The contrast between then and now, the past and present, is startling. Sitting in the Carson Mansion, overlooking the Humboldt Bay, watching the boats bobbing in the marina, it is easy to picture what life must have been like in the heyday—1884-85—when William Carson built what has become one of the area’s most conspicuous landmarks. Now known as the Ingomar Club, the mansion is only open to members—one of whom was my host.
The conversation started with a comment about the region’s past professions: logging and fishing. “What is the leading industry today?” “Pot, I’m told.”
The answer was easy to believe.
Earlier in the day, I’d toured Arcata, California—home to Humboldt State University (HSU)— which has rightfully earned the moniker of one of the nation’s top “party schools.” Arcata also has an abundance of Victorian homes that I viewed by following a walking tour map. Some were well maintained, but many were in disrepair with peeling paint and overgrown yards. On the self-guided tour, I passed empty store fronts and thrift shops. I saw dozens of VW buses surrounding an open garage with an aged hippie working on the one inside. A dog sniffed at my feet and then moved on, disinterested.
From one street to the next, the air was punctuated with the pungent aroma of pot. Nearing the plaza, I saw a guy holding a sign: “Out of booze and food. Every little bit helps.” A shop window featured handmade bamboo sunglasses.
Local literature describes HSU graduates this way: “Although most who graduate eventually leave the area, those remaining eventually face seeking employment in a community where the average pizza delivery driver has a four-year college degree. and you can find PhD graduates working the grill at the local Carl's Jr.” I could believe it.
The December Issue of the North Coast Journal reported on the sold-out Emerald Cup held in Arcata on December 15. The event, the ninth annual—and biggest so far—is like the county fair of pot growers that boasts 202 entrants with the winner receiving a trip to Jamaica. The tent was filled with smokers browsing the vendors’ wares: “classic bongs, the latest high-tech vaporizers, books on cannabis, organic hydroponic supplies and bioengineered seeds so you can grow your own.” There were also educational forums, music, and displays. The samples of the various cannabis strains are rated on looks, smell, taste, and (reportedly most important) how it makes you feel. Before the awards ceremony, a lawyer received a lifetime achievement award for his work in marijuana law reform.
Stand-up comic Ngaio Bealum, who proclaimed, “I’m all for cannabis,” served as an emcee/panel moderator. He called it a “growth industry.” “It makes for sustainable jobs, jobs that won’t leave the country.” The North Coast Journal featured an advertisement for an attorney with “30 years Humboldt Country Experience,” whose practice is limited to “Marijuana Defense, cultivation, sales, transportation.” Perhaps Melvin B. Pearlston has been able to earn a living off of the marijuana trade, but it appears few can.
California’s legalization of prescription pot lead to an economic boom in Humboldt County. However, as a local report states: “Eventually, the inevitable happened. Supply outpaced demand. There were more people growing pot than smoking it. This led to the exodus of many who had moved to the area to stake their claim to Humboldt's green gold, as the price of pot plummeted to levels at which it simply was no longer profitable to keep growing indoors. As a result, there are fewer rich pot farmers around to spend money at local stores, pay local property taxes, and generally inject income into the local economy. Since the still federally illegal pot industry accounts for as much as 25% of Humboldt County's economy, local businesses and governments were certain to suffer. The result? Higher unemployment. Less sales tax revenue. Layoffs. General economic disaster.”
There is talk of trying to boost the local economy by maximizing the natural harbor of Humboldt Bay—after all, as my host told me, Oakland Harbor is full. However as an editorial in the local daily newspaper, the Times-Standard, on the day of my visit, December 27, 2012, points out: “A successful port requires many things including a source of outgoing cargo, a market for incoming cargo, a transportation net to move cargo to or from elsewhere…” The author states: “There is no rail system from here to anywhere”—though there used to be rail service. Highway 101, which goes through Eureka and Arcata—the area’s two most populated cities—isn’t able to handle the kind of truck traffic needed to support a modern port facility. My host told me there is virtually no commercial airline service. There used to be flights to Seattle, Los Angeles, and Denver. Now there are only expensive and infrequent “puddle jumper” flights to San Francisco.
What happened to the planes and trains that used to service Humboldt County? According to the Times-Standard: “The Railroad served the, and only one, commodity, redwood. That commodity is now long gone, and in the view of the many cries for preservation from the tree huggers, probably never to return.”
My host told me that efforts from green groups like the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity were responsible for the near-death of the industry that allowed for a thriving logging-based economy. In 2007, the Times-Standard said: “There can be no denying that California forestry regulations, among the most strict in the world, have had a chilling effect on the industry. Most insiders go further than that, insisting that regulation has placed the industry's very future in jeopardy.”
I was told horror stories that amount to multi-year harassment by both state and federal agencies that have attempted to put the forest products industry out of business. The tales would make a magnificent movie in the drama/thriller genre. But, unfortunately, they are not fiction. They are our governments shutting down profitable businesses that provide stable, high-paying employment—in favor of “green,” such as the pot industry highlighted at the Emerald Cup.
The stories I heard in Humboldt, echoed those told in Eastern Kentucky where government policy has moved thousands of hard-working coal miners on to the unemployment rolls in favor of a few jobs in the government-subsidized green energy industries that provide inefficient, ineffective, and uneconomical electricity. Or, the case histories involving rogue regulators, such as Al Armendariz, who make a practice of “crucifying” the oil-and-gas industry.
How is it that America has come to a place where real job creators are being shut down or run out of town—often to other countries—in favor of a so-called “green economy,” while pot is being legalized in California, Colorado and Washington and heralded as a “growth industry?”
The contrast is stark. An economy that supports rail, commercial air travel, well-maintained roads, and the good-paying jobs that the Carson Mansion represents. Or, an economy dominated by “green,” with crumbling towns, burger flippers with PhD’s, old VW buses, panhandlers begging for booze, and aging hippies who now, maybe, really need medicinal marijuana for their lumbago—or whatever else ails them. Arcata shows what actually happens when “green” takes over—as it has been doing to the American economy.
It is not the environmental utopia we’ve been promised. It never could have been: it never can be. In Eastern Kentucky and other mining areas you see bumper stickers that say "if it can't be grown, it has to be mined," as testimony that everything comes from somewhere and something and ultimately, that something that is used to make everything is either a commodity from a mine or an agricultural product from a farm, and energy and labor is applied to that product and another product emerges and value is added. You see, wealth does not just appear, it is created, and, in the course of being created, it creates jobs, and families and communities, and states and nations. Such has it always been, and such will it always be. UNTIL THE END! "
Unless the population wakes up to the inevitability of this, we are doomed. Unless we shake ourselves really hard from our green-induced stupor, we can expect to be standing on the side of the road with a sign, asking China to rescue us. And when they do, we can be sure, they will rape the redwoods, reopen the rails, and extract the elements that we have so painstakingly saved for them and, in so doing, they will enslave our people and enrich their people and their government. In another time we called it colonialism. What will we call it when it happens to us?
Perhaps we can wake up and choose the path we know works to create new wealth, good-paying jobs, families, communities, states and fill the federal coffers for the good of all. Maybe that's the solution to our cliff issue.