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!

Coronavirus is the voice of the Earth

This article by Satish Kumar on the Schumacher College website is so well written, I can do no better than quote from it. Emphasis is my own.

Human desire to conquer nature comes from the belief that humans are separate from nature and have superior powers. This dualistic thinking is at the root of our inability to deal with many of the natural upheavals, such as forest fires, floods and, in particular, climate change, global heating and pandemics like Covid-19.  We seem to believe that one way or the other we will find technological solutions to subjugate nature and make her subservient of human dominance.

“Rather than looking at the root causes of Coronavirus, the government’s, industrialists and scientists are looking for vaccines to suppress the symptoms. Vaccines may be a temporary solution, but we need to think and act more intelligently and more wisely. Rather than treating the symptoms we need to address the causes of this crisis.

“If we were to address the causes of Coronavirus, rather than simply the symptoms, we will need to return to ecologically regenerative agriculture; to human-scale, local, low carbon and organic methods of farming.

In order to address the causes of the Covid crisis we will need to learn to live in harmony with nature and within the laws of nature. Humans are as much a part of nature as any other form of life. Therefore, living in harmony with nature is the urgent imperative of our time and the very first lesson we, humans, collectively, need to learn from the crisis of Coronavirus. 

“Through the Coronavirus crisis nature is trying to send a strong message. It is a wake-up call, a call to remind us that we cannot go on producing pollution and waste for ever thinking that there are no consequences of our activities.

“The modern human civilisation has inflicted untold suffering and damage on nature. Now we are harvesting the consequences. We must accept the consequences of our actions and change. We must move on to build a new paradigm. If we wish to restore health to people then we have to restore health to our precious planet Earth. Healing people and healing nature is one and the same thing. So, we need to do everything for healing the Earth. only the positive actions will bring positive outcomes.”

Perceptions of Separation

denverunionstation_1575x900_ryandravitz_03jpg

The civilization that now dominates all life on this planet is based on the perception that the human species, Homo sapiens, is separated from the Natural World and operates independently of the natural processes and limitations on all other species.

Those regarded as “uncivilized,” are considered lower than real humans, closer to animals, lacking the advantages of civilized human life.

Seems questionable taste.

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”

                                           ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

In reality, all life is of a piece, all part of the grand Mulitiverse that surrounds and enfolds us all. All living things have virtue. All lives matter.

If there is one thing we’ve learned from modern science, it’s that at the basic level of quantum physics, which undergirds everything, there is no separation, there are no separate particles, no things distinct from one another. All things are accumulations of atoms. All atoms are accumulations of sub atomic “particles.” All subatomic particles are statistical tendencies to be in one place rather than everywhere else.

More than ‘When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.’

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, one finds it is indistinguishable from the rest of the Multiverse.

The separation of humans from nature is a human mental construct.

This perception of separation can be changed.

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.

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