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Summer reading is no joke

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
September 15, 2006


Call me a dinosaur, but I like to read. And I really like to read about dinosaurs. Mostly, though I read about ecology, past and present, dark and dangerous.

Currently I'm reading the latest work of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond. Five hundred and twenty-five pages of cultural considerations, Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail or Succeed is not light summer reading. And like a hall of mirrors, reflected in Collapse is an image that is hardly flattering.

Intended to be my airport reading, Collapse accompanied me to Minnesota for a long Labor Day weekend. Not surprising, deforestation and population pressures became a recurring theme for my first visit to the land of a 10,000 lakes.

St. Paul is a nice place to visit, but measured by Diamond's five-point framework, not a place I want to live. Using a comparative method, Collapse establishes a standard with which to judge the long-term viability of all human civilizations.

A native Californian, I want to know that sort of stuff.

Originally intending to write a book on environmental damage Diamond, found contributing factors that that always lead to societal collapse. Four factors, environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbors, and friendly trade partners, although important, were not as significant as the fifth factor, how societies respond to environmental damage.

Weaving ecology, sociology, climatology, and geology into a historic narrative of failed civilizations, as a reader, I found myself taking breaks to consider how the people of Southern California compare to the Anasazi of Chaco Canyon or the stone masons of Easter Island.

A resident of a prosperous coastal city, under current conditions I should consider myself lucky, I don't. Far from it. The environmental damage resulting from the perpetual development of California, and unmanageable demands of population growth should concern us all.

The people of Minnesota are lucky, water is everywhere. So what if they have to put up with snow and sub-zero temperatures, they have water. Southern Californians are not so lucky. As desert dwellers, we don't have a lot of water, yet we act like we do and allow new development to further undermine ecological sustainability.

California government has always been about more, more homes, more freeways, more people, more commerce, more profit, more of everything, which ironically equates with less of everything else.

To be a Californian is to understand ecological damage. We live it everyday. Air quality, water quality, and quality of life are constantly sacrificed to the economic gods of more. California has always been about living beyond your means. The Donner Party being a perfect example.

Like all other cultures built on shaky ground California is already dealing with the pressure of ecological damage resulting from human actions and industry. Going to Diamonds other four factors it is clear Californians are also dealing with climate change and will be for generations.

Although hostile neighbors and friendly trading partners is currently the realm of the federal government, illegal immigration and dwindling water resources will soon play a greater role in the ability to maintain California society, at even a fraction of its current population.

Sitting in traffic while work crews expand the freeway, I see the collapse up close and personal. Having read Jared Diamond, I can now appreciate what it means to be living history.

Oblivion anyone?

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