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The best policy is being prepared for the worst

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
September 11, 2006


I'm still obsessing over Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail or Succeed. Reading this incredible piece of non-fiction journalism, I realize Diamond has created a new standard for environmental writers, myself included.

Ecological damage and societal collapse are heavy issues. Adopting the five-point framework established by Diamond in Collapse creates a measure of sustainability all can refer to.

Measured by the Diamond standard, the California dream will turn out to be a nightmare for many in the very near future.

Life in Southern California is life on the edge. Suburban North San Diego County, although comfortable, has never been more vulnerable. As a population, we have far over grown the biological carrying capacity of the region in which we live.

Once an agricultural area, Southern California is becoming little more than a mixed used suburban strip mall. No longer able to feed itself if the need arises, San Diego County, dependent on imported water as well, is living on borrowed time. Unable or unwilling to grow enough food to support regional population, societal collapse is inevitable.

As every last piece of open space is developed, our ecological deficit grows further out of balance. Expanding freeways only compounds the problem. Automobiles are a huge part of the equation. More roads equal more people. More people means more pollution. More pollution equates with more ecological damage. Ecological damage leads to environmental hardship.

Sooner or later, Southern Californians will be forced to pay the price for living in luxury at the expense of biodiversity and earth centered stewardship. Affluence has a dark side. To many people, consuming too much stuff comes at a cost. Will we be prepared when the bill comes due?

Global climate change is real. That humanity is contributing to it's own undoing is no longer in question What I want to know is how what local municipalities are doing to mitigate predicted adverse conditions, economic and otherwise.

Obsessed with the size of our cars and the comfort our commute, we give little thought about the future, grim or otherwise. Could Carlsbad feed itself? Encinitas? How many people in San Diego County are prepared to grow their own food? Where would they grow it, even if they knew how?

Where will we be when the water dries up?

Living way beyond our means, instead of creating self-sufficient sustainable communities, regional leaders are busy borrowing on future well-being, one myopic decision at a time.

Irrigating a semi-arid desert, to sustain tropical landscaping, is the work of a society on the verge of collapse. The Anasazi of Chaco Canyon can atest to that; their ecological mistake was trying to cultivate the desert to sustain a growing population, under unfavorable environmental conditions.

Lawns and non-native landscaping require water better not squandered. Ornamental plantings that do not produce food or fuel are a waste of resources, yet most landscaping is based on economics first and esthetics second. Ecological considerations rarely factor in.

Dependent on imported food and water; Southern Californians should shift their priorities to focus on designing communities with the future in mind. The best policy is to be prepared for the worst. Societies that survive will be those prepared for, and willing to adapt to, changing conditions.

From where I sit, the view is not encouraging. As a region, San Diego County is living on borrowed resources that are about to run out.

What's in your wallet?

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