Diminished snowpack in US west spells trouble

Posted February 1st, 2008 in Blog 4 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

A quick post to cite an article from this morning’s Washington Post front page.

As if we didn’t know this already, a new study shows that the snowpack in the western mountains of the U.S. is diminishing and that the reason is global warming — and that this is a result of human activity.

The article, Decline in Snowpack is Blamed on Warming, by the Post’s environmental reporter Marc Kaufman, summarizes a new report from the journal Science that reveals that only human-caused global warming explains the decline.

I leave you to these links and the info in these articles, but I want to make this comment. As you know, the West has some of the fastest population growth rates in the country. This is not sustainable. Plans to divert water from other parts of the country, like the Great Lakes, are appalling in concept and also unsustainable. We already have a looming crisis along the lakes in the U.S. and Canada because of increased evaporation due to global warming and the mess the Army Corps of Engineers has made by dredging a canal in the St. Clair River that has caused the outflow of water from the three northern lakes, Superior, Huron, and Michigan, to increase.

Standing on the shores of Lake Michigan, it’s as if one can watch the water draining out to the sea.

Now here is where the issue of ecological hope comes in. Ecological despair would manifest in attempts to continue the growth pace out west by grand schemes of water diversions, more engineering of natural systems, and the continued commitment to housing and business development in a bioregion that simply cannot support it. We are going to bring multiple disasters in the not-too-distant future to the west and any place from which we try to divert water. We are also bringing disaster to all those communities that are growing like crazy and who do not have a clue what is going to happen to their lives as the water crisis looms.

We need to start appreciating the fact that these climate changes are permanent; the atmosphere is already altered. Lowering carbon emissions would save us from worse disasters, even more extreme changes, but, sadly, we are already committed to an uncertain amount of warming in a world that is already being impacted by climate change.

Ecological despair would rest in decisions to go on in this pattern of growth as if we can engineer our way out of this water crisis.

Ecological hope would manifest in decisions to stop unsustainable growth altogether. Now many will say that this would be economically disastrous for the West, which needs the growth and the development and the taxes they bring. Stop growth and prices rise quickly, terrible strains on the whole region.

Okay, put that problem up against not only the limits of nature, but what we have done to plunder the atmosphere and the environment. Which one is the worst disaster?

Do human beings have the ingenuity to change what they actually can change — economics? the economic model? a different way of organizing the human community within the limits of nature and the damage we have caused?

Ecological hope rests an awful lot on whether we can become adult about these things, grow up to face the real limits of the human being on this planet. The alternative, this adolescent “I can do anything I want,” will hasten disasters unlike anything we have seen before.

[tags] decline in snowpack, water crisis, Marc Kaufman, ecological despair, unsustainable economic growth[/tags]


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4 Responses

  1. Dave Gardner

    Margaret, you are so right in your characterization of growth-boosters as the purveyors of gloom ‘n doom. They believe we have no choice but to destroy the planet, our home, in some essential quest for ever more “prosperity.”

    It is much more optimistic to believe (or hope) that we are smart enough, responsible enough, and compassionate enough to cast off our greed and do no harm to future generations.

    Your question about whether humans have the ingenuity to change our economic model is THE question of the century. The documentary I’m producing takes a long, hard look at the norms in our society preventing us from seeing the illogic of our Ponzi growth scheme. It’s tempting to be pessimistic about our ability to get unhooked from this growth addiction. But try, we must!

    I look forward to reading more of your posts on this subject now that I’ve discovered you.

    Dave Gardner
    Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity

  2. ecologicalhope

    Dear Dave,

    If you have thoughts on the economic model that can get us out of our ecological trap, I hope you will share them here. This is a conversation we all need to have, to start imagining a different future, and then moving into it.


  3. Steve Salmony

    Dear Margaret,

    Keep going…..

    Dave Gardner is one of our true leaders. Glad to have him involved here.


  4. Steve Salmony

    The global challenges before humanity that are posed by human-designed, human-constructed and human-driven economic globalization do appear huge, little doubt of it. Voluntarily limiting human population numbers, responsibly sharing and consuming limited resources, and freely choosing restrictions of constantly expanding production capabilities are examples of the work ahead. In this effort, every human being on Earth could be asked to voluntarily exercise “human self-regulation” relative to propagation, consumption and production. If the words “We are all in this together” had never before held meaning for humanity, the moment when human beings everywhere begin actually exercising such restraints could be an occasion for invoking them. We could rather quickly come up with good and practical ideas that will surely help humanity find solutions to the challenges that appear in the offing. We have not yet given ourselves a chance to open our eyes and look at the circumstances with which we could soon come face to face. How can anyone be expected to do things differently as long as we remain riveted in the outworn belief that what we are now doing is the one and only ´right´ way to live? This one preferred way of unlimited growth of our economy, our numbers, our consumption of resources seems to have worked well until now; however, it appears vital we make necessary changes in our ways, so certain of our outdated behaviors that are expressions of continuously increasing human “over-growth” do not inadvertently put biodiversity, Earth´s environs and, perhaps, humanity in harm´s way.