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Terminal Growing Pains: It's the economy stupid.

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
March 26, 2001


"When man becomes greater than nature, nature, which gave him birth, will respond." — Loren Eiseley

Recently it has been suggested in the popular press that the people of San Diego County plan for perpetual growth.  What exactly does that mean, perpetual growth? Referencing my trusted Concise Oxford Dictionary the definition was reveled to mean ‘permanent during life.' Following this logic, perpetual growth roughly translates to "expand until you die".

At least once a year one hears the story of a severely obese person needing to be cut from their home, too fat to walk and too large to be carried through a doorway. Dead or dying, usually resulting from their heart failing to accommodate the such a large mass of humanity. Such is the fate of Southern California.

The flaw inherent in the perpetual growth philosophy is its complete lack of balance. Those who think human populations, and the consumption games they play, can continue forever obviously lack the ability to tell the difference between anthropocentric fantasy and environmental reality. Like it or not there are limits to everything, and humans are exhausting the biological buffet that has supported our species for millions of years.

Just because the building industry believes they can accommodate millions of more people in Southern California, it doesn't mean Southern California can accommodate the building industry. All wishful thinking aside, natural resources are finite and as population continues to grow, a growing lack of resources will limit populations in ways currently being seen in sub-saharan Africa, Bangladesh, and North Korea. To think the United States is immune to the global forces impacting other countries is as delusional as it is risky.

This begs the question - What exactly is the carrying capacity of San Diego's ecosystems in regards to human population. At what point does Southern California become the Sprawling megalopolis. With all of the growth prediction estimates being generated by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) you would think they would have done an biological inventory as to have a better understanding of how many humans could be sustained by the natural resources of the region. SANDAG hasn't even begun to look.

Sitting in a conference room last week with an odd collection of economists it was quite clear how deep in denial the suits at SANDAG really are. We were gathered to evaluate a recently prepared evaluation of slow growth policies in the San Diego region. Not surprisingly, the conclusion of the 112 page document was that growth is inevitable and and the only way to protect our quality of life. As usual SANDAG and their hired guns completely divorced themselves and the "Evaluation", from all things biological.

If that vacuum thinking wasn't bad enough, the limited study suggested that even if a carrying capacity for the region was determined by biologists "there is no way for local public policy to enforce it." Then to soften that statement they decide to speak for everyone by adding - "there is little likelihood that government, civic and business leaders or the majority of the public would be willing to constrain the regions economy to the degree necessary to appreciably slow the population growth rate."

To demonstrate their complete lack of environmental understanding and selective vision, the economists provided an answer for questions regarding the biological limitations of our species and the region. Simply put, the operative word being simple, these monetary monkeys reveal their bias by stating - "Apparently, a finite carrying capacity is only as rigid as current technology and tolerance levels of the population." What?

Refusing to admit there maybe a middle ground that allows for both economic and environmental sustainability, the gurus of growth state most jurisdictions consider jobs and job growth to be a fundamental importance. As if clean air, clean water, and livable communities aren't. Something else the evaluation failed to address is a shrinking natural resource base that is in direct relation to an ever increasing number of humans wanting to call the sprawl and crawl of Southern California home.

By the end of this meeting I was giddy from the reality of the situation. In a nutshell? These are the good old days, and it is only downhill from here. Like a cancer, San Diego will prosper until it kills it's host. The only thing environmentalists can hope to achieve from this point forward is a messy form of triage where all the patients are critical and no one seems to care. Martini anyone?

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