A World of Weeds and Wounds

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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.

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Happy Birthday, Ed!

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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

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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!

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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.