Earth Day Without Us: Human conceit, resilience, and finding our place in the Anthropocene

The Blue Marble

Leaves of a tree

“We are all but recent leaves on the same old tree of life and if this life has adapted itself to new functions and conditions, it uses the same old basic principles over and over again. There is no real difference between the grass and the man who mows it.”
Albert Szent-György

In his 2007 bestseller “The World Without Us,” Alan Weisman expands on a thought experiment published in a 2005 issue of Discover magazine: What if we considered the human impact on the planet by removing the humans?

Everything we’ve built, dumped, dammed, spilt, or pulled up out of the ground remains; but there are no longer any people keeping all those balls in the air. The human endeavor comes crashing down. Earth and its surviving inhabitants are left to digest what remains of civilization, as all the great structures of Man come crumbling back into dust, leaving a scarred but resilient Earth. Continue reading “Earth Day Without Us: Human conceit, resilience, and finding our place in the Anthropocene”

COP23 Wraps : The Long Journey Continues, Nobody Said It Was Easy

COP23: Progress or Standing in Place?

Fight another day

The first COP climate conference of the Trump presidency wrapped up last week. True to form, the final gavel fell in the “wee hours” of Saturday morning.

Lacking the excitement of COP21 two years ago, COP23 is nonetheless one more step in the long road of transforming into reality the global aspiration expressed in Paris.

That reality is by no means assured. Despite the political upheaval of the past year, we survive to fight another day.

Life in the Anthropocene

A race to where?

Continue reading “COP23 Wraps : The Long Journey Continues, Nobody Said It Was Easy”

Going to Common Ground

Peace: Coming to common ground

 Bridging the gap

I tried this last week on a post I promoted on Facebook expressing my concern with changing federal environmental policy in Alaska.

That I was paying Facebook a modest sum of cash in exchange for increased exposure, I anticipated raucous participation from the comments section.     Just preaching to the choir gets boring.  My keyword-laden commentary, including “liberal bubble,” should be an easy target.

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Community Capital: Economic Development With a Sense of Place

Community Capital - Economic Development with a Sense of Place

It’s the economy, stupid.

In 1992, political strategist James Carville coined his catchy admonition ostensibly to keep his staff on message, arguably helping pave the way to Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Carville’s “snowclone” phrase has since been bent and contorted into service across a wide swath of issues.

It’s time to bring the expression home.

Continue reading “Community Capital: Economic Development With a Sense of Place”

Climate Migration, the Paris Agreement, and the Delusion of Isolation

One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic

Forced MigrationBe it from social unrest, economic upheaval, or environmental collapse, forced human migration is at unprecedented levels. According to the UNHCR, there are more than 65 million displaced people in the world today. Of those, more than 22 million are forced refugees. Over half are under 18 years old. Nearly 20 people are displaced from their homes every minute.

Continue reading “Climate Migration, the Paris Agreement, and the Delusion of Isolation”

The Sea is Confused

Vibrant fisheries depend on healthy oceans

A Harbormaster’s Reflection on a Life Watching the Sea

From Doc Ricketts to Mack to Dora Flood, Monterey is the stuff of legend, the iconic fishing town hugging the Pacific Coast of central California.

Brought to life by the characters of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, the abundance of Monterey Bay fueled Steinbeck’s imagination. More than just characters in a novel, Monterey is quintessentially a community of people and their relationship with the sea.

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Looking for Tomorrow: Reasons for Hope in a Troubled World

Documentary Tomorrow : Finding our place in the world

A corrupted creation myth

Corrupted information tells the wrong story

The scientific debate whether we call our geologic epoch the Anthropocene is yet to be settled.

What is less debatable is the planetary-scale impact of human activity. As we posit throughout PlanetWatch, we live in the Age of Man. Our presence is felt in every corner of the Earth. Dominion over the Earth, what was once we imagined, an ageless myth, is our reality. We reap the benefits for a time.

Continue reading “Looking for Tomorrow: Reasons for Hope in a Troubled World”

The Failure of U.S. Climate and Environmental Policy and Why There is Still Hope

U.S. climate policy. Resist!

Writing to a  class of international students “Climate Change Mitigation in the Developing World” about “climate policy where I live”

It is, of course, hard news from the United States with Donald Trump signing his “energy independence” executive order.   Among other things, the order calls for a “rewrite” of former president Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP is (was) the cornerstone of the U.S. INDC commitment to the Paris Agreement.

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World Wildlife Day | Saving Our Own Humanity

Elephants of Africa - photo by Thomas Schueneman

The Peace of Wild Things - Photo by Gary Bendig

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
– Wendell Berry

Continue reading “World Wildlife Day | Saving Our Own Humanity”

Wilderness and the Age of Man

The Age of Man: Wilderness in the Anthropocene

Jason Mark’s 2015 Satellites in the High Country asks an essential question:

What is wilderness?

Is there any wilderness left on earth? If so, where is it?

If it is true that a radioactive haze has settled across the globe, then indeed, there is no wilderness left; no place left untouched by the actions of one species.

The philosophical among us may claim that there is wilderness in every human soul.

That is a debate best left to those smarter than I.

I suspect attempting the self-reflection of our place in the order of things, for which we are given only a momentary glimpse, is fraught with bias. Even if well-intentioned.

All men are liable to error; and most men are, in many points, by passion or interest, under temptation to it.
John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

On the one hand, caution and skepticism are warranted before we assume we are or can impact Earth on a geological time scale. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, to paraphrase Carl Sagan.

Claiming we live in the “Age of Man” may seem antithetical to the beliefs of most spiritual traditions. But many offer a sacred reverence for nature and a sense of place.

And so, on the other hand, is the Precautionary Principle.

If there is any reasonable possibility that the fate of the planet – the world as we know it – rests in our hands, then we are, indeed, living in the Anthropocene – the Age of Man.

I argue that this is the case. There is, I believe, sufficient evidence to suggest current human activity is impacting, at an epochal level, global systems and cycles.

Living within boundaries

 

Living within limits: the nine planetary boundaries
Planetary Boundaries

The only desirable way forward is learning how to manage human activity within the physical limits of the planet. Within that framework cultivate, as best we can, social stability, equality, and human dignity.

If that is the task, then urgency-of-purpose must balance caution of action. Whether we like it or not, we must literally shape a new world. We are shaping a new world. It’s too late to back out now.

The longer we allow short-term accounting, manufacturing of doubt, and willful ignorance to dominate the narrative, the more time is lost. Caution thrown to the wind. Left only for future generations to ask why?

And then there’s figuring out what’s for dinner tonight.

After all, I’m only human.