Thursday, January 26, 2012

How to Respect the Rights of Nature

The City of Santa Monica recently passed an ordinance, directing the City to “recognize the rights of people, natural communities, and ecosystems to exist, regenerate and flourish,” joining a rapidly growing international "Nature Rights" movement. "Nature Rights" recognizes that healthy ecosystems and biodiversity are critical to all life on the planet, including humans, and human priorities do not automatically take precedence over natural habitat and ecosystem health.
Undeveloped lands in Santa Cruz City and County are rapidly diminishing, even those lands designated as Greenbelts and Natural Areas, such as Arana Gulch targeted for development by the City, ironically in the name of environmentalism. Although Arana Gulch is designated Critical Habitat for the endangered Santa Cruz tarplant, the City has successfully argued that human desire for a paved bike route is more important than protection and preservation of undeveloped natural habitat.
It's time for the City and County of Santa Cruz to recognize that it cannot destroy natural habitats in its jurisdiction without severe consequences to the web of life that sustains us all. There is no department in our government bureaucracy that speaks up for non-human consideration in planning development projects. Regional regulatory bodies are increasingly dominated by development interests, resulting in an accelerating loss of natural habitat. The County's Commission on the Environment is an advisory body for the County Board of Supervisors and has no regulatory powers to protect natural habitats in the County.
In order to maintain a balanced regulatory environment, we must have City and County Environment Departments, just as we have Planning, Public Works and Economic Devlopment Departments. The job of the Environment Departments would be to see that biodiversity, natural habitats and undeveloped lands are not diminished, degraded or lost to human economic development, guided by City and County regulations similar to that of Santa Monica and other enlightehed municipalities.
Recognition of Nature Rights would not stop human development, but would place consideration of the health of non-human species on par with human economic growth.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to Live, Simply!

I recently read, in a blog, of a writer who says he needs $5,000 a month to live. I was astonished. My mouth literally hung open.

Yes I know, many people make a lot of money, and many people spend a lot of money that they make, and many people work long hours to make the money they spend. But I never had thought of someone "needing" $5,000 a month to live.

Here's my perspective: I live in Santa Cruz, California about a mile from the beach at the north end of Monterey Bay. The Chamber of Commerce types call this a "destination community," meaning,  I suppose, everyone wants to come here. And they do, every day, in long lines of cars coming across the mountains from San Jose and the Bay Area. Yes, it's beautiful, and sunny (except for three months in the winter), and warm, and there's beaches and surfing and the Boardwalk, and all the accoutrements of a modern, upstanding, resortical… destination.

But not all of them want to live here, year round, because it's a small community with little industry, and not many high paying jobs. So they buy second houses here, rent them out to other visitors for exorbitantly high daily and weekly rents and have a place to stay for a week or two when they're on vacation. Consequently, the price of housing here is astonishingly high. I mean, knock you in the eyeballs, blow out your pockets outrageous. You think that mansion out at the edge of town is expensive, try to buy a two-bedroom fixer-upper on a postage stamp lot in Santa Cruz. We're talking half a million dollars here, and that's US not Canadian, eh?

Now to let out my secret. Don't tell anyone, OK?

My wife and I live here on less than $1000 a month. SHHHHH! Not so loud!

How do we do it? We live simply.

This has nothing to do with Voluntary Simplicity ™, monk-like asceticism, vows of poverty or counter-culture Luddite extremism. 

We live a normal life in our 800 square foot mobile home on a 60 by 40 foot lot in a normal mobile home park. We grow vegetables in containers around the outside of our home. We have fruit trees, berry bushes and ornamentals in the soil at the margins of the lot. We have rotating compost piles to return food leftovers to the soil. But we don't grow all of our food all year round.

We have one car, a 1972 VW Bug, my wife bought used in 1973. We drive it to the store on the weekend for groceries and wine, less than 1,000 miles a year (yes, that's right, year, not month.). We walk everywhere else. We both work part-time, my wife just a half-mile from home. I work at home now, but when I was employed, my job was a short mile from home. We walk or bicycle anywhere we need to go around town, and rent a car or take public transportation for once or twice a year longer trips.

But that's just living, doing the things that everyone else does. The main difference in the way we live, and I hesitate to let this particular cat out of the bag, is that we, uh, well, we just don't buy things. I know, I know, sounds unrealistic, Utopian, impossible, but it's largely true.

OK, we do buy a new toothbrush every year or so, and we do buy new underwear occasionally. But most everything else we consume, if that's the word, we get for free or for next to nothing at thrifts stores.

Also, we don't have television, so no cable bill. We do have an old analog TeeVee and a DVD/VCR that we use to watch movies from the Public Library.  (The TV was free, and OK, we bought the DVD/VCR new a couple of years ago when our old (free) VCR conked out). We each have a laptop computer, for work and environmental/social activism and we have a DSL account with our local ISP.

We use 35-45 kwh of electricity per month, and 5-6 therms of gas. Our mobile home is situated east-west, so we get solar gain in the mornings through most of the day. We supplement this passive solar gain with a small wood stove, we gather firewood on our daily walks among nearby eucalyptus groves, and we add the ashes from the fire to the garden beds and compost piles.

We don't have cell phones, iPods, iPads, Androids, Blackberries or other electronic devices to separate us from the world. We can't imagine what anyone has to say that's so important that they have to check their cell phone eleventy times an hour so they don't miss out.

Since we don't watch TeeVee, we're not exposed to the bombardment of ads telling us every little thing we simply must have to live a full and complete modern life, so, we just don't know what we're missing.

And we're happy with that.

OK, I'm not trying to say that we're good and everyone else is bad. It's just astonishing that in my lifetime (I was born when Harry S. Truman was President… of the United States) life has gone from adequate and sufficient to "needing" $5,000 a month to live!

We've found that when we live, simply, we have more time to engage with our neighbors, take part in our community and participate in the complex web of life that surrounds us. We take joy in each sunny morning, and each evening sunset. We delight in the brilliant stars at night, the positions of the planets, the phases of the moon. We welcome the various colorful species of birds that pause by our bird feeders on their migrations, and those who decide to stay. We wake up laughing every morning and we go to bed laughing every night.

Some people think we're missing out, but we know we're just living, simply.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Who is gagging our meteorologists?

Some one or some organization is attempting to influence the upcoming annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS).

According to  Urging American Meteorological Society to Get Tougher on Climate Change, a program called Forecast the Facts is attempting to lobby the AMS to change their 5-year policy on climate change to a new policy "drafted by a panel of [unidentified] experts" (emphasis added). The "Campaign Director" is identified as Daniel Souweine.

The Forecast the Facts web site turns out to be a product of "Citizen Engagement Laboratory (CEL)."

And who is the Chief of Staff of CEL? You guessed it: Daniel Souweine.

The web site describes CEL as: "a non-profit, non-partisan organization that uses digital media and technology to amplify the voices of underrepresented constituencies. We seek to empower individuals to take collective action on the issues that concern them, promoting a world of greater equality and justice in the process."

The CEL web site lists as a "Partner," which describes itself as: "building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis. Our online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries."

Sounds like birds of a feather, even though they are both attempting to lobby a major national organization to change a policy that affects all of its members... from the top down. Hardly grass roots organization. And hardly on behalf of "underrepresented constituencies."

Evidently, grassroots meteorologists are insufficiently toeing the line when it comes to laying weather patterns at the feet of "global warming." Someone unnamed wants them to publicly join the global warming bandwagon in blaming human CO2 emissions for observed climate change, ignoring the uncertainty of climate science, ignoring all evidence to the contrary, insisting on one single simplistic explanation for climate change.

TeeVee weather presenters, even those who are qualified meteorologists, are the most visible source of public information about weather and climate. They appear daily to billions of people, and whether or not it is a good idea, their "opinions" about climate change carry a lot of weight in popular culture. It's no wonder that those whose interests are served by spreading fear of climate change in support of a predetermined economic outcome are after these "grass roots" who fail to tremble in fear of natural climate phenomena.

This is not grass roots, this is Big Money come to the service of shadowy figures in the background of international politics and economics. Who profits from fear of climate change? Who is funding this program to gag independent meteorologists and TeeVee weather presenters?

This is part of a concerted behind-the-scenes program funded by monied interests to subvert all elements of environmental awareness and activism to the cause of money and power, political and economic influence. Global warming hyperbole has been used to discredit free-thinking, independent scientific research, free expression, free thought and free action. The individuals and corporations funding this movement are laying the ground work for society controlled by corporate-government-military oligarchies to maintain the economic and political status quo.

Follow the money...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Radical Environmentalists

We environmentalists have rarely been highly regarded by mainstream America, especially by those who profess to mold public opinion and political discourse. We get in the way of "progress," whatever that is, and complicate and delay development projects with inconvenient discoveries of endangered species, critical habitats and other impediments to the free flow of commerce. When we can't be ignored, we are vilified, excoriated and otherwise marginalized, accused of heinous tonsorial practices, dumpster diving and offensive body odor. 

Lately, over the past five years or so, opponents of environmentalism have stepped up the ante at the table of public opinion. There is now an orchestrated effort to discredit environmentalists and environmentalism by calling us "radical environmentalists" and associating this appellation with "ecoterrorism."

The right-wing, free-market, property rights web sites and blogs are replete with articles about radical environmentalism. Many such authors speak of environmentalism in religious terms, branding us as irrational religious believers, fundamentalist proponents of animal rights, vegetarianism and deep misanthropism. Most decry the Deep Ecology perspective that humans are but one species among many and, as such, have no inherent right to habitat and natural resources at the expense of other species.

It doesn't do us or the biosphere any good to back away from Deep Ecology and claim that our environmentalism is for human benefit, as most of the Big Green organizations now claim. We seek to preserve wilderness not for future generations but for itself, for habitat preservation and protection of maximum biodiversity. This benefits the human species only as it benefits all species on Earth.

Economic arguments in defense of environmentalism have become tainted with the specter of socialism and Marxism, discredited by the collapse of the Soviet Union and further sullied by the inept bungling of latter-day socialists. Still, much of the cause of our modern environmental ills lie at the feet of our dominant economic system. Regardless of how individuals act within any economic system, it is the means and the mode of production that provide the incentives and limits to individual economic activity.

In any sense of the overused words, capitalism is unsustainable, because it is based on the private ownership of finite natural resources, which are the natural legacy of all life, not just those whose position in human society give them preferred access to those resources. It is capitalism that is threatened by environmentalism and it is capitalism that is fighting back to preserve its preferred way of life.

Simply put, there are too many human beings on this planet, consuming too many resources, individually and collectively, in a political and economic system that rewards production and consumption. Our societies do not embrace protection of non-human habitat in their social organizations. Local and regional governments do not have departments that are tasked with speaking for habitat and biodiversity preservation as a factor in community planning. In human societies, community is defined only in human terms.

It is up to us as environmentalists to speak for non-human species that have no voice in human society. It is not our job to collaborate in the development of critical habitat for the web of life, nor to apologize for our world view that embraces and defends non-human life.

If that is radical, then so be it. Let's wear our "Radical" badges proudly and defend our "Radical" position at every opportunity. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Building Community

The New Year is a traditional time to reflect on the previous year and look forward to the new. While there is much to look forward to, there is also much that carries over from the last year and clouds the next.
Despite a relatively calm New Year's Eve celebration, the news in Santa Cruz was dominated by crime and mayhem: a body found in a car trunk in Moss Landing, stabbings in Watsonville, stolen cars, burglaries, homelessness. It seems to be a high rate of crime reportage for our small community.
What's behind the headlines? Is there more crime in Santa Cruz County than elsewhere? Do our local news sources concentrate on crime stories more than others? Is there no good news to report?
Much of the crime reported locally is gang related, a result of cultural clash, lack of economic opportunity, traditional family breakdown. Despite a well-financed and active Gang Task Force, gang activity continues, even though active gang members are well known to the local constabulary. Drive-by shootings, stabbings, robbery, graffiti and gang member confrontations have increased exponentially in the 10 years that I've lived in Santa Cruz.
The rising number of individuals living on the fly, camping out in town and out, and dependent on homeless shelters and mission meals, increases conflicts on our streets, in our neighborhoods and in our greenbelts and undeveloped margins. Those who cannot, or will not, contribute to local society create a further drain on the economy and community.
The declining U.S. economy contributes to all of these social problems, pulling money from our states, counties and municipalities, straining local budgets, businesses and banks. This creates a social discontinuity, since our consumer culture still tells us that personal worth is dependent on personal possessions. If we can't have the possessions: new cars, large homes, wide-screen TeeVees, influential jobs, the latest clothing styles, we are told that we are worth less than those who do have these things.
How do we respond to this apparent downward social spiral?
Human beings are social animals, evolved to live together in supportive social communities. It is the lack of community that creates a feeling of despair, loss and hopelessness. It is through community that we rebuild supportive relationships for our youth, our working families and our elders.
Our central government can't help us build community. It's up to us. We can work together on the ground where we live, work, shop and play, to build cooperative social support structures to replace fading government institutions. Health care, child care, elder care, food supplies, housing, transportation, work and play can all be organized communally, not for personal profit but for community good.
As we work together to support ourselves, our families and our community, we will, quite naturally, work together politically, to insure that our neighborhoods, towns and counties support our communities. Democracy is the community talking to itself and deciding, together, on a course of action for the greater good.

In this new year of 2012, let's take a close look at everything we do. Does it support community or personal benefit? How can we change our individual lives to help improve the lives of those closest to us?

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year?

This is one of the iconic images of 2011, the Wall Street bull guarded by riot police festooned with plastic handcuffs. What started out as a rational police response to peaceful demonstrations, suddenly, at the impetous of industry and government, turned into violent oppression of peaceful demonstrations by a small, vocal and highly visible decentralized dissent.

What is the threat to Wall Street that necessitates this overwhelming militarized police response.

The new year of 2012 threatens to return us to the old years of 1969, 1970, 1972, when the United States government sought to repress a population discontented with the immoral war in Southeast Asia, and to cover up unconstitutional activities within the White House in pursuit of political and economic control. 

Thanks to those who persisted in dissent, the rotten core of our government was laid bare, Nixon was forced to resign and the United States was defeated in VietNam.

Unfortunately, nothing changed in the halls of Washington, DC, nor in the corridors of corporate power leading to the Pentagon. Those in power learned the value of patience, learned how to control access to information, and developed enhanced propaganda and opinion control techniques

It's surprising that a government/corporate oligarchy that has such totalitarian control of its populace without force, has suddenly reversed direction and resorted to overt displays of illegal and unconstitutional force to quell an uprising that seeks only to lay bare the inequality of the present economic regime.

Such is the power of imagery.

We can only hope that the images of 2011 are not replaced in 2012 with images of the past that haunt us still today.