Fatalism, Realism and Survival in the Anthropocene  081110

There is no more important discussion in Sierra County today than the environment.  It comes up in discussions of stream setbacks, Timber Production Zones, cattle in the valley, tourism; one might say that in discussion, the “environment is all around us.”

We are in the “earth age” of the Anthropocene, just coming out of the Holocene.  The concept of Anthropocene, or “human geologic era” was coined by Paul Crutzen, Nobel Prize winning atmospheric chemist.  Essentially, it means that in this age, humans are sculpting the globe.

The Reach of Humans: Earth from space at night, from HERE 

Species are going extinct at a higher rate now than at almost any time in earth’s history; it’s being called the “sixth great extinction” by some (go HERE  )  
There really is no corner of the earth, sea or sky that is free of human interference.   The most remote places on earth are scarred by mining, over grazing, over harvesting of wild life.  The more people there are, and the more poor they are, the more their impact on the planet.  

There are thousands of animals and plants which are extinct except for a few protected populations.  This is not the same as an environment, and is more akin to keeping a thousand plates spinning on slender, brittle sticks.

Not a real environment

Likewise, our belated, desperate attempts to save pristine places are valiant, but vain.  Independence Lake is an example.  It is very unlikely that IL will go even another five years without an aquatic invasive species, maybe even a mollusk.  Even if there are no invasive species, the lake will still be subject to environmental stresses.  The average Sierra County cousin might debate global warming, but climatologists do not debate it, for them it is a matter of “how soon and how bad” instead of “if”.  Warming of only a few degrees will dramatically effect IL and all our lakes.  Acid rain hasn’t gone away, it’s still made in cities and deposited in the mountains.  

Look Familiar?  Acid Rain, from WIKI

Indeed, all of the success stories of the world, the pockets of old growth, isolated Edens, even the world’s deserts, are still slowly degrading, only the pace has changed.  
And, as these places disappear, the people and ways of them also disappear.  Not only animals are going extinct, so are people and especially their languages.  Where do they go?  People go to the cities, where power and money are, and the languages stay to die.

While Crutzen calls this extinction the beginning of the Anthropocene, a more accurate description would be the Urbanocene.  It isn’t simply people that are driving the world into a new epoch, it is their behavior in cities.  

This over crowding is so apparent that Stephen Hawking has called for humans to flee earth.  He cites over population and political upheaval as good reasons to leave the planet altogether.

What about Sierra County?  Our rural areas have become the “commons” for our urban neighbors.  We can be enlisted as minor caretakers, if we’ll accept direction from above, or we can go extinct.  Either way, we’ll do what we do from “clusters” of “rural” people.

Some day, the tide will turn, our population will drop, the earth will recover. It could be dramatic climate change, or a rampant disease, or an asteroid, or perhaps we’ll deplete our resources and disappear, as the Easter Islanders did.  

Until then, those of us who are rural will have to work to avoid becoming superfluous because of our numbers, which, by definition, are small.  There is no reason we should bear an unfair portion of the burden of change, no reason we should watch the mountains for nothing.

It’s so much larger than a battle between environmentalists and landowners, much more complicated than that discussion can frame.  It’s about survival, and evolution, and our ability to conceptualize the problem and act on our own behalf.  Indians of the Amazon organize and hire attorneys; that’s what we need to do, too.

Stephen Hawking,
CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA.  He says: You guys should get off earth, it's over crowded!

The next 49ers will overcrowd the next planet, too, that's no solution.
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