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.

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

 

Quantity vs. Quality

Brave New World Revisited – Revisited – Part 2

Click HERE for Part 1

Crowds of people wait in the check-in ar

In the highly populated world we experience today along with 7.7 billion human beings, what are the effects of over-population on human health and well-being, democratic political and government institutions, and overall quality of all life?

In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley suggests that by failing to do anything systematic about human breeding, we insure that our expanding population is of inferior biological quality. Since we strive medically to make sure that everyone lives to reproductive age, we are also insuring that all genetic predispositions to disease and infirmity are preserved and spread throughout our gene pool.

As my ecology professor told me some 50 years ago, “Someday everyone will wear glasses and have diabetes.”

Huxley also suggests that in addition to a decline in general healthfulness, we are experiencing a decline in average IQ. Looking about our world as it is, one might think that, but, of course, I would never say this. Such thoughts would be hopelessly politically incorrect, harking back to the eugenics movement, which has, seemingly forever, forestalled any rational discussion of purposeful management of human development.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, at the same time George Orwell was crafting 1984, and Aldous Huxley was continuing to critically examine human society, leading to Brave New World Revisited ten years later, B. F. Skinner was writing Walden Two, a novel about an experimental Utopian community based on his own ideas about behavioral engineering.

There was considerable recognition of the path modern civilization is taking, with regard to the relationship between Homo sapiens and the natural world, prompting a search for alternative lifeways that might ease the burden of human presence on the planet. I flirted briefly with the Intentional Communities movement in the 70s and early 80s, but drifted away when I found it was largely a spiritual rather than a science-based pursuit.

the-concept-of-overshootOur biggest problem as a species is that we have no predators to keep us healthy and strong, and we are incapable of rationally controlling our own breeding to keep our numbers in check to prevent environmental overshoot and resultant collapse. Overshoot occurs when a population temporarily exceeds the long term carrying capacity of its environment.

As a consequence, individually and as a species as a whole, we are becoming increasingly unhealthy, decreasingly intelligent by any measure, and decreasingly fit to the prevailing environmental conditions. We are so dependent on our constructed environment and cultural support systems, that we can no longer function in the natural world without them.

More importantly, our constant population and economic growth is rapidly changing the natural world, destroying natural habitats, extirpating species and making a wasteland of what little natural world that remains.

flush.jpg

The result is an escalating spiral down the porcelain parkway to oblivion, at least for humans and what we refer to as civilization, that is, the totalitarian domination of the entire planet, above ground, below ground, on the oceans and even unto their deeps.

Fortunately for all life, two things work against this seemingly unstoppable trend: inescapable evolution and unavoidable natural processes.

Despite overweening hubris, Homo sapiens is still subject to the processes of natural selection and evolution. Though we pretend to have substituted culture for evolution, the reality is that we are evolving (see the above mentioned diabetes and poor eyesight), though most likely not in ways we will appreciate in the long term. The culture we prize so highly is singularly out of step with the natural world and the preservation of conditions to which humans have accommodated for the past several thousand years. As those conditions change, the rigid cultural expectations of the dominant culture may be incapable of accommodating the new ecological regime.

It’s the bottom of the ninth, the bases are loaded, and Mother Nature is stepping up to the plate. Natural processes will out in the end in the fullness of time, and Homo sapiens, if we have not already joined the Sixth Great Extinction Farewell Party, will evolve and acculturate to the new conditions, fewer in numbers, greater in physical health and cultural diversity, and living in greater harmony with the many other species and ecosystems.

 

Brave New World Revisited – Revisited

BNWRIn 1931, Aldous Huxley published Brave New World, the dystopian novel of an over-populated world dominated by a highly organized state that uses genetic engineering, hypnopaedia, promotion of sexual promiscuity, hallucinogenic drugs and organized entertainment to control and subdue the general population.

In 1948, George Orwell published 1984, the dystopian novel of a Communist inspired totalitarian oligarchy in England that uses information control, fear mongering, intimidation, and total surveillance to control and subdue the general population.

In 1958, Aldous Huxley published Brave New World Revisited, comparing Brave New World and 1984 with each other, and with events and trends from 1948 to 1958.

Let’s compare Orwell’s observations of the social world of 1958 with the world we see around us today some 35 years later.

Part 1 – Over-Population

In 1931, global population was just over 2 billion people. By 1948, population had risen to only 2.5 billion, and to 2.9 billion ten years later in 1958. Today, world population is 7.7 billion and increasing by 1.07% per year. The rate of world population increase peaked at 1.85% in 1987 and has been decreasing since then. Though the rate of increase is decreasing, world population is still growing by some 80,000,000 people per year.

In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley points out that death control has been systematically provided by benevolent societies through increased sanitation and medical intervention, while birth control requires the cooperation of all citizens, and is limited by cultural (mostly religious) sanctions.

In Brave New World, birth control is achieved through state control and management of human breeding, restricting the global human population to around 2 billion people. In this fictional world society, the human population does not threaten natural areas with excess resource exploitation, allowing some areas to return to wild states.

Huxley concludes that, in the real world, absent any form of effective birth control, “... that problem will render insoluble all our other problems. Worse still, it will create conditions in which individual freedom and the social decencies of the democratic way of life will become impossible, almost unthinkable.

We see today the outcome of Huxley’s darkest vision: democracy on the block, up for sale to the highest bidder, homeless camps in every city where the mentally handicapped and drug addicted citizens are turned loose among the populace, to support themselves and their habits through petty thievery, murder and general social disruption. Meanwhile, the over-organized and bureaucratized social agencies and local governments tie their own hands with “progressive” rules and regulations that defy any sane and effective solutions to these ubiquitous social ills.

Our Huxleyan problems are compounded by Orwellian despotic and imperialist governments, fomenting invasion and war in sovereign nations that have the misfortune of harboring large oil deposits beneath their sands, while at home graft, corruption, and malfeasance have become the norm and go unpunished, at least for those dispossessed of economic and political influence.

Huxley concludes his chapter on Over-Population with a warning:

But liberty, as we all know, cannot flourish in a county that is permanently on a war footing, or even a near-war footing. Permanent crisis justifies permanent control of everybody and everything by the agencies of the central government. And permanent crisis is what we have to expect in a world in which over-population is producing a state of things, in which dictatorship … becomes almost inevitable.

Sound familiar?

“O brave new world, That has such people in it!”

 

 

The Madness of Crowds

airport-crowd

“A crowded society is a restrictive society; an overcrowded society becomes an authoritarian, repressive and murderous society.” 

Edward Abbey, Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast

Ed Abbey’s words were prophetic when he wrote them, even more so now than he realized in his too short life.

We live in a world of crowds, everywhere, from the street outside our doors, to our daily work and play, in our parks and “open” spaces, we live in a teeming mass of humanity, an ever-growing technocratic occupation of every square inch of this much abused planet.

One birth every 8 seconds; one death every 12 seconds; one international migrant (net) every 34 seconds; a net gain of one person every 16 seconds. Oops, here comes another one. Scoot over and make room.

Yes, our societies have become more authoritarian, repressive and murderous. In the great bell shaped curve of human behavior, where only a percentage of the population acts badly, more people means more people acting badly. Thus increasing numbers of  laws, regulations and rules, and the accompanying and rapidly proliferating number of lawyers, regulators and rulers.

Impact = Consumption X Population

The impact of the human species on every other species, and their habitats, is a function of per capita consumption multiplied by the number of human beings, both of which are increasing at a prodigious rate. Any reduction in per capita consumption is rapidly overwhelmed by increasing population.

The greatest threat to life on this planet is not climate change, nuclear proliferation or wandering asteroids. Those are distractions, economic opportunities, political footballs. The greatest threat is human growth and profligacy, overweening hubris and inability and unwillingness to consider the consequences of our own actions, and inaction.

Population control is the most defiled of all subjects for cogent deliberation and understanding, and the most urgent. It is socially incorrect, economically unthinkable and political suicide. Population control is the bastard stepchild of the global growth industry, the unquestioned acceptance of the assumption that economic viability necessitates continuous and ever increasing population and economic growth. More than the ideology of the cancer cell, human growth is the evolutionary path of the dinosaur, that had to develop two brains in order to manage their overwhelming bulk. So far, humans have only one brain, and that one only firing on three cylinders.

Homeless camps in every community, out of control crime everywhere, proliferating imperialism internationally and decreasing political capability locally and nationally, all are symptoms of a human population that has outgrown its ability to care for itself, and the biosphere that supports us.

“There is no justice, sense or decency in this mindless global breeding spree, this obscene anthropoid fecundity, this industrialized mass production of babies and bodies, ever more bodies and babies. The man-centered view of the world in anti-Christian, anti-Buddhist, antinature, antilife, and–antihuman.” 

Edward Abbey, Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside