I want to talk about a couple of pieces of legislation that seem unrelated, namely new water regulations to deal with drought in California, and new Chinese laws making the purchase of illegal animals parts punishable by jail time.
But first, I’d like to talk about a large white stone that sits atop a window ledge of my neighbor’s house.
Back when we moved to this mountainside French village in the late 1990s, mail was still delivered via bicycle by a certain Madame Pils, who knew everyone and also everyone’s business.
There were no house numbers, but Mme Pils had no trouble finding mail recipients. Gone on vacation, out running errands, or otherwise unavailable for an important bit of mail? No problem. Mme Pils wrote a personal note, and the tiny village post office, knowledgeably staffed, was open for regular business hours, six days a week.
Thus had it been for decades.
Those were the good old days.
Unfortunately, Mme Pils retired many years ago, and things have never been the same.
House numbers were mandated to keep up with the expanding population, which has tripled since we moved here.
The central post office, located a few miles away from here, is now responsible for distribution. Mail delivery employees have more territory to cover, and more mail boxes to stuff, than ever before. The faces change every few months or weeks as people try the job and then quit.
Which brings me to my neighbor, born and raised here in the village. She is not a happy customer.
For decades, her mail box has been mounted next to her front door, which is down a small walkway and hidden by a stone entryway. Her house number is visible from the street, so deliverers, who now drive small vans, find the house but not the box.
Mme Pils knew where to find it, but these whippersnappers have neither the time nor the inclination to seek out her secret mail box. So they take the easy route: they dump her mail on a window ledge that faces our shared driveway. Rain or shine, windy or still, the mail lands on the ledge. Sometimes it stays there, sometimes it doesn’t.
So she put out a stone. And now the mail doesn’t blow away.
I ran into her a couple of days ago and she was outraged: One of the changing faces of La Poste told her if she wanted her mail delivered to a box, she’d have to put the box out on the street like all the new houses and apartment buildings that carpet what was still forest and meadow when we moved here.
“Why should I have to pretend like I’m some newcomer? Where would I even put a box, out on the street? I don’t own the street!”
So she refuses. She says she’s been here all her life, and La Poste should find her mail box like they used to back in the day. In the meantime, anything larger than a regular envelope just doesn’t get delivered.*
I said, why not relocate your box to the front of the house, at least? That’s not an option for her, because her box has always been where it’s been, the La Poste should do its damn job and find it.
Business as usual should mean business as usual for her and from her own decades-long perspective.
She’d rather have a stone on a ledge, lose her mail to wind and rain, or not even get it, than move her mail box.
Old ways die hard.
And so to the news items I saw today.
First: California is, four years into an epic drought, finally introducing mandatory limits for the water agencies that distribute water across the state. But the real black hole of water distribution, namely century-old water allocations to agriculture and industry, require more than the introduction of a few new rules.
It requires a legislative rethinking of how water is used, how farming and industry work, and deeper attitudes about abundance and genuine shortfall. The water system is built on assumptions that were probably wrong in the first place, and it’s these assumptions that are due for reexamination.
Second: China has passed new laws meant to protect trade in illegal animals and their parts by allowing for the prosecution of end consumers. Anyone ordering pangolin in a restaurant or buying ground tiger bone could, potentially, face a 10-year prison term.
This is certainly a step towards raising awareness among the Chinese populace, currently the largest market for endangered animals, both imported and domestic.
But the new laws don’t get at the long-standing Chinese licensing system that allows for the consumption of species classified as endangered or illegal – as long as the animal in question was ‘bred in captivity’ by a licensed breeder. There are few controls of these ‘breeders’ or their stock once they receive a license, allowing for the sale of illegal stock with almost no oversight.
So, as promising as both these steps are, they amount to little more than my neighbor’s stone on the ledge.
A makeshift solution to completely changed circumstances, an approach based on habit, stubbornness and an unwillingness to alter behaviour to solve current challenges.
And like my neighbor’s damp and windblown letters and bills, until old assumptions are held up against current realities, there won’t be solutions that bring what’s valuable in from the elements.
*Our house doesn’t have the same problem because, well, the mail box is right out in the open next to our front door and under the house number. If they can find the house (not always the case, but usually), they can find the box.