Wednesday, November 16, 2005

After a year, thor_progeny web log hasn't caught on, and it has become more of a burden than a privilege or something I enjoy. I write every day, but fiction is easier for me. So thanks for reading, to those who did.

NPR reports that the number of grizzlies in the Yellowstone area has "tripled" since they were placed on the endangered species list (as threatened), but neglects to mention that there are still only 600 of them when it talks of their removal from that maligned roll call of human folly. Time Magazine may place Mother Nature as its "Man of the Year," but not because of its beauty or shredded interconnectedness. Because of bad weather that destroyed some manmade things.

It would be encouraging if people took an interest in their environment, reached out to the world that surrounds them (or once did), but it may be too late. People walk around looking down into their cell phones, punching numbers, seeing if that pic worked, watching tv shows, listening to music instead of birds (instead of traffic); they are focused on the foreground of man and technology, and the intricacies of the wild are left to schoolchildren and field trips, rare geologists and biologists who inevitably schill for corporate donors (or bosses), even against their intentions: "Save this poor acreage here, and you can develop all the rest." The world is not about rare butterflies and snakes; but these are the details that in concert create a vivid orchestra; we are down to solos and not even complete sonatas, now...down to measures, notes, and one day, silence.

Quiet photographs of Yellowstone National Park in October. What's left.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Congress has once more scrapped "plans" to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It's the standard shampoo drill: Wait three months, propose ANWR exploration again, sneak it into some unrelated bill, raise hell to defeat it, repeat.

When the whole continent looked like this, before the attack of progress and colonialism and then of mass production, it seemed endless and immutable. Traveling this far took months or more, and by the time you got there, you had to go back or freeze your tuckus. And a lot of proponents of extracting the miniscule amount of petroleum under the ground use the area's remoteness as a cynical reason to chuck environmental studies. All these people making their phones ring off the hook will never live to see the place. What are they so upset about? In the 1800s, when a small group of crazy men tried to save sections of the West from exploitation, the "leaders" in Washington felt the same way. Who cares what happens way out there? It's not worth saving. They had to drag Presidents and dignitaries--in other words, people like you and me--all the way out into the wasteland to prove that it wasn't simply expendable, that it had true value and that protecting ecoysystems and monuments not only bestowed the inheritors of our country a stock of national treasures, but made the U.S. a truly benevolent country concerned about natural posterity.

It is true that the majority of Americans will never see the pristine Alaskan Arctic coast--that is, the small section that has been left undeveloped in the entire Arctic circle--and most will never hear its silence interrupted by the howl of wolves or the roar of grizzlies, a running herd of caribou. They won't feel the cool summer air, pure and clean as any on earth; they won't enjoy the flowers in August or feel the permafrost under their hiking shoes. I won't. But even if I were blind and deaf and unable to smell a skunk, I would know it was there. I would know that some small sliver of the Earth far from all this so-called civilization remained vibrant and open and that some day, maybe, it would inspire a revitalization of wilderness where I live. It existed once. It would be a shame to say the same thing of the entire world.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Update: They chose wisely.

Today in California, voters, meaning a scarce amount of people with time on their hands, will decide on issues in the "costliest election" in state history. Much of the ballot measures have to do with the speciously elected governor and his desire to gain control over how and where money is spent. Local measures include proposals to ban guns in San Francisco or, in Orange County, to shift a nickel from the police to the fire department -- things one would hope elected representatives could take care of on their own.

Another measure, however, could change the course of state geographical history by giving real estate developers a bold political precedent. This is how democracy works these days; a semi-educated populace, knowing it will lose the view it has grown accustomed to since it moved into its own new suburb, chooses whether to allow sprawl to continue up the hill. Developers pretend to care about the environment by cozying up to the cause--in appearance only--claiming that building a neighborhood run by solar power will "help" the state. Of course adding solar panels to existing communities would prove far more advantageous than breaking new ground on yet another abandoned "ranch," but that is not part of the argument.

These damned ranches in California, created by a so-called Mexican government that lasted less than 30 years, and by the Spanish land grants before that, divvied up by California settlers after 1850 and inherited for a century until the population began to exponentially devour every acre, have made urban planning a virtual impossibility. Only court fights and injunctions prevent the exploitation of every inch of available real estate, and the non-mountainous swaths John Muir didn't manage to save, owned by families-turned-corporations, get parceled off into the tiniest slivers so people can live out the American dream. Wise to this, voters in Livermore can choose whether to be conservationists for real...or in name only. To be sure, if they choose to prevent the development, they will be back next year putting a stop to it again.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

It took about 100 years of industrialization in America to figure out that the cavalier attitude of miners and millers and loggers, et al, grouped with the belching pipes of their factories, had coarsely scored away most of what made this continent appealing in the first place. It was a realization that came so late as to make it almost irrelevant, and to this day--despite an overage of evidence--the money lenders and moneymakers argue to the contrary with the cynical line that humans are clever people who will figure out a way around the dearth of open space, oxygen and clean water that remains.

While the U.S. still struggles to define what is "resource" and what is in need of protection, our culture continues to consume far in excess of what we actually need or can even use. By moving almost all manufacturing and even some "extraction" offshore--much of it to our sort-of enemy/most-favored-trade partner, China--we have created a situation where we don't make our own mobile phones or even our own toothbrushes. And we have given a Communist dictatorship on the other side of the planet the opportunity to provide our government loans to pay off the interest on our exponentially accumulating debts.

Yet the up-and-coming Chinese say they remain thirsty. The 3,500-year-old nation's enormous human population is one part of the problem; but there is also the widely known but rarely mentioned scandalous shortsightedness of over-eager urban and economic growth without regard for the environment, a crisis egged on by American gluttony. Though in 2005 we rely on China to manufacture our socks and undies, our trinkets and toys, our batteries and armchairs--almost everything--we have yet to make arrangements for when that country's disorganized folly overdoses in, say, 2016, and collapses because of its defiant unrestraint. Despite large fears that America's "only" superpower status might give way to the Reds within a decade, where we go, they go... We can't buy Happy Meals forever. Nor can we ignore the ecological concerns of our providers, especially since we refuse to resolve our own.