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Courting the Nemesis Effect: Your Extinction or Mine?

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
June 10, 1999


Here in Southern California we have a tendency to think that everything, and everyone, lives in it's own climate controlled vacuum. From the cars we drive, to municipal planning and politics, we are adhering to a new math based on the faith that 1+1 one will always equal one. This allows us to continue withdrawing from the planetary ATM, without ever having to worry about the balance.

Take water for example. We live in a desert, and as we all know a desert is a biome that occurs in areas with low precipitation. Accompanying this climate is a lack of water. Granted San Diego County is semi-arid, so there is very limited supply of fresh water, access to this water makes all the difference in the game of survival. While the agencies entrusted to bring water to the region call for water conservation, other agencies are approving massive housing developments that will drain even more of this life giving resource.

More evidence of this "living in a vacuum" mentality is the fact that these developments, and this includes homes, shopping malls, and business parks continue to landscape with water hungry non-natives. And then there is the question of lawns, which use more water in a year than native vegetation requires for a lifetime. The Colorado river no longer run to the Sea of Cortez, yet their is enough water for a new golf course every year a string of tourist resorts. The question facing us all is, how much of a good thing is too much.

To plant all these beautiful ornamental plant species, native plants are removed. Removing indigenous species, means erasing native habitat which equates with a drop in native songbird population and an increases in the number of coyotes being forced to relocate in to established neighborhoods, subsisting on feral cats and domestic pets. Meanwhile the domestic cats our doing their part to eradicate native song bird population.

Continually building homes for the growing number of human beings claiming the "right" to crowd in beside us, means that something has to give. By just walking out your front door you will see that it is native flora and fauna that is currently paying the price. First we replace the plants, we then poison the "pests", and finally we water the hell out of it so we can have pretty plants all in a row. Isn't it ironic that people moved to Southern California, only to erase it.

SANDAG declares that 1 million more people are going to move into the county in the next few years, yet this body of elected officials refuse to consider this as over-population, even when the infrastructure can't accommodate the people who are here now. The roads are crowded with trucks bringing food to the region, at the same time agricultural land is decreasing, and the need to feed people increases. Oil prices also continue to rise, but instead of encouraging mass transit, in a way that actually makes a difference, coastal cities keep widening the roads, and inviting more auto dependent residents to the area.

By allowing development to go unchecked, we are also creating a greater need for landfills and other places to store our waste. As we have all seen, a good deal of this waste ends up polluting our beaches and coastal environments. Earlier this year when gray whales washed up on local beaches, the media was more interested in how people reacted to the sights and smells of such an occurrence, rather than drawing links between the building environmental stresses the whales must navigate, and helping residents see the part coastal run-off plays in the death of these young whales.

The accumulative effect of our actions is easily seen when one begins connecting the dots between the environmental stresses threatening life on this planet. By linking population growth to urban sprawl and the automobiles required to negotiate it, habitat loss, bio-invasion, and nitrogen pollution one gets a complete picture of how a standard North County neighborhood contributes to climate change worldwide.

The game modern society is playing with environmental quality brings to mind the classic children's game Ker-Plunk. That's the Milton Bradley game were you remove a stick without making the marbles fall. The player with the least amount of marbles at the end of the game wins. In the case of the global environment there are no winners once the game is over. I wonder if the proverbial camel will be around to see it's back break. Since I'm throwing out cliches, I might as well remind everyone that extinction is forever.

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