Life on the Rocks | Coping with unprecedented change

By Steve Ulvi, Journal contributor.

The early turbulence of human accelerated climate warming is already pummeling civilization. Over the wasted decades of inertia and purposeful obfuscation, the efforts of a minority of leaders and organizations to lessen the direst future global conditions, have been blunted. The darkest of genies is out of the bottle. Unfortunately, the global human population is still growing toward a predicted peak of 10 billion.

Most of us here have lived blessed lives; enjoying opportunities and life spans unimaginable to perhaps 98% of all Homo sapiens who have ever contemplated the mysteries of life. With great hubris, the last ten generations in the northern hemisphere have stolen climatic stability from all future humans. We may well be remembered forever as the Unforgiven Generations.

We hurriedly react to emergencies as weirding climatic patterns, depleted ecosystems and human overpopulation converge to open the gates to the four horsemen of the apocalypse. We should recognize that denial is not a river in Egypt, ignorance is never blissful, and that omnipotent nature prevails.

Just how individual nations, cultures and communities respond to the unfolding challenges will characterize their resilience. What about San Juan Island and small-town Friday Harbor?

Understanding the evolving socio-economic issues we already face and lifeline opportunities is essential. But developing community self-reliance at the watery margin of massive, fragile and devolving energy and transportation systems will be tough. As in the throes of the Great Depression, disjunct rural communities will be ignored as population centers implode, financial systems falter, costly “natural” disasters pile up every week and freedom of movement declines.

The Salish Sea is one of the most complex and seriously mismanaged aquatic ecosystems. A paradise lost. The astonishing thing is how decimated salmon persisted through our multi-generational pillage. It is disquieting that we now have so few healthy marine resources as a time of great food insecurity approaches.

Despite the tragic ecological realities, I have been inspired by much in this community; tireless non-profits providing essential aid, individual generosity, neighbors helping neighbors, family joys shared and a positive sense of place. Lately, I celebrate our improving racial diversity, the slow increase of affordable housing and rentals, more agriculture, town pushing past backward notions and voters insisting that our endless tax levy increases address real needs, not flashy wants.

We are blessed with a mild climate, winter water recharge, wood fiber and the ability to grow food. Then there is the incredible array of talent and personal wealth available to transform our community in terms of future resilience and long-term adaptation. But we must embrace the painful truth that maintaining the “sustainability” of our consumptive and wasteful lifestyles while switching to less damaging renewable energy is a fool’s gambit. Reducing our tiny collective carbon footprint is necessary but of limited import and lower priority compared to conserving water, substantially diversifying our island economy, building hundreds of affordable homes and attracting working families needed to create a more self-reliant community in a destabilized world.