Friday, July 30, 2010

An Eaarthly Civilization

Welcome to An Eaarthly Civilization. In this inaugural post, I suppose I should give a little explanation. What do I mean by a title like that? Well, I'll get to that. First, I want to let you know that I'm writing from Lancaster County, PA. I intend to write about the impacts of peak oil, climate change, and economic collapse -- basically, what it means to be well past the limits to growth -- and their impacts on my home. I will also write about efforts now underway to build resilience in the face of these impacts. In doing so, I will make repeated references to national and global trends, but always with an eye towards the impact of those trends on Lancaster County. However, that will only represent a portion of the postings you'll find on this blog. Many more will be about specific, Lancaster-centric goings-on. This is a very new sort of project for me. I've been a writer in one capacity or other for most of my life, but never have I attempted to produce a blog -- an ongoing, persistent account of the world as I see it. Well, nevertheless. I hope you enjoy it, and find value in it. I should also mention that I am a co-founder of Transition Lancaster (TL), which is part of an international movement to transition off our deadly addiction to fossil fuels, which is becoming ever more urgent. You can reach me, in my capacity as a member of TL's Initiating Group, through TransitionLancaster(at)gmail(dot)com. Without further ado... Anyone who has read Bill McKibben's Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, knows we're in for a tough ride. The old Earth we all grew up on -- the Earth that humanity itself grew up on -- is gone. It has been replaced by Eaarth (you've got to let your inner-Schwarzenegger out to pronounce that correctly). The details of this new Eaarth are one thing this blog will be exploring -- primarily as they relate to Lancaster, but also as they affect the broader planet we all call home. You see, despite the fact that, on average, we're living as if we've got another planet to move to once this one's all used up (and despite physicist Stephen Hawking's declaration that we need to colonize a new one fast to avert inevitable extinction), I think it's fair to say that Earth -- or Eaarth -- is the only planet we've got, and the only one we're ever likely to have, so we had better get used to the rules around here. One of those rules is: don't shit where you sleep. Now, we think we're following that rule when we take a dump in a pot of drinking water and flush it directly into the Conestoga River, but the cascading effects of that action prove we're fooling ourselves. For example, the Conestoga drains in the Susquehanna, which drains into the Chesapeake Bay, which now has the full force of the EPA behind its cleanup. I have it on fairly good authority that the EPA takes it none too kindly that we have the habit (in Lancaster City) of dumping around one billion gallons of raw sewage into the Conestoga every year. You shouldn't, either. Another example of shitting where you sleep is our nasty habit of converting ancient decayed plant matter (fossil fuels) into carbon dioxide, among other things. We treat the atmosphere as a trash dump, and one of the consequences is a rapidly warming planet. According to a recent report of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the effects of that warming is that 1/3 of all counties in the US are likely to face increasing drought and water shortages in the years ahead. Lancaster County is expected to face "high risk" of water shortages. Good thing we're crapping in that water. One last note before I end this first post. I just read about a new study in the journal Nature, in which it has been learned that, since 1950, phytoplankton in the oceans have declined 40%. For anyone that knows anything about the global ecosystem -- the biosphere -- a decline of 40% in phytoplankton is, frankly, terrifying. The whole marine food chain -- which means most of the terrestrial food chain, too -- is dependent on phytoplankton. This is in addition to the increasing acidification of the oceans, the projected collapse of every major fish species by 2050 and, of course, lest we forget, or recent forays in disposing of oil and natural gas into the Gulf of Mexico. I strayed a bit beyond where I intended to go with this first post. But I'm trying to make the point that civilization itself is about to undergo a radical change, whether we like it or not. The reason for that is that the most basic thing that civilization -- and we, as people -- depend upon is the stability of the biosphere. Since modern, industrial civilization has specialized in nothing so much as undermining that stability, change is surely afoot. In this blog, I will explore those changes, what they portend, how we can adapt, and what may still be done to avert the worst of the impending calamities that hang over our heads like the sword of Damocles.