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The Alphabet Series 2000: B is for Balance

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
March 22, 2000


"Ecology knows of no density relationship that holds for indefinitely wide limits. All gains from density are subject to a law of diminishing returns." — Aldo Leopold

The Land Ethic introduced in Leopold's A Sand County Almanac was first published in 1949. As a purveyor of prophecy, Aldo was correct in his observation that mankind was exhausting wilderness in the more habitable portions of the globe. I'm sure not even he could have imagined Southern California in the year 2000. Talk about living beyond your means.

America is the world largest debtor nation on varied levels. Although we go through every effort to appear as if we are trying to balance our checkbook, rarely have we taken account of the environmental imbalance that is building up. Perhaps this is because it is easier to without limits instead of recognizing them in any significant way.

Case in point is our relation to indigenous flora and fauna of the San Diego region. As ravenous as a brush fire, human development has devoured habitat to the point of collapse. What natural systems remain, exist in such small fragments, should be recognized for what they are, an illusion of stewardship devoid of integrity. Completely out of balance, ours is a culture that can't see past self interest long enough to see that we have altered the atmosphere, triggering a series of global events that we are just now beginning to fathom.

How many more people can we shove into the coastal North County area before the entire ecosystem breaks down? How much longer can continue to dump our waste matter into coastal waters before that biotic community is toast. People complain about the loss of sand on the beaches but refuse to do the one thing that will remedy the problem. By removing the jetties and other man made "improvements" such as the earthen berms currently blocking the regions estuaries, the natural process of erosion and southern sand flow can be restored.

The law of physics holds that with every action there is a reaction. Meaning the "progress" we are currently enjoying, is coming at the expense of our long term security. I understand that the people who make a living laying waste to our region, think they are doing the right thing. How can they not and still sleep at night? Like the rest of us they are victims of the industrial era mind set programmed into the last seven generations. Ours is a culture of despoliation, and for the Law of Physics to hold we in turn will be destroyed by our own machinations.

In the early '60s jetties were built by the army core of engineers to protect the newly created Oceanside Harbor. An action that has provided that city with a steady stream of income. In the late '90s cities to the south of these rip rap damns now must use artificial means to place sand on their beaches, and protect exposed bluffs. This reaction has claimed lives, homes, and continues to diminish biological diversity along the fragile coast. Why is the obvious solution to accelerated beach erosion not implemented? In three words - anthropocentrism, egocentrism, and greed.

Sitting in gridlock, while watching bulldozers clearing away indigenous sage Scrub habitat to make room for more human habitat, it is easy to believe we have moved way beyond the carrying capacity of this semi-arid environment. The question is not if, but when, the whole thing comes crashing down around us, because sooner or later something has to give. If you doubt this research the cultures of Easter Island, the Anasazi, the Inca. All noble civilizations that crashed under their own weight and waste.

So where exactly does the balance come into play? In our culture it doesn't. Humans have designed the world to suit their needs, one without limits, one with an ever expanding resource base to accommodate billions of people, and just enough biological diversity to feed the teeming masses. And if that effort is found lacking, we simply turn our backs to the suffering of life on the planet, channel surfing into a virtual reality not bothered by species extinction, holes in the ozone, and rising sea levels. In other words, we are living la Vida loca.

So when we think about balance we need to look beyond the checkbook and see some things can not be fixed with money, and that everything will be destroyed in the pursuit of that almighty dollar. Economic greed paves the way to environmental poverty. Action. Reaction. It's the law.

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