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The West is on Fire!

Pandemic…..economic collapse…..searing heat…..raging wildfires….smoky air….all of this is happening now in our neighborhoods in Santa Cruz County, with even more upheaval around the world. And all of these disasters disproportionately affect people with fewer resources to cope with the traumas and the disruption of daily life.

As people in the fire-ravaged Santa Cruz Mountains come to terms with enormous losses, they are facing monumental decisions. Mourning what was lost is critically important, and takes time. Rather than quickly making plans to rebuild, I hope our community takes a collective pause to stop and reflect. (Please look for forthcoming piece on a sustainable recovery and rebuilding effort).

Understandably, people long to “return to normal.” Clinging to the possibility of regularity can help people navigate the unknown and withstand the incredible stress of the present disaster.

I think we need to face that we cannot resume our pre-pandemic, pre CZU Complex fire lives.

We live in a closed system. Carbon in the form of decayed plant and animal life - fossil fuels - stored safely under the ground for millions of years has been brutally and rapidly excavated, burned, and the carbon released into the atmosphere and absorbed by the oceans in what amounts to the blink of an eye when viewed on a cosmic scale.

We can expect that it will take decades, if not millennia, to stabilize Earth’s climate that is now spinning out of control. We are only now feeling the impact of carbon released from 40 years ago, and we know that in the last 40 years humans have extracted and burned double the total amount since 1800.

This means that what’s already “baked into the system” will continue to affect us for at least four more decades - and we don’t seem to be stopping our relentless consumption of fossil fuels.

Every major decision we make moving forward, both individually and collectively, should be weighed in light of the climate catastrophe that is unfolding all around us.

Unfortunately, we can expect even more extreme heat, drought, floods, and fires in the months and years to come. We may look back on 2020 with nostalgia as extreme weather intensifies every year.

Each new disaster will have many rippling effects. Just as the pandemic has shown how interconnected we humans are as a species, global warming reveals the interdependence of all life forms- people, animals, and plants in every part of the world. Smoke plumes from California are traveling hundreds of miles in a period of weeks. Unseasonable temperatures mean that food sources may not be available for many animals, disrupting food chains people also depend on.

We are experiencing now, in 2020, what scientists had been predicting for closer to 2050 or 2080 - as a result of just over one degree celsius of global temperature rise.

We are on track for four to eight degrees warming by the end of the century. Given the scale of today’s disasters, that does not seem compatible with life as we know it.

We need to face the reality that there is going to be a lot of loss of life, and take pro-active steps to protect as much life as possible. This is an excellent time to re-examine our lives and reset our priorities. Investing now in widespread education about global warming, Green jobs and infrastructure, and election of candidates who will create the bold policies needed are key strategies to save lives.

The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band are among the people suffering losses in the Santa Cruz Mountains fire, as their tools and several buildings were lost at Cascade Ranch, where they have centered restoration efforts for several years. This is a key time to engage in a Truth and Reconciliation process and come to terms with the disastrous history of colonization and genocide whose legacy lives on in our area, our country, and all over the world.Tribal Chair Val Lopez said in a letter responding to Governor Newsom’s executive order apologizing for past atrocities that the state must “truthfully tell the story and correct the history books,” while allowing California’s indigenous peoples to “restore their traditions, culture, spirituality and stewardship of the environment.”

We can collectively look 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 and can all engage in ongoing Truth and ReconciliACTION.

Pie Ranch reports that a first-ever Año Nuevo neighborhood wildfire recovery meeting was held recently with farmer neighbors, folks from the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and Land Trust, San Mateo Resource Conservation District, Natural Resources Conservation Service, UCSC Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department, and State Parks.

As a community we can support the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and Land Trust to be closely involved in local recovery and rebuilding efforts. Your donation today will support their involvement.

While the situation is dire, there is reason to take heart! The window of opportunity hasn’t yet closed - the next 1-10 years give us the opportunity to transform our energy systems, sharply reduce our consumption, redistribute our resources and strive to end all forms of humans harming humans - recognizing that the exploitation of people and natural resources has been at the core of environmental destruction - as the lifestyles of the very wealthy make the planet less habitable for everyone. As Dr. Ayana Johnson says, “our racial inequality crisis is intertwined with our climate crisis. If we don’t work on both, we will succeed at neither.”

The greatest resources we have are human intelligence and love. These are infinitely renewable resources and are exactly what we need to move forward together in ways that are thoughtful, just, and sustainable.

What will you do today to achieve the future you want for our community?

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