"This generation must come to terms with nature, and I think we're challenged, as mankind has never been challenged before, to prove our maturity and our mastery...not of nature, but of ourselves." - Rachel Carson
We live in a beautiful corner of the United States, with a coastline admired the world over and a backcountry ripe for exploration, but environmentally, there's no denying it: we've got our hands full in San Diego.
Southern California may be one of the most densely populated urban areas in the nation, but if you look around and study the land, it's easy to see how inhospitable the region can be. While our dry Mediterranean climate has made our region justly famous with vacationers, beach lovers, and sun worshippers, it also leaves us with little annual rainfall, irregular and unpredictable hydration cycles, and an overall deficit of fresh water.
Enabled by water pumped in from dams and rivers hundreds of miles away across several faultlines and two deserts, we live in an artificially-created bowl of sustainability, as we share our dwindling fresh water supply with other thirsty southwestern cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas, Tucson, and Los Angeles. Our ability to be a thriving civilization or a threatened outpost, clinging on the dry edge of the continent, will continue to be determined by our access to fresh water. The next time we have a major earthquake, and we're due in Southern California (the last "Big One" in our end of the state was in 1857) it won't just be your cellphone that doesn't work; it'll be your toilet, your shower, and the availability of fresh water. Save some now.
Instead of staying out of river basins and flood zones, we've enabled construction in nature's "keep out" areas by corralling and straightening our river channels into concrete culverts, which "flush" litter and other built-up material onto our beaches during rainy weather. We thoughtlessly throw cigarette butts and trash out the windows of our cars and trucks and pour toxic materials into storm drains, all of which eventually winds up on the beach when we receive our occasional rainfalls. Studies continue to show our oceans becoming more sick from pollution and overuse every year, as an area of trash twice the size of Texas floats in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Despite the toughest air pollution regulations in the country and the rise in popularity of hybrid vehicles, we continue to treat our skies like a sewer from the sheer volume of humans on the road, ships in our harbors, and aircraft in our skies. We in California even have to sue the EPA in order to receive waivers to regulate tailpipe emissions to make our air cleaner. Even in Southern California's highest mountain ranges, the effects of air pollution can be found in slowly-strangled pine trees on the highest peaks, as the odor of emissions and air pollutants rise and collect in canyons and along hillsides, smogging out the views of our mountains.
Nature has genetically designed much of Southern California's chaparral-covered landscape to burn, since our long, hot summers and brief, damp winters don't allow enough time for organic matter to decay and break down. Yet developers continue to encroach upon and build in highly fire-prone areas, and our city and county remain deficient in terms of basic fire-fighting services.
We choose to live here, yet slowly, humans are extinguishing what we love best about living in Southern California in the first place. As environmental geologist Jacques Lord describes, "we're at war with nature," and when we fight with nature, "we're gonna lose." It doesn't have to be this way.
On Treehuggers International we look for solutions to Southern California's environmental challenges, in a laid back, conversational atmosphere with newsmakers, activists, community leaders, public officials, environmental professionals, and academics, all working to keep Southern California green and clean.
We'll get you up to speed on volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood and in California's world-class national and state parks, open spaces, and wilderness areas, we'll dispense day-to-day wisdom about little things you can do to keep our region environmentally unique and special, and we'll let you know about community events and activities with environmental organizations, as well as hiking trails and outdoor activities you may not have realized are right in your backyard.
To hear previous editions of Treehuggers International broadcast on Seattle radio, click HERE and scroll down. Installments include a two-part series on Stehekin, Washington, a conversation with The Wilderness Society, and catching up with the crew from Grist.
Keep e-mailing us your photos of you hugging trees outdoors on the trail, in your yard, or anywhere. We're slowly building a photo gallery of Treehuggers International fans from around the world. Be sure to include your name, where the photo was taken, and (if possible) what kind of tree it is. Thanks.
"Eventually we'll realize...if we destroy the ecosystem, we destroy ourselves." - Dr. Jonas Salk