Imagine if the tap was turned off to California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona. We aren’t there yet, but the situation inched a bit closer in August when the Bureau of Reclamation announced they would be reducing releases from Lake Powell to Lake Mead to historically low levels. Take a look at the astonishing photos on the Weather.Com website, especially photos 14 and 15 in the slide show series, if you want to understand the magnitude of the situation.
We had a severe drought last in 2002; back then researchers were starting to understand that the West has seen mega-droughts before. If you believe that history can illuminate the present, you might want to read Craig Child’s book, House of Rain, as he takes us on a journey through pre-history on the Colorado plateau to explore some possible answers to the fate of the people who lived here before us and how long-term droughts changed their lives forever. It’s a sobering story.
The reason for the Artic Sea Ice Death Spiral is apparent when you look at the continuing upwards march of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, as reported in early May by Andrew Revkin.
Truly depressing news, eh? Is anybody listening? Are we all doomed? It’s time for some good news, something that gives a little bit of hope.
Apparently, young people don’t drive as much, anymore; the bloom is off American’s love affair with cars and this can only be a good thing. Researchers believe this is a stable, long-term reduction in miles driven that started in 2005, before the beginning of the Great Recession. People age 16 – 34 have reduced average miles driven by 23% from the 2005 peak. Even higher income young people are driving less, evidence that this is a behavioral choice unrelated to the cost of gas.
We can only hope for more good news as the world changes.
The journal Nature published a commentary on March 21 that argues for a new way of thinking about sustainability, with the traditional three pillars of economy, environment, and society instead conceptualized as a nested set, as in the illustration below.
“As the global population increases towards nine billion people sustainable development should be seen as an economy serving society within Earth’s life support system, not as three pillars,” says co-author Dr. Priya Shyamsundar from the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics, Nepal.
Is the three pillars of sustainability model outdated and no longer serving us? We find ourselves often struggling to fully integrate our own thinking – humans are categorizers, a trait that has served us well throughout history up until recent times. But now it is obvious that even our conception of sustainability has been flawed and does not reflect reality.
We find ourselves still struggling to convince people that the economy and environment are not in conflict and that the economy should be designed for human well-being. Perhaps with this new concept, thinking will begin to shift.
“Ultimately, the choice of goals is a political decision. But science can inform what combination of goals can achieve a sustainable future. And science can identify measurable targets and indicators,” said Dr Stafford Smith.
At the Council for Watershed Health, we believe that identifying and tracking measurable goals is vital to achieving that sustainable future. These new Sustainable Development Goals and the conceptual model should be adopted to advance “The Future We Want.”
A few Sundays ago I was approached by a young girl who wanted to do a science fair project. She thought maybe she could test the water in the creak near her house. She was going to look at the water under a microscope and compare what she saw to tap water. I suggested a few refinements, including expanding her testing beyond critters in the water to some water chemistry, like temperature and pH, and observing the biological and physical environment of the creek.
In that moment, I saw a future creek monitor. I imagined this energetic girl, who had already had success raising money to purchase and preserve 8 acres of wildlands near her house, as the leader of a cadre of young volunteers, keeping track of the health of the forest and streams above her neighborhood.
I imagined her in a life of volunteerism. I volunteered as a young girl, too, doing good, taking care of my world. And maybe that is why I am an optimist and lifelong volunteer who works to make things better. Volunteering reverses the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that plague us as we grow from youth to adulthood. It gives people a sense that they make their own communities. Volunteers are no longer passive receivers of the “government” but citizens. In this way, we make our communities whole. In this way, we keep our governments honest. In this way, we chose our future.
The Elmer Paseo is all but complete – we still have some finishing touches to add so it won’t be officially open until the new year. For all of you stormwater geeks, following is a photo essay showing how to create a clean water alley.
The Infiltration Trench and the Bio-swale. These two main features needed to be constructed simultaneously and included some challenging logistics. Down the center of the Paseo, the construction crew excavated a 4 foot deep trench which exposed the sandy native soil that is ideal for infiltrating water. Next they had to apply a layer of clean sand to help maintain consistent infiltration the entire length of the trench.
To protect the adjacent properties from water migrating toward their properties, workers installed an impervious liner along both sides of the existing wall, creating a funnel of sorts to direct water toward the open bottom trench.
Next, workers backfilled the 4’ deep trench with rough angular gravel, which creates voids or gaps between the rocks which allow water to collect and flow through the gravel to the bottom of the trench where it will infiltrate to the native soil. Smooth rocks will ‘lock’ together, preventing the formation of voids and gaps for water to collect.