A Viable, Sustainable Human Future

The Ecotopian Solution – R. Crumb

    A viable, sustainable human future will, of necessity, be a world in which humans cooperate with natural biospheric processes, not work against them.

    A viable, sustainable human future will, of necessity, be a future in which humans do not consume natural resources faster than they are naturally replenished, and do not produce wastes faster than they can be naturally dispersed and assimilated.

    A viable, sustainable human future will have no more humans than can be sustained through natural biospheric processes. My guess is about 2 billion humans would be the optimum maximum global population level to allow recovery and continued viability of the biosphere.

    A viable, sustainable human future will have a reduced energy demand per capita, produced locally, and used at the site of production. Energy production will be by life-cycle renewable, passive sources. Heating and cooling of homes and businesses, where necessary, with be limited to local resources and locally manufactured and maintained technologies.

    A viable, sustainable human future will require far less human transportation. Humans will work where they live, live where they work. Local transportation will be on foot and by human powered vehicles. Regional transportation will be by solar charged electric vehicles and sail craft; long distance transportation, where necessary, will be by solar-charged electric vehicles and sail craft.

    A viable, sustainable human future will have a steady state economy, based on local production for local consumption, with limited trade for materials not available locally. Local population and economic growth will be limited by local resource availability. Local food production will require less energy, less irrigation and will be distributed locally through farmers markets and cooperatives.

After the fires, how do we choose to live?

We’re at the cusp of historic change in the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Francisco and north of Santa Cruz. For over a century two historic trends have merged to create the CZU August Lightning fires, destroying many homes and properties.

For the past one hundred years, residents of the Bay Area and elsewhere have built summer homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains, there to enjoy cool temperatures and vast panoramic vistas. Over the years, many of those summer cabins have been upgraded to year round residences, most of them on narrow winding roads through the forest, subject to washouts, landslides, and fire.

Over the same period, fire suppression, largely to protect the increasing number of homes, has increased fuel loads in the forest, as small, patchy fires that have historically removed undergrowth and grasses have been curtailed and largely eliminated.

The August 15 thunderstorm set hundreds of small fires throughout the area, that caught hold in the abundant fuels accumulated over decades. They rapidly merged into the large fire area now being brought under control by 1600+ firefighters and their large and complex agency administrations.

We’ve come to this point over a century of thoughtless, unplanned growth and development, spreading fragile homes and businesses into wild areas without considering the natural processes at work in the non-human world. It’s a hard lesson to learn, and at this point a lesson not to be ignored.

Nevertheless, thoughts and plans are turning to “repopulation,” allowing home and business owners to return to assess the damage to their properties, including in many cases complete loss. Local government officials are already reassuring property owners that assistance for rebuilding will be readily available and the skids will be amply greased to ease the permitting process.

This is the point where a pause and a good rethink would be in order, before the rush to return to the status quo. Is it smart government policy to encourage property owners to rebuild their destroyed buildings in areas that will remain fire prone and would require extensive clearing, road building and fire protection into the future?

Isn’t this a good opportunity to reassess the effects of historic human population growth and infrastructure development in wild lands?

Isn’t now the perfect time to look to the future and consider the human world that we have built and the effects the way we live have on the natural world that surrounds us and on which we ultimately depend?

Wouldn’t it be better, for all life, for humans to live cooperatively, humbly and respectfully with natural processes, such as drought, precipitation, temperature… and fire, that govern the non-human world, and increasingly, as we have recently learned, the human world as well?

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

The Fire This Time

CZU Lightning Complex Fire

Here at Bwthyn Lleuad y Bae, we’re ten miles from the nearest flames, the Shingle fire at the southeast corner of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire.

This fire area started last weekend with a rollicking thunderstorm that rolled through the forest a week ago, starting multiple fires that have coalesced into the monster fire zone depicted above. It’s not all burning at the moment of course, mostly around the edges indicated by the dark red dots.

Firefighters have been able to slow the advance of the fire considerably over the past couple of days, due to light winds blowing in the right direction, lower temperatures and higher humidity. That situation may change tonight, or it may not, with a storm front coming through the area, which may, or may not, bring more lighting strikes in the forest, or what’s left of it, this evening.

County government officials are already starting to reassure homeowners whose homes have burned down that permitting regulations will be eased to allow them to rebuild their homes in place.

This seems unwise to me. If anything, permitting to build human habitations within forests that have evolved with fire and depend on fire for their ecosystem health should be more stringent and not less. People should be discouraged from building their homes and business in areas prone to fire, flood, earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes and hurricanes.

Yet, as we see every year, the economic costs of “natural disasters” increase, as more and more people choose to live in these areas unsuited to fragile human development.

Just as we wisely limit development in floodplains, in some communities, we should also designate fire zones, earthquake zones, volcanic zones, hurricane and tornado alleys as areas not suitable for human habitation.

I learned this 50 years ago in introductory Earth Science classes at a small teacher’s college in western Nebraska. It’s not rocket psychiatry, just simple common sense.

But then, common sense is a rare commodity in the human species, especially in these days of electronic distancing from the natural world, widespread ignorance of the science of ecology, and general digital distraction from the world as it is.

Perhaps the coalescence of virus pandemic, historic forest fires, and an incomprehensibly idiotic buffoon running for re-election as President of these United States will bring humans in this most profligate of nations to pause and reconsider this poorly considered path into an uncertain future.

We’ll survive the fire this time, and the pandemic and even Donald Trump. But what about the next time, and the next and the next? Why do we insist on living in a way that is incompatible with the natural world?

There is a way to live in harmony and balance with the natural world, such that we are not constantly under threat of disease, war and local calamity. Someday we’ll get there, either by choice or by ecological default.

Things that can’t go on forever, don’t.