Check out this graphic on where California’s water goes. The mind-blowing statistic of this month is that 90% of all water used in California is used by industry and industrial agriculture. That makes me want to take a long hot shower, and get involved in policy discussions at every level about water distribution. As with all the other problems in our culture, the persistent unequal distribution of resources–with those at the top of the “food chain” who can most afford to pay being charged the least for the resource–holds trye for water as well. We have to direct our activism not only to our own backyards but to the bigger policy issues which affect the distribution of all resources.
This week, gardener divine Wendy Krupnick and I penned a letter (to anyone who would listen) about the scarcity of water in our county. The Press Democrat picked it up, and hopefully a few others will as well. County Supervisors are responding as well. Here is the Press Democrat link for the letter: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20131231/opinion/131239969 and here is the letter printed in full:
To: Sonoma County Supervisors and Water Agency
Re: Drought leadership needed
The driest year in California’s recorded history is about to come to a close, and there is no promise that the drought will end any time soon. Even if there was substantial rainfall in the next few months, will it be sufficient to replenish severely depleted groundwater reserves? What if that rain does not come? Too many human, animal, biological and economic lives are dependent on this scarce resource for us not to take immediate measures to preserve what we have.
The specter of extended drought is as scary as the “super storms” which have been happening in other parts of the world. Equally frightening is the deafening silence of our public officials, who have so far failed to acknowledge this crisis and call for mandatory conservation measures. Climate change is clearly happening here and now.
We know that:
- In 2002 Sonoma County reported that approximately 40,000 wells existed within the county, serving 90,000 residents. Groundwater provides drinking water in part to 42 percent of the population, with nearly all of the county’s residents dependent on groundwater as either a primary or backup drinking water supply source.
- Sonoma County issues about 500 well permits each year. California is one of only two states with no groundwater regulation. Increasing amounts of water are taken out of the ground and decreasing amounts are being replenished.
- In the Santa Rosa Plain alone, there are about 12,000 wells operated by the five cities, the county water agency and private homes and ranches. Virtually all farms and ranches – the lifeblood of our county’s economy – depend on private wells for water.
- Groundwater in many parts of the county has been in “overdraft” for many years and some wells are now drawing on “ancient” deep aquifers. Other areas have many dry wells, and subsidence has occurred in some regions.
In spite of the information above, we are told that our county does not need to worry about this unprecedented lack of rain, because there is still water in Lake Sonoma. As we can see, Lake Sonoma water is completely irrelevant to a very significant part of our population. And what if Lake Sonoma does not refill this winter?
In the 1970s California experienced a drought that was not as severe as the current one, but there were mandatory conservation measures enacted in many communities. Lawn watering and washing sidewalks and cars with hoses were prohibited, and low flow water devices were distributed. We learned to let “yellow mellow” and took short showers. These measures made a big difference and we found that we could do just fine using much less water. There are additional water conservation measures that could be actively supported by the agencies now, including grey water systems.
Why have such measures not been called for now? Are we afraid to scare off developers? Of the political battles that will ensue if we recognize the drought for what it is? It’s insanity to continue with business as usual when it comes to water–one of life’s true essentials.
Some of the cities have good water conservation policies “on the books”, yet dozens of acres of lawns adjacent to commercial enterprises waste thousands of gallons of water every month. And in many unincorporated areas water use is still extravagant. As long as private water districts like the Country Club neighborhood are allowed unlimited access to “their” water at nominal cost to their residents, water will continue to flow down those streets into the storm drains daily.
We the undersigned residents of Sonoma County call on our Supervisors, the Sonoma County Water Agency and its municipal clients to enact mandatory water conservations measures immediately. In addition to appropriate prohibitions and fees, there should be incentives for businesses to convert their landscapes to low water use plantings. Independent water districts and home owners associations should be required to provide water conservation information to their residents and to change their fee structures.
And we ask every resident of our county to count every drop of water as the precious, scarce resource that it is, and to do their part to adapt to our changing world.
This (slightly scary) article about Monarchs and Bees can be a good reminder of how important it is to grow native plants to create and maintain pollination opportunities for our important pollinators.
The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear
By JIM ROBBINS
Published: November 22, 2013
On the first of November, when Mexicans celebrate a holiday called the Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the millions of monarch butterflies that, without fail, fly to the mountainous fir forests of central Mexico on that day. They are believed to be souls of the dead, returned.
This year, for or the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.
“It does not look good,” said Lincoln P. Brower, a monarch expert at Sweet Briar College.
It is only the latest bad news about the dramatic decline of insect populations.
Another insect in serious trouble is the wild bee, which has thousands of species. Nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids are implicated in their decline, but even if they were no longer used, experts say, bees, monarchs and many other species of insect would still be in serious trouble.
That’s because of another major factor that has not been widely recognized: the precipitous loss of native vegetation across the United States.
“There’s no question that the loss of habitat is huge,” said Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, who has long warned of the perils of disappearing insects. “We notice the monarch and bees because they are iconic insects,” he said. “But what do you think is happening to everything else?”
A big part of it is the way the United States farms. As the price of corn has soared in recent years, driven by federal subsidies for biofuels, farmers have expanded their fields. That has meant plowing every scrap of earth that can grow a corn plant, including millions of acres of land once reserved in a federal program for conservation purposes.
Another major cause is farming with Roundup, a herbicide that kills virtually all plants except crops that are genetically modified to survive it.
As a result, millions of acres of native plants, especially milkweed, an important source of nectar for many species, and vital for monarch butterfly larvae, have been wiped out. One study showed that Iowa has lost almost 60 percent of its milkweed, andanother found 90 percent was gone. “The agricultural landscape has been sterilized,” said Dr. Brower.
The loss of bugs is no small matter. Insects help stitch together the web of life with essential services, breaking plants down into organic matter, for example, and dispersing seeds. They are a prime source of food for birds. Critically, some 80 percent of our food crops are pollinated by insects, primarily the 4,000 or so species of the flying dust mops called bees. “All of them are in trouble,” said Marla Spivak, a professor of apiculture at the University of Minnesota.
Farm fields are not the only problem. Around the world people have replaced diverse natural habitat with the biological deserts that are roads, parking lots and bluegrass lawns. Meanwhile, the plants people choose for their yards are appealing for showy colors or shapes, not for their ecological role. Studies show that native oak trees in the mid-Atlantic states host as many as 537 species of caterpillars, which are important food for birds and other insects. Willows come in second with 456 species. Ginkgo, on the other hand, which is not native, supports three species, and zelkova, an exotic plant used to replace elm trees that died from disease, supports none. So the shelves are nearly bare for bugs and birds.
Native trees are not only grocery stores, but insect pharmacies as well. Trees and other plants have beneficial chemicals essential to the health of bugs. Some monarchs, when afflicted with parasites, seek out more toxic types of milkweed because they kill the parasites. Bees use medicinal resins from aspen and willow trees that are antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral, to line their nests and to fight infection and diseases. “Bees scrape off the resins from the leaves, which is kind of awesome, stick them on their back legs and take them home,” said Dr. Spivak.
Besides pesticides and lack of habitat, the other big problem bees face is disease. But these problems are not separate. “Say you have a bee with viruses,” and they are run-down, Dr. Spivak said. “And they are in a food desert and have to fly a long distance, and when you find food it has complicated neurotoxins and the immune system just goes ‘uh-uh.’ Or they become disoriented and can’t find their way home. It’s too many stressors all at once.”
There are numerous organizations and individuals dedicated to rebuilding native plant communities one sterile lawn and farm field at a time. Dr. Tallamy, a longtime evangelizer for native plants, and the author of one of the movement’s manuals, “Bringing Nature Home,” says it’s a cause everyone with a garden or yard can serve. And he says support for it needs to develop quickly to slow down the worsening crisis in biodiversity.
When the Florida Department of Transportation last year mowed down roadside wildflowers where monarch butterflies fed on their epic migratory journey, “there was a huge outcry,” said Eleanor Dietrich, a wildflower activist in Florida. So much so, transportation officials created a new policy that left critical insect habitat un-mowed.
That means reversing the hegemony of chemically green lawns. “If you’ve got just lawn grass, you’ve got nothing,” said Mace Vaughan of the Xerces Society, a leading organization in insect conservation. “But as soon as you create a front yard wildflower meadow you go from an occasional honeybee to a lawn that might be full of 20 or 30 species of bees and butterflies and monarchs.”
First and foremost, said Dr. Tallamy, a home for bugs is a matter of food security. “If the bees were to truly disappear, we would lose 80 percent of the plants,” he said. “That is not an option. That’s a huge problem for mankind.”
Jim Robbins is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and the author of “The Man Who Planted Trees.”
Sometimes when I find myself thinking about climate change all the time, and the many things we can all do to mitigate disaster, and I see how small my actions are and how the major power players–corporations, governments, and the mass of most people–are just going on with business as usual, I feel insane. I am always searching for ways to motivate, rather than terrify, and this was a big issue when I wrote the book. It was clear to me that hitting people over the head with facts and dire predictions would do to them what it did to me–freak them out and make it impossible to take action.
And yet, the time for action is way past NOW. We have to figure out how to inspire and lead individuals, families, communities, regions, etc… toward a more ecologically possible future.
This article written by Susan Strong of the Metaphor Project, www.metaphorproject.org, was really inspiring and motivating in this regard and I reprint it here in full.
Framing Climate Change Action Now
by Susan C. Strong
There is evidence that a number of American citizens know we have a climate change problem. But many of them experience it as something we can’t fix technically, socially or politically. So they ignore it to keep going day by day. Among the already convinced, that’s where the issue is stuck. But we also have fellow citizens who haven’t heard or thought much about the issue, and of course, we’ve got the fossil fuel gang still funding denial. Recent research shows that the public is primarily focused on jobs, the economy, and D.C. gridlock instead.
So, to make any headway on this issue, we will have to get a lot smarter about framing climate change problems and their solutions. For too long climate change activists and professionals have been talking to each other and to the sympathetic. It’s time to get serious about framing the issue in a way that reaches mainstream America.
Let’s start with educating the convinced about possible fixes. Years of research have shown that trying to motivate people on this issue by scaring them fails. Up-to-date framing research proves that people respond better to a “prevent damage” message than to an “avoid risk” one.(2) So, the real focus of our framing on this issue should be action to prevent more damage to our economy: who can do what, who is doing what, what is working now.(3) Americans are pragmatic, action-oriented optimists. We need to pose the climate change problem as a challenge we can all meet.
Along these lines, some language picks I’d make from the Metaphor Project’s “American Story” lists include these: being prosperous, saving money, being clean, safe, and healthy, being free, and doing it ourselves. Big political change in this country always starts with the grassroots. That bottom-up path calls on our most prized national traits –doing things in our own communities, being part of a grassroots groundswell, being innovative, pragmatic, showing can-do, rolling-up-our sleeves, helping to reinvent a new, healthier economy from the ground up. “
So much for educating the convinced about solutions. What about convincing more of our fellow citizens that the problem is real? First, we need to bear in mind the fact that most Americans are primarily extroverted sensing types—they require proof about the reality of a problem from their five senses. Climate change is a bit like cancer—it’s silent, and it’s been happening somewhere else. The warning signs are easy to miss for the average American. So be understanding of anyone who honestly seems to be unaware or incredulous. Start by talking about how much we all want a prosperous new economy. Then describe climate change as the “growing climate crisis that threatens our economy and our way of life,” because for some it may not seem like a full-fledged “crisis” yet. When we get to the moment for going into detail, we need to use stories about what’s already been happening to other Americans lately: increasing drought, mega-storms, floods, fire storms beyond anything we’ve seen before, rising sea levels, bad changes in local weather patterns and their costs. Once you get people’s ear this way, you can quickly move on to talking about suggestions for positive action. (If you encounter a Fox News denial fan, just laugh, and say, “Oh, you’ve been watching Fox News!” and then walk away laughing. Don’t stay to argue. Especially don’t argue about what the majority of scientists say. Don’t waste your energy on hardcore deniers.)
If you need to give a cause for the climate change problem, describe it as the result of too much carbon getting into our air. (To learn more about natural ways to get carbon back where it belongs in plants and in the soil, see Note 4.) Pollution is something everyone knows is dirty and bad for your health And please avoid talking about “greenhouse gases.” To the general public, greenhouses are good things that help you grow more food! (It would be nice if even the experts stopped saying “greenhouse gases” to each other too. That unfortunate metaphor inevitably slips out in public and harms the cause of reform. I like “hothouse gases” better, because it sounds more like the real thing and nasty too. Also please avoid using any evidence that relies on pictures of or references to the fate of the “environment,” or of other species of all kinds such as polar bears, penguins, etc. Avoid talking about polar and glacier melts, using charts or graphs, and talking about CO2!” Everyone who can be convinced by the means I’m criticizing here is already on board.
Now it’s time to consider our third task, which is actually quite separate from the two previous ones above. As Bill McKibben and others have pointed out, we do have to hold the carbon crooks and climate crisis deniers up for public shaming. But even when your project is shaming the fossil fuel gang, it’s vital to start and conclude with a positive vision of the clean energy world and prosperous economy we could have instead. In between these two positive notes there are a number of classic American negatives you can sound: the deniers are “telling lies and betraying the public trust.” They are on the take, they are stealing subsidy money from the taxpayers, they are sabotaging our clean energy future, they are blocking progress, they are holding our country and our economy back or hostage, and they are profiting from damaging our health, our economy, and our country. Their CEOs are blocking the dawn of a new energy age, they are criminal cons, they have gone too far, they are corrupt, and as for their ‘wait and see” strategy—do you wait until your house burns down to buy insurance? They are costing us too much. You can also warn people that everyone will soon be selling their fossil fuel stocks and moving their money into alternative energy investments, because “the carbon bubble is going to burst.” (For more about this “divestment” strategy, see www.350.org.)
So much for going negative. Always, whatever our messages or audiences might be, we must always start and end by returning to the positive: “We can do it, it will be good for us, it will prevent new damage, it will save and make money and jobs, save our health, our economy, our communities. We can improve our economy by meeting the climate change challenge!“
Let’s put powerful new American Story energy into all of our campaigns now and get the massive liftoff we so desperately need!
Susan C. Strong, Ph.D., is the Founder and Executive Director of The Metaphor Project, http://www.metaphorproject.org, and author of our new book, Move Our Message: How to Get America’s Ear. The Metaphor Project has been helping progressives mainstream their messages since 1997.
1.This fact has recently been noted in “U.S. Energy Policy: A Bridge to Nowhere,” by Bob Burnett, on Huffington Post: http://huff.to/1dxyhwA.
2. The following links provide details about the new research on framing climate change action: http://climateshiftproject.org/winning-the-conversation-framing-and-moral-messaging-in-environmental-campaigns/; http://talkingclimate.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Language-Words-and-Phrases.pdf; http://valuesandframes.org/blue-valuing-green/;
4. Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth, by Judith D. Schwartz, (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013.)
This would make Derrick Jensen breathe a sigh of relief, if that’s something Derrick Jensen ever does.
An awesome piece by Naomi Klein – “How Science is telling us all to Revolt” in the current issue of the New Statesman. This issue was edited by revolutionary comedian Russell Brand.
Basic premise: the only way to stop the insane spiral of capitalism which is destroying the planet is to get down to some serious resistance and lay our bodies on the line. Nothing else slows the pace of destruction down fast enough to make a difference for human beings and planet earth.
In the face of climate change and disruptions to the environment due to corporate predation, what’s a girl to do?
“It is time to talk about important things. Why have we come so close to the brink of extinction so carelessly and casually? Why do we still have thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert? How can humankind reclaim the commons of atmosphere, seas, biological diversity, mineral resources, and lands as the heritage of all, not the private possessions of a few? How much can we fairly and sustainably take from Earth, and for what purposes? Why is wealth so concentrated and poverty so pervasive? Are there better ways to earn our livelihoods than by maximizing consumption, a word that once signified a fatal disease? Can we organize governance at all levels around the doctrine of public trust rather than through fear and competition? And, finally, how might Homo sapiens, with a violent and bloody past, be redeemed in the long arc of time?”
Is Urban Homesteading enough? OF COURSE NOT. But is it one of a series of solutions that help us rise to the challenges of our time? OF COURSE IT IS.
Check out this article for more thoughts on conducting ourselves in the years ahead:
I recently read a great article about governance during the “long emergency”. It addresses questions of true participatory democracy, and how we might conduct ourselves in a civic way in the presence of ongoing resource shortages, economic hardship, corporate predation, et al. While not filled with simple solutions, it does clearly point in the direction of urban homesteading, and other DIY community-based solutions as one route forward.
to wit.. “Toward the end of his life, historian Lewis Mumford concluded that the only way out of [our current] conundrum is “a steady withdrawal” from the “megamachine” of technocratic and corporate control. [i.e. Urban Homesteading, and other DIY and Do It Together strategies.] He did not mean community-scale isolation and autarky, but rather more equitable, decentralized, and self-reliant communities that met a significant portion of their needs for food, energy, shelter, waste cycling, and economic support. He did not propose secession from the national and global community but rather withdrawal from dependence on the forces of oligarchy, technological domination, and zombie-like consumption. Half a century later, that remains the most likely strategy for building the foundations of democracies robust enough to see us through the tribulations ahead.
“In other words, the alternative to a futile and probably bloody attempt to forcibly redistribute wealth is to spread the ownership of economic assets throughout society. …We know that revitalization of local economies through worker-owned businesses, local investment, and greater local self-reliance is smart economics, wise social policy, smart environmental management, and a solid foundation for both democracy and national resilience.
“Simultaneously, and without much public notice, there have been dramatic advances in ecological design, biomimicry, distributed renewable energy, efficiency, ecological engineering, transportation infrastructure, permaculture, and natural systems agriculture. [THAT'S US, you guys.] Applied systematically at community, city, and regional scales, ecological design opens genuine possibilities for greater local control over energy, food, shelter, money, water, transportation, and waste cycling. (See Box 26–2.) It is the most likely basis for revitalizing local economies powered by home-grown efficiency and locally accessible renewable energy while eliminating pollution, improving resilience, and spreading wealth. The upshot at a national level is to reduce the need for government regulation, which pleases conservatives, while improving quality of life, which appeals to liberals. Fifty years ago, Mumford’s suggestion seemed unlikely. But in the years since, local self-reliance, Transition Towns, and regional policy initiatives are leading progressive changes throughout Europe and the United States while central governments have been rendered ineffective.
“One example of this approach comes from Oberlin, a small city of about 10,000 people with a poverty level of 25 percent in the center of the U.S. “Rust Belt.” It is situated in a once-prosperous industrial region sacrificed to political expediency and bad economic policy, not too far from Cleveland and Detroit. But things here are beginning to change. In 2009, Oberlin College and the city launched the Oberlin Project. It has five goals: build a sustainable economy, become climate-positive, restore a robust local farm economy supplying up to 70 percent of the city’s food, educate at all levels for sustainability, and help catalyze similar efforts across the United States at larger scales. The community is organized into seven teams, focused on economic development, education, law and policy, energy, community engagement, food and agriculture, and data analysis. The project aims for “full-spectrum sustainability,” in which each of the parts supports the resilience and prosperity of the whole community in a way that is catalytic—shifting the default setting of the city, the community, and the college to a collaborative postcheap-fossil-fuel model of resilient sustainability.
The Oberlin Project is one of a growing number of examples of integrated or full-spectrum sustainability worldwide, including the Mondragón Cooperative in Spain, the Transition Towns movement, and the Evergreen Project in Cleveland. In different ways, each is aiming to transform complex systems called cities and city-regions into sustainable, locally generated centers of prosperity, powered by efficiency and renewable energy. Each is aiming to create opportunities for good work and higher levels of worker ownership of renewably powered enterprises organized around necessities. The upshot is a global movement toward communities with the capacity to withstand outside disturbances while preserving core values and functions. In practical terms, resilience means redundancy of major functions, appropriate scale, firebreaks between critical systems, fairness, and societies that are “robust to error,” technological accidents, malice, and climate destabilization. In short, it is human systems designed in much the way that nature designs ecologies: from the bottom up.
Check out the full article. Interesting.