A Brand New Kind of West

In 1878, John Wesley Powell submitted A Report on Arid Lands to the U.S. Congress. In it he proposed that land grants to settlers in the arid lands of the country be determined by the geology and physiology of the land. That may seem perfectly logical to modern readers, but in that time, myths about the productivity of the land dominated over reality. Manifest Destiny was a locomotive roaring across the lands of the west.

Powell’s ideas were based on science, as Wallace Stegner, in his brilliant biography of Powell’s service to the U.S., Beyond the 100th Meridian, dramatically illustrates.

NPR’s 2003 Program on The Vision of John Wesley Powell

Powell proposed that tracks of land for raising cattle or sheep be 2, 250 square acres, and irrigable land for farming be only 80 acres with water rights. Both of these proposals were based on the aridity and productivity of landscapes in the west which, for grazing, required much more than the 160 acres provided in the Homestead Act to find enough water sources for animals to thrive. He also demonstrated that the productivity of desert soils with the addition of water required only 80 acres–all one farmer and his family could reasonably manage.

Had government agencies deeding land to settlers west of the 100th meridian used scientific reasoning, we would have a different west today. As we did not, most of the settlers who obtained 160 acre allotments soon failed. Their land was not returned to the U.S. lands in public trust but rather it went to the banks who financed farmers production. Powell points out that the Homestead Act resulted in millions of acres of public lands going to corporations. Again, using scientific research Powell busted another popular American myth.

Powell further proposed that the government require land owners planning to use a given water source, such as a river, be required to form an irrigation district made up of nine potential land owners, to demonstrate they could successfully share the water over a three year period before obtaining title and water rights.  He based his recommendation on successful models of the Mormons in Utah and Spanish land owners of New Mexico Territory with their ejidos resource commons.

Science was the basis of Powell’ prescience regarding the development of the western lands of the U.S.  Today, science must help major Southwestern cities and regions rethink how to manage water among themselves. We will not be able to return to zero, but we can try to develop policies today that fit the landscape.

For the entire history of water development in the west, science has not dominated decision making but rather economics. Millions of Americans now live in cities where a reliable source of water is threatened, and millions of acres of agricultural lands, supporting American households and the world are on the brink of collapse due to long term drought conditions projected to last hundreds of years.

What kind of thinking and planning will be required to move us in the direction of a sustaining system for water usage in the West? How will our economic models need to change to run concurrent with the physical realities of the land and resources we wish to use?

Who Owns the Water, Air, and the Land?

As the people gather in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, and the voices of Native American and justice activists are heard, I want to consider the issue at hand as fundamentally a land ethic issue.

Energy Transfer Partners and Dakota Access LLC are in the process of hooking up an extended pipeline that will connect existing crude oil pipeline to a tunnel pipeline to shunt crude oil to Illinois. The tunnel pipeline is planned to go underneath the Missouri River, and Lake Oahe–near the point where the Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s reservation uses the water for drinking water and irrigation. They are a poor nation whose water infrastructure is aging and constructed in such a manner that if a leak were to occur, it would essentially shut down the water supply for the people at Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Read More: dakota-pipeline-article from Inside Climate News.

The truth is that water, land, wildlife and people can not be owned. Each has the inalienable right to exist free by virtue of our common creation. What we can do is equitably share and protect resources to ensure that all people and wildlife have basic needs fulfilled within the limits of the land to provide them. In other words, human needs have to work within the ecological ability of the land and waters to provide them. This requires an ecological awareness.

Aldo Leopold advanced a land ethic in his writing, as he grew in his understanding of what a community really is:

Leopold understood that ethics direct individuals to cooperate with each other for the mutual benefit of all. One of his philosophical achievements was the idea that this ‘community’ should be enlarged to include non-human elements such as soils, waters, plants, and animals, “or collectively: the land.”  Aldo Leopold Foundation

Should the Energy Transfer Partners and the Dakota Access Pipeline operation have the right to build a pipeline underneath Lake Oahe and near the Missouri River that flows past the land  of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation? And will flow through four states and other communities?

The 1134-mile pipeline will carry 500,000 gallons of crude oil each day to Illinois. Seventeen banks stand to profit and are advancing money to make it happen.

Three U.S. agencies warned against it, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used a corporate report from Dakota Access Pipeline to rule in favor of the construction. After a federal judged ruled in favor of the pipeline going forward, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Interior, and the Army together enacted a stay on that decision so that the EPA can reassess the original assessment of its safety.

As climate change impacts the world, should our society support continued drilling and transportation of crude oil to be burned and thereby increase warming of the planet and acidification of oceans? Of course not.

In the Southwest, where access to precious water will bring municipalities, tribal nations, corporate interests, and the U.S. government into negotiations over water rights, what values and ethics will we use to determine who gets what?

It is a question we must answer now.

Read about the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline

 

Why My Characters’ Zip Code Matters

Teenager_Boy_clip_art_mediumEnrique, a youth living in Tucson’s poorest neighborhood, begins his life with “the cards” stacked against realization of his dreams. Caught in a web of drug traffickers who recruit disadvantaged youth in his barrio, he navigates each day as one in a war zone with the goal to survive between sun up and sun down. Yet like each of us, he has innate potential that, under supporting circumstances, can change his life.

On the back stoop in the alleyway, he lit a cigarette, drawing deeply, breathing out a cloud, letting the afternoon sun warm his chest and arms. His thoughts turned to friends who had joined Bloods Southwest. He decided to talk to Pepe tomorrow at school. Then he went back inside to do his math homework. At least he could work numbers with no problem. He liked that math was governed by rules that never changed, and when he sought answers, he could always work them out.                                                ~ Threshold (2016), Fireship Press, Tucson, AZ

Research shows that a person’s zip code predicts how healthy they will be, how long they may live, what degree they may earn in school, and the size of their pay check. Your zip code can predict your chance of being obese, asthmatic, a drug addict or alcoholic, whether your baby is likely to be born prematurely or with a disability — and even how likely it is that you will live past age 5.

Where you live is a powerful determinant of your life outcomes. What’s more, your zip code may determine how resilient you can be as climate change advances.

How can we end this terrible injustice? Read Threshold to learn how characters find solutions.

 

The Fate of Jaguars: Juma and Duma

Jaguar SilhouetteThe  Olympic Games in Brazil may be remembered most for the list of woes it has accumulated as Rio 2016 approaches the August games. Now the death of a jaguar has cast a longer shadow over the event.

Images of a jaguar in a heavy metal collar and chains as the Olympic flame was passed from one runner to the next were quickly followed by news of the animal’s death. Juma, a 17-year old jaguar born into captivity at a zoo on a military base, was apparently brought out to provide a dramatic image at the Olympic ceremony. When he escaped and approached a soldier, he was shot and killed. As the public learned of Juma’s death. it caused worldwide outrage.

In my novel, Threshold, Duma is a jaguar born in the Sky Islands–mountain ranges that span the U.S. – Mexico border. He wanders into an area near Nogales, Arizona where surrounding cattle and sheep ranches lure him closer to human settlements. Duma is sighted and captured. Readers follow him from one facility to another while his fate is determined.

The role of zoos and aquariums is being reconsidered as the public is less comfortable with animals on exhibit. Is there a new role for zoos in the 21st century?

Research with dolphins, grey parrots, chimpanzees, and elephants, among others, show these fellow earthlings share similar life’s experiences as humans do. The movie Blackfish which revealed the stresses on killer whales in captivity, and the recent killing of Harambe, a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, are just two recent examples that have furthered discussions about our responsibilities to the animals we love to see at zoos and enjoy knowing may still inhabit natural areas.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, an AZA accredited institution, is one of several settings in Threshold. As the story unfolds, readers learn that climate change is causing stress on animals and keepers alike. The Desert Museum is a leader in care and exhibition of animals for public education.                                     Explore ASDM’s website and publications to learn more.

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT THE ROLE OF ZOOS AND AQUARIUMS. POST YOUR COMMENTS ON THIS POST.

Update: Here is the latest in a discussion at the Center for Humans and Nature:

Zoos as Gateways

The Internet: A Force for Good

My Sunday “church: is OnBeing.org, moderated by Krista Tippet. The program examines the questions, What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live, by interviewing the greatest thinkers, religious leaders, and artists of our time.

This week’s guest is Tiffany Schlain creator of the Webby Awards and prolific film maker.  The programGrowing Up on the Internet, examines how the Internet is changing us. Schlain asserts:

The Internet connects us like neurons in the brain. It is in its infancy and we are its parents; how it “grows up” – its character – is up to us. (Paraphrased by me from the discussion. )

This interview and the film below left me more hopeful that humankind can beat the odds, and make the climate curve together if we shape the Internet intentionally creating a global brain that acts as a force for good.

*Purchase or rent the film here: Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death, and Technology Online.  Film home.

Ecopoetics and Anne Waldman

Pensacola is blessed with many strong writers and poets. The West Florida Literary Federation leads the region in advancing the creative spirit. That includes supporting a Poet Laureate. Jamey Jones is the current Poet Laureate in Residence. He and the Federation brought my attention to Anne Waldman.

That I had never heard of Anne is both a testament to my ignorance and to the important role of the Federation in enriching individual artists’ and the public’s experiences in the arts.

From CNN - http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/08/living/manatee-endangered-species-feat/
From CNN – http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/08/living/manatee-endangered-species-feat/

Check out Anne’s moving Manatee Humanity. Her reading introduced me to the potential of poetry to advance understanding and compassion for a fellow mammal.

Anne talks about an encounter with a manatee in an aquarium in Florida.  In other interviews on her website, Waldman describes Ecopoetics, a term I had never read.  While you are on Waldman’s website, click around to listen to other performances. You are in for a treat and a powerful force for good. There is nothing ambivalent about Anne.

More:

The Eye of the Falcon

Living Dangerously

Fish and Wildlife Photo: www.fws.gov
Fish and Wildlife Photo: http://www.fws.gov

“We are living dangerously by not being able to change in a time of climate change.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams

To the Best of Our Knowledge broadcast an interview with Terry Tempest Williams. Here she talks about researching and writing her soon to be released book (The Hour of Land) on the history of our public parks, in this the centennial year of the founding of the National Parks.

Here is the interview.

For a look at how Terry relates to our public lands and actualizes her beliefs, here is a short interview with her on Democracy Now where she describes buying more than 1700 acres of public lands in a rather private sale of public land for oil leasing where an acre costs about a $1.50 for the right to drill and keep the profits. She is redefining “energy” in how she intends to explore these public lands. This is a very enlightening and motivating example of what one person can do to stop the destruction of critical, sacred habitat.

http://www.democracynow.org/2016/2/18/keep_it_in_the_ground_author

How Quickly We Forget

FreedomThe cries for boots on the ground in Syria, for retribution, and a growing “fear of other” are not new. In fact it is a predictable response to perceived threats to Americans.

I remember so well the face of George W. Bush as he declared “Mission Accomplished” after the first few rounds of that administration’s “Shock and Awe” campaigns. Did it make Iraq safe, did it stamp out terrorism? Is Al Quaeda wiped out?

No, in fact the opposite is true, and many analysts now target the Iraq War as the beginning of the rise of ISIS.

Another pernicious behavior among Americans is the “fear of the other” – of anyone perceived to not look like “us”…us being white, Anglo-Saxon, Christian immigrants. Americans are and never were of that description though the people in power for so long could be described that way. Of course, over nearly 3 centuries of grieving their rights, Americans begrudgingly are accepting that the “face” of the United States is multi-ethnic, and religiously diverse.

Let us not forget these ugly facts that are a part of our history: genocide of Native Americans; enslavement and persecution of African Americans; internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, and so on.

Now the cry is to keep out Syrian refugees who might harbor terrorists. The fear is understandable in light of the bombing of a Russian jet, killing all aboard; the Paris shootings and slaughter, and the Beirut attacks on civilians — all claimed by ISIS as retribution for our way of life. This is a threat no doubt. But let it not push away our better angels to respond in an equal force, BECAUSE WE HAVE RECENTLY BEEN REMINDED THAT THE STRATEGY DOES NOT WORK, IN FACT IT CREATES WHAT IT PURPORTS TO STAMP OUT.

This is a time for calm, for prudent decision making and for our humanity to be strengthened. The Syrian refugees are fleeing the forces that have destroyed their homeland. Just as the Irish fled to America under the brutal oppression of the English in the nineteenth century. Our relatives were refugees fleeing from brutal forces, poverty, and oppression. Let us not forget who we are and extend a helping hand to people who are without country, without the basic resources to live.

We can keep our humanity and also keep our country safe.

STOP – THINK – CONSIDER!

 

 

A Prophet for All Seasons

This film about Aldo Leopold’s life and the development of his thinking about our relationship with land is a true gem. I could not find when it was created, however, the people interviewed are his biographers and scientists who knew and worked with Leopold. It was shown on Wisconsin Public TV. A special treat is narration by Lorne Greene best remembered as “Pa” on Bonanza.

The film gives viewers an in depth history about Aldo Leopold’s life and how his ideas about The Land Ethic evolved over his lifetime.

WATCH EARLY THIS YEAR TO SET YOUR COMPASS TOWARD TRUE NORTH.

E.F. Schumacher – Why We Need Him Now

E. F. Schmacher, British Economist best known to the U.S. public in the 1970’s with publication of Small is Beautiful and Small is Possible, developed economic models based on scale. His basic idea: past a particular size, true profit declines and true costs rise – thus the title “Small is Beautiful.”

He also clarified that shared ownership of the means of production is key to equitable distribution of wealth and development of healthy communities.

The New Economic Institute (previously the E.F. Schumacher Society) includes several excellent videos and articles by new economics thinkers and teachers. Go to the link and take time to listen or read. These visionaries describe likely scenarios about where our cultures and global community are moving with economic collapse around the world and with climate changes continuing to play havoc with community resiliency.

Profitability as the sole goal of corporate behavior is addressed by Neva Goodwin, Tufts University.  She discusses Walmart’s discovery that being ecologically responsible is profitable. However, her discussion is realistic about the kind of deep change that is necessary and how the likelihood of many people being harmed again by corporate excesses is predictable.  She offers a way to use corporate charters to shape corporate behavior. Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is a group she cites that is using a new community led strategy that creates municipal ordinances.  These ban corporate control of land, water, and other natural resources that are critical to life and health.  How can we make money and profits flow to the most responsible companies that protect human and ecological well being? Many examples of new economic structures are described using real companies that ARE making a profit while doing good in society.