Time to build a stronger house, pigs
October 28, 2007
The southeast U.S. is in the grip of a severe drought. Atlanta’s Lake Lanier is at historic low levels. The response of the entire Georgia Congressional delegation has been to submit legislation amending the federal Endangered Species Act to restrict water flowing downstream (to Alabama and Florida), which has been protecting endangered sturgeon and mussels under pre-existing agreements.
Last time the historic drought was in the southwest U.S., Lake Powell dropped to historic low levels. That drought lasted four years and, in some areas of the southwest, has not abated. The conflict between people and species is as old as the biblical story of Noah. There are numerous arguments, none of which are completely persuasive, regarding the proper balance between man’s use of resources and the survival of animals and plants with which we co-inhabit the planet. Some justify their positions with economic, religious or scientific arguments. But, there is one common thread. Droughts have been a part of our planet’s history since humans have been around. Human use of land and resources is simply not consistent with climatological realities. Our planning horizons, typically 20 to 50 years, are woefully short sighted. Global climate change, whether it is caused by or contributed to by human use of resources or not, is likely to exacerbate these natural drought cycles in our lifetimes.
To understand this, we need only look back to the Anasazi civilization. Tree ring studies show that between A.D. 1125 and 1180, very little rain fell in the southwest U.S. After 1180, rainfall briefly returned to normal levels. From 1270 to 1274, there was another drought, followed by another period of normal rainfall. In 1275, a 14-year drought began. When this period of droughts began, the Anasazi civilization was at its height. Communities were densely populated. Even with good rains, the Anasazi were using their land to its limits. Without rain, it was impossible to grow enough food to support the population. Widespread famine occurred. People left the area in large numbers. Sustained drought cycles have happened in the past, and they can and probably will happen again.
So, the impact of man’s short-sightedness is not just on the plants and animals, it is on people as well. The response in the U.S., here in Colorado and in the rest of the world must be driven by long-term, climatological realities. We are like the pigs in the story of the Three Little Pigs who build houses of straw and wonder why they keep getting blown away. Creating a stronger house (an ecologically sustainable society) right now, is a far better response than exterminating all of the wolves.
Albert J. Slap
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