Natural Systems Solutions
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Natural Systems Blog
Further Context and Rationale: The Urgency Factor
What are we going to do should the federal government come to its senses (I know, this is really a long shot) and decide that fossil fuel should only be allocated to essential services such as emergency responders and regional food distribution (and, of course, war), and a biofuel based infrastructure is not yet in place, or, much more likely, has been determined to not be feasible to support anything even approaching current consumption patterns?
What are we going to do as the flow in the Colorado River continues decreasing and the level in Lakes Mead and Powell drop below the intake pipes, and the power isn't available to either continue drawing water from a local aquifer that continues to drop 2-4 ft/yr., or to pump what can be accessed any farther into the foothills than say, the intersection of River Rd. and Swan Ave.?
What are we going to do when financial instruments that have been manufactured from nothing even as substantial as fairy dust lose their power to hold people in their addictive sway and can't even be swapped for a bag of mesquite flour?
What are we going to do when people come to their senses (some say only slightly more likely than the federal government doing so) and demand that coal fired power plants be shut down due to both the environmental devastation of mining and CO2 emissions from burning?
These are all increasingly plausible scenarios, and only the most glaringly obvious.
Top climate scientists such as NASA's James Hansen are saying that oops, our climate projections were wrong. We don't have a ten year window to institute massive changes, we now only have two years. And atmospheric CO2 doesn't have to be stabilized at 450 ppm, it has to be stabilized at 350 ppm. Oops again, we're currently at 385 ppm. A widely ignored government report came to the conclusion that conventional fossil fuel production peaked in the spring of 2005, and the Hirsch Report commissioned by the DOE in 2006 concluded that it will require 20 years to replace the fossil fuel infrastructure, whether with something renewable or not. So, oops once more, we're already three years late in embarking on that project. Add to all of this the quickly mounting evidence the global financial market is about to collapse under its own unsustainable weight and reliance on financial instruments that have no basis in physical reality--only in the growth of debt.
For the Arizona economy this all points to fewer tourists, less mobility, less disposable income, and increasingly nasty arguments over which class of water users will be cut-off first and in what amount. And our current response to all these increasingly well-known facts is -- approval of a new water theme park in the Phoenix area, 60,000 home subdivisions south of Tucson, and $22 million in public giveaways to Oro Valley's new Wal-Mart. And we wonder why people have close to zero confidence in elected officials and community leaders in safeguarding either our present security or our future.
Currently, more than a few social pundits make the claim that we're addicted to fossil fuels -- which we are. But, what we're really addicted to is growth; fossil fuels merely provide the only energy source capable of feeding that addiction at the levels we've become accustomed to, believe we're entitled to, and now assume are required as the only possible means to deliver progress and prosperity.
In moving forward to a sustainable future, we must acknowledge and plan based on all three aspects of sustainability -- environment, society, economy -- and their inextricably interrelated and interdependent relationships. While water assumes primacy in a desert ecosystem, food, housing, jobs, energy, health services, education, recreation, and a means to access these basic needs must also be considered to attain the quality of life indicators a community agrees they share and wish to maintain.
We must also acknowledge that certain global crises will not simply ignore this region in order for us to continue planning as if they either don't exist or will have somewhere between little and no impact -- that the future will simply be a bigger and shinier version of yesterday.
Some of the factors that must be taken stock of in the planning process include:
Global population will be shrinking and economic growth will be replaced by vibrant, resilient steady-state economies. Whether this is voluntary or the outcome of a forced situation emerging from collapse and chaos is greatly dependent on decisions we make today, the example we set for other municipalities, and the instructions we give to our federal legislators -- a new set of marching orders, so to speak -- based on a much more systemic view of the natural world which sustains itself by nurturing and protecting all life.
The CASI's final report may say some uncomfortable things we don't want to hear. Inconvenient truths, however, won't simply and quietly go away because they are ignored. But our options at this unique moment in human history and the development of civilization make clear that there are two broad categories of alternatives available to us. We can face the future with eyes wide open and decide our own fate, or we can have it imposed on us from external forces, either political or natural. We can be proactive in laying the foundation for the future we would most like to see, or we can be reactive to disaster, collapse, catastrophe and their attendant suffering in a future with less resources available to deal with these outcomes.
The relocalization alternatives explicitly pointed to by the CASI project all run counter to the conventional wisdom which has emerged from the assumption that force-based ranking hierarchies of power and control are natural; that financial capital and economic growth is more powerful and important in shaping human conduct -- in providing incentives and rewards -- than either the natural world or people themselves, or even the combination of the latter two. In regard to the human contribution to the global economy, it is assumed that physical labor is the only important variable; that creativity and intellectual output are mechanized and assumed to only respond to monetary or primal sexual incentives.
What the CASI project can provide for Tucson is a common foundation for the current water resource planning efforts and the upcoming general plan review. It can also provide city and county planning staff with a constitutionally legal argument to control or stop growth in the physical realm based on existing legal precedent that human health and safety trumps vested development interests, and a new framework for interpreting and enforcing the intent of most state growth management acts that municipalities are sovereign in their decision making concerning land use, zoning, and resource allocation.
The CASI also lays a foundation to begin implementation of relocalization -- the actual process to create a sustainable future based on ecological wisdom, social justice, economic equity, and participatory democracy. It helps us realize that realistic and viable individual and social responses exist for the myriad ecological, economic, social and personal crises facing the world today; together these responses could set us firmly on a path toward this future.
It does so by establishing a common understanding and shared values that can serve as input to all the other community planning processes currently underway. If a sustainable future and a vibrant, resilient economy are the true goals we must have an asset inventory to build from. But, in order to move forward on this common vision the workshops with a broad community representation are necessary in order to motivate participation and provide legitimacy for the inventory aspect of the CASI to be regarded as a legally defensible planning tool and the first step to the better world we all know is waiting for us -- and within our power to create.
If you would like to schedule an introductory consultation session or arrange a presentation or workshop for your group, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or give Dave or Allison, co-founders of Natural Systems Solutions, a call at (520) 887-2502.
"You didn't come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here."