Saving space, place, and nature's grace

“The land at our doorstep provides the starting point for developing an affection for the earth, which is a necessary foundation for living respectfully within the confines of our planet.” - Chris Url

by Robert T. Nanninga

t has been so beautiful of late, I can find very little to bitch about. Clear blue skies are a tonic to my battered psyche in ways even I don't understand. Insane traffic, utilitarian corruption, and uptight neighbors can't spoil the pleasure of the start of another Southern Californian summer. As things go, we have it good. Real good.

    At Scenic House, we have the pleasure of sharing space with many other species. Life is happening around us much like the Discovery Channel. Granted, I don't particularly enjoy living in an ant colony, but the blue heron eating the goldfish out of the pond was kind of cool. The bees that set up a hive in the front yard are being regulated by a pair of hungry skunks, and the birds in the backyard are dining on the bugs, that are dining on the plants. Leucadia rocks.

    Living in an idyllic place comes with a certain amount of responsibility. Stewardship is both a matter of principle and survival, with responsibility to place being an extension of care for the community and the community of life that supports it. Sadly, stewardship has been relegated to an afterthought in our quest to make the planet more livable. When our neighbors asked us to remove the bees, we just pointed to the flowers and chuckled. They, however, were not amused.

    Tragically, efforts to improve the human condition are actually achieving the opposite. Sea walls delay the inevitable, zoos are holding pens on the road to extinction, and alternative energy sources are just a way to continue our consumptive ways. We try to justify our actions with claims of progress, economics, or entitlement, but the fact remains, the only thing being improved is the probability of systemic catastrophe.

    I recently read an article on the conservation of place in Adbusters magazine. “In Defense of Anywhere,” by David Ehrenfeld, perfectly stated that conservation must begin at home if anywhere is to be saved. How can we expect to save rain forests in Brazil when we are willing to sacrifice chaparral of California? As earth stewards, we must be committed to actively protecting what's left. With each pass of the bulldozer, sustainability becomes less certain. As a culture, we must embrace this as an irrefutable truth.

    One would think that humans, being the smart monkeys they pretend to be, would be more concerned about protecting the biological health of their immediate environs, as opposed to ecosystems half a world away. For the most part, that person would be wrong. In America, we have decided the “natural” world is somewhere you go, not somewhere you live. Americans would rather profit from the destruction of local habitats and then send a small portion of the money to protect wildlife somewhere else. That way, there is somewhere to go on vacation.

    Here is Southern California, the meager attempts at mitigating environmental damage have proven to be futile. Last week, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report stating that the country is losing valuable wetlands because mitigation efforts are failing. In other words, our lagoons and estuaries cannot be replaced, nor can the riparian habitats which have managed to survive the onslaught of suburban sprawl.

    The endgame is upon us. As we clear-cut the remaining hillsides of native species to make room for tract homes and strip malls, we are destroying the once-vibrant ecosystem of Southern California. This self-sustaining biotic community is being replaced with an orgy of nonnative species, dependent on humans and an imported water supply, for continued existence.

    When the water dries up, as we all know it will, what will be left? Certainly not the plant and animal species best suited to endure limited rainfall and Santa Ana winds they were removed to improve the aesthetics of our region. Sadly, the coastal communities are no longer known for their natural splendor. Instead, we have the dubious pleasure of being known as the land of seawalls and sandless beaches.

    If we are to leave anything to future generations, our task is to reverse the trend that distinguishes between human communities and natural habitat. The paradigm that has allowed for such a division is failing in ways most refuse to comprehend. Although choices maybe few, and opportunity dwindling, restoring the natural order is still possible. The question is: are we willing to admit our mistakes and correct them?

    Robert Nanninga is a free-lance writer, producer and environmental journalist. A native of Vista living in Leucadia, he Chairs San Diego ZPG, as well as representing coastal North County on the Green County Council.