Friday, December 17, 2004

Survey sees decline in area bird-nesting - Rochester D&C

Democrat & Chronicle:

Endless Development

A local town supervisor, speaking to the media recently about the need for more development in an already-congested suburban area, stated “We’re supposed to grow. We can’t stand still.” I suspect that this refrain is repeated endlessly in the minds of most of our community officials and those governmental bodies shaping our public policies. The imperative to endlessly expand in order to maintain a healthy economy and develop our way out of our financial troubles is taken as a given. This economic expediency we have irresponsibly evolved is forever fortified by the rapacious cries of business people who, by the very natures of their vocations, need a pyramid-scheme-like patronage to sustain their enterprises.

We must ask ourselves the plainly obvious question: Is infinite growth, defined as building buildings and parking lots and roads, a fundamental economic goal? It is a simple but profound question that too few in positions of responsibility are interested in addressing. It is the question that once asked could bare our economic model to its greatest and most critical weakness. So here is the element of the question that needs answering, and despite how uncomfortable it makes our policy makers and implementers, we must ask it if we are to hand over to our children a viable future: Is there a limit to development? Do our community planners have a line that cannot be crossed?

At what point is there enough? In the economic system that now rules our lives, and regardless of what we have learned about Nature’s limitations, is out need for development boundless? In school our children have learned from their science teachers that their environment is very fragile, subject to and constantly changed by stress. We know that biomes (lakes, streams, meadows, mountainsides, tundra, forests, oceans, and even deserts) crash when they are over stressed. Even small changes, such as the loss of a single species within a biome, can alter a specific environment sufficiently to change all life within it. The loss of a key species, the otters on the West Coast of the United States a few years ago, disrupted all the plant and animals life on the shoreline. We know that, despite our technological advances, our survival depends on clean water, land that will support agriculture, and air unpolluted enough to breathe. And, we know that our way of life has compromised every biome it has been visited upon. So, why haven’t we built limits into our way of life? Why won’t we look at the problem of sustainability square in the face? Why haven’t we collectively addressed this question?

Is there a public official able or willing to answer this question? Anyone in authority? If we could find such a brave soul, what would they say? Will he or she say, “The evolutionary processes that have been going on for three billion years, and which of course are responsible for your very existence, will just take an about turn and comply with our economic and energy needs.” I don’t think so.
There will come a point when it is obvious (these points have probably already arrived, they just are not obvious yet to those who have willingly blinded themselves) that you cannot pave an entire city, dam every stream, pour anything you want into a body of water or into the air, and have as many stores and cars as you want. Neither our planet, nor its resources, nor its ability to recover from stress, are limitless. In fact, three billion years of evolution on this planet have made it, with almost infinitely small changes along the way, what it is today. Changes, like those we have wrought upon our planet, are not simply ignored by our environment—they define it. In other words, if you create a desert because of man-induced global warming, a desert, where there was once a fertile biome, is what you have. Nature does not understand a “Whoops, I did not mean to do that.”

Even developers are going to see a day when there are no more places to develop. Unlike their political cronies who owe them favors, Nature cannot be argued with, cajoled, or influenced in any way by words. You cannot take Nature out to lunch, or bribe it, browbeat it, or spin your version of events in the media. Stress a biome beyond its capacity to recover, and it breaks down. It is as easy as ABC. Even the most reluctant community will notice hospitals overflowing with outbreaks of disease, farmers who can no longer grow food, and a rapid rise in cancer rates from an industry that has left behind its waste. The only thing that is without limits in our environment is man’s desires and ability to avoid anything that detracts from those desires–that is, of course, until the walls come crashing down around him.

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