Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Living in a natural soundscape

Noise pollution is making us oblivious to the sound of nature, says researcher | Science | The Guardian

It's happening here, even in Our Fair City.

Here in Santa Cruz, just a mile from the beach, we can hear the sound of the surf, at least at 2 AM when there's no automobile traffic on local streets.

Two hundred years ago, locals could hear the surf all the time, from anywhere in this area now inundated by roads, parking lots, houses, shopping centers and commercial buildings ... and the noise they generate.

Imagine the audio landscape experienced by the original human inhabitants of Coastal California throughout their daily life. Elk whistling on the mountain slopes, shorebirds calling and chuckling on the beaches, songbirds in every bush and tree, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles surfing the morning breeze, crows, scrub jays and mockingbirds filling the air with their critical observations on the human condition. The riffle of raven feathers as they fly by. The prehistoric clack of great blue herons seeking their roosts in the cypress.

In a natural sounsdcape, one can learn the time of day, the seasons and the weather on the mix and variety of sounds wafting on every breeze.

In our noisy world, this rich natural complexity of the soundscape has been greatly simplified, reduced to automobile noise, motorized leaf blowers, car sound systems set on stun, and the ubiquitous electronic technobabble plugged into most every pair of ears. The demanding jangle of modern sounds allows no respite for thought, contemplation or even quiet enjoyment of natural sounds, soothing to ears and brains that evolved in a meaningful audio environment. Even libraries are no longer a quiet place for reading and introspection.

It's no wonder that Santa Cruz City parks planners contemplated including a Quick Response (QR) Code on interpretive signs for the Arana Gulch Amusement Park so that children could listen to bird songs on their cell phones.

Let's use our ears for something other than auxiliary input jacks.

Let's listen to the natural world and learn its glad tidings.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Future is the Here and Now - Only More So


The future changes faster than we can keep up.

Here within the confines of our Coastal County, the future is changing so fast that local government officials and institutions haven't kept up with the way the future was, let alone with what the future is fast becoming.

City and County governments are still responding to the current economic implosion by promoting more and more economic and infrastructure growth, not realizing that it is growth that is creating the local economic implosion.

As I've said several times before, bureaucracy plans for the past, rarely for the future.

Our Coastal County has reached a state of permanent diminishing returns, in which continued investment in increasingly complex infrastructure results in an increasing inability of the County to maintain and pay for what it already has, let alone what it continues to build. As complexity increases, non-lineal returns take over, such that historic methods of responding to municipal crises no longer work; even worse, they are counterproductive, producing more problems than solutions.

For example, the recent $6.5 million permanent pink permeable pavement shortcut through Arana Gulch, rammed through the City Council as a Public Works make-work project, has resulted in an expanded physical infrastructure handed over to City Parks and Recreation, who have no funds, staff, resources nor even any desire to adequately maintain it. The two extravagant ("wandering beyond") bridges and their connecting cement umbilicus will remain a financial drain on County coffers until they crumble in well deserved decay and return to the earth from whence they came.

As William Howard Kuntsler tells us, eloquently: "The future is telling us very clearly: get smaller, get finer, get more local, get less complex, get less grandiose, do it now." (The Broken Template)

This means get off the growth wagon, tell AMBAG what they can do with their continued, unrealistic demands that the County accommodate growth in a world of finite resources. There's not enough water here for the people who live here now. "Water neutral development" is just a poor euphemism for increased efficiency and reduced per capita consumption, which is held hostage and ultimately overshadowed by population increase. We cannot optimize our way out of the reality of finite resources. Ocean water desalination is no answer either, as finite energy is as restrictive as water, in the long run more so. The post-fracking future bending toward us is the death knell of cheap energy and the inevitable long slide down the muddy slope of energy availability.

The future is less, not more.

And that's a good thing. Without the distractions of the new and bigger and glitzier, we can relearn to be content with the present, the adequate and sufficient, the resilient, the modest, the tried and true.

We can settle into our own and become indigenous to this place where we live.