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The Alphabet Series: S is for Sustainability

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
August 3, 2000


"The truth which makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear." — Herbert Agar

Once upon a time human settlements strived to sustain themselves, and little more. Some lived day to day, others subscribed to the seventh generation philosophy, but all saw no reason to alter the environment in it's entirety. They required only food, water, shelter, a supportive community. Tools and clothing were by-products of hunting and gathering, with nothing going to waste. Never taking more than they needed, a spiritual connection to the Earth kept human appetites in check. But that was before Western Civilization decided all was not right with the world.

Americans pride themselves in living way beyond their means. Deep in debt, ours is a culture the refuses to place limits on it's perceived rights of entitlement. Whatever Bobo want's, Bobo gets. Want a harbor? That easy we will create one. Not only will this destroy coastal habitats there is also the added benefit of selling of worthless trinkets and T-shirts to tourists.

Regardless of what the brain trust at the San Diego Association of Governments says, the current population of San Diego county is by no means self sustainable. Ninety percent of our water is imported, this means the natural environment can only sustain 10% of us. In regards to food production, where twenty years ago we might have been able to feed ourselves, this is no the longer case as arable farm land is being converted to sprawling subdivisions, stripmalls, and parking lots.

Due to a loss of native habitat, hunting and gathering will not an option when trying to feed millions of people if the need ever arises. Fishing is not a reliable food option due to the sheer numbers of those needing to eat, and the systematic depletion of aquatic habitats. Once teaming with a myriad of life the disappearance of the Southern California's Kelp forests is a result of eroding beaches.

According to the Oxford dictionary, the definition of sustain is to endure without failing. With this to work from, it is obvious that the sustainability of coastal North County is no longer a given. Estuaries from Oceanside to Del Mar are failing,or have failed altogether. The perfect example being Buena Vista Lagoon. Bluff failures are now common place along the coast due not to natural processes, but by human interference of those processes.

Another sustainability issue is that of the amount of human waste that we must flush into the ocean. According to G. Tyler Miller Jr.,Professor of Human Ecology "Coastal areas bear the brunt of our enormous inputs of waste into the ocean" Run-off resulting from the activities of a doubling of population could poison North Counties coastal wetlands and estuaries beyond the point of restoration. If coastal pollution is a major issue now, the thought of a million more people using the Pacific Ocean as a septic tank is frightening to say the least. And then their is the issue surrounding an ever increasing need for landfill space needed to store the mountains of consumer waste generated in the county on a daily basis.

SANDAG, and the developers that fund their "research," have made sure the majority of transportation funds to be spent next year will go to expanding the automobile infrastructure. Accommodating automobiles, and a technology that does more to pollute the planet than any other human behavior, is far from sustainable. Sooner or later San Diego's air quality will be as hazardous to ones health as that of Los Angeles and Tijuana. SANDAG's plan to bring a million additional people to the region will do nothing to alleviate the pressure being placed on the environment.

If the Australian aboriginal proverb "the more you know, the less you need" is correct, SANDAG and it's municipal manipulators are as clueless as they are greedy. By accommodating more people at a time when biotic systems are collapsing under the weight of human populations, those responsible for governing have demonstrated the extent of their environmental ignorance.

Unsustainable, this could prove fatal to those living in paradise.

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