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Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
January 9, 2001


I watched the sun rise on the 21st century from a hammock chair deep within the Anza Borrego Desert. On the hill behind me was a street sign marking the intersection of Hollywood and Vine. I mention this because there are those who believe that how you mark the New Year transition is an omen for the year to come. If this is the case, 2001 should be a year of contradictions and unforgiving environmental realities.

As I write this San Diego's east county is burning. Fanned by dry Santa Ana winds, nature is doing what nature does and every one is in a tizzy about it. It never ceases to amaze me how the news media, both broadcast and print, always seem to downplay the fact that wildfires are a vital part of San Diego's ecosystem. Hell they can't even refer to the native habitats as anything other than "brush." As if that was an adequate way to describe intricate biotic communities.

Before Christmas, when fire destroyed four businesses in Encinitas, the media did not report fire destroyed buildings along the coast. They called the affected community by name. Encinitas. This was responsible journalism. But to merely say "brush is burning" when a recognizable plant community is experiencing the same fate is superficial and highly anthropocentric. Watching the news I could easily see that sage scrub chaparral, oaks, and riparian habitats were being affected. Why not acknowledge these communities by name? Again, responsible journalism.

I mention this because I would like to see all of us become environmental realists, in both word and deed. If the San Diego region has any chance of supporting the weight of the projected populations being promoted by the San Diego Association of Governments. The fantasy that all growth is progress should be abandoned. As things stand now our environment and the quality of life it supports is stretched to the limit.

Local municipalities must move beyond the blind group think that has dominated environmental policy for the last twenty years. We must put behind us those neat little names that serve to "language away" what is really taking place. Brush is something you do to your hair or your dog's hair. Sprawl should be called what it really is, over reaching and unsustainable over development of human habitats. Instead of redefining them as lagoons, our coastal estuaries should be properly acknowledged because we can't restore what we refuse to recognize.

Once we begin to honestly confront our environmental limitations, we will start to perceive the challenges facing us as opportunities to better understand how to live in a sustainable manner. Fire happens, perhaps we should learn to live with it. To do so would be as easy as building homes in rural, fire prone areas in such a way as to allow fire to pass over the residences with with little to no damage. This however would require humans to adapt to suit the environment, as opposed to the current policy of manipulating biology, topography, and hydrology to suit the desires of those unwilling come to terms with the responsibilities that come with life on earth.

Considering we are just beginning a new year, a new century, and a new millennium, I would like to suggest we use this milepost in human history to begin the process of voluntarily removing ourselves from the precarious pedestal we use to justify our recklessness.

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