A World of Weeds and Wounds


In an October 1998 essay in Harper’s Magazine, David Quammen proposes the idea of  “weedy” species: “scrappers, generalists, opportunists. They tend to thrive in human-dominated terrain because in crucial ways they resemble Homo sapiens, aggressive, versatile, prolific and ready to travel.”

As humans construct and expand their built environment, the natural world becomes increasingly depauperate with wild, native species giving way to adventitious weedy species able to take advantage of and even thrive in degraded environments. Through species extirpation and extinction, biodiversity is decreased, leaving only those species dependent on humans and/or those that can survive in spite of human domination.

Here in Santa Cruz, our City and County officials are overwhelmed by crime, gangs, “homelessness” and general disrespect for law and order, as a result of unlimited population growth. City and County officials seek to solve the problems brought on by population growth by encouraging even more population growth, and resulting development of the tiny bit of remaining natural land that makes Santa Cruz such an attractive place to live, work and play.

City and County bureaucrats and elected officials cannot see what some of us see when we look at Jesse Street Marsh, the San Lorenzo River, the Arana Gulch Greenbelt, Pogonip, Moore Creek, County beaches and mountains. They see only problems with price tags attached. To them, environmental protection and restoration costs money and does not solve the problems that reflect on their job performance and/or their re-election.

“Activating” natural areas is bureaucrat speak for social engineering to cause the problems to move elsewhere, somewhere less “activated,” the next place to be stripped of its native vegetation, its wildlife driven off, its water diverted to human uses, it’s air filled with noise.

The ultimate outcome is that human growth and development inevitably diminishes natural areas to the point that we live in a world of weeds and wounds. It’s to the point that there are really no “natural” areas left. Even “wilderness” is conceived of and formed by human intervention.

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

It is the job of those of us who see the marks of death in our world of wounds and weeds to speak out, whether others want to be told or not.

Happy Birthday, Ed!

Ed Abbey sunset

Today is the 89th anniversary of the natal day of Edward Paul Abbey, author, curmudgeon, social critic, lover of women and other wild living things.

He bared his soul in Black Sun, Fire on the Mountain, Desert Solitaire, and Fool’s Progress, set many of us on the path to defense of natural habitat and wilderness, confrontations with overbearing authorities, monkey wrenching, tree-spiking, survey stake pulling and other forms of socially and environmentally responsible activities.

If Ed were alive now, he’d be glad he died while there was still something left of the wild.

Soar high, Ed!

“There are some good things to be said about walking. Not many, but some. Walking takes longer, for example, than any other known form of locomotion except crawling. Thus it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed. I have a friend who’s always in a hurry; he never gets anywhere. Walking makes the world much bigger and thus more interesting. You have time to observe the details. The utopian technologists foresee a future for us in which distance is annihilated. … To be everywhere at once is to be nowhere forever, if you ask me.”
Edward Abbey

Walking the Talk on the Road Less Traveled


Continuing on the NIMBY theme…

The Associated Press just released a study, Public Opinion and the Environment: The Nine Types of Americans, based on a national survey of attitudes of Americans on a variety of environmental concerns.

While attitudes about global warming were assessed in part, it was a welcome relief to find that the majority of the report was not about climate change but about “the importance individuals place on environmental protection, what the government’s role should be in regulating it, whether an environmental crisis exists, how individuals see themselves in relation to nature, and how individuals respond when scientific and religious explanations conflict.”

The first conclusion of the study is that public attitudes about the environment are far more complex than pro- or anti- environmentalism. This report divides Americans into nine groups:

  •   9% – Liberal Greens
  • 10% – Outdoor Greens
  • 14% – Religious Greens
  • 10% – Middle-of-the-Roaders
  • 29% – Homebodies
  •   6% – Disengaged
  • 15% – Outdoor Browns
  •   8% – Religious Browns
  •   8% – Conservative Browns

The categories are pretty self-explanatory. Greens are pro-environmentalism and browns are anti- environmentalism. The others are scattered in between. No big secrets revealed there.

The interesting part is the identification of the nine groups and their relative distribution. 10% Outdoor Greens is about what I would suspect based on my experience, that being my group. I was surprised that only 45% fell into the Middle-of-the-Roaders, Homebodies and Disengaged categories. I would have guessed much higher.

The disturbing part was the breakdown in “environmentally friendly” activities, such as turning down the thermostat on the furnace or up on the air conditioner (I would have had to answer Not Applicable), walking, bicycling or taking public transit, buying compact fluorescent light bulbs and carrying reusable shopping bags to the grocery store. Percentages were shockingly low in all these categories, even for Liberal and Outdoor Greens, demonstrating that Americans have a long way to go before walking their talk.

As with any national statistical survey, the results may be wildly different from what one experiences at the local level. Some places are very high in Liberal and Outdoor Greens, some places abound in Browns of all flavors.

What impressed me most was that despite all the environmental hyperbole in the national and international media, especially with the fête de réchauffement global in Paris this month, public environmental awareness, concern and activism are so pitifully low in the United States. Only 33% identified themselves as green of any shade, 31% as browns and 45% as not really caring one way or another. (Yes, it adds up to more than 100%. I’ve never trusted statistics.)

While this is consistent with what I’ve observed as an environmental activist, it’s still distressing to see it laid out in numbers.

“‘Twas ever thus,” quoth Mr. Natural. It has always been the 10% who stand up and speak out, who act, who organize, who walk the talk on the road less traveled.

You can download the full 28 page report HERE.



I’m proud to be a NIMBY

It’s interesting to find others, especially those in other countries, who share one’s views on Things Important and Worthwhile.

Those of us who have struggled to save some of what’s left of the wild have often been accused of being a NIMBY, aka Not In My Back Yard. The connotation is that we NIMBYs are opposed to nearby industrial development, road building, destruction of natural habitat and open spaces because we want to protect them as our personal playgrounds.

Our response has always been, no, we’re opposed to development of the natural world on the principle expressed best by Aldo Leopold:

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.” The Land Ethic, A Sand County Alamanc, Aldo Leopold

NIMBYs are opposed to any development that limits or reduces biodiversity, that lessons the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community to which we all belong. In defending our bioregion, our watershed, our ecosystem, our biosphere, we are protecting ourselves and our community of life.

Not In My Back Yard, nor in any Back Yard. NIMBYs Are Us!

It was gratifying to find a 2014 article by Geoffrey Wheatcroft (what a great name!) in The Guardian, celebrating those of us who proudly declare our NIMBYism: “I’m proud to be a nimby. For the environment’s sake, we all should be!”

If each of us proudly wears our NIMBY badge and works to keep our own Back Yards free from destructive development, our biosphere would be in much less peril from unlimited growth and development. It’s an ancient tradition, steeped in the tea of self-reliance, self-responsibility and mutual aid.

All for one, one for all and everyone a NIMBY!




Attentive readers who have followed this blog (assuming there are some!) since its tentative birth on a certain Sunday, February 6, 2005, will notice something new, up there in the upper left hand corner.

No, Hayduke is not yet dead. He lives on in the words of another writer, Ed Abbey, and remains alive and well in his own special world. When I started this experiment I was concerned with Hayduke’s future as a voice for wilderness protection and environmental activism, in a world increasingly digitized, sanitized and commodified.

Meanwhile, in my special world, life goes on and continues to evolve. The concept of environmentalism from the 60s and 70s has become its own endangered species, steamrollered by a juggernaut of “Global Warming” alarmism that has flattened everything in its path into a one dimensional paean to international sustainable (sic) development, economic growth and corporate domination.

Over the past ten and a half years, I’ve learned a lot about writing, publishing, the Internet, social media and cyber-activism. In many ways, it’s discouraging, in fewer ways, potentially promising. The Internet is a vast resource and an even vaster energy sink. Time is relative; time spent on a computer doubly so. While the Internet makes communication faster and easier, it also makes distraction far faster and easier, and much harder to avoid.

Words Arranged is not so much a new direction as a consolidation of my scattered attention. My writing, photography, web sites and blogs have piled up like stacks of books in my library and have begun to succumb to gravity in chaotic piles on the floor. Entropy always increases, and in my case, faster than my ability to retain some semblance of order.

I’ve learned to create websites to help organize complex technical information, so I’m taking this same strategy back into my creative life to help organize my thoughts, in my head, in print, in images and other media. If I can organize where I’ve been and what I’m doing now, maybe I’ll have some indication of where I will go next.

As the Cheshire cat told Alice, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

Wilderness and wild spaces, even not so wild open spaces in urban areas, are increasingly under attack by gearheads, young recreationists and self-centered entitlement aficionados. Their mantra is “antiquated laws,” which they chant whilst lobbying policy makers to change or rescind regulations to allow them unfettered access to places that have been long protected for their unique natural values.

No one is surprised by this contradictory behavior. Humans have always been masters at straining at gnats and swallowing camels. Popular human culture is replete with self-defeating behavior by a populace in thrall to consumerism and corporate personhood.

It remains for us 60ish conservationists to trod heavily in our expensive hiking boots in the path of the unknowing, youthful recreational enthusiasts, while we still have the gumption, intestinal fortitude and energy left to defend the wild at every opportunity, stand in their faces and so to them, “No, you will not destroy this wild place.

These laws regulate behavior that is destructive to the very characteristics of wild lands that make them attractive to humans in the first place. Those screaming the loudest for access are lobbying for the right to destroy that which they profess to enjoy.

What they refuse to understand is that environmental laws and regulations do not exclude anyone from these areas. It is behavior that is excluded, not individuals or groups of humans.

This past week, my wife and I celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act by hiking into the Hoover Wilderness in the east Sierra above Mono Lake.

No toys, no gear, just us and our feet, eyes, ears, noses and skin. It was a healing walk, away from the din of what passes for civilization in the “developed” world.

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

The Myth of Economic Growth

I’ve written about the myth of economic growth quite a lot on Hayduke Blogs. Us the search bar in the lower right for a sampling. I’ve held for many years that growth is not the solution to our economic, social and environmental woes, growth is the problem.

Today I found an interview on Truthout: Power Shift Away From Green Illusions, with Ozzie Zehner, author of Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism.

They’re not really secrets, of course. We’ve known for a long time that alternative energy sources are dependent on fossil fuel energy sources, that our present level of energy use, consumption and economic growth cannot be sustained in a world of finite resources. We’ve even known that solar and wind power are not amenable to centralized collection and distribution and there is no way we can sustain our present society on renewable energy alone.

The future is not more. The future is less.

Less energy. Less growth. Fewer people. Less consumption.

It’s inevitable. That which cannot go on forever, won’t.

It’s good to read a book (a free chapter is available on Zehner’s web site), that lays this all out very logically, in a readable and entertaining volume. He also makes the case for a rational, science-based approach to moving toward a steady state economy based on a smaller population and reduced per capita consumption.

My wife and I lowered our standard of living and increased our quality of life over ten years ago.

The Myth of Economic Growth stops right here at home.

The Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming

Welcome to the Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming, with the Reverend Billy McKibben!
Hallelujah, brothers and sisters! Bang your hands together! Let me hear you say “Amen!”
In McKibben’s latest sermon: Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, The Beloved and Respected Reverend Pastor attempts to quantify the imminent Apocalypse by holding up the holy relics of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW): the sacred 2 degrees Centigrade of allowable global temperature increase; the parable of the 565 Gigatons of CO2; and the holy sacrifice on the altar of CO2: 350 ppm.
According to his bio, Bill McKibben has been an active Methodist all of his life, and he openly recruits religion and religious leaders to play vital roles in protecting the Earth. “The future of Christian environmentalism may have something significant to do with the future of the planet,” he testifies in OnEarth, the proselytizing house organ of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In The Christian paradox: How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong, McKibben expresses his environmental and religious frustrations with modern life:
“America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior. At the moment the idea of Jesus has been hijacked by people with a series of causes that do not reflect his teachings. … We were trying to get politicians to understand why the Bible actually mandated protecting the world around us (Noah: the first Green), work that I think is true and vital.”
In his 2005 book: The Comforting Whirlwind : God, Job, and the Scale of Creation acclaimed environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben turns to the biblical book of Job and its awesome depiction of creation to demonstrate our need to embrace a bold new paradigm for living if we hope to reverse the current trend of ecological destruction.” Google Books
It is no surprise to see Global Warming couched in religious terms. It has all of the classical Biblical trappings: a theological morality tale complete with Heaven, Hell, the Devil, angels and cherubim, confession, sins, retribution and redemption, with final salvation to eternity.
Global warming threatens descent into an eternal hell of fire and drought for those who don’t see the light, following the dreaded Tipping Point of inevitable irreversible climate collapse. We are shown vivid revelations of the great flood, of pestilence, plagues of insects, famine, disease, social collapse, war and death. We are cautioned against the great Devil denialist whispering doubts into our ears, challenging our faith in Global Warming. We are promised redemption if we just confess our sins and promise to change our ways. The promise of a new world, with abundance for all in eternity, lies just beyond the horizon studded with wind generators and papered with solar panels.
“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last recycling. I am guilty of the sin of impure thoughts about Styrofoam plates. I coveted my neighbors SUV.”
The Reverend McKibben speaks glowingly of colleagues who have gained the faith: “Ronald Bailey, the science writer at Reason, converted a few years ago to belief in global warming and called for a carbon tax.”
McKibben’s website for this campaign: 350.org has a page for faith-based supporters of the Global Warming campaign, with a list of 40 “resources” for religious support, stating: “Communities of faith are at the forefront of the 350 movement.” One might assume this includes economical as well as spiritual support.
Pass the Love Offering plate, brothers.
The Faith page at 350.org also states: “350 represents more than just a scientific benchmark for a safe climate – there are also deeply moral and spiritual reasons for getting the world back below 350 ppm CO2.”
It is true, and somewhat frightening to consider, that 90% of the people in the United States believe in a god, and 80% of them believe in a return of Jesus Christ to save the world. This merely demonstrates that consensus opinion does not trump scientific reality. Climate science is not about belief, it is about rational observation, testing and verification of the evidence of the parameters of natural climate variation and the extent to which human activities influence those natural changes.
The “moral and spiritual” arguments employed as the basis of the perception of Anthropogenic Global Warming are anti-scientific. It is this irrational faith-based acceptance of proselytizing AGW proponents that is the greatest threat to an understanding of natural climate variation and the role played by human action in observed climate change. It is irresponsible, misleading and ultimately demagogic to stand at the digital pulpit and wave the AGW Bible to spread fear and misunderstanding among people who have been conditioned to accept such authoritarian pronouncements without question or critical thinking. 
Climate variation is real and has consequences for the very real world we live in. We cannot accommodate to the realities of the natural world by pretending we can continue the present unsustainable course of human development by substituting solar and wind energy technologies for fossil fuel technologies. Whether or not human action can in any way change natural climate variation, it is certain that life on earth cannot withstand unlimited growth in consumption by an unlimited growth in human population in a world of finite resources. 
Looking to renewable energy resources as the savior of human civilization is as self-deceiving as praying to a god for salvation from human foibles. Couching the debate over Climate Change and Anthropogenic Global Warming in religious terms, even for the purpose of bringing religious believers into the fold, is self-defeating, because it denies rational investigation, critical thinking and self-reliant decision-making. 
If we are to find a way to accommodate climate variation, natural or human caused, it will be through rational discourse, not through blind religious acceptance and belief.

Back to Environmental Basics

Ecology and environmentalism can be confusing due to the complexity of natural systems and the myriad ways in which human activities affect complex natural cycles. Sometimes things that seem to be true intuitively turn out to be not so black and white as they seem.

Does human-produced carbon dioxide cause climate change?

Do carbon offsets and carbon trading schemes reduce human CO2 production?

Will reducing human CO2 production “stop” climate change, or reverse “global warming”?

Are solar panels and wind generators carbon neutral and pollution-free?

Can we shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources to keep our civilization going as it is?

Can we produce enough potable water through sea water desalination to allow our populations to grow beyond local supplies?

The answers to these questions are not immediately clear and unambiguous. How can we find definitive answers to these and many more questions? How do we evaluate new technologies and new energy sources for their environmental effects now and on into the future?

Forty years ago, physicist and ecologist Barry Commoner suggested The Four Laws of Ecology as a means to evaluating human activities in ecological terms:

1) Everything is connected to everything else – From galaxies to quarks, we have long learned that everything in the Universe exists in complex interrelationships with everything else.

“One could not pluck a flower without troubling a star.” Loren Eiseley

“The most important characteristic of the Eastern world view – one could almost say the essence of it – is the awareness of the unity and mutual interrelation of all things and events, the experience of all phenomena in the world as manifestations of a basic oneness. All things are seen as interdependent and inseparable parts of this cosmic whole; as different manifestations of the same ultimate reality.” (Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, 1975)

2) Everything must go somewhere – We cannot throw anything away; there is no “away”

3) Nature knows best – The way things work in Nature are derived from millions years of testing through natural selection and evolution. Humans are newcomers on the scene. We cannot assume that we can do things better just because we walk upright and have large brains.

4) There is no such thing as a free lunch – If something seems to good to be true, it probably is. Everything comes from something else. The true cost of something may be far more in the long run than it’s immediate price.

And, in addition to Commoner’s Four Laws, my Father often told me:

5) You can never do just one thing — every proposed action should be followed by the question: “And then what?” Often the consequences of action are greater and more far reaching than the original “problem.”

When facing the global challenges of climate change, Peak Oil, and water production, it is best to initially approach the problems with humility, holding our ignorance in our hat, prepared to learn and become enlightened.

I suspect that many perceived environmental problems can improve with studied neglect. Often we hasty humans propose and implement “solutions” for problems that don’t really exist, or that will correct themselves given time and lack of interference, especially when economic gain is involved. Frequently, just leaving things alone is the best response to what appears to be a problem, but is in reality just a naturally system working itself out over time. The “Precautionary Principle” and the “1% Doctrine” are often employed as excuses to justify what we want to do anyway.

A proposed solution to a perceived problem, if indeed a “solution” is required, should be tested against the above five Laws of Ecology:

1) What else will be affected by this change?
2) What are the waste products, how fast will they accumulate and where will they go?
3) How does Nature handles this “problem”?
4) What is the total energy cost of this solution?
5) After the solution is applied, what happens next?

Sometimes the results of such an analysis will reveal that a simple solution is more elegant and effective in the long run, or that no “active” solution is required at all.

“Waiting is.” Valentine Michael Smith

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself? Lao tzu

As one grows older, one sees the impossibility of imposing your will on the chaos with brute force. But if you are patient, there may come that moment when, while eating an apple, the solution presents itself politely and says, ‘Here I am!’ Albert Einstein

Clarity and foresight are the results of simplicity and patience. The simple approach sometimes yields the most profound results.

Environmentalism Has Failed – or Has It?

Rumours of the Death of Environmentalism are greatly exaggerated.
David Suzuki’s opening remark, “Environmentalism has failed,” in A Biocentric Viewpoint is Needed Now, misses the mark set by the article’s title by broadly defining “environmentalism” to include biocentric culture change.
It was never the purpose of “environmentalism” to change the dominant human culture from rampant consumerism and resource exploitation to a biocentric viewpoint. The goal of environmentalism is to stop the destruction of the natural world. These are two goals, which, while compatible, require different strategies and tactics.
We who already have the biocentric perspective have focused on this goal far longer than 50 years. While recognizing that we can never “win” against an overwhelming tide of anthropocentric civilization, we must, nevertheless, soldier on and continue to defend the wild. Someone must do the work, make the last ditch efforts to save what is left, while others carry on the legal, political and cultural work in their areas of interest and expertise.
What has failed is not “environmentalism” but culture change. The dominant culture in the world today, that is, western capitalist consumer culture, is dysfunctional to the point of destructive. The stories we tell our children about how to be a human being no longer work in a world of finite resources. We cannot continue economic growth as if resources are unlimited. We can no longer foul our nest as if the Earth will clean up after us forever. We can no longer treat the natural world as separate and under the dominion of human beings and human culture.
The problem is that the western consumer culture model is disseminated by a centralized, top-down control system, through corporate media, corporate dominated government and corporate control of access to information. We environmentalists who embrace and live a biocentric world view are ill-equipped to take on this totalitarian control system and bend it to a realization of the necessity of a biocentric world view.

Our form of environmentalism is alive and well, still working hard to protect critical natural habitat, clean water and air, living soils and biodiversity. It’s our work. It’s what we’re good at. We can’t shift focus, relearn a new approach, stop defendning what little is left. There’s no time and we’re not getting any younger!
Now it’s time for the bioculturalists to step forward and begin the process of instilling biocentric knowledge and ideals into popular culture.