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

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.

 

“Extinction Rebellion” Comes to Santa Cruz

ER-logo-4col-Black-Linear-1A recent Guest Commentary by Michael Levy in the August 26, 2019 Santa Cruz Sentinel revealed upcoming activities by the local “Extinction Rebellion” (XR) group in Santa Cruz. You’ve not doubt read about XR in international news, as groups of climate change activists who lobby for change in government in response to what they perceive as “climate breakdown” and a “climate emergency.”

XR spokesman Levy explains that “global heating is a direct threat to the survival of the human race,” without specifying what source is heating the globe and why that would present an emergency for the human race.

Levy also claims that “We are currently losing 200 species per day, and are indeed facing our own extinction if we do not drastically limit CO2 emissions,” again without revealing the source of the extinction claim nor the connection between species extinction and CO2 emissions. The Center for Biological Diversity states: “Nobody really knows how many species are in danger of becoming extinct.” “In the past 500 years, we know of approximately 1,000 species that have gone extinct…” That’s two species per year, not 200 species per day.

What does “XR” propose to do about this”climate emergency”?

From the XR website: “XR is committed to non-violent civil disobedience against the inevitable, global collapse of the biosphere if human societies do not stop burning fossil fuels.”

“XR is committed to the idea that local, self-organized non-violent action, along with seeding a regenerative culture of love, compassion and understanding, is not only the best remedy for the isolation and sense of powerlessness brought about by “apocalypse fatigue,” but the only way to bring about meaningful change in the time left to us.”

“XR” is calling for a Global Climate Strike and Week of Actions on September 20th, to draw attention to the United Nations Climate Summit in New York, and the Youth Climate Summit on the 21st, followed by the COP25 Climate Summit in Santiago, Chile, in December.

The group’s website contains a list of their “demands” (My comments follow each point, emphasis mine):

  • That the Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, it must reverse all policies not in alignment with that position and must work alongside the media to communicate the urgency for change including what individuals, communities and businesses need to do.

Presumably “the truth” referred to is that human produced CO2 is causing “global heating,” and reducing these emissions will stop, reverse or otherwise reduce climate change. Science doesn’t do truth, and there is no evidence to support the claim that reducing human CO2 will significantly influence climate change.

  • The Government must enact legally-binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and take further action to remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases. It must cooperate internationally so that the global economy runs on no more than half a planet’s worth of resources per year.

“The government” in Santa Cruz, that is, the Santa Cruz City Council and the County Board of Supervisors, have passed Climate Emergency Declarations (Click HERE for the City, and HERE for the County), and have Climate Action Plans in place, along with the cities of Capitola and Watsonville. There is nothing local government can do to remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases, nor does anyone know what constitutes an excess of these essential constituents of our planet’s atmosphere.

  • We do not trust our Government to make the bold, swift and long-term changes necessary to achieve these changes and we do not intend to hand further power to our politicians. Instead we demand a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes, as we rise from the wreckage, creating a democracy fit for purpose.

Citizen involvement in local government is always a good thing. It’s unclear how a “Citizens’ Assembly” would differ from our current representative form of government, with its commission and committee structure.

  • We demand a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty; establishes reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and poor communities for years of environmental injustice, establishes legal rights for ecosystems to thrive and regenerate in perpetuity, and repairs the effects of ongoing ecocide to prevent extinction of human and all species, in order to maintain a livable, just planet for all.

This is the most difficult part of XR and Green New Deal (GND) demands. Human “justice” has nothing to do with human impacts on the environment. In fact, focusing on human justice often blinds activists to effective solutions to environmental problems (e.g., immigration and population control) that affect all species. Movements for human social justice have attached themselves to climate change activism as another rationale to support their causes. This is the case with XR and GND, and is abundantly evident in Santa Cruz, as well as nationally and internationally.

Environmentalists, real environmentalists not climate change activists, have been long frustrated by the co-optation of environmental activism by social activism, which displaces scientific data-based research and discourse with non-scientific opinion and emotional rhetoric.

If climate change presents a real emergency for Santa Cruz and its human and non-human residents, a claim I do not accept, let our local government response be based on science, not hyperbolic, media driven, emotional demonstrations designed to drum up support for national and international social, economic and political programs.

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.

 

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