Where lizards do better than 1 billion of world’s poor
DAVID JUDSON SEBASTOPOL, Calif.In a very hard world, this place called Northern California is very soft. If you want to know just how soft it is, visit Sebastopol, a small town of 7,000 north of San Francisco.
Tensions between protestors and governments have grown in “Occupy” movements around the world. Clashes with police, forcible evictions and arrests rivet global attention on New York, Ontario and Zurich. Inspired by the “Arab Spring,” the global movement against the rich “1%” on behalf of the poor “99%” is spreading. The campaign against economic and social inequality has now spread to 95 cities and 600 communities in 82 countries.
And then there’s this tiny town where you will find plenty of support for “Occupiers” but no tension between officials and protestors.
Technically speaking I was born in San Rafael, a half hour’s drive away. But as the Judson clan has largely resettled here in recent decades, Sebastopol is the closest thing I have to a “home town.” My U.S. driver’s license reflects this along with my voter registration.
On a visit a few years ago, my nephew Lucas and I devised an economic indicator we named the “lizard index.” This is a means by which you calculate the number of high-end lizards per capita among the human population – those sold in pet shops under brands like “gecko” or “hooded dragon.” You get this number at the local pet shop by talking to the kid who is in charge of the live crickets. Six years ago we estimated, based on live cricket sales, that there were 120 to 160 of these fancy lizards in town with prices ranging from about $150 to $300.
Fast forward to our era of strife and turmoil; Lucas and I recharted the data sets. Six years later, the number of expensive lizards has remained pretty much constant, although new sales have declined as the popularity of lizards has waned. The lizards’ consumption, however, has increased. In short, they have grown up. Lucas’ hooded dragon, for example, was the size of my thumb when I met him (or her). Now s/he is twice the size of my fist. Lucas’ estimate is that his lizard now goes through at least $4 a week worth of live crickets.
That’s $208 a year per lizard just for food. Factor in the carbon footprint of commercial cricket farming (no doubt in harsh, factory-like conditions) and we arrived at the following reality. Since 14 percent of humanity lives on less than a dollar a day, that means the lizards of Sebastopol have incomes roughly equivalent to about 1 billion of the world’s poorest people.
This may explain why this rich town run by a city council dominated by the Green Party has extended its support to protestors in what both sides call a “compromise.” In exchange for the protestors packing up their tents, Mayor Guy Wilson agreed to allow them to place an “Occupy Sebastopol Information Kiosk” in the town square. No one has to spend the night in the cold. No one gets wet. But there will be leaflets for those wanting to know more about the fighting spirit of Sebastopol available around the clock.
“We are not about protest,” a shaman leading the protest named Francis Rico told the local weekly newspaper Sonoma West. “We are about affirmation.”
I am perplexed. Welcome home to Sebastopol.