years, what you saw in your trunk is actually a pathetic imitation tire, bearing the same relationship to a real tire that “Eyewitness News” has to news. If you have a flat, you’ll be driving on something that bears the ominous warning: For Temporary Use Only.

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But everything is for temporary use only. Either that warning is unnecessary, or it’s terribly alarming. How long is temporary? Do I have enough life in my tirette to reach home? The tire store? The nearest pay phone? The side of the road?

We’ve got plenty of stress in our lives, and the government can’t do much to reduce it. Requiring the car companies to sell vehicles with a real spare tire in the trunk, with actual tread and no frightening words printed on the sidewalls, would constitute a real improvement in the driving public’s mental health. And think of the jobs created by manufacturing all those extra tires. Akron, Ohio, could bloom again, basking once more in the perfume of vulcanization. The extra cost of each new car would be more than offset by the economy’s newfound vigor.

The subject of transportation is also covered by Bright Idea No. 3. One reason there’s so much more traffic is the explosive increase in big new office and retail developments. Just an average mini-mall on a strategic corner can turn a major thoroughfare into concrete quicksand while one Cadillac driver slowly lumbers into position to think about entering the parking lot. Neighborhood activists know all too well that local politicians and “planning” officials will never say no to these projects as long as developers have checkbooks.

But there’s one thing we can expect our cities to do: Each time someone puts up a development that’s bigger than what it replaces, we require that an extra lane be added to the street, to run alongside the new project. If a developer puts a shopping center the size of Denver on a “superblock” of Pico, he gives up a little square footage to make an extra lane of Pico. Then all the extra traffic waiting to get into his parking structure can pile up in his donated lane, and the rest of us who are just trying desperately to get home before our spare tires expire have a prayer of making it.

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Three Bright Ideas, three modest contributions to the common good. You don’t need to thank me. The fact that The Times’ check clears is thanks enough.


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