We Live in the Natural World

two-paths

Gary Patton, a local lawyer, teacher, proponent of local limits to growth and past County Supervisor, publishes a blog called “We Live in a Political World,” which once was called  “We Live in Two Worlds.” His underlying theme is that humans live in the human created world, which is separate from the Natural World, even though humans depend on the Natural World for our survival.

My understanding is that we don’t live in two worlds, that there is only one world, the Natural World, in which humans are not only dependent, but are intricately intertwined.

Yes, humans do build an artificial world, both materially and culturally, that humans attempt to manage as if it were separate from the Natural World. But that material world is subject to all of the natural processes and principles of the Natural World, such as gravity, entropy, thermodynamics, geomorphology, plate tectonics, Cartesian and quantum physics, cycles of weather and climate, atmospheric and oceanic dynamics, evolution, population dynamics and disease.

This cultural separation of the two worlds has resulted in management of the human world on the basis of two underlying assumptions: the myth of control and the myth of unlimited growth.

At the University of Wyoming the Engineering building has the following inscription carved into its facade: “The control of Nature is not given, it is won.” I’ve written about this several times on Searching for Balance, for example, HERE, HERE,and HERE.

Recent events have brought the myth of control into sharp focus, as the Covid-19 pandemic has questioned the assumption that centralized control of the world we live in is possible or even desirable.

It seems that the harder we try to control the spread of of the coronavirus around the world, the faster it spreads and the more humans are affected by it. Government responses to the virus have caused more havoc in the lives of people around the world than the virus itself. One wonders if this pandemic had been treated as we treat yearly influenza pandemics, the disruptions to the human world would have been less severe. Humans have evolved with viruses, even to the point of incorporating viral RNA into our body cells, to the point that we are viruses almost as much as the viruses themselves. Perhaps accommodation to the reality of inevitable virus outbreaks would be a more effective and less costly alternative.

One of the contributing factors to the current pandemic is the increasing incursion of humans and their built environments into the natural world where we have come into close contact with new viruses and other diseases that have been present in non-human species unnoticed by humans, who, as a result, have no natural immunity. The myth of unlimited growth is basic to the dominant human culture, such that it is unacceptable for government officials to even consider limits to population or economic growth. Lack of constant economic growth is seen as failure, and reductions in population threaten government funding based on increasing individual consumption and increasing taxes on economic activities.

Observant humans might put 2 and 2 together and come to the conclusion that there is a better way to organize and maintain human societies. Rather than viewing humans as separate from the Natural World and natural processes, why not view humans as part of the world’s natural ecosystems, in which the human built world functions as a critical component of ecosystems that include animals, plants, mountains, plains, watersheds, rivers and streams, oceans and one continuous atmosphere that supports all life on this planet.

Why not recognize that All Lives Matter, human and not human. Why not recognize that cutting down a tree troubles the forest and all that therein lives. Why not recognize that humans are connected with every other living thing through ancient evolutionary processes through which we share the ultimate fate of all life.

Why not recognize that human health and well-being is intimately interconnected with the health and well-being of all life on this the only home for every living thing in the known Universe.

This could be the basis for an ecological human society, in which all other species have a voice in the affairs of the one species that impacts them all.

The Real Environmental Crisis

This Guest Commentary in the Santa Cruz Sentinel thoroughly and eloquently explores the real environmental crisis and what we each can do about it:

Santa Cruz Sentinel | Guest Commentary
https://www.santacruzsentinel.com/2020/02/09/guest-commentary-theres-an-urgent-need-for-action/

There’s an Urgent Need for Action
By Craig R. Wilson

Absent a pandemic, nuclear war or an asteroid strike, human beings are the least endangered animal on the planet. Only fish and birds exceed our numbers, though Cornell University just reported that nearly a third of all birds have disappeared in the last 50 years and the fisheries that have not crashed are threatened. Business as usual has worked very well for humans, but it is destroying our planet and killing off nearly everything else we find no use for. We are creating a world where we will be all alone but for domesticated animals and commercial crops…


We know what we need to do as individuals:

  • Drive and fly less.
  • Reduce waste.
  • Stop single-use plastics.
  • Eat less meat.
  • Ensure women retain reproductive choices and options.
  • Wear natural fibers.
  • Shop local to reduce packaging and transportation.
  • Find alternatives to poisons and pesticides.
  • Be an advocate for the environment
  • Reject unnecessary purchases and consumerism.

Click HERE for the full article.

Environmental Regulations – Part 2

The 70s , 80s and 90s in Santa Cruz County were a time of growing environmental awareness and action.

By the time Measure C was passed in 1990 (see Do Regulations Curtail Environmental Destruction?), the 1978 Growth Management Referendum (Measure J) had been on the books for 18 years. Now ensconced in County Code Title 17 – Community Development, “to provide for the enactment of a growth management system to regulate the character, location, amount, and timing of future development so as to achieve the stated policies.

17.01.030 Policies

  • (A) Preserve Agricultural Lands. It shall be the policy of Santa Cruz County that prime agricultural lands and lands which are economically productive when used for agriculture shall be preserved for agricultural use.
  • (B)  Distinguish “Urban” and “Rural” Areas. It shall be the policy of Santa Cruz County to preserve a distinction between areas in the County which are “urban,” and areas which are “rural.” Divisions of land in rural areas shall be discouraged, and new residential developments shall be encouraged to locate in urban areas.
  • (C)  Urban Area Protection. It shall be the policy of Santa Cruz County to ensure that new development in the unincorporated “urban” areas does not proceed without the provision of adequate services which will enhance the quality of life for current and future residents of these urban areas; the County Capital Improvement Plan shall reflect this commitment.
  • (D)  Annual Population Growth Limit. It shall be the policy of Santa Cruz County to set an annual population growth for this County which shall limit growth to that amount which represents Santa Cruz County’s fair share of each year’s Statewide population growth.
  • (E)  Housing for Persons with Average Incomes. It shall be the policy of Santa Cruz County that at least 15 percent of those housing units newly constructed for sale or rental each year shall be capable of purchase or rental by persons with average or below average incomes.
  • (F)  Resource Protection. It shall be the policy of Santa Cruz County to prevent the division or other development of lands which contain timber resources, mineral resources, and wildlife habitat or other natural resources, except when any such development is conditioned so as to prevent the loss of or damage to such resources.

Without Measure J, Santa Cruz County would now be suffering from much greater population growth, loss of natural habitat, open space and agricultural lands, which would have resulted in even greater exploitation of natural resources and loss of natural habitat than we see today.

As one might expect, Measure J, Measure C and subsequent County Code and General Plan regulations and policies have not been appreciated by those to whom business, economic growth and development are of highest concern.

The County Planning Department is placed squarely in the middle of two competing ideologies: conservation of natural resources and environmental protection vs. economic development and funding for county social services.

In response to pressure from economic growth and development interests, Planning Department procedures and policies are now being “simplified” and “modernized,” that is, watered down and made less publicly visible, to accommodate a streamlined development application and review process. What once was a robust, locally managed and explicitly regulated environmental review process, has become an internal subjective review of compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), subject, when necessary, to an EIR conducted by external contractors.

While Measure J has resulted in positive restraints on growth and development in the County, these constraints are rapidly eroding in the face of development pressures. With each new project that sticks its nose under the tent of the Planning Department review process, habitat and natural resources are lost, the natural world is diminished and non-human life is further brought under the dominion of the human world.

Do Regulations Curtail Environmental Destruction?

Here in Santa Cruz County, we have codified our relationship with Nature in the County’s General Plan and County Code. These documents are intended to guide county government projects, plans and procedures toward protection and conservation of natural areas, open spaces and natural habitats and to conserve natural resources.

Measure C – Decade of the Environment

Measure C was adopted by the voters of Santa Cruz County on June 5, 1990, as an ongoing ten-year program that designated the 1990’s as the “Decade of the Environment.” Measure C served as a guide to Santa Cruz County government in carrying out actions to help protect and restore the local environment, and to confront, on a local level, those environmental crises that are global in scope. Chapter 16.90 of the County Code, which provides for implementation of Measure C, directs County government to work toward accomplishing the following:

    • To provide for efficient use of renewable energy and recycled resources;
    • To protect biological diversity and human health, through the protection and restoration of the environment;
    • To encourage agricultural practices which are protective of the natural environment and human health;
    • To promote and encourage economic development strategies in Santa Cruz County which are consistent with both environmental protection and restoration, and which will help create a local economy based on the use of renewable resources;
    • To ensure that future growth and development in Santa Cruz County adheres to the natural limits and carrying capacity of the Santa Cruz County environment; and
    • To take local actions which can help reverse, reduce, and eliminate practices which are contributing to global environmental crises.

Measure C also established a series of eleven principles and policies to guide local government efforts related to: offshore oil drilling; global warming and renewable energy resources; protection of the ozone layer; forest protection and restoration; greenbelt protection and preservation; recycling; toxic and radioactive materials; endangered species and biological diversity; development of a sustainable local economy; future growth and development; and education and outreach.

As requested by the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Department prepared an annual report on the Measure C “Decade of the Environment” Program, which identified new initiatives throughout County government that have been undertaken to further program objectives related to energy conservation and environmental protection, as described in County Code Chapter 16.90.

Chapter 16.92.010 of Santa Cruz County Code – Environmental Principles and Policies to Guide County Government extended Measure C from 2000 to 2009, stating the following purpose:

To urge all the elected officials who represent the people of Santa Cruz County, at the city, State and Federal levels of government, to take any and all actions in their power which can assist in the protection and restoration of the environment of Santa Cruz County, and which can help reverse, reduce and eliminate those actions and practices which are contributing to environmental crises which are global in scope.”

Measure C also served as the policy basis for the 1994 Santa Cruz County General Plan, especially Chapters 2, 5 and 7.

General Plan Chapter 2 – Land Use “… to guide the future physical development of the County of Santa Cruz and to address the historic, current and future distribution, location, density and intensity of all land uses in the unincorporated portion of the County.

General Plan Chapter 5 – Conservation and Open Space consists of a conservation element “for the conservation, development, and utilization of natural resources,” and an open space element covering “any parcel or area of land or water which is essentially unimproved and devoted to an open-space use…”

General Plan Chapter 7 – Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities “… designates parks and other facilities … water quality and quantity issues, energy and other resource topics.”

These regulations are pretty clear on paper, or even on a computer screen, aren’t they?  Unfortunately, Measure C was never extend beyond 2009, and knowledge of its existence has dwindled to nothingness.

Do these regulations effectively curtail destruction of natural resources and natural habitats in Santa Cruz County?

Just like any other government, our local government is dominated by Supervisors, Commissioners and staff who have little, if any, environmental awareness, training or experience. Their focus and concerns are directed toward the needs and desires of human residents of the county, especially those humans who vote and contribute to political campaigns. We are constantly frustrated, Jean and I, by the seeming inability of government officials to understand how necessary it is to protect and preserve non-human species and their habitats, even though their own regulations direct them to do so.

It is up to us, the politically and environmentally aware citizens of this county, to bring these regulations to the attention of county and municipal decision-makers at every opportunity. We do this by being knowledgeable about county and municipal governments, by staying involved in the political process, through websites, emails, phone calls, letters to the editor, standing up at public meetings, meeting one-on-one with public officials, meeting with our neighbors and fellow travelers to spread the word, raise awareness and encourage political activism.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
​                                       Margaret Mead

Bringing Environmental Activism Home

Recently, I’ve reviewed environmental policies and legislation promulgated by our local Santa Cruz County and its municipalities (Santa Cruz, Capitola, Scotts Valley and Watsonville). County government has a good General Plan and well crafted County Code, but the municipalities are woefully inadequate. But even in County government, those codified policies are rarely followed to the letter, or in most cases even unto intent.

A recently published petition: William J Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M Newsome, Phoebe Barnard, William R Moomaw, World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency, BioScience, , biz088, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biz088) includes descriptions of immediate actions needed to reduce human impacts on the biosphere. While they are predicated on reducing greenhouse gases and climate change, they also apply to very real immediate human impacts on the non-human world.

In my next post, I’ll compare these actions with local existing county and municipal codes, and suggest new policies to bring our local government into alignment with these global concerns.

Energy
The world must quickly implement massive energy efficiency and conservation practices and must replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables and other cleaner sources of energy if safe for people and the environment. We should leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground and should carefully pursue effective negative emissions using technology such as carbon extraction from the source and capture from the air and especially by enhancing natural systems (see “Nature” section). Wealthier countries need to support poorer nations in transitioning away from fossil fuels. We must swiftly eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels and use effective and fair policies for steadily escalating carbon prices to restrain their use.

Short-lived pollutants
We need to promptly reduce the emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, including methane, black carbon (soot), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Doing this could slow climate feedback loops and potentially reduce the short-term warming trend by more than 50% over the next few decades while saving millions of lives and increasing crop yields due to reduced air pollution. The 2016 Kigali amendment to phase down HFCs is welcomed.

Energy
The world must quickly implement massive energy efficiency and conservation practices and must replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables and other cleaner sources of energy if safe for people and the environment. We should leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground and should carefully pursue effective negative emissions using technology such as carbon extraction from the source and capture from the air and especially by enhancing natural systems (see “Nature” section). Wealthier countries need to support poorer nations in transitioning away from fossil fuels. We must swiftly eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels and use effective and fair policies for steadily escalating carbon prices to restrain their use.

Nature
We must protect and restore Earth’s ecosystems. Phytoplankton, coral reefs, forests, savannas, grasslands, wetlands, peatlands, soils, mangroves, and sea grasses contribute greatly to sequestration of atmospheric CO2. Marine and terrestrial plants, animals, and microorganisms play significant roles in carbon and nutrient cycling and storage. We need to quickly curtail habitat and biodiversity loss, protecting the remaining primary and intact forests, especially those with high carbon stores and other forests with the capacity to rapidly sequester carbon (proforestation), while increasing reforestation and afforestation where appropriate at enormous scales. Although available land may be limiting in places, up to a third of emissions reductions needed by 2030 for the Paris agreement (less than 2°C) could be obtained with these natural climate solutions.

Food
Eating mostly plant-based foods while reducing the global consumption of animal products (figure 1c–d), especially ruminant livestock, can improve human health and significantly lower GHG emissions (including methane in the “Short-lived pollutants” step). Moreover, this will free up croplands for growing much-needed human plant food instead of livestock feed, while releasing some grazing land to support natural climate solutions (see “Nature” section). Cropping practices such as minimum tillage that increase soil carbon are vitally important. We need to drastically reduce the enormous amount of food waste around the world.

Economy
Excessive extraction of materials and overexploitation of ecosystems, driven by economic growth, must be quickly curtailed to maintain long-term sustainability of the biosphere. We need a carbon-free economy that explicitly addresses human dependence on the biosphere and policies that guide economic decisions accordingly. Our goals need to shift from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence toward sustaining ecosystems and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.

Population
Still increasing by roughly 80 million people per year, or more than 200,000 per day, the world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced—within a framework that ensures social integrity. There are proven and effective policies that strengthen human rights while lowering fertility rates and lessening the impacts of population growth on GHG emissions and biodiversity loss. These policies make family planning services available to all people, remove barriers to their access and achieve full gender equity, including primary and secondary education as a global norm for all, especially girls and young women.

 

Uncivil-ization

e6660-pulling-out-hairSomething is wrong. Something has gone terribly wrong, deep inside our dominant culture.

Recently, during a City Council meeting in Our Fair City, a council member exploded in a childish tantrum, stood up at her seat on the dais, red in the face, and screamed about being called a racist on a Facebook page. When she finally ran down, she flounced down in her chair, rolled it back from the dais and sat unspeaking, arms crossed, frowning at the shocked audience.

The surprising result was … there were no consequences. The Mayor proposed a three minute recess, but was talked out of it by other council members, and the meeting continued as if nothing had happened. The petulant council member sat at her seat and leafed silently through the agenda packet for the rest of the meeting.

If this were an isolated incident in local politics, it wouldn’t be so troubling. But this is happening, in one bizarre way after another, all around the world, from Trump to Johnson, from Congress to Parliament, from the United Nations to our local Democratic Central Committee.

Polite, civil discourse, political and personal, is disappearing, replaced by anger, disrespect, name-calling, foul language and violence.

In England, Parliament, which has always been rowdier than the US Congress, has been called to task for increasingly vituperative public rhetoric. The US President rants, whines and lambasts perceived opponents on social media, before the unprotesting press and on unguarded, but recorded telephone calls to international rulers.

Here at home, local politics has descended into personal attacks, wildly exaggerated recall campaigns, special interest lobbying groups and divisive local government policies and campaigns.

I’ve been trying for some time to puzzle out common denominators of this seeming shift in public social relationships that pop up in unexpected places, especially those places where civility has long been the norm.

Based on decades of observation of the public scene, I think several factors are at work here.

In the United States, the Trump phenomenon is a negative influence, dredging up the worst in our society’s underlying thoughts and motivations. Trump is a bully, an ignorant thug, self-centered and supremely egotistical, an isolated, frustrated corporate CEO with absolutely no experience in deliberative bodies or cooperative endeavors. Judging by his supporters, Trump is leading this country down the path to ignorant and uninformed political rebellion and social collapse.

Internationally, ubiquitous cell phone use is raising generations of young people totally devoid of social skills, ignorant of the world outside their electronic devices, expectant of on-demand responses to their slightest desires, unable to read, write and think critically about the world around them.

Corporate media has created a world of newsertainment in which information is indistinguishable from disinformation, entertainment is the desired end (as long as it brings in the bucks) and personality is the supreme quality for legitimacy and meaningfulness.

So-called “Progressive Education” (an educational theory marked by emphasis on the individual child, informality of classroom procedure, and encouragement of self-expression – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/progressive) has produced an adult cohort that is self-centered, devoid of social norms, and deficient in basic reading, writing, comprehension and critical thinking skills.

Finally, and most recently, climate change fear-mongering is creating apocalyptic hysteria among adults and children alike, misunderstanding of science and the scientific process, and ignorance of ecology, conservation and the very real threats of human population and economic growth, habitat destruction and profligate consumption of resources.

What to do, what to do?

Got me there, haven’t a clue.

This next election, whether or not Trump participates, will be dominated by climate change hysteria, the Green New Deal and homelessness. I think the best we can hope for is for Elizabeth Warren to be elected. Perhaps a woman in the White House can calm the troubled political waters, set an example of civility, empathy and compassion and pull our troubled uncivilization back from the brink.

It’s a lot to expect from one person, history argues against it, the future is in the hands of young people ill prepared to deal with it.

“More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

Woody Allen

 

Can Renewable Energy Replace Fossil Fuels?

Solar-Calatagan-1

The modern obsession with Climate Change and its presumed primary cause in the burning of fossil fuels, has led to the unchallenged assumption that modern civilization can and must switch its energy production from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric and hydrokinetic (wave and tide) sources.

The question is rarely asked: “Can renewable energy sources replace fossil fuel energy sources to provide all of the energy that human civilization demands, now and into the foreseeable future?”

The usual technocratic response is “Sure. There is no technical barrier to producing all of our energy needs from renewable energy sources.”

The follow up question is never asked: What would be the environmental cost of attempting to produce present and future energy demands with renewable energy sources?”

While it may be *feasible* to produce all our energy needs from “renewable” energy sources, this technological infrastructure comes with large and severe environmental impacts. Mining minerals and rare earth metals necessary to build and maintain renewable energy systems results in habitat loss and natural resource depletion. The enormous physical sites required for wind and solar farms (see above) reduce the availability for natural ecosystems and their native species. Hydroelectric requires dams that inundate huge swaths of natural ecosystems and result in unpredictable seismic changes.

Here is an overview of the environmental impacts of renewable energy sources from the Union of Concerned Scientists:

The question is not “Which is best, renewable energy or nonrenewable energy?” The only question that is meaningful in terms of the full biosphere is: “How can we reduce our impacts on the natural world by reducing our energy demands?”

A New Direction, An Old Concern

corcoran lagoon

For the past six months or so,  I’ve been publishing Santa Cruz Online and Santa Cruz Environmental Review, weekly listings of local government, NGO and environmental meetings and events in and around Santa Cruz County. I started compiling these reports as a way to help myself keep track of the myriad meetings, when and where and who and why. When I discovered just how many meetings and events there are in the county, I decided to share the results of my research to help others be aware of these meetings and to encourage others to participate in local government as a result.

It’s been a satisfying effort and I’ve received many comments from those who find it useful as well.

However (there’s always a “However” isn’t there?), I’ve begun to feel my activist fingers itching to go a step beyond cataloguing meetings, and moving, in parallel, toward commentary and totting up of the results of those meetings, as well as promoting public engagement in the continuing saga of local government.

Thus, a new emphasis for Searching for Balance.

From now on, I will be focusing on activities, plans and proclivities of local governments and organizations with respect to local environmental problems and challenges and the laws and regulations that protect and defend local habitats and species. From natural resource and habitat conservation, to protection of local animal and plant species, and the effects of local human growth and development on the natural environment, I’ll be shining the bright light of day on less prominently visible and often neglected environmental problems in Santa Cruz County.

So join me at Searching for Balance. We may not solve all of the looming environmental problems in Our Fair County, but at least we’ll discover what they are, who is responsible for their solutions and where to find them.