written 20 June 2021
published 27 June 2021
The balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of society is a central thread of history. Prioritizing only the individual produces anarchy, chaos, despotism, slavery, warlords, robber barons, radical wealth inequity, fascism, autocracies, and destruction of natural systems, as the most powerful few strive to survive at the expense of all else. Native cultures generally had a better appreciation of the balance, perhaps because tribes were smaller, more obviously biologically related, and their fate was more clearly tied to the fate of the plants and animals they depended upon.
As populations increased and civilizations grew larger, structures were created to ensure a more equitable balance between humans, using religion, laws, or customs, such as the Golden Rule, the Magna Carta in England, or democracy. But society became progressively more disconnected from the natural world. Our species is being challenged to rebalance the needs of the individual with both the needs of society and the natural world that supports us.
The western US is now in drought. Soil moisture records generated from tree ring data goes back 1200 years. The lowest recorded soil moisture occurred in the late 1500's, with a drought that lasted three decades. The soil moisture level in 2020 was almost as bad, and the fire season in California was the most destructive on record. Soil moisture this year looks to be worse. The research team presenting this data calculated that almost half of the current moisture decline is the result of human induced climate change.
North of us, the upper Klamath flow is so low that most juvenile fish are dead, and the rest are diseased due to warmer water temperatures. A recent report in the Ukiah Daily Journal described plummeting coastal abalone populations, mentioning the nuclear waste water from Fukushima, however, a more probable cause is rising ocean temperatures.
But our society acts like everything is normal, and continues replicating past patterns.
A developer in Ukiah is proposing a housing project in the western hills, even as this type of wildland urban interface development becomes a more questionable fire risk, and the national fire insurance industry is reconsidering coverage of such construction. Mendocino County plans to open more land to commercial cannabis cultivation to increase the tax base, despite concerns about increased water usage during a drought of historic proportion. Jackson State Demonstration Forest recently revived timber harvesting, following traditional county economics instead of promoting ecotourism. The large trees being cut are the most effective at sequestering carbon and tourism employs 30 times more county citizens than the timber industry.
Elsewhere in the west, fire fighters currently battling blazes in central Arizona can't draw water from the closest reservoir as it is almost empty. Even Lake Mead is at the lowest level since it was created by the Hoover Dam, putting many cities and agricultural regions at risk. But rather than addressing the drought and climate change, Arizona Republicans are spending all their energy recounting the 2020 ballots from predominately Democratic Phoenix, looking for proof that southeast Asians hacked the vote. Ironically, Phoenix has a different water source, so it is the predominately Republican rural portions of Arizona that face impending water shortage from Lake Mead.
In February 2020, a week of freeze in Texas caused widespread power blackouts, deaths, destruction, and massive electric bills for those that still had power. The fundamental cause was their free-market power system, which allowed utilities to save money by not investing in winterizing their electrical system. This week the same deregulated system allowed utilities to shut down production during the current heat wave, again generating massive electric bills for their underserved customers and huge profits for the utilities.
The determined vaccination effort in the US has resulted in diminished COVID cases and deaths. However, last week still saw 86K new cases, almost exclusively among the unvaccinated, of which 2,150 died and about 17K will experience "long COVID". As further self-destructive lunacy, a Georgia man shot and killed a clerk for asking him to wear a mask in a store.
COVID showed us the need to adjust our individual actions for the good of society, just as the drought is showing we need to adjust our economy for the good of the planet. Reality is unity, our fates are conjoined, WE, not just ME.