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.

Covid and fires and smoke, Oh My!

As if things aren’t strange enough in Covid World these days, now we have evacuations from forest fires in the mountains to the north.

We’re not threatened with fire or evacuation here, but we are getting smoke and ash fall now and then, not enough to curtail our daily walks, but noticeable.

The fires are from a late night thunderstorm that rattled in from the ocean and stabbed the forests with thousands of lightning bolts, starting dozens of fires fed by dense undergrowth resulting from decades of fire suppression.

If it were only the forests that burned, it would be normal for this part of the world. But, of course, humans have built their homes, businesses and towns within or adjacent to the forest and thus subject to to the fires that keep the forest healthy.

I suspect, or maybe it’s just hope, that some time from now this weird year will result in changes in the way local humans spread themselves about the landscape and interact with the natural world. Maybe we’ll learn that we can’t live in high density tower blocks, packed cheek by jowl in downtown canyons of glass and concrete. Perhaps we are learning that it’s not a good idea to build flammable homes in the flammable forests.

It would be good if we humans could learn from these hard lessons of disease and fire about how to live in the natural world, without destroying it or being destroyed by it.

Stranger things have happened!

Learning What Doesn’t Work

Years ago my father told me something I’ve never forgotten. He said, “The secret to happiness in life is to find out what doesn’t work for you, and don’t do that.

In recent months, we’ve learned a big lesson on what doesn’t work. Looking at statistics for the incidence of Covid-19 around the world, two conclusions leap out with crystal clarity:

  1. Viruses thrive in areas of high human population density
  2. Viruses are deadly in humans who have existing health problems

These are two things that obviously don’t work well for humans, so according to Dad’s aphorism, we shouldn’t do dense human populations and poor health.

So, why is it then, in our local community of Santa Cruz County (as well as most of the rest of the world), local government encourages increased population density, and our culture encourages poor public health?

Population Density

The County of Santa Cruz and the incorporated municipalities in our county: Santa Cruz, Capitola, Scotts Valley and Watsonville, all have Economic Development Departments (EDDs), Planning Departments (PDs) and Public Works Departments (PWs), all of which are busily engaged in increasing population densities in our county and communities.

we’re passionate about supporting a flourishing and expansive local economy. Santa Cruz City EDD

One of the greatest challenges of living in Santa Cruz County is the cost of housing, one of the highest in the nation. Because Santa Cruz is a desirable coastal destination, our economy is based on tourism, and our housing stock is largely dedicated to second homes, vacation rentals, B&Bs, hotels and motels. During the Covid-19 shelter in place, many of our homes stand empty, while many of our residents lack sufficient housing. There is no lack of housing in the county, but there is a lack of affordable homes for the people who live here.

Local government responds to this condition by falling back on the age-old economic principle of supply & demand, that is, build more housing to lower the per unit cost. But in a tourist destination, this principle doesn’t work. There are millions of people just over the hill who want a house here to either come to on vacations or to use as an investment to make more money so they can afford to vacation in exotic places.

Since Santa Cruz is largely built out, there is little undeveloped space available to build more single family housing, so the answer is always to build up. This, of course, greatly increases population density in developed areas, thus creating an ideal breeding ground for the transmission of viruses.

In the face of what we’ve learned about spreading viruses, after months of (ineptly named) “social distancing” and mask-wearing, do the people of Santa County really want to risk our health by creating even more high population density? What would it take to not do that?

Human Health

Global Covid-19 statistics clearly show that humans with existing health problems have compromised immune systems that make them more susceptible to the virus and its resultant disease. The majority of deaths of individuals tested positive for the virus have underlying unhealth conditions, such as cardio-pulmonary disease, obesity, and diabetes all of which add to the lethality of the virus-born disease. Whether or not death is caused by the virus, or by other causes exacerbated by the virus, underlying ill health has contributed to the Covid-19 death rate throughout the world.

It obviously doesn’t work to have a large percentage of the population at risk due to general ill health. So, what would it take to not do that?

Lessons to be Learned

As we begin to contemplate an end to the Covid-19 pandemic, and lifting of government edicts on how we live our lives, now would be a good time to pause, contemplate the lessons to be learned from the pandemic, and think about how we want to live from here on out.

  • Would it be wise to continue to increase local population density?
  • Would it be wise to encourage local population growth beyond what can be sustained with local resources (think, water)?
  • Would it be wise to return to “nonessential” business and activities?
  • Would it be wise to continue to live far away from where we work and drive personal automobiles there and back every day?
  • Would it be wise to continue to encourage unhealthy diets, sedentary live styles and frenetic daily activities that interfere with sleep.
  • Wouldn’t it be wiser to encourage eating good, nutritious locally grown food, more local exercise, less travel and more engagement in local, meaningful work that supports the community?

Wouldn’t it be wiser to learn what doesn’t work and don’t do that?

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.

For everything, there is a season

Sunrise, Kauai

It’s the fourth day of the new year and the winter season. We’ll enjoy thirteen seconds more daylight today than yesterday, as the planet we all ride upon swings merrily around the sun, the giver of all life. Last night, a wee thunderstorm rumbled through our fair county, echoing off the mountains, flashing their peaks with white lightning. It’s chilly these days and nights, at least for this part of the world. Winter arrives, even on the Left Coast

f7616-merryxmaspig

 

It’s time for my favorite Christmas story by Ed Abbey, Merry Christmas, Pigs, a celebration of all things wild and wonderful, including we humans. You can read it HERE.

We celebrate this new year and new season together, as we look forward to our daily walks through the neighborhoods and along the shore of the, mostly, Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay.

Jean's Birthday

Long live the weeds and the wilderness, the two-legged, the four-legged, the feathered and the scaled, and those upright bipeds who defend and protect them.

Happy new season, merriness in the vast biodiversity of life!

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

Celebrating May Day

May Day!

It’s a fine May Day morning here on the Left Coast. A bit of fog lingering, rapidly thinning. The sun is just beginning to warm the chill morning air.

May Day is traditionally a day of diverse messages: a celebration of spring with May baskets, May pole dancing, burgeoning flowers, beautiful young women in flouncy dresses, colorful and raucous parades. More recently than the ancient tradition, May Day was declared a worker’s holiday commemorating the Haymarket affair, when a demonstration in support of an eight-hour for day turned into riots when police fired on the crowd. In some countries, May Day became a celebration of militarism and imperialist excess, demonstrating the folly of humans with access to too much power and too little wisdom.

The historical context of this day seems to have been lost to the current generation of cell-phone impaired and distracted youth and the overweening culture of consumerism, newsertainment and political inanity. Few May baskets are left on porches these days, May poles rarely grace school yards with fluttering ribbons, and many workers think of an eight hour day, if they think of it at all, as a nostalgic luxury.

Nevertheless, it is indeed Spring, the Earth, in our hemisphere, is slowly warming, migrant songbirds fill the air with their optimistic songs, patient greenery stretches both up and down, striving for sun and warmth, drops of sparkling dew trembling on leaf tip and grasping tendrils, deepening their roots into the warming soil.

Let’s celebrate May Day on this fecund Earth as a day of renewal, revival, and rededication to saving what little is left of the wild, not just for future human generations, but for itself and its own well-being.

Reviving Radical Environmentalism

Radical Environmentalism has fallen on hard times.

7740d-backhoe

Ever since “The Death of Environmentalism” by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger appeared in Grist in 2005, accompanying the global obsession with climate change, environmentalism, real environmentalism, has evaporated under a flood of climate change hysteria, with side branches of Extinction Rebellion, Green New Deals and corporate managed school walkouts.

Keith Makoto Woodhouse’s 2018 book, The Ecocentrists: A History of Radical Environmentalism, tells the sad tale of the rise and demise of radical environmentalism, from its roots in the New Left, SDS and Aldo Leopold’s traditional conservationism, to Earth First! and the Sea Shepherd Society confrontational tactics, to the rise of Washington-based Big Greens and the inevitable compromises that turned radical environmentalists into corporate toadies and hunter-gatherers of government funding.

It’s a weird new world we live in these days, with the United Nations touting climate disaster to pump up their Sustainable (sic) Development program, to fund economic growth in less developed countries so they can join the global economy freight train rushing toward the collapsed bridge over Extinction Canyon.

Now we see impressionable children paraded before the ubiquitous media eye, reciting their memorized mantra of climate disaster caused, so they’ve been indoctrinated to say, by burning fossil fuels.

Climate change hysteria is the ultimate separation of human beings from Nature. Climate alarmists and their unthinking followers, call for us to “fight climate change,” to “stop climate change,” and in its most benign form, to “reverse climate change,” as if climate is something outside of human beings that we can control at will. Climate change alarmism is the ultimate expression of our species’ hubris (is there any other kind?).

If we are to rescue radical environmentalism from the clutching claws of climate change alarmists, we must also revive an understanding of ecology, evolution, geomorphology, and, most of all, a common sense perception of the world we share with billions of others species on this benighted planet.

To cultivate this perspective, find a patch of undeveloped Earth, get down on your hands and knees and stick your nose into the plant and animal life at your feet. Stay there for a day or two, maybe three, until you know intimately every creature crawling in and around every plant in your field of vision. Then, when throughly familiar with that wilderness, stand up on your hind legs and look around you, in a 360 degree scan of the roundabout thereof. Expand your awareness of the wilderness at your feet, to the wilderness surrounding you. It’s there, even if, temporarily, hidden under roads, houses office buildings and other monuments to human folly. The same biophysical processes are at work wherever you look, inescapable, perfectly natural (Nature-all), continuing apace as they have since the beginning, if there is one, of this Universe thing we inhabit.

Once you are thoroughly at home with your own bleeding piece of earth, your dealings with local government, developers, Chamber of Commerce growth maniacs, militaristic imperialists and other butchers of things natural and good, take on a depth and authenticity unavailable to those drifting in a sea of social media, cell phone obsession and dislocated, electronic distraction.

“O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!”

Radical environmentalism is a revolutionary awakening that brings into sharp focus the yawning chasm between human ignorance and uncaring profligacy, and the natural world that arises of itself within and around us. Once awakened to this all-encompassing reality, one can never see the world in any other way.

I’ve been walking this path for a long time. For a glimpse of my travels and travails, go to The Way of Nature, and join me as we look beyond our toes at the edge of the abyss, turn around and take our first steps forward.