Cynthia Mathews’ art of the backdoor deal

In a follow-up on yesterday’s post on the Santa Cruz Downtown Library fiasco, take a read of Stephen Kessler’s  amazing editorial in today’s Santa Cruz Sentinel, calling out ex-mayor and persistent politico Cynthia Mathews on her behind the scenes machinations to drum up support for the faltering library-in-a-parking-and-affordable-housing project:

Cynthia Mathews’ art of the backdoor deal

“Mathews owes the community an apology for her sleazy backroom behavior and should immediately resign her seat on the city council.”

Santa Cruz Sentinel
June 17, 2020

https://www.santacruzsentinel.com/2020/06/17/stephen-kessler-councilwoman-makes-unethical-request/

By Stephen Kessler

As you know if you’ve been following the epic saga of the Taj Garage—the proposed mixed-use parking-library (and belatedly added “affordable housing”) complex on Lot 4 in downtown Santa Cruz—Councilwoman Cynthia Mathews, due to her conflict of interest as an owner of property adjacent to the site, is recused from voting on this item that will soon be before the council.

This hasn’t kept Mathews from launching, directing and sustaining an all-out lobbying campaign to build her project in the face of significant popular opposition. How she reconciles or rationalizes this ethical, if not legal, contradiction may be her personal business, but as the city’s most veteran and powerful elected official, pretty much anything and everything she does has public and political implications.

That’s why I’ve been watching with astonishment and dismay the gross corruption of the city’s decision-making process by her behind-the-scenes machinations. Awhile ago she founded a front organization called Downtown Forward which recruited an impressive assortment of “stakeholders” to publicly support the Taj Garage as the only way for the city to gain a “21st-century library,” which is the bait for public approval of an otherwise unsightly and unneeded garage.

As far as I know, Downtown Forward has done nothing but put up a very slick and expensive website since its unveiling at a “press conference” more than a year ago—a press conference at which no questions were taken and where Mathews, the group’s primary organizer, never took the microphone. She has been hard at work since then throwing her political weight around attempting to cajole a critical mass of local citizens and businesspeople to get with her program and vocally advocate for her mixed-use garage.

With the deadline approaching for the city council’s decision on this issue, the recused and conflicted councilwoman’s lobbying campaign has gone into overdrive as public opinion appears to be trending against her desired outcome. She recently sent an email to the executive director of the Downtown Association, a group of businesses distinct from the chamber of commerce, asking for what she calls in her subject line “A big favor.”

In her email, sent from her personal not her city council address, Mathews writes, “…we are facing an imminent decision point for the DT library/housing/parking project and we would really appreciate getting a letter from the DTA affirming its support… Justin [SC Mayor Justin Cummings] is the key.” Who exactly the plural “we” refers to is unclear. Is it the royal “we,” the council “we”—or should it have been more truthfully the singular Mathews “I”? The blatant if indirect attempt to manipulate the mayor’s vote is one of the creepiest things about this troubling message.

Regardless of where it was sent from, can anyone in this town think of Mathews as anything but its most shrewd and influential politician? Can any businessperson openly oppose her without wondering how it might affect future council decisions on other matters? If former council members Drew Glover and Chris Krohn could be recalled for openly offensive behavior, surely Mathews’ shameless and shadowy arm-twisting is a far more serious breach of public trust. The “favor” President Trump requested of the president of Ukraine was enough to get him impeached. No doubt Mathews would declare, as the president did, “no quid pro quo,” but appearances matter.

In her email to the DTA, Mathews goes on to offer talking points to its members for letters they should write to the council. Why she doesn’t just offer to compose the letters herself and have them sign under her words—a tactic she has been known to deploy in the past—you’ll have to ask her. But if this is not corruption, I don’t know what is. It may not be a smoking gun, but it’s a stinking pile of political excrement.

Mathews owes the community an apology for her sleazy backroom behavior and should immediately resign her seat on the city council.

Stephen Kessler’s column runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

On the Fate of Public Libraries and Democracy

Well, they did it!

The Downtown Library Council Subcommittee hauled off and voted unanimously to recommend that the City build a new library in the ground floor of a six story parking garage and abandon the library’s historic site in the Civic Center.

Oh, wait, you may not know what this is all about.

In 2016, Santa Cruz voted in Measure S, a county-wide property tax measure to raise funds to repair, restore and upgrade the County’s badly deteriorated library buildings after decades of deferred maintenance. Among the buildings in need of repair are the Downtown Branch, the flagship of the library system, sailing proudly in the Civic Center, next door to City Hall, the City Auditorium and other historic buildings.

STC-L-GIBSON-COL-0616-01

When Measure S was ballyhooed by the city fathers and mothers, they knew perfectly well that the funds garnered would be insufficient to complete all the work needed for all of the library branch buildings. But they pressed on regardless, not telling the people about this minor financial detail, sure in the knowledge that once approved, additional funds could be “leveraged” to complete the tasks at hand.

To overcome this fiscal failing, the City (mis)Manager dug into his bag of old ideas and pulled out… a parking garage! He suggested, without smirking, very much, that the city could save money and build a bigger Downtown Branch library in the ground floor of a five to six story parking garage, propping up the moribund parking project like a brick underneath the wobbly corner of a book case.

Parking garage 2

City staff fueled the spark of the idea by pouring gallons of library eye candy on the gullible public, images of huge, modernistic book boutiques in major cities around the world excruciatingly morphed into “multi use” structures, such as apartment buildings, multi-modal transportation emporia and shopping malls, with far more glass, glitz and glamor than books..

The Downtown Library Advisory Committee, formed in December 2016 to “help with the design of a new library,” swallowed it all, recommending that the City Council approve the new “21st Century” library in the ground floor of a yet to be designed parking garage.

As often happens, many people who pay attention took exception to this behind closed doors, bureaucratic bait and switch. A groundswell of opposition to the ugly car-centric edifice arose (see Public Libraries Parking Garages and the Future of Bad Taste), creating consternation in the ivy-covered halls of local government. Never to pause in the face of public disapproval of their favorite plans, City Staff rooted around in their bag of tricks and pulled out their favorite ploy: if the public doesn’t like what you offer, give them what they want.

With a wave of their bureaucratic magic wand, the library in a garage was magically transformed into a library plus affordable housing in a parking garage. Shazzam! Who could object to affordable housing?

City staff and some City Council members, including the member who was recused from voting on the project, who shall remain nameless (her initials are C.M.), quickly mobilized a cadre of downtown influencers to support the so-called mixed use project, releasing an epic flood of disinformation, misdirection and bald-faced lies about the project, how much it would cost, how tall it would be and how many, if any, truly affordable apartments would be included.

To cut to the chase, after nearly four years of political jiggery-pokery, and yet another City Council committee process, the decision, made so long ago, dusted off, repolished  and shiny with new empty promises, obfuscations and prevarication, will be reintroduced to the City Council as the pre-ordained recommendation of the Downtown Library Council Subcommittee to build a new Downtown Library under a six story parking garage. A people parking garage with cavernous ceilings and echoing hallways almost but not quite entirely devoid of books.

Caverness

Maybe.

It has not gone unnoticed by the aforementioned people who pay attention, as well as other thinking persons, that local democracy is suffering under the stultifying reaction to the Coronavirus epidemic. What once were face-to-face public meetings have degraded into awkward and limiting remote computer media encounters, with public commentary and questions relegated to faceless voices on scratchy and often unintelligible telephone connections. No longer can we mingle with our fellow citizens in the hallowed halls of government, exchange meaningful glances during the meeting, foment strategy before and after, look our public servants in the eye when they spout their meaningless rhetoric.

It is quite likely that COVID-19 hysteria will subside in the next couple of months, to the point that we can resume face-to-face public meetings, even if somewhat constrained by anti-social distancing.

What would be lost by postponing public hearings of critical public interest until we can meet again in public? Why the urgency to push through a controversial project such as the bastardization of the Downtown Branch Library when the public cannot effectively take part in the deliberations? Who gains from this abrogation of democratic responsibility, and who loses?

One thing almost everyone can do is to contact City Council members and express disappointment and dismay at the loss of our political franchise and our historic library building in the vital Civic Center.

If nothing else, send an email to citycouncil@cityofsantacruz.com and let them know that you want our democracy and our Downtown Library lest they make any more ill advised commitments to our political, economic and cultural future.

The ultimate fate of the Downtown Public Library building, and the state of local democracy, lies in the hands of the citizens of Santa Cruz, city and county.

It’s up to you.

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.

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

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

 

“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.

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

Climate Change Cannot Be Defeated

Fight Climate ChangeIn a dash through the headlines this morning, I found the following statements:

“we are moving further away from our already limited ambitions in fighting climate change

“the fight against climate change

“support farmers in the fight against climate change,”

 Climate Change Solutions Are PSEG CEO Ralph Izzo’s Top Priority 

 Have hope, humanity is finding ways to defeat climate change 

If we’re going to stop irreversible climate change

Even in the local Our Fair City Newspaper (paywalled):

“To stop climate change we must unite as a people…”

“…an activist group that encourages children to combat climate change.”

In the global political and economic struggle for cultural supremacy, climate change (aka global warming, climate disruption, climate variability, etc. ad nauseum) has become the target du jour of every political body and politician, every Big Green environmental organization, every blog (including this one) and uncountable web pages quietly ticking away in Internet servers everywhere, powered by “renewable” energy and/or fossil fuels.

Click HERE for my previous post on the difference between climate change and climate variation.

Climate change rhetoric has expanded exponentially, increasing misunderstanding, obfuscating scientific evidence, and lowering the level of discourse to bumper sticker slogans and lurid placards waved by young truant students.

In reality (what a concept), climate variation is not a thing that can be fought against, stopped, defeated, reversed or even slowed down. Climate variation is a set of natural processes that continue apace totally unmodified by human mental or physical activity. Humans can influence variables within those processes, to a greater or lesser extent, but the processes themselves continue unfazed.

The best that human animals can do is to come to a thorough understanding of natural climate processes, find out which human activities change climate variables to negative effects and don’t do that!

While Climate variability cannot be defeated, stopped, solved, fought against, or reversed, we human animals alone have the power to understand the consequences of our actions and to change ourselves and our social systems. We can change our societies to be in keeping and cooperation with the naturally variable world we live in and depend on.

Simply because humankind have the power now to meddle or ‘manage’ or ‘exercise stewardship’ in every nook and cranny of the world does not mean that we have a right to do so. Even less, the obligation.”
Edward Abbey

 

 

Parks Without People

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In a recent thoughtful opinion piece in Sierra magazine, the house organ of the Sierra Club, editor Jason Mark tentatively floats the concept of “parks without people,” areas where human beings are not allowed, where natural processes can proceed without human impacts or manipulation.

This is not a new idea, as proponents of wilderness have grappled with the concept for decades, struggling to find a balance among political and economic expediency, ecological reality and human cultural history. Wallace Stegner’s 1960 “Wilderness Letter” clearly laid out the case for the benefit of wilderness to the human psyche. In his 1991 book, Wilderness on the Rocks, Howie Wolke thoroughly explored the concept of wilderness, the contradictions inherent in its definition and application to the real world of natural ecological relationships and human profligacy.

“Wilderness” is a fragile, human defined concept, that is complicated by a detailed examination of a world in which every square inch is influenced and modified by overwhelming human domination of the planet.

Nevertheless, the idea has merit, not as Mark explains in the subtitle of the article: “What if we were to create nature preserves that were strictly for science?”, but in its idealogical purity.

What if we were to create nature preserves strictly for the place itself, for the natural habitat, for the species who live there as their only home?

Isn’t the preservation of biodiversity, habitat and non-human species of merit in its own right, regardless of its benefit to humans? Or can value only be communicated as a human concept that has no meaning in a non-human context?

Mark points out the range of practical difficulties of promoting and developing this approach in the economic and political society that dominates management of undeveloped lands today, with quotes from a government bureaucrat and a scientist:

Jon Jarvis, the former director of the National Park Service: “… the establishment of protected areas and parks are a political construct, built on public support. If you don’t have some level of public use, you won’t have public support.”

Arthur Middleton, a UC Berkeley wildlife biologist: “We need baselines, some ability to know something about what happens in the absence of people. But to be blunt, it doesn’t seem within the reality in the US.”

Another side argument to this discussion is that humans are a part of nature and therefore if we preserve wilderness and natural habitat, we benefit humans as well. The E. O. Wilson Foundation’s Half-Earth Project takes this middle ground approach “to conserve half the land and sea to safeguard the bulk of biodiversity, including ourselves.”

Meanwhile here at home in Our Fair County, local government officials sprinkle their Strategic Plans with meaningless buzzwords and aphorisms, such as “sustainable,” “climate disruption,” and the most dreadful “vibrant environment,” all the while conducting business as usual, widening highways, building more and more insanely tall, glass and concrete apartment houses, parking garages and million dollar single family homes.

Despite the flood of rhetoric and neologisms, everything humans do is, of necessity, anthropocentric. “Parks” must have people, because that’s what the word means: “an area of land, usually in a largely natural state, for the enjoyment of the public, having facilities often owned, set apart, and managed by a city, state, or nation.” In order to demonstrate relevance to potential funding sources, bureaucrats describe all projects in human terms. Thus, natural areas are referred to as parks, and developed as parks for human use, because there is no perception of any bureaucratic or economic justification for saving undeveloped land for itself.

Balancing human needs and desires with the intrinsic needs of natural ecosystems, habitats and species requires a revolutionary change in our relationship with the biosphere in which we live and from which we obtain everything we need and desire. This revolution cannot be achieved until we change the way we think about the natural world and our place as one species among many.

The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only paradise we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need, if only we had the eyes to see.  Ed Abbey, Desert Solitaire