Sunday, May 4, 2008

Seasons Change

Summer nights and long warm days
Are stolen as the old moon falls
My mirror shows another face
Another place to hide it all
Another place to hide it all
And I'm lost, behind
The words I'll never find
And I'm left behind
As seasons roll on by

Sleeping with a full moon blanket
Sand and feathers for my head
Dreams have never been the answer
And dreams have never made my bed
Dreams have never made my bed

And I'm lost, behind
The words Ill never find
And I'm left behind
As seasons roll on by

Now I wanna fly above the storm
But you cant grow feathers in the rain
And the naked floor is cold as hell
This naked floor reminds me
Oh the naked floor reminds me

And I'm lost, behind
Words I'll never find
And I'm left behind
As seasons roll on by

If I should be short on words
And long on things to say
Could you crawl into my world
And take me worlds away
Should I be beside myself
And not even stay

And I'm lost, behind
Words I'll never find
And I'm left behind
As seasons roll on by

-Chris Cornell, "Seasons" Lyrics

A wrap-up to a place journal such as this only makes sense, in my mind, if I'm leaving the place. I've been in Ithaca now since 2005: A mere three years of my life and most of it spent inside studying or trying not to procrastinate. No matter what I do at this point, unless I actually settle here, my sense of this place will never be complete. And I think it's important to understand that nature, like education, should be a place of learning and understanding which should continue on throughout our lives. I guess, in this last entry before this semester ends, I could wrap up what I've seen and been through, but that just seems hollow and fake when I know the seasons will continue to change and come back full circle, when there are so many more places to explore and learn about, when there is not yet an end but a new beginning to another year.

So I think I'll just talk a little about the last couple of days. One thing I have not yet participated in is Slope Day. I always have too much work to do at this time and do not have the stamina to spend an entire day partying with thousands of other students. I do have loads of stamina for other endeavors. Walking, hiking, exploring during this time of year, when everything is exploding with life and color, is much more interesting then being stuck in the middle of a controlled riot. Don't get me wrong: I love music and love new experiences, but I think when I experience Slope Day for the first time it will be next year when I actually have no more classes to be concerned with and my time at Cornell has come to an end. Saying that makes me desperately want to recall my time here as a student but I'm not done yet and that would remove my focus from where it needs to be.

It seems these years that spring has taken a break from the seasons. Often we see winter followed by a near immediate sidestep to summer as temperatures go from freezing to the 70's, 80's and beyond. This time it feels like spring is trying to hold out a bit more. Two weeks ago, during the last week of April, we had a spurt of 80 to 90 degree weather that initiated the instantaneous flowering of nearly every tree on campus and off. I was, of course, biking that day, in a T-shirt and shorts for the first time that season, and taking my time going home. Usually I exit the AG Quad, where I had been napping in the sun on this particular afternoon, and head up Tower Road toward the Dairy Bar. This day I took a minor diversion on Wing Road where the Cherry Trees, I'm guessing (some kind of exotic species), were in full bloom. It was an amazing sight to behold and other students were appreciating it; one had a cell phone out and was trying, hopelessly I'm afraid, to capture the moment. Hundreds of thousands of petals were being pulled off the trees by a light breeze. There were so many floating in the air that they gave up the shape and playful attributes of the swirling wind turning it into a crescendo of pink and red flowing, living paint against the blue sky. I stopped and tried to lock it into my mind. It was an "American Beauty" moment but instead of watching wind play with a simple bag it had inherited the color of the trees. I think I would have liked to share this with other visually but it would only have been complimented by an expensive video camera, a tripod, and lots of patience which, during this time of year, are all quite unaccessible.

During my time here there have always been these images, these feelings, these places that call my attention, that spark my imagination and make me feel more a part of this place. I had to laugh recently, as the temperature dropped into the 60's (the perfect temperature for all things outdoors in my opinion) and one of my fellow NTRES students in the class I write the place journal for, was whining about how cold it was and how disgusted she was at the temperature drop. It was funny because this time last year we had a heavy storm that dropped, if I recall correctly, about two feet of snow where she was now walking, in the sun, shivering. But then that is another point where I differ with many of the students here: I like the seasons. I appreciate the cold and ice for it makes me appreciate the sun and rain as well as the fall and frost. Without one to compliment the other there would be no comparison and much less appreciation. I can give an example. I lived in California for about 3 years while in the military. During this time I was stationed at Edwards AFB in the Mojave desert. Temperatures changed pretty drastically from day to night; a 40 to 50 degree change wasn't uncommon and most summer days got to between 100 and 120 on the concrete of the flightline. There was no snow, no rain, no trees. Just sun and heat and creosote bush with the occasional Joshua tree. When we did have a rainstorm or, during my three years there, one snow "storm" (about 3 inches of yellow snow fell on the desert...yellow because it was removing all the dust from the air) and believe me when I say everyone was excited or amazed or playing in it. Some were even afraid of it and refused to enjoy this little diversion from the everyday norm. Many had never even seen snow. This all showed me how little people think about the world outside their own lives. Those people that loved the heat and clear roads sure did appreciate them more after that snow melted and the world came back to "normal" for them. I feel like Ithaca is the same way.

Here we have a town that lives and breathes the college student. Without them and the capital they bring this would be a much different, some would argue better, some worse, place. Students are in a phase of exploration, often away from home for the first time in their lives for any extended period of time, and experiencing life outside their comfort zone. It definitely makes for an interesting mix of people and opinions. One thing we really didn't talk about too much in class is how one "place" experience affects another. We are a highly mobile, some would argue Nomadic, people these days. That may harm our land ethic on some level or, alternatively it may help us appreciate the area around us more. Humans, I find, are a bunch committed to expressing how miserable they are to everyone in order to vent. I don't think that makes us necessarily miserable but it does alter perceptions. Not many people will complain about the first really warm spring Ithacan day but Goddess forgive if it rains out. To err is human; to bitch about everything you don't like is also human. But in a way that is our form of appreciation. We recognize what we like and want it more and thus express it through our negative perception of weather or place we don't like to contrast with that which we do like. The funny thing is, like in the desert, when we are in the middle of something we do like (I was on the other side, I hate heat like that) we don't much complain or openly appreciate "boy I love this 363rd day of full sun, unlimited visibility and dry air". Maybe that is how we show our content in "place": by shutting up and enjoying it.

Still, if my society and natural resources class has taught me anything its that social interactions and attitudes are complex and difficult to gauge. My interview with my girlfriend in this journal indicates one opinion of place intertwined with many to form the complex social and environmental structure that is Ithaca NY. This, I think, is why I appreciate nature more than people: When I go outside to take solace in the shade of a tree, to smell a flower, to feel the rain pelting on my face, to feel the moist dirt between my fingers and toes, to experience the thrill of a flash of lightning and crack of thunder, to have the wind whistling though hair and by face, to lay in the deep snow and look up at a gray sky...these things don't question who I am, why I exist, what my next step is, how I must live, how I must fit in, or when I will die. These experiences may make me contemplate these things but the nature around me, the place allows me to think and only wraps me in what it is and not what it thinks I should be which all of humanity seems to have an opinion on. Nature just is and exists not solely for our enjoyment but as a reminder of what crazy lives we lead. When you can step back from life and just sit, in the middle of any forest, an listen to nothing human at all, you know there is a difference, if you are quite and noninvasive in this type of environment, between the natural world and that of humans. Cronon was not wrong: Nature does exist in our back yard. McKibben was not wrong: There is some distinct difference between humanity and nature. The trick is to pull yourself out of humanity for a few moments to see what the physical place is that you are living within. If all you hear are babies crying, cellphones ringing, car-alarms screaming, gun-shots firing, jets flying overhead, computers humming, tractor-trailer trucks downshifting, horns honking, and all the other things associated that attack every one of our senses then you are in the wilderness of human. Nobody should argue that humans haven't affected every forest and non-human wilderness that exists yet there is a difference and a serenity associated with nature once you walk outside the boundaries of human "comfort". Ithaca is a place that offers both and those places inbetween. Humans are still taken here by natural events such as being crushed by falling rock in the gorge or being swept away by flash floods. And humans are still being killed by each other here by many other means and ways. Nature inspires the idea of "wilderness" where you have lost some control of the outcome of your life and I know wilderness is now more prevalent in cities and urban areas then in that nature outside of the concrete and pavement that defines our human condition. After all it all comes back to our comfort zone. Many more people may die in the city but many more are also much more uncomfortable by themselves for an hour sitting in the woods with no visual of anything man constructed. Such is the irony we've created in our lives which has been more defined in my mind by my time in class learning about how society "is" and walking around Ithaca where society lives.

In the end, which doesn't exist as of yet, I've found this place to be beautiful and dangerous and come to appreciate it in ways that I hope more people will consider. Ithaca has many of the same problems as all cities of its size concerning tax base, construction, job availability and more, but it has a unique geography and geology that offers those that can appreciate it much more than cities with comparable census-measured attributes. My opinion and understanding of this place will continue to evolve as long as I live here and I don't think ending up here would be the worst thing that could happen to me. As far as place goes this is one that I have enjoyed immensely in this country. Moving to another country has always been an option I've left open and it will continue to be left open so long as the political situation and our dependence on an industrial-military complex continues; I don't like my tax dollars being spent on killing people in other countries and supporting policies of war and environmental degradation. On one hand staying and trying to make a difference is important. On the other hand maybe if I'm a citizen of another country and come here to work I won't feel like such a hypocrite as everything I work toward is undercut by the taxes coming out of my paycheck.

Place is important as is the removal of ignorance and we must not be ignorant of our place in the larger aspect of our world...from a national to global level. Only when these things come together can we really begin to develop a land ethic based on real values that are supported and not brushed off by those in government that are technically supposed to work for us. Ithaca, in that respect, is a microcosm of the larger picture: The college has the power to, more or less, control the town and yet it doesn't do things in the best interest of the town but of the college. Much the same with local, regional, and federal governments: Everybody is unsatisfied and nobody can fully agree...we can only make compromises and have a consensus on what the outcomes are that affect our place rather then using data to do what is right regardless of people and their "feelings" which may or may not represent the best way to move forward.

It's all a big mess. But that's the nature humans have created for themselves. I think it would do us good to imitate or emulate the ecosystems that, with competition, find a way to coexist and work well together. At some point maybe enlightenment will reach our species when we find a way using some form of biomimicry to do just that. Today however, thousands of years away from any similar epiphany, I will enjoy the gray skies, the black-capped chickadees singing their "spring-time" song, the return of spring in all its green glory and fifty degree weather, and the cool hard showers that are accompanying this symphony of change as the seasons roll on.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

While this entry doesn't talk about Ithaca per se it does bring out some of what I've learned while living here and attending my college. I know it's a bit piecemeal but hopefully I get some kind of a point across. The assignment was to talk about how Natural Resource Management is important to Americans today. Let me know what you think.

To understand the importance of natural resource management we must look at how natural resources, in their definition and scope, have changed over time. The natural world, defined by our interaction within it, teaches us that change is a constant we must adapt and grow with. As geologic processes churn and bubble the planet anew, as ecosystems solidify, crash, rebuild or restart, so do our social, physical and emotional and economic connections to it. Time is relative in this relationship: The Earth, a young 4.5 billion years old, formed from the primordial soup of the universe and gave rise to the resources that we manipulate for our anthropocentric aspirations. Our time on Gaia, a name given to our Earth by the Ancient Greeks, has been painfully short in comparison: The modern Homo sapien appeared in fossil records roughly 200,000 years ago in Africa. That species then gave rise to The Enlightenment, also known as “modernity”, which marked the point at which people started to improve themselves by improving nature with the aid of science, industry and technology. The Industrial Revolution, a direct result of The Enlightenment, changed their lives forever as new technology and methods transformed agriculture, manufacturing and transportation. The impact on socioeconomic and cultural conditions were intense then and continue to evolve today.

With industrialization the world was witness to a new ability to control nature as never before in an effort to satisfy anthropocentric needs. The environment became a collection of means for human ends; science unlocked its secrets and allowed us to exploit it more effectively as raw materials were procured for factories, machines and new technologies. The natural environment was thus disenchanted and no longer saturated with spiritual significance as a creation of God or the inspiration of folklore; it was reduced to a store of virgin resources exclusively for the promotion of human economic need. A war, started by our own hand, had been declared on the natural world as industry and technology disfigured a landscape we were all too familiar with: Our homelands. These once awe-inspiring landscapes were destroyed and gave rise to overcrowded cities, factories and mining operations that spewed pollutants into every orifice nature offered up and thus back into our own bodies and lives. There were major backlashes: The Luddites smashed machinery which they perceived as the cause of their unemployment and hardship. Also Romanticism, a revolt against the sociopolitical norms of enlightenment, grew as some, such as John Muir, found arrogance in the need of humans to dominate the natural world and thus crusaded to preserve wilderness in his America. Muir lobbied Congress to pass the act that created Yosemite National Park on October 1, 1890 in order to protect and preserve the unique beauty and biodiversity of that land for all generations to enjoy.

It is fair to say that many theoretical social constructs arguing either for or against the preservation of the natural world were birthed from industrialization and one could argue that natural resource management evolved from these debates in much the same way as Globalization has evolved from Internationalization in terms of economic trade and need. As we step toward the near present we see that time and space have become increasingly important to any debate over the importance of natural resource use as a global community develops from the primordial soup of early industrialization. Before, but not long before, the global issues of Global Climate Change, deforestation of tropical ecosystems, destruction of estuaries, loss of biodiversity and more came to the forefront of American environmental concern, powerful people such as Charles L. Pack, Gifford Pinchot, John Muir, President Theodore Roosevelt and others began to define our need and the importance of natural resource management. Pack and Pinchot, both deeply involved in the profitable business of scientific forest management, had deep philosophical differences with the likes of Muir who was opposed to the idea of commercializing nature. Pack eloquently exposed his philosophy on natural resource management when he was quoted as saying, as the president of the National Conservation Congress of 1913, that “Conservation must convey no suggestion of retarding honest development on fair terms...Conservation does not mean reservation. It means the best use of our resources, with a fair regard to the present and the future. It means, to my mind, production, prosperity and progress.” In the eyes of some social scientists this train of thought was related to the progressive conservation movement where “disuse is misuse”; a philosophy practiced currently in relation to water conservation in the American west and southwest and further explored in Marc Reisners' book “Cadillac Desert”. Specifically it is the complete use of a resource; The use of the raging waters of the Colorado River for electricity production, agriculture and human consumption, tamed by the Glen Canyon Dam, Hoover Dam and many others, to the degree that the river dries out in its own riverbed before it reaches its natural destination; The Gulf of California. It is important to note that while Pack is credited as a forest conservationist and a pioneer in forest conservation he started out as a timberman who gained his fortune clear-cutting vast forests in the American South and British Columbia. While he used this fortune to finance some elements of the early 20th century conservation movement his is not a name that strongly associated with environmentalism, conservation and natural resource management today. Pinchot on the other hand advocated natural resource management through the conservation of our nations virgin resources by planned use and removal. He described his own philosophy as “...the art of producing from the forest whatever it can yield for the service of man.” Pinchot was a progressive Republican who often directed public campaigns on natural resource management issues and who felt that forests could be developed privately in exchange for a fee under set terms. Commercial interestes, however, pressured for quicker exploitation and opposed conservation efforts venomously. The strength of commercial interests led President Theodore Roosevelt to split from the Republican Party in the presidential election of 1912 where he took a stand against the trusts and monopolies that threatened to undermine governmental control. These business entities were formed with the intent to restrain trade and fix prices as whole businesses were monopolized by trusts such as Standard Oil, U.S. Steel, The American Tobacco Company, and the International Mercantile Marine Company. It is important to note that each of these trusts had intimate ties and needs for natural resources; having control over them would be key in monopolizing their industry and controlling trade.

Today natural resource management and discussion of how management should progress is still intimately entwined with American industry, politics, and society. Locally there is an intense debate over “The Commons” and whether resources in any given area should be for public use, privately owned, or under governmental control just as there was during Pack, Pinchot and Muirs' time. Nationally our dependence on oil and our struggling economy are affecting all our lives. These issues and more could be addressed through proper natural resource management techniques that provide incentives for industry to close production loops and invest in new technologies that can sustain our nation and our future. As technology has evolved and given us a greater ability to communicate and trade across borders the basis for internationalization of trade and natural resource management has been blurred by the manifestation of Globalization; integrating national economies through economic, technological and sociopolitical mechanisms. Natural resource management on a national scale is then extremely important for the next step of our socioeconomic evolution as capital market flow and mobile capital transcend traditional national restrictions. Our nations ability to recognize resources and value them appropriately will be key as leaders in ingenuity and technology position themselves to take advantage of a new green global economy. It is possible that a new global golden-green age is upon us once we wean ourselves away from a traditional petrol-based society and use our knowledge, investments, subsidies, and tax incentives to promote a national economy based on human, natural, manufactured, and financial capital. We can step beyond traditional capitalism to mold our economy into a form of capitalism where living systems matter and are managed to radically increase resource productivity through a system that bases commerce on the needs of people instead of business and measures human welfare by the improved quality and flow of desired services delivered instead of simply by dollar flow.

As we walk into the 21st century we find that “Natural Resources” has again changed in scope: It includes all the life-supporting services that have no substitutes, currently have no market value, and can limit future economic development if we continue to ignore their multifaceted value. For example: Until we put a value on and properly manage our forests that provide us fresh air as they convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, fresh water from whole watersheds that filter nutrients and toxins from our taps, and new medicines derived from pharmaceutical companies, cosmetic companies, and others who engage in bioprospecting in order to discover new drugs or products that only nature can provide, we can not consider ourselves responsible managers of our resources: A forest is today much more than just timber. We know that our nation, based on a Capitalist-consumer framework, produces great quantities of waste. Proper waste management could reduce virgin resource use greatly if we make the waste less expensive to reclaim and remove subsidies used to promote virgin resource procurement. In short the salvation and independence of our country from our own restrictions on the free market and trade can come from sharing our ideas and methods of sustainability and through aggressive and modern management that will move our country forward only if we hold a shining light to the poor practices, badly designed business systems, and wasteful patterns of consumption that dirty our future with the hard-nosed dependence and attainment of fossil fuels based on old management techniques.

Common sense and good business practices dictate that reducing waste, increasing efficiency and working within closed-loop systems is very enticing to business and industry: But we cripple our economy by not valuing best-management practices and by not recognizing the value of natural capital (made up of resources, living systems, and ecosystem services), which could boost our economic progress significantly for many generations to come.

In the end it will all come down to our ability to adapt to the changing world or to change the economic system from the inside out. Since the Industrial Revolution we have experimented with natural resource management and watched it evolve as different leaders and differences of opinion have adapted our management to the anthropocentric needs of the day. This will continue on: Change will never stop, our needs as a people will continue to evolve and that which we value as a society will also change as the world continues to become more connected and Globalized economically, socially and environmentally. Our choices will determine where we stand in the new era of the second age of Industrialization. As consumers we each can make individual choices in what we purchase and promote to inject our economy, businesses, industry and technology with a need to promote the valuation of all forms of capital and not just those forms that prop up our economic equation today. With that in mind we should all move forward, promote responsible management practices and cherish our relationship with the natural world that gives us the ability to pursue life, liberty and happiness.