Monday, May 29, 2017

Santa Lucia Coast Range & Big Sur California: An Environmental Wreck ???

(Part I) While news reports have focussed on Nature, the real spotlight should be aimed at human mismanagement of the region, from the region's land management policies right on down to the average land owner
Image from YouTube

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This iconic image above is of Bixby Creek Bridge along central California's Big Sur Coastline. This region is one of the prettiest gems for which tourists are attracts people to visit California. This bridge is probably the most photographed feature on the Cabrillo Highway (Route 1) in California. But the area has also had a long troubled history infrastructure issues here along this coast highway. During this past year (2016) it has been a tough time to for visiting tourists and even tougher challenge if you are a local permanent resident or business owner. For almost a year they have been isolated completely from the outside world. First, there has been a long period of drought, with this region listed on maps as being far above the rest of the state's "severe" & "extreme" designations to the high rating of "exceptional." As time went on, that extreme designation on the map spread, but has always been exceptionally bad between San Francisco & Santa Barbara in the coastal mountin ranges. Second, there was the  Soberanes Fire (& multiple other fires) which started on July 22nd 2016. On August 2, officials announced that their investigation found that the fire had been caused by an unattended illegal campfire. While no suspect was identified, Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo said that, if an arrest were made, the culprit could be charged with negligence and manslaughter. Yeah that's right, someone died. And finally third, after 5 years of intense exceptional drought, this past 2016/17 record rainy season brought the mud and landslides. Bridges gone, roads collapsed and massive slides of whole mountainsides coming down obliterating everything in it's path. Now while Nature certainly played a role, it's often the lack of foresight in planning and critical mistakes in decision making during the crisis which exacerbate these problems which has a domino effect later on. In this particular post (Part I), I'll mainly focuss on the Soberanes Fire & human error.

Image by Stan Russell - The Big Sur Blog

Looking north from Soberanes Point about 10:30 PM, 7/23/16
Working its way down steep canyons towards Highway 1

This fire at it's very beginning blitzed through an area I had first discovered back in 1985 called Palo Colorado Canyon north of Big Sur which is well hidden from most outside tourists unfamiliar to the region. Locals know exactly where this area is. This place was a beautiful hidden paradise when I first found it back in 1985, but it's mostly gone today. My second trip there in 2014 which you can read from the link above, I also wrote about an amazing phenomena from this region where streams and rivers still ran even after years of exceptional drought. The question was why ? Especially since I did point out the numerous dead trees I saw first hand back up in that canyon in 2014. In 1985 there were no dead trees. But there are a combination of two natural components that allow streams and rivers to flow here even without normal winter rains & absence of summer monsoonal rains that the interior part of the state experiences and that would be Hydraulic Descent & Fog Preciptiation which is the very reason water sources are so dependable here. But human error changed all that. Here is a blog account and discussion by locals in the Big Sur area about the problem of illegal campfires on June 30th 2016 just a couple of weeks before the July 22nd 2016 Soberanes Fire. 
Xasauan Today Blog - Because Nature Bats Last

Image - Xasauan Today Blogger
The Campfire Conundrum 
"On a Sunday walk along the Pine Ridge Trail during Level IV fire restrictions in 2013, we looked at dozens of fire rings and couldn’t find a single one that hadn’t been used the night before."   
"Level III fire restrictions are currently in effect in the Los Padres National Forest. This means that all wood and charcoal fires are completely prohibited outside of a few designated Campfire Use sites (in designated car campgrounds). Smoking and recreational target shooting are similarly restricted. Lanterns and stoves may only be used with a Campfire Permit."   
"This isn’t a secret. Signs informing the public that campfires are prohibited abound. In spite of this, and in spite of the fact that fire danger is obviously quite high, campers light dozens of fires along Big Sur’s backroads and trails every single night."  
"What gives?  My guess is that it’s a function of the same human failing that prevents us, in so many contexts, from seeing how seemingly harmless individual behavior can have a devastating cumulative effect. The campfire builder likely perceives, correctly, that there is little chance that his or her fire will be the one to cause a conflagration. After all, it’s probably fewer than one in a thousand illegal campfires that becomes a wildfire. To these campers, the suggestion that they are endangering life, property and forest resources seems uptight and exaggerated."
Follow the rest of the story and comments section discussion about the potential for disaster (HERE) and keep in mind that three weeks later that devastating Soberanes wildfire started and burned for four months from July 22nd thru October 28th when it was declared 100% contained with only some hotspots still to be dealt with in the fire perimeter. But this wasn't the only damage done to the area. Despite heroic efforts by firefighters, much damaged was done by the Bull Dozer construction of Fire or Fuel Breaks along almost every major ridge, even some impossible access areas on the edge  of wilderness. And these were not just one or two bulldozer blades wide fire breaks, these were often 5 or 6 blades wide or more. Admittedly this is a tough wild extremely steep rugged impossible canyon terrain. But the problems they created in attempting to stop the wildfire will be with this area for a long time to come.

Image - Big Sur Kate Blog

Well, you can google more Bull Dozer fuel break cutting work on the Soberanes Firelines and many more done far away from the actual firelines in anticipation of the fire breaking out and making big runs which quite often did happened. There were so many big equipment companies called to fight this fire that the region in some places looked like an all out war preparation by a German Army Panzer Division. Maps at the time showed an extensive networks of bull dozed fireline roads everywhere which seriously did look like Battle Plan maps and I suppose they really were. But the real damage here was to the underground mycorrhizal grid and infrastructure of both native tree and chaparral root systems which took centuries for this part of the natural world to construct. An Absence of the mycorrhizal grid will be a major invite over the next few years for non-native noxious weeds to grab a foothold which will eventually become permanent residents into this once pristine untouched landscape.

Image - Cal Fire San Benito-Monterey Unit

Crews work on putting in control lines for the Soberanes Fire
 near Big Sur, California in this August 4, 2016

 (Vern Fisher - Monterey Herald)

Bulldozers work on a fire break in the Rancho San Carlos area
 of Carmel Valley while fighting the 23,568 acre Soberanes Fire
 on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 just five days after the fire began

(Vern Fisher - Monterey Herald)

A private contractor dozer operator works a fire line
 west of Cachagua in August 2016

 (David Royal - Monterey Herald)

Panzer Divisions Dozer Crews cut a containment line on
Daniel’s Ridge east of the Old Coast Road as firefighters
battle the Soberanes Fire in Big Sur

Photo from CAL FIRE

The dozer that rolled over on the Soberanes Fire in 2016,
killing Robert Reagan
"Both a private contractor and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) were issued citations by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) related to a fatality when a dozer rolled over. Robert Reagan, 35, of Friant, California, was killed while fighting the Soberanes Fire south of Monterey, California July 26, 2016."   
"Minutes after Mr. Reagan began operating the piece of equipment for Czirban Concrete Construction on contract to CAL FIRE, it rolled over. Not wearing a seat belt, he was thrown from the cab and was killed when the dozer rolled onto him."

Sadly the Army of bull dozer operators used to stop this wildfire and save property owner dwellings not only took it's toll on the environment, but also one bull dozer operator's life. Often times and especially in terrain like this, many firefighters are asked to do impossible tasks at the risk of their very lives. I've previously written about and voiced my opinion about firefighters having to risk their lives for people who have built buildings on property with impossible death trap access. The image below I watched on television Live in May 2014 where wildfire in San Marcos, California in 2014 which moved towards one hilltop Mansion which was surrounded by more than a dozen giant dead Aleppo Pine trees in the homeowner's landscape. Nobody should be made to risk life and save that and homeowners who choose such locations should accept the inevitable. You can read that post below here:

Image - NBC San Diego
Should Firefighters be expected to save Homes which are located in fire trap geography and where the owner cared less about landscape hygiene ?

After any Wildfire the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) assessment would have conducted a survry and an implementation clean-up & repair work would be on-going for perhaps months.

Excavator moving previously cut vegetation to cover fireline.

Excave placing vegetation material on fireline

Working on suppression repair

Brush and cut vegetation from suppression repair work.

After it's all said and done, this is the result of clean-up repairs. Areas where the wildfire were untouched are repaired from a human eye-candy appeal point of view where brush is placed on top of the fuel break scar to hide it and provide some measure of runoff control with the next seasons winter rains. What they don't tell you and probably most of them are ignorant of or if the know, view it as trivial, the mycorrhizal fungal network grid which previously supported native chaparral and trees has been erased and obliterated under the ground. The scar is now ripe for take over by non-native invasive annual grasses and other noxious weeds which were generally kept in check by the former fungal network, but now that this has been removed, a bacterial soil system has replaced it and this scenario is what annual weeds will thrive under. Some scars will be left untouched like this once below from the Sherpa Fire. It will be viewed now as a strategic fuel break for fighting future wildfires. But given some months it could later look like older historical fuel breaks which are densely weed infested and will move future wildfires along more rapidly. Like this one below in Southern California.

West Camino Cielo Fuel Break, Los Padres National Forest

Image - Chaparral Institute

Trabuco Ranger District of the Cleveland National Forest
fuel break along the ridgeline of the Santa Ana Mountains

Other victims in nature weren't so lucky to escape. An irreplacable world record Pacific Madrone is gone forever 

Photo: California Department Of Fish And Wildlife

Image - Mine 2014

Pacific Madrone
(Arbutus menziesii)
The largest madrone tree in the United States in 2007 (left) and in 2016 (right). The tree, located in Joshua Creek Canyon Ecological Reserve in Monterey County, was severely burned in the Soberanes Fire. A giant in Big Sur registered as the largest of its kind in the nation appears to be a casualty of the devastating wildfire. Madrones really have no defenses against wildfire other than resprouting from the trunk base after being burned up. They have a very thin bark much like that of a Manzanita. Even when they get older and have the characteristic rugged bark like the old growth one above, they are no match for a wildfire. Most likely in youth this one above was burned and resprouted from the truck. This is proven by the fact is has multiple trunks. I've photographed young Madrones in Palo Colorado Canyon and they will start out as a single trunked tree. Much like the one on the right that I photographed in 2014. But once burned, that single trunk Madrone becomes a multi-trunk resprout from it's stump's base. Sadly though this time around, the Soberanes fire was just too hot and appears to have burned down deep into the rootsystem and surrounding soil.

Image - Dr Aljos Farjon

Santa Lucia Fir (Abies bracteata)
The other potential for wildfire victim here is the highly restricted habitat belonging to the Santa Lucia Fir or Bristlecone Fir (Abies bracteata) which is endemic to the central California Coast Ranges. Many of the largest known pocket woodlands of Santa Lucia Fir at various locations (particularly Ventana Wilderness) were effected by both wildfire and Forest Service backfires. But even still at this time there has not been a lot of assessment on the conditions or status of this Santa Lucia Fir in some of the remote regions. Perhaps this year will change that. The other danger for all plants which endure an extreme or rather in this case "exceptional" drought designation for four or five years is at the end of that period trees will have produced less seed/cones (offensive strategy) as opposed to putting all it's resources into survival mode (defensive strategy) for the adult tree itself, so that when a fire does come along and wipes a forest out, there is very little release of seed resources to counter the damage caused by the catastrophic event. This goes with every tree and shrub caught in the middle of massive unprecedented drought followed by wldfire. Change could be permanent and sometime irreversible. So time will tell. This particular tree has been hit hard by previous fires in the past, but again we will have to wait and see. 
Some Local Blogger References for Central California which are far better than Main Stream Media Outlets
Big Sur Kate's Blog: Big Sur News & Events – Road Conditions & Fires
Xasauan Today Blog - Because Nature Bats Last
And what about the next big bit of bad news ??? 
And Finally the Rains Came and Deluged all of Californnia!
ABC 10 News January 2017

I won't spend any time on this portion of the ongoing disaster to this region. That will be in my second post. I mainly focussed here on Nature and what has taken place, although it has to be acknowledged that many many homes and commercial buildings were lost which devastated the human population here. But the misery and inconvenience continue and it's still not over. But maybe there is some good news as far as infrastructure repair if anyone out there is paying close attention. Stay Tuned!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Early California Landscaping with Canary Island Natives

Plant Profiles: Lotus Berthelotii, Pinus canariensis, Phoenix canariensis, Arbutus canariensis, etc, etc, etc, etc.
Image - Kelly MacDonald (June 2009)

Lotus maculatus 'Amazon Sunset'

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This Parrot's Beak Flower was classified as exceedingly rare early on since 1884 and is believed my many to be extinct in the wild. But some isolated small populations are believe to be still be alive.  The plant is native to the Canary Islands (Tenerife) and believed to have been originally pollinated by sunbirds which have long gone extinct. Aren't humans everywhere wonderful ? If anything can be said about the origins of human ancestry, our first common parents endowed us with inherited stupidity when making many decisions.  Experiments have been done to see if the flowers could have found new pollinators but, as of 2008, none of these experiments have been successful, but some more recent work has shown that these plants could be adequately pollinated by non-specialist flower visiting birds, like the Canary Islands chiffchaff (Phylloscopus canariensis). Most cultivated plants do not set seed. This could be a plus in one sense in that they would not escape into the wild elsewhere. But my first experience with this plant was when I first saw them many years ago in Balboa Park, San Diego where the plants were in huge hanging planters along it's central promenade. They were beautiful and striking. At my mum's place I used them along a retaining wall for trailing down. They did fine until her insanely hyper weiner dog (Dachshund) ripped them out. Stupid dog. At any rate, these are wonderful plants for all types of setting in Southern California. But most people have no idea of their historical endemic origins in the Canary Islands.

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Image - My Photo (2012)
The map above shows where the shaded areas in red where there are two possible locations where this plant may still exist in the wild. These locations are very isolated and I can understand why they prefer the secrecy as to location. This plant was almost collected out of existence as far back as 1884. Hard to believe isn't it ? The photo at right here is our vacation to Tenerife in Feb/Mar 2012. The highway is TF-12 and is in the red shaded area location on the above map in the upper right corner. We pulled over at a small bus stop because there are few pullouts anywhere on these very old highways. The plant community areas here in this part of the island are known as, "Laurel Forests," and they remind me of those high temperate mountain areas of Columbia where Coffee is grown at higher elevation than the tropical areas at lower elevations. The other area on the left side of the map is the same region as that tourist hotspot called, Masca, which I have referenced before in another Tenerife post. Both areas have remote steep access which is why the plants have been safe. However there are goats running wild over this island and inaccessibility is not a problem for them. This is why the other issue for the Parrot's Beak decline was mentioned as herbivore predation.
Interesting References about Parrot's Beak & it's Natural Habitat on Tenerife, Canary Islands
 Sea Lavender (Limonium perezii)
Image By Frank Landis (CNPS - San Diego)

Found in numerous San Diego and other Southern California gardens and landscapes, who hasn't seen this plant known as Limonium perezii, Perez's sea lavender (pictured above), which some consider these sea lavenders a weedy invasive which has easily naturalized along the Southern California sea coast. There are only about 350 plants of it left in the wild, all growing on a steep slope on the island of Tenerife in the Canaries. Sad really and the same identical fate as the Parrot's Beak above.
Image - Pacific Bulb Society

With this next flower I really have to provide someone else's photo because where we first saw it, this flower was always on the north side of Tenerife on those super narrow switch backs and curves with no pullouts. They need more moisture than is available on the more desert south side of the island, so the Laurel Forests work better for them. The plant's common name is Canary Island Bellflower. It's a scrambling vining type of plant which often covers or scrambles over other shrubs. This is similar to plants like the native clematis which scramble over chaparral shrubs in Southern California. It is also identical in habit to Southern California's native wild cucumber vines which go dormant in summer and resprouting every year from a large cluster of tuberous root system. It likes full sun in an open soil with lots of humus, but it is frost sensitive, not liking temps over 75-80 degrees fahrenheit (21-23 C). It would do best along the coast of Southern California, but not inland. Incredibly it also grows a small edible fruit, although I've never seen this. I'll leave a couple of references on it below:
Bellflower References: - Bellflower Gallery CANARINA+CANARIENSIS
Canary Island Madrone (Arbutus canariensis)
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Image - National Arboretum Canberra
Most people in California would know of the state's native Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii). But the Canary Islands haave their own, probably more related to the Medierranean native Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo) which is actually sold in Southern California home improvement centers like Lowes or Home Depot. The native California Pacific Madrone would never really make it in the Southern California urban landscapes. I think it's just too hot and dry and they do better in the cooler moister habitats to the north from Central California all the way up to British Columbia. This would make the Canary Island Madrone or Spain's Strawberry Tree far more ideal. In fact one of the best places for success in a commercial landscape I have ever seen is in Santee California at an elementary school on Cuyamaca St just below the School District office headquesters. There are about six or more large trees in front of the school next to the parking lot. Big bright deep red smooth trucks like that of Manzanita. I actually purchased one a couple years back and planted it at my mum's place in among the volunteer Canary Island Pines which was the result of Canary Pine mulch I brought in from work to spread around my Tecate Cypress setting. I allowed them to grow because I had to replace some Tecate Cypress which were blown over in a windstorm. But the Strawberry Tree is doing wonderfully when I placed it next to the back patio among the California Spicebush (Calycanthus occidentalis). Below here is a link to an Australian website where they offer sound advice for proper care of the Canary Island Madrone:
Image - Mine (2015)

Image 2015
This flower on our February 2015 trip was a wonderful surprise and one I probably would have missed were it not for the Springtime blooms because we went in February. It caught my eye because it looked so strikingly familiar to the Cleveland Sage blossoms I am accustomed to in San Diego county in California. This is the native Canary Island Lavender (Lavandula canariensis). It's different than the other Lavenders in that it has a milder fragrance and it's leaves tend to look a bit fern-like in appearance. This plant was everywhere and added to the familiarity of springtime chaparral blooms I grew up with in San Diego county. I would imagine like most Lavenders, it would do well not only for good attractive landscape plants, but also a beneficial insect predator pollinator. 

Image - Mine (2015)

Image - Mine (2015)
This shrub's common name is called in English, "Canary Island Sorrel," in Spanish it's called, "Vinagrera," which refers to it's vinegar flavour. The scientific name is Rumex lunaria. First time I saw it several years ago among the fringes of Canary Island Pine woodlands and down further in elevation among the cacti and succulents, it looked very much at a distance like Manzanita of Southern California. But as you can see close up it's much different. This is a Canary Island rarity which is endemic to the islands & this one's also medicinal! The roots are used in tinctures for respiratory issues, while the juice from its succulent spoon shaped green leaves has been used to relieve insect bite irritation & clearing up stuffy noses. Found on all of the Canary Islands growing on rough rocky volcanic soil hillsides, which means it's a super tough choice for wild rocky soils. Growing to 3' tall & wide multi-branched sprays of white flowers occur in Spring & aging to gold then a lovely deep shade of rustyness. There's not a lot of info about growing this plant available out there other than what I read from a conversation between two islanders (one from La Palma and the other from Tenerife). Cuttings are hard to get going and seed seems the only option.

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Sam Mateo Gran Canaria - Almond trees in bloom

Image - Mine (Feb 2015)
These Almond trees in bloom caught my eye on my last trip. I suppose I had never noticed them on previous trips because it was later past the bloom season in late March and they had finished their blooming. But this tree beig here in the first place was spectacular. Unfortunately in many of the areas I drove our car on the way somewhere else in through the steep mountainsides in rugged country, I was unable to pull out anywhere because many of these extremely older narrow highways had not turnouts again. There was just no place to stop safely to photograph whole hillsides where the Almond trees have naturalized and moved up steep mountainsides. I use the term naturalized, because although they are present, they are not likely native and again brought in and introduced by the Spanish when they first colonized these islands in the 1300s. Almond trees are one of those well known middle eastern trees.  

Teide Volcano and Orotava valley, Tenerife Canary Islands

This is another well known iconic tree in Southern California, the Canary Island Pine (Pinus canariensis). This tree is one of the main reasons I  ever had the desire and motivation to visit the Canary Islands in the first place. I'm always interested in seeing any kind of tree, shrub, perennial or annual in it's native wild native habitat. For me it provides a mental glimpse of what the conditions and requirements are for caring for the plant in an urban landscape setting in SoCal. I've actually written about this tree and it's fire ecology and rainfall attracting importance to these islands, so I won't provide many more details here. You can read about this from the link below:
Canary Island Pine (Pinus canariensis) Ecology of Fire & Water

Photo by Darren Sears (Environmental Landscape Architect)

Canary Island Date palms in the Valle Gran Rey

Los Angeles Urban Forestry Division
This is yet another major Canary Island native which is another one of those historical iconic trees which lines many of Southern California Boulevards and other roadways, especially in San Diego's and Los Angeles' oldest neighbourhood locations. This is another one of those trees I grew up with and saw first hand. In our neighbour behind our home in El Cajon, the Dreybus family, had one large Canary Island Date Palm right in their front yard. I earn a whole 25¢ for sweeping up their porch back in the early 1960s. Next day it would be a mess all over again. While I find them attractive, they are often very messy trees with all those dates. People don't really eat them, but birds love them. I think it's not only the messiness that turns landscapers off to inserting them into today's modern landscapes, but also the tricky maintenance of trimming these very long palm fronds. The difficult and sometimes dangerous part is near the base of the frond where the frond is attached to the trunk. The usual feather leaves are actually sharp spikes or daggers here. You get stuck by one of those and you'll experience pain for weeks. One of my landscapers who was a tree trimmer by previous profession had one long frond fall and the base end swung down and hit his heavy leather construction grade boot and the needle injected itself into the boot. His foot swelled up and he was out of action for a month.

Canary Island Date Palm-King of the Dates
Canary Island Cacti & Succulent Plants
Image - Teresa Farino

Image - Alflo Cloffi - Crassulacea
There is not much I can say in detail about the Canary Island cacti & succulents except to say many of the succulents you find in Southern California come from these amazing Canary Islands. Often times when I was in San Diego County, I'd go to the Del Mar Fair and at the landscape displays there they would exhibit a coral reef theme made up of entirely different types of succulents and unusual cacti among volcanic rocks. And yet it's this part of the world where many of those plants come from. I never spent a lot of time researching succulents from here, different varieties and their names, photography, etc. There was never enough time. There's so much to see here and not everyone I am with when I visit here is as obsessed with plants as I am. But I'll provide this link which describes their habitats, names and how they can be used in the landscape. The one on the right here may be recognizable to many.
Succulent Plants Grown in the Canary Islands
Some of the Unwanted Plants from the Canary Islands
Image Tom Chester
Tom Chester of Fallbrook California has written about one such plant which is invading the deserts of the Southwestern United States like Anza Borrego State Park. Without further comment you may read about it here: (Volutaria_canariensis)
Another Iconic tree for honorable mention
image - Peter D'aprix photography, Ojai CA

Image - Ken Harris - Australia
This tree's common name is known as California Pepper (Schinus molle). This is neither a native to California nor is it native to the Canary Islands. But I give it honorable mention here because of it's historical presence in both California and the Canary Islands. Spanish Missionaries no doubt are the ones responsible early on for it's introduction to both locations. I grew up on Pepper Drive area of El Cajon California, even went to Pepper Drive Elementary School across from my house. Both street and school are anmed after this Pepper tree. It can naturalize, but rarely a pest invasive like it's other South American cousin which I dislike. The Brazilian Pepper seems to require more water than the Peruvian or California Pepper. That may be what keeps the California Pepper in check. The Brazilian Pepper is spread by birds who love the pepper corns. Especially will you notice young saplines along fence rows where the birds poop. If you have a chain link fence, you need to immediately eradicate the pepper seedling as the Peruvian will be multi-trunked and destroy the fence. They are hard to get rid of because even a small piece of rootsystem left behind will sprout. It can be a landscaper's nightmare. California Pepper will also need periodic pruning because it want to sprout from the entire trink from ground up. Stil it does wonderfully in hotter drier interior valleys of SoCal and once established needs no water. 
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San Miguel de Abona in south Tenerife
I could easily live in Tenerife or any of the other place in the Canary Islands. I could leave home, move there and never look back. The familiarity is so strong. It's the hispanic influence and architecture and especially the native plant community there. But also other Mediterranean and sub-tropical plants like Bouganvilla, Plumerias, Papaya, Mango, Yuccas, Prickly Pear Cactus, Banana Plantations, etc, etc, etc. Also charming is the quaint little towns and the outstanding cleanliness everywhere, something I am not use to seeing having lived in and around Latin America much of my life. There are no filthy shanty towns. The fear of criminal activity doesn't exist there (not that it doesn't) and the insanity of all these modern day rent-a-riot protesters which plague the USA now and Europe for even longer don't seem to be there. Well, maybe that's all changed now like everything else across the planet. But at least Southern California landscapers can appreciate a little better some of the history of plants they use in their landscapes and where they originally came from when the Spanish discovered California.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Ecology vrs Economy (Catch 22 & the Humpty Dumpty Principle)

"Sowing Clover: My Problem with Environmentalists … "
by Tonya Stiles
The sheer volume of bad writing in the world, as compared to very little good writing out there on the part of the media, scientists, political & religious leaders, etc is scary. Today there's this angry hateful back and forth push from two ideological entities which are either Ecology First or Economy First. I actually understand both sides of the argument. But thus far nobody has actually had the ability to put it all down in writing in any common sense terms and explain it in a way the common man or woman can understand. The cold reality is that there are no good viable solutions to this world's problems despite the bold proclamations from both sides. But I found this one post in a journal recently that I hadn't ever heard of before where a writer put down in honest words just how pathetic & apathetic the leadership is on both sides of the worldview issue. So I'll post it in it's entirety and see what the folks out there think. I'll interject a thought here and there, but here are the words of author Tonya Stiles.

Canyon Country Zephyr
"I must confess, I’m hesitant to label myself an environmentalist."
Frankly I agree with her opening statement. While I may write about and practice ecology-based solutions create from biomimicry, the very idea of being associated with this modern environmentalist movement is repugnant to me as well. Not because I'm not for the environment, but because of  Eco Activism's more often than not decadent behaviour which has turned so many people off to environmental issues who would have otherwise been won over and attracted to the idea of helping out the natural world.
Environmentalism, for the past 20-odd years at least, seems to me to have been an ideology of removal: remove the steel mills; remove the coal mines, remove the textile factories, remove the oil rigs. I can’t argue that these businesses are beneficial to their ecosystems, or that there haven’t been massive abuses of the public health. Environmentalists are absolutely right to fight pollution and try to curtail the criminal recklessness of those industries. But I’m not happy to see thousands of towns that were once bustling with industry now set adrift with no reason for their existence. And I can’t ignore how well that removal ideology worked with the concurrent political philosophies of globalization. After all the polluting industries were excised, we could then import the steel from elsewhere, import the coal from elsewhere, import the textiles from elsewhere, and oil…well, they haven’t quite gotten rid of the oil rigs   
We’ve lived through a generation, or longer, now, of non-stop industrial decline. So many towns are now known for what they used to manufacture, used to create. Hulking factories, which once fueled the engines of local commerce, are now left shuttered and vacant; their only hope is to be reborn as condos, in the lucky places, or to be razed to the ground. And while I know why those businesses are gone, and I agree that many of their practices were harmful, I believe we’re worse off as communities without them. Mainly because, after 20 years of promises for a “new economy,” it’s becoming apparent that nothing living will sprout from all these empty places on the map.
Photo by Albert Duce - Wikimedia Commons.

Sadly, Utterly Abandoned Detroit
So I’m an odd fit for the Canyon Country Zephyr, aren’t I? An odd fit because, thanks to the paper, I know and respect a number of people who consider themselves to be ardent environmentalists. And because nearly every issue I’ve helped to publish has contained articles talking about environmentalism.  One of my favorite articles from this issue, in fact, contains two disagreeing essays between two legendary environmentalists—Edward Abbey and Wendell Berry—and I would recommend that everyone read both essays, because I think they frame very well my own dispute with the environmental movement. One Wendell Berry quotation, referenced by Doug Meyer in his introduction to the piece seems to me to pinpoint the conflict at the heart of environmentalism precisely:
“The wildernesses we are trying to preserve,” he writes, “are standing squarely in the way of our present economy, and…the wildernesses cannot survive if our economy does not change.” 
Image - US Department of Agriculture 2014

Berry wrote that sentiment during the Reagan administration, and I wonder what he makes of the changes, for good or ill, in our economy over the intervening years. That was before we realized that wages were stagnating, and then declining, pushing every American into a constant state of financial anxiety. Before wilderness designation, in itself, could prove a threat to the wilderness it seeks to protect, by attracting devastating waves of visitation to trample over the pristine landscape. Before “green technology” became the new energy groupspeak and environmentalist groups started endorsing condo developments. And he wrote those words before the “economy” became a figment of binary code, in which a “worker” is someone hunched over either a computer screen or else a cash register. A drone or a servant. In short, a lot has changed.  And so it’s a little jarring to hear environmentalists still so focused on removal. No more fossil fuels. No more population growth. It seems so disconnected from the realities of most people’s lives, the pervading dread that there aren’t enough jobs as it is, and certainly not enough jobs for those overqualified for McDonald’s but underqualified for office work. Environmentalists sound to the outsider (and I consider myself an outsider in this case,) like they would prefer for us not to be here at all. It seems as though they’d be happiest if half the planet died, suddenly, of natural causes, and the rest of us lost everything, our jobs and our homes, and resorted to some nomadic, pre-agricultural tribal society.
Just read Edward Abbey's essay
“I respect my friends, I love the members of my family – most of them – but somehow I cannot generate much respect, love or even sympathy for the human race as a whole. This mob of five billion now swarming over the planet, like ants on an anthill, somehow does not inspire any emotion but one of visceral repugnance. The fact that I am a part of this plague gives me no pride.”   
“Man,” he says, “has become a pest.”   
I get misanthropy. I really do. But even on my worst day, I wouldn’t wish for a massive collapse of the world’s economy, or the wiping out of humanity. And when most environmentalists start describing their dream scenarios for remaking the world, the first step always seems to be total collapse. To prefer that future, you have to be able to divorce yourself from the knowledge of what life is really like, and what life would be like, for the average person subjected to your vision. You have to have conditioned yourself to think of people as numbers and not individuals.
Bowery men waiting for bread in a breadline
Which brings me to two articles published in the Zephyr recently—one in this issue, one in the previous issue, both by Zephyr friend and longtime contributor Scott Thompson.
 The first articlefrom the last issue, dealt with overpopulation. Scott was concerned with the reluctance of the environmental left to tackle the issue, and he’s right that no one wants to touch it. What’s to be said about overpopulation? Certain people are having too many babies. And those people are almost universally brown-skinned, impoverished and under-educated. My discomfort with Scott’s article is that he never really addresses who, specifically, is having all these babies and the myriad reasons why they might be doing so, before he suggests that they ought to be held responsible for “greatly reduc[ing]” the impacts of climate change “through prudent behaviors of their own.” He writes, “The people of the Earth as a whole need to take responsibility for the impacts of overpopulation and reduce them as much as possible, with of course generous financial assistance from those with the bulk of the money and other resources.” But, while the people of Earth would do well to help out the overpopulating countries, I’d say that education about Environmentalism is likely to fall dead last in the list of priorities.
The ten countries with the highest birth rates are
1, Niger 
2. Mali
3. Uganda
4. Zambia
5. Burkina Faso
6. Burundi
7. Malawi
8. Somolia
9. Angola
10. Mozambique
Europe isn’t contributing to overpopulation, and, despite what you may think of the traffic, the U.S. isn’t either (our growing population has much more to do with immigration and the traffic has a lot more to do with our obscenely consumptive lifestyle.) In the countries where a high birth rate is a problem, however, it is far, far down the list of their concerns. Try as they might, no environmentalist is going to convince a woman in Niger that she should be thinking more about environmentalism when she’s fighting daily against starvation, disease and the specter of Boko Haram. She is a person, not a statistic, and she values the survival of herself and her family more than she fears some undefined specter of “Climate Change.”   
And another uncomfortable fact for environmentalists is that they may not want those third-world birth rates to fall too far. Falling birth rates don’t happen in a vacuum. They are the result of a rising standard of living, and a rising standard of living means one thing: greater consumption. It’s the climate change catch-22. Would you rather give billions of people a better life, so they can lay waste to the world’s resources, or would you save the planet by abandoning the masses to disease, war and deprivation?   
In short, we shouldn’t pretend there are any easy answers.
 Scott's second articlefrom this current issue of the Zephyr, deals with Climate Change denial among Conservatives. This makes for a meaty topic among environmentalists and I have no quarrel at all with Scott’s disgust for the many politicians and business leaders who reap profits and votes from attacking scientists. The data depicting a changing climate is overwhelming, and so is the data implicating our human activities in that change.   
Where things get muddy is in the next question: What do we do about it?   
The Left splits into two camps at the point: the technological utopians and the doomsayers. One frames his message in optimistic terms, the other in dystopian dread. The first talks quite a bit about “green energy” and the marvels of organic engineering that can somehow seamlessly replace our current economy and orchestrate a more perfect future for humanity. These make for fun and interesting conversations, and that’s why you tend to hear more of the utopian voices on the broader public stage. It’s an upbeat message, well-suited for TED talks and political speeches. But underneath that starry-eyed vision lies an inconvenient truth: that to get to our brand new Jetsons-esque world, we must first pass through a Big Bang.   
This need for economic collapse undergirds Scott’s entire article. Fracking is his first target. From an article in the Charleston Gazette-Mail by Robert Bryce, he quotes this portion: “If opponents of fracking succeed in banning it, they will have succeeded in killing a uniquely American success story that is helping consumers and the environment.”

And while Scott is mostly interested in how this Robert Bryce is completely sidestepping the issues of Climate Change in his fracking article, I am most struck by the fact that Scott seems to agree with Bryce about one thing: if environmentalists succeed, then they will happily kill off the natural gas industry. And the key word there is “happily.” In his ideal vision, that industry is dead. Among many others. And all the people who work in those industries? They go unmentioned. The Green techno-utopians seem to believe that we can power the entire planet with Solar, Wind and Hydroelectric power, that we can shut down all the coal-fired power plants, and that human life will hum merrily along, the better for having given up those nonrenewable fuels. They may well be right. But, as it stands, coal provides 33% of America’s energy. Natural gas—Fracking, that is—supplies another 33%. And that's just in the United States. Coal production increased world-wide by 32% between 2005 and 2001, mostly due to China. And the only reason it didn’t increase here is because of the massive success of natural gas. In short, the environmentalists see us, in the not-to-distant future, living in a reality so far removed from our own that we aren’t even heading in the right direction toward it. And, at least publicly, these utopians won’t admit that the bridge between our reality and that emission-free dreamland isn’t a bridge at all, but a death and resurrection.

Scott, to his credit, doesn’t deny the massive economic collapse that is required to change our course. He quotes from Naomi Klein later in the article, and I am heartened by this quotation, which is the most frank appraisal of the Climate Change movement that I’ve read:   
“So here’s my inconvenient truth: I think these hard-core ideologues understand the real significance of climate change better than most of the ‘warmists’ in the political center, the ones who are still insisting that the response can be gradual and painless…The deniers get plenty of the details wrong…but when it comes to the scope and depth of change required to avert catastrophe, they are right on the money.”   
I have to give Scott credit for picking that particular quotation, but I think he misses the mark a bit in his response. He writes that the economic leaders, the Chambers of Commerce and the like, refuse to recognize Climate Change because, if they did, then “the assumptions that they have made about free markets and continuing economic growth must be largely surrendered.” And there’s likely some truth to that. No one likes to admit that their theories of the world are wrong. But Scott leaves the argument there—as if people only dislike the specter of economic disaster because it will prove that their ideas were incorrect, and not because an economic disaster on the scale Scott and Naomi Klein are discussing would result in a worldwide era of suffering, starvation, and despair the likes of which we’ve never seen.   
Scott, and other environmentalists, believe that such an economic disaster is necessary, even desirable, in order to stave off a greater ecological disaster. That the complete loss of the industries that power our lives, the bottoming out of the stock market, the massive loss of jobs and homes, of entire communities, is a necessary trade-off.
He suggests a future in which:
“market activities… would be limited by the capacity of each one of the Earth’s ecosystems to provide natural resources (if it can) without losing its robust capacity to regenerate itself. Meaning no sacrifice zones (the very zones economic rightists have always relied upon). And also meaning that fossil fuels are gone forever. It’s ironic that although the free market political right regards such a level of adaptation as unthinkable, these are precisely the conditions in which homo sapiens has successfully survived and thrived for roughly 90% of its history.

But those conditions, in which homo sapiens lived for 90% of their history, weren’t as great as he makes them sound. Before our modern ideas of “economies” and “growth” and the rise of mercantilism, you had feudal systems, in which the vast majority labored their entire lives in poverty for the benefit of their Lords. Before that, we’re talking about tribalism and the brutal fight for survival that life entailed. Sure, we kept the human race down to carrying capacity, through the death cycles of war, disease, and starvation. And consumption was certainly the least of anyone’s worries, with a life expectancy in the 30s and infant mortality sky high. Life was ugly, and especially so if you were a woman, or a conquered people. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not gleefully anticipating a return to that “greener” lifestyle.  
The difficulty, for me, in Scott’s articles, in Edward Abbey’s essay, and in the general tone of environmentalists, is that they speak about the future of humanity as though it were simply an algebraic equation. “The carrying capacity of the world is x. Current population is x+5 Billion.” And their solution is as simple as 1st Grade subtraction.

But their mathematics is measured in human lives. In the ability of an oilfield worker to pay for his family’s groceries. In a coal miner’s foreclosed home. In the despair of working all your days for minimum wage, when your father knew what it was to build something and to retire on an auto worker’s pension. In knowing that, by the time you’re old enough to retire, Social Security may just be a fairy tale your grandchildren are too young to have heard. That’s the world we already live in. We have already lost so much, and environmentalists keep saying we need to lose more.
The only environmentalist I’ve heard speak about the value of individual human lives is Wendell Berry, and that’s why I related so well to his essay in this issue. His environmentalism is more ethical, less analytical. He sees all the destruction wrought by humanity, but his solution isn’t to wipe us from the face of the map, to tear down centuries of culture and societal progress, in the service of preserving the planet. He speaks about our responsibilities—to live more simply, to curb our consumption, to regulate our industries so as not to do more damage than is necessary. He writes about the “need to interest oneself in the best ways of using the land that must be used—timber management, logging, the manufacture of wood products, farming, food processing, mining.” And while our economy would slow down, surely, by taking his advice, and we wouldn’t all be bragging over our newest technologies, it’s a vision of the world that has us in it. He doesn’t delight in the image of our collective destruction.

I would feel more at home in environmentalism if there were more Wendell Berry’s among the movement. The challenges might be the same—a changing climate, environmental destruction—but those challenges would be met with morality and philosophy, and not merely with technology or cold science. And I think more people would be willing to face the climate science if they didn’t feel that doing so meant happily tossing the “economy,” and with it their jobs and their homes, out with the bathwater.   
I’m not stepping in line to call myself an environmentalist, not because I disagree with their premises or their numbers, but because I like humanity and I don’t relish the thought of its suffering. I don’t believe that the world will be a better place when all the human industries are killed off and replaced by perpetual motion bio-engineered robots. And I won’t skip over the parts of the beautiful utopian story where millions of people were left jobless and homeless in the process of creating our new, “greener” future.   
The doomsayers may well be correct. We may be on a collision course with ecological catastrophe regardless of what steps we take in the next years. And whether that catastrophe proves to be the end of the human race or the necessary catalyst for a new technological utopia, it will be devastating nonetheless. The predictions of collapse might be right on the money, but it doesn’t do us any favors to desire that collapse, or to speak of it in bloodless numbers. If they’re right, then environmentalists will find themselves standing amid the wreckage of millions of human lives, and no one will love them for crowing, “I told you so!”
Tonya Stiles is Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr
To read the PDF version of this article, click here
Final Comment 
There is no doubt that everyone should care about our planet having clean water, clean air, natural resources and the sanctity of public lands. But it's also important that people have employment, housing, health care, etc. However, when it comes to ecology & our earth, most of mankind are not going to care about the environment if they cannot put a roof over their families’ heads or food on the table. People from poorer countries don't have the luxury that most eco-folks have by living in an industrial society where there are a material benefits overflow. But this present eco-ideology of blaming all humans as something evil deserving of extinction is going to hinder, not help the environmental movement. Many of the science celebrity darlings like Bill Nye and others are also weighing in and siding with this sicko worldview. Well, I should clarify, they don't view themselves as part of the mankind problem. And this is all being brought to you by the folks from "The Science is Settled, there is no Debate" or "There was never a Debate in the first place," & "Besides, the Debate is over and that annoying noise you hear in the background is just some landscaper's leaf blower." Frankly if anything, these power obsessed Ideologues on both sides are responsible for bringing this planet & human society down. The really troubling reality for most people reading Tonya Stiles' article is that you should be admitting to yourselves that neither side's ideological leadership (Ecology & Economy) has a clue as to how to put Humpty Dumpty's World  back together again. 😵 
POLITICS (tribal, monarchy, facism, socialism, communism, democracy, etc)
" . . . , It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step"  Jeremiah 10:8
 " . . . during the time that man has dominated man to his injury" Ecclesiastes 8:9
There has been a complete failure to find viable solutions to all major problems mankind has ever faced by every single ideology humans have ever invented (this includes Democracy) and most fair minded folks will readily admit this. And yet most people (irrespective of the country) will still try and swab the deck of the sinking political Titanic, all the while admitting it's going under, but still reasoning that if we all pitch in together we can salvage this sinking wreck and it will some how miraculously upright itself. Seriously ??? 😕

I realize this is not what most folks reading here from either side want to hear, but if you honestly have watched the nightly news reports over the past couple of years, either direction brings us to the same negative outcome and conclusion. It's something for everyone to ponder and start asking questions about who and what they've been putting their faith and trust in all these years. This goes for both the faith-based conventional and secular religious sides.
Mankind's greatest problems right now are purvasive apathy & gross lack of spirituality