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

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.

Learning What Doesn’t Work

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

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

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

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

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

Population Density

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Health

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

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

Lessons to be Learned

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

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

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

The Real Environmental Crisis

This Guest Commentary in the Santa Cruz Sentinel thoroughly and eloquently explores the real environmental crisis and what we each can do about it:

Santa Cruz Sentinel | Guest Commentary
https://www.santacruzsentinel.com/2020/02/09/guest-commentary-theres-an-urgent-need-for-action/

There’s an Urgent Need for Action
By Craig R. Wilson

Absent a pandemic, nuclear war or an asteroid strike, human beings are the least endangered animal on the planet. Only fish and birds exceed our numbers, though Cornell University just reported that nearly a third of all birds have disappeared in the last 50 years and the fisheries that have not crashed are threatened. Business as usual has worked very well for humans, but it is destroying our planet and killing off nearly everything else we find no use for. We are creating a world where we will be all alone but for domesticated animals and commercial crops…


We know what we need to do as individuals:

  • Drive and fly less.
  • Reduce waste.
  • Stop single-use plastics.
  • Eat less meat.
  • Ensure women retain reproductive choices and options.
  • Wear natural fibers.
  • Shop local to reduce packaging and transportation.
  • Find alternatives to poisons and pesticides.
  • Be an advocate for the environment
  • Reject unnecessary purchases and consumerism.

Click HERE for the full article.

Bringing Environmental Activism Home

Recently, I’ve reviewed environmental policies and legislation promulgated by our local Santa Cruz County and its municipalities (Santa Cruz, Capitola, Scotts Valley and Watsonville). County government has a good General Plan and well crafted County Code, but the municipalities are woefully inadequate. But even in County government, those codified policies are rarely followed to the letter, or in most cases even unto intent.

A recently published petition: William J Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M Newsome, Phoebe Barnard, William R Moomaw, World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency, BioScience, , biz088, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biz088) includes descriptions of immediate actions needed to reduce human impacts on the biosphere. While they are predicated on reducing greenhouse gases and climate change, they also apply to very real immediate human impacts on the non-human world.

In my next post, I’ll compare these actions with local existing county and municipal codes, and suggest new policies to bring our local government into alignment with these global concerns.

Energy
The world must quickly implement massive energy efficiency and conservation practices and must replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables and other cleaner sources of energy if safe for people and the environment. We should leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground and should carefully pursue effective negative emissions using technology such as carbon extraction from the source and capture from the air and especially by enhancing natural systems (see “Nature” section). Wealthier countries need to support poorer nations in transitioning away from fossil fuels. We must swiftly eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels and use effective and fair policies for steadily escalating carbon prices to restrain their use.

Short-lived pollutants
We need to promptly reduce the emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, including methane, black carbon (soot), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Doing this could slow climate feedback loops and potentially reduce the short-term warming trend by more than 50% over the next few decades while saving millions of lives and increasing crop yields due to reduced air pollution. The 2016 Kigali amendment to phase down HFCs is welcomed.

Energy
The world must quickly implement massive energy efficiency and conservation practices and must replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables and other cleaner sources of energy if safe for people and the environment. We should leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground and should carefully pursue effective negative emissions using technology such as carbon extraction from the source and capture from the air and especially by enhancing natural systems (see “Nature” section). Wealthier countries need to support poorer nations in transitioning away from fossil fuels. We must swiftly eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels and use effective and fair policies for steadily escalating carbon prices to restrain their use.

Nature
We must protect and restore Earth’s ecosystems. Phytoplankton, coral reefs, forests, savannas, grasslands, wetlands, peatlands, soils, mangroves, and sea grasses contribute greatly to sequestration of atmospheric CO2. Marine and terrestrial plants, animals, and microorganisms play significant roles in carbon and nutrient cycling and storage. We need to quickly curtail habitat and biodiversity loss, protecting the remaining primary and intact forests, especially those with high carbon stores and other forests with the capacity to rapidly sequester carbon (proforestation), while increasing reforestation and afforestation where appropriate at enormous scales. Although available land may be limiting in places, up to a third of emissions reductions needed by 2030 for the Paris agreement (less than 2°C) could be obtained with these natural climate solutions.

Food
Eating mostly plant-based foods while reducing the global consumption of animal products (figure 1c–d), especially ruminant livestock, can improve human health and significantly lower GHG emissions (including methane in the “Short-lived pollutants” step). Moreover, this will free up croplands for growing much-needed human plant food instead of livestock feed, while releasing some grazing land to support natural climate solutions (see “Nature” section). Cropping practices such as minimum tillage that increase soil carbon are vitally important. We need to drastically reduce the enormous amount of food waste around the world.

Economy
Excessive extraction of materials and overexploitation of ecosystems, driven by economic growth, must be quickly curtailed to maintain long-term sustainability of the biosphere. We need a carbon-free economy that explicitly addresses human dependence on the biosphere and policies that guide economic decisions accordingly. Our goals need to shift from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence toward sustaining ecosystems and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.

Population
Still increasing by roughly 80 million people per year, or more than 200,000 per day, the world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced—within a framework that ensures social integrity. There are proven and effective policies that strengthen human rights while lowering fertility rates and lessening the impacts of population growth on GHG emissions and biodiversity loss. These policies make family planning services available to all people, remove barriers to their access and achieve full gender equity, including primary and secondary education as a global norm for all, especially girls and young women.

 

Uncivil-ization

e6660-pulling-out-hairSomething is wrong. Something has gone terribly wrong, deep inside our dominant culture.

Recently, during a City Council meeting in Our Fair City, a council member exploded in a childish tantrum, stood up at her seat on the dais, red in the face, and screamed about being called a racist on a Facebook page. When she finally ran down, she flounced down in her chair, rolled it back from the dais and sat unspeaking, arms crossed, frowning at the shocked audience.

The surprising result was … there were no consequences. The Mayor proposed a three minute recess, but was talked out of it by other council members, and the meeting continued as if nothing had happened. The petulant council member sat at her seat and leafed silently through the agenda packet for the rest of the meeting.

If this were an isolated incident in local politics, it wouldn’t be so troubling. But this is happening, in one bizarre way after another, all around the world, from Trump to Johnson, from Congress to Parliament, from the United Nations to our local Democratic Central Committee.

Polite, civil discourse, political and personal, is disappearing, replaced by anger, disrespect, name-calling, foul language and violence.

In England, Parliament, which has always been rowdier than the US Congress, has been called to task for increasingly vituperative public rhetoric. The US President rants, whines and lambasts perceived opponents on social media, before the unprotesting press and on unguarded, but recorded telephone calls to international rulers.

Here at home, local politics has descended into personal attacks, wildly exaggerated recall campaigns, special interest lobbying groups and divisive local government policies and campaigns.

I’ve been trying for some time to puzzle out common denominators of this seeming shift in public social relationships that pop up in unexpected places, especially those places where civility has long been the norm.

Based on decades of observation of the public scene, I think several factors are at work here.

In the United States, the Trump phenomenon is a negative influence, dredging up the worst in our society’s underlying thoughts and motivations. Trump is a bully, an ignorant thug, self-centered and supremely egotistical, an isolated, frustrated corporate CEO with absolutely no experience in deliberative bodies or cooperative endeavors. Judging by his supporters, Trump is leading this country down the path to ignorant and uninformed political rebellion and social collapse.

Internationally, ubiquitous cell phone use is raising generations of young people totally devoid of social skills, ignorant of the world outside their electronic devices, expectant of on-demand responses to their slightest desires, unable to read, write and think critically about the world around them.

Corporate media has created a world of newsertainment in which information is indistinguishable from disinformation, entertainment is the desired end (as long as it brings in the bucks) and personality is the supreme quality for legitimacy and meaningfulness.

So-called “Progressive Education” (an educational theory marked by emphasis on the individual child, informality of classroom procedure, and encouragement of self-expression – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/progressive) has produced an adult cohort that is self-centered, devoid of social norms, and deficient in basic reading, writing, comprehension and critical thinking skills.

Finally, and most recently, climate change fear-mongering is creating apocalyptic hysteria among adults and children alike, misunderstanding of science and the scientific process, and ignorance of ecology, conservation and the very real threats of human population and economic growth, habitat destruction and profligate consumption of resources.

What to do, what to do?

Got me there, haven’t a clue.

This next election, whether or not Trump participates, will be dominated by climate change hysteria, the Green New Deal and homelessness. I think the best we can hope for is for Elizabeth Warren to be elected. Perhaps a woman in the White House can calm the troubled political waters, set an example of civility, empathy and compassion and pull our troubled uncivilization back from the brink.

It’s a lot to expect from one person, history argues against it, the future is in the hands of young people ill prepared to deal with it.

“More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

Woody Allen

 

Can Renewable Energy Replace Fossil Fuels?

Solar-Calatagan-1

The modern obsession with Climate Change and its presumed primary cause in the burning of fossil fuels, has led to the unchallenged assumption that modern civilization can and must switch its energy production from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric and hydrokinetic (wave and tide) sources.

The question is rarely asked: “Can renewable energy sources replace fossil fuel energy sources to provide all of the energy that human civilization demands, now and into the foreseeable future?”

The usual technocratic response is “Sure. There is no technical barrier to producing all of our energy needs from renewable energy sources.”

The follow up question is never asked: What would be the environmental cost of attempting to produce present and future energy demands with renewable energy sources?”

While it may be *feasible* to produce all our energy needs from “renewable” energy sources, this technological infrastructure comes with large and severe environmental impacts. Mining minerals and rare earth metals necessary to build and maintain renewable energy systems results in habitat loss and natural resource depletion. The enormous physical sites required for wind and solar farms (see above) reduce the availability for natural ecosystems and their native species. Hydroelectric requires dams that inundate huge swaths of natural ecosystems and result in unpredictable seismic changes.

Here is an overview of the environmental impacts of renewable energy sources from the Union of Concerned Scientists:

The question is not “Which is best, renewable energy or nonrenewable energy?” The only question that is meaningful in terms of the full biosphere is: “How can we reduce our impacts on the natural world by reducing our energy demands?”