On being “world policeman”

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Whether it’s something I’m reading in online commentary or via social media, or am hearing with my ears in actual meat-space conversations, I’m detecting an often-recurring refrain in the ongoing discussions of the developments in Syria: we’re war-weary, and we’ve grown tired of assuming the role of the world’s policeman time and again.

I get it, and it’s not a sentiment with which I take issue.

But at the same time, there’s an elephant in the room, a very clear explanation for why America continues to find itself in this premiere authoritative position.

Perhaps it’s my own rooted-into-my-core global environmental sensibilities that render it just so glaringly obvious to me, but I haven’t come across anyone else anywhere connecting these very specific and rather large dots.

And it seems someone should, so — very much in spite of this being an exercise akin to my pissing into the ocean and wondering naively how much sea level change I’ll be able to measure — I’m volunteering.

So, then … to all who are looking at what’s unfolding in Syria and who are contemplating possible outcomes, while asking aloud why, once again, it falls to the U.S. to step up and take the lead, please consider:

We are about one-twentieth of the world’s population. We consume, however, something between one-forth and one-fifth of the world’s resources.

This leads to a question: what could possibly keep propped up the U.S.’s disproportionate resource appetite, with the complicity of the rest of the world?

Is it because the rest of the world, acting out of friendship or generosity or benevolence or voluntary self-sacrifice, looks to the U.S. and says: “here, take your share, and, hey, have a big chunk of ours too, while you’re at it”?

Nope. Not bloody likely.

I’d offer that in order to maintain such protracted, systemic global-scale inequity, we’re essentially *required* to be World Cop. And I’ll just go on and wade a bit deeper, and suggest that in order to keep this voracious appetite status quo chugging along unimpeded (at least until Mother Nature has a turn at the plate, and, by the way, she bats last) we must be prepared to be not simply cop, but — at truly unfortunate times — a certain kind of cop.

I am mindful that Syria is not directly or obviously a matter that cleanly relates to resources nor economics. And leaving aside how much moral authority the U.S. can reasonably claim to have on the matter of chemical weaponry, their use, within or across borders, is absolutely intolerable, and merits swift (international) response.

But there is a very simple explanation for why it is we have such globally dominant muscle, and the ability to flex it (even unilaterally), whenever and wherever we deem it necessary: it’s on us — our mutliple vehicles and our ostentatiously large homes with attached garage bays for each of them. It’s on the fuel that they guzzle, on the any-number-of malls and box stores we’ll drive them to, it’s on the cheap superfluous plastic shit we’ll buy there, and it’s on the landfills that same plastic shit is surely headed for in short due.

We’d need several planets’ worth of resources (I’ve seen anywhere from 5 to 9 planet Earths, varying with who’s doing the reckoning and what methodology is selected) to allow our standard of living for everyone on the planet.

We’re world cop precisely because of how we live. And we should expect that the former simply will not change unless and until we recognize the latter, and decide that changing that is perhaps worth pursuing.

public domain image courtesy of NASA and by way of Wikimedia Commons

 

fruit flies like bananas

Ten years ago today, I landed in the Bay Area.

On November 7, my 1997 Ford Escort station wagon had 114,000 miles on it. Six days later, 3,950 more would be tacked onto the mileage indicator.

Having vacated my Augusta, Maine apartment at the end of October, I delayed my departure for an entire week so that I could vote in the 2000 election. I was at the polls at opening time (7:00 am, if I recall correctly), performed my civic duty with dispatch, and headed south on I 95. I’d watch the election (non) results that evening at the home of my friends Paul and Patti in Washington DC before getting an early start for day number two.

It would be all hotels for the following four evenings: forced off the road by the threat of tornadoes near Carthage, TN just a few miles short of my daily goal. Then Oklahoma City. Then Gallup, NM. And Finally, a night in Barstow, California before landing at the home of my Uncle Paul and Aunt Paula in Palo Alto sometime a bit after 1:00 in the afternoon.

I’d otherwise be reluctant to bring up the election at all, apart from the fact that it figured centrally in setting my departure date. Otherwise, we know how that all played out. We’re still saddled with the aftermath, and I’ll be damned if that snarling, arrogant cur George W. Bush isn’t in the news, again, right the hell now, ten years to the day, pimping his memoirs which, as it turns out, are not entirely his. It’s a fascinating and perverse coincidence.

But there I was, and yet here I am.

I have uncovered no pots of California gold, so far, in the baser sense, but it has been a decade of many riches.

I am married. Legally married. Who’d have dared imagined such a thing possible in 2000? Further, to an impossibly kind, gentle, thoughtful and funny guy. I’m blessed.

The road that forms my apparent path is tossing me a few pot holes and speed bumps, but I have established myself as someone who someone else is happily willing to pay to write. Not bad. Not bad.

The amount of time I’ve been able to spend with my saxophone has vacillated wildly, but I’ll be damned if it ever disappears completely. It simply won’t go away. Good.

I will always consider myself a Mainer. I will continue to actively, thoughtfully miss it for at least five minutes of every day I live elsewhere: a span of time that may very well bracket the rest of my life.

But it’s good to be here. I’ve had wishes fulfilled I didn’t even know I’d been granted permission to have.

And for those yet to materialize, they’re germinating here, in the most fertile soil imaginable.

Photo by NASA via Wikimedia Commons

Blog Action Day 2010: Musings of a Recovering Hydrogeologist

I’m an at-best sporadic personal blogger.

But having learned, strictly by happy accident, not only of Blog Action Day (a project of Change.org) having been slated for October 15, but more importantly of the topic of focus — water — it was a no-brainer to find a few moments to toss in my two virtual cents.

It’s a subject that is close to me: my educational background and a big chunk of my professional life are rooted in the earth and environmental sciences, with an emphasis on water resources. While I’ve largely been removed from full-time, day-to-day work in the environmental field for the past several years, it’s never far from my thoughts.

A good chunk of my time during this week was spent on assisting an author who is putting together a book on sustainable design. My role was to cobble together a chapter on freshwater resources aiming to explain how the hydrosphere and aquatic systems function, and also how our activities damage them and reduce the value of ecological service that we would enjoy from unmolested natural systems. On the brighter side though, it includes an exploration of the opportunities that await within the choice of an alternate path, through rethinking the built environment to work with, rather than against, the functions of healthy, vital natural systems.

My last name is the French word for ‘wood’ or ‘forest;’ it would have been altogether too precious had I gravitated to the direction of forestry within the broader arena of environmental matters, as if I had, literally and figuratively, been born to do such work. In actuality, my knowledge of forestry is almost as thin as the remaining stand of trees on a fresh clear-cut.

The writing project that I got to work on this week made abundantly clear something about which I had previously a mere inkling of appreciation: if you care about water, you have to care about forests. You have to.

And this linkage, on one hand, can certainly be constructed on terms of the interconnectivity of all things; but with regard to forest resources and water resources, the interdependence is stronger and deeper than that.

For any so inclined, I’ll refer you to a 2009 article in the journal Hydrologic Processes (link to pdf ) lead-authored by Julia Jones of Oregon State University.

A cursory scan of the introduction tells in abundant, layperson-friendly clarity precisely how critical healthy forests are to our need for water: even though forests cover about one-third of the US land surface, they process and provide about two-thirds of our fresh water supply.

180 million people in the US owe the existence and safety and sufficient supply of their water supply to the hydrological processes that are performed by forested land.

Healthy forests, as they receive, process, store and release water through playing their role within the broader hydrologic cycle, provide key water quality and water quality regulation. Not only do they filter and purify, so too do forests store and help buffer the impacts of extremities in year-to-year conditions: they help to minimize flooding during unusually wet periods, and they can keep a steady release of fresh water that is truly boon during unusually dry periods.

The list of values certainly goes on, and at considerable length, but for which I’d need the assistance of someone whose understanding of forestry and of forested watershed hydrology surpasses mine. But the simple primer is what I’m capable of crafting here, and I’ll trust that it’ll suffice.

So then … in honor of Blog Action Day’s 2010 with its focus on water, and cutting, finally, to the chase, I’ll boil my humble two cents down to a simple plea:

When you think of water, without which life would not be possible, keep the trees in mind as well.

Photo of Tuolumne River along the John Muir Trail by flickr user dj @ oxherder arts.

i don’t know why i drew this …

actually, that’s not entirely true.

in fact, it’s not even a little bit true. i know precisely why i drew this.

it came by way of my aghast reaction to the following question from my dear tufts – d.c. era friend ginny (fka the queen of sin, or just simply ‘queen’ to her adoring subjects), who earlier today sent me the following inquiry, one which hit me like a cannonball to the solar plexus, an impact still reverberating within my ribcage.

she emailed:

"…have you been likened to a Jonas brother yet? Certain views of Nick Jonas remind me of a young David Bois."

to which i say: no. it’s never come up. and we shall never speak of this again.

crazy kite

i’m totally enamored of this shot that daryn took a few days ago. a breezy afternoon out at the dog park, we came across an impressive array of kites, but this blue meany-esque customer was the standout.