The current catastrophes in Santa Cruz County beg us to pause, re-examine our lives and reset our priorities - and prepare for more disasters likely looming on our horizon.
Thousands of local residents are facing enormous losses through the destruction of 900 homes and extensive habitat in the Santa Cruz Mountains. All of us are experiencing unhealthy air from the swirling smoke of hundreds of fires and may already be anxiously awaiting landslides anticipated when the rains come. Wealth alone cannot buy people out of harm’s way.
Let us listen to the grief and despair of those who’ve lost homes or whose community is charred.
And then as we hold space for those experiencing this loss let us compile sound facts about the science and history that led us to this point. Then, pose difficult questions and hold many, many conversations to determine what makes sense going forward in this jarring time of climate disruption so that we proceed thoughtfully with recovery and rebuilding.
While our dominant culture tends to encourage individualism, it has never been more important for us to think together and build collaborative communities.
Paradoxically, our collective actions start with us individually.
At this moment in history, our personal decisions of where to invest our time and resources could save countless lives from being pre-maturely ended. I believe that whatever we do-or don’t do-collectively in the next 1-10 years will determine outcomes for humanity for millennia.
Will you join me in deciding - I WON’T let the planet become uninhabitable? Say it out loud and then listen to yourself - What does this mean for you? Find friends and share your thoughts and decisions. Rather than standing alone feeling paralyzed by fear, by joining together we can release more initiative and magnify our individual impact.
We can each weigh our small and large decisions against the backdrop of the environmental and social collapse that we are seeing all around us.
Thoughts on Rebuilding
How do we think about individual rights and liberties in a world in which we are all interdependent? Our children need us to unite and collaborate to protect their future.
Is our whole area becoming quickly uninhabitable? UCSC or even the city of Santa Cruz would have burned if significant resources were not deployed. Toxic air could render large swaths of California - and beyond - virtually unlivable for months this year and perhaps every year. 25% of Californians now live in the “wildland urban interface," (WUI) meaning 10 million people could be at risk of wildfire.
After a fire, the risk of mudslides in fire zones is very significant and could destroy additional homes.
Does it make sense to rebuild within or near forests? Besides increased danger from wildfires, should people live in areas where they are totally car dependent without access to viable sustainable transit options? In Santa Cruz County over 50% of GHG emissions come from the transportation sector, primarily personal automobiles.
How much new construction makes sense? As a community could it be possible to stop building and consolidate- open up empty rooms in homes to those needing shelter, simplify our lives, give or sell second homes to people who don’t have one?
Who can step forward and give back land in the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, who continue to steward this area though they have been unable to buy back ancestral lands after they were driven off in a brutal history of Spanish colonization? Could all land owners at minimum contribute a voluntary property tax to the Amah Mutsun Land Trust or other tribe whose land they're occupying?
There has been repeated mention in the news that had forests been under the ongoing management of the first peoples of this area, the scale of damage could have been far smaller.
The average United States residents’ per capita carbon footprint is over 5 times the average of the worlds’ per capita average; wealthier families account for much of that difference. Our individual choices of what we eat, where we live, how we move around, what we wear and what other personal services we use dramatically affect our carbon footprint.
Looking now to Indigenous leadership for wisdom that has been retained for thousands of years about how to live in a way that sustains life going forward could help protect everyone’s future.
Moving forward, we must remember that the cleanest energy is NO energy - we cannot simply transfer our high consumption lifestyles from fossil-fuel based to renewable energy sources and think we’ll be ok.
If we have extra material resource, we can use wealth to heal and restore. While helping bring about justice, the act of using wealth to restore can also liberate people who have benefited materially from the genocide of Native peoples or from institutionalized racism and white supremacy. White peoples’ and owning class peoples' humanness has been damaged from past and present injustice, and giving back can bring welcome healing.
Call to action especially for those not currently in crisis:
Who could take the lead and publish local guidelines for rebuilding sustainably?
Who will form a Sustainable Building Fund to give or loan money to people who commit to rebuild completely “green?”
Everyone who’s qualified can vote for candidates at all levels who will establish policies to protect people and planet.
Write letters to elected officials, newspapers, community leaders;
Attend planning meetings;
Join CZU Fire Remediation group on Facebook;
Donate to funds supporting low income community members whose residences burned;
Spend time assessing your home’s energy footprint and consider energy saving incentives provided by Central Coast Energy;
Re-think what you are saving for and dedicate your resources not just toward immediate recovery from disaster but investment in societal transformation;
Advocate for an immediate streamlining of permitting processes; in particular to allow solar and wind power systems to be installed and permitted regardless of whether earlier work lacked permits.
Safe and rapid transition off fossil fuels should be made legal and affordable.
Starting principles for any rebuilding efforts:
Consider moveable homes.
Limit toxins in materials.
Install renewable energy sources.
Activate grey water systems, sink and store water.
Sequester carbon in soil through food forests.
Landscape with food sources and native plants.
Form community centers to share items that don’t need to be individually owned.
Build micro-grids for control of local power sources.
What do you think? Who will you share ideas with? How can we step back from the edge of the global warming cliff we're teetering on to protect as many lives of as many species as possible?
Photo credit: Josh Edelson AFP Getty Images