MAGA Mega-Demolition in Arizona

(A note from Marilyn: My good friend Cristina White wrote this post for my other blog, Left At The Altar, but gave me permission to publish it here, as well. This travesty has come up before on this blog. We can’t turn our backs or drop our guard for an instant – not until this man is out of office. [Follow Cristina at ZenCrunch and Letter Pen Press.])

As of this writing, Donald Trump has another four weeks in office. It is a time when more than three hundred thousand Americans have died, three thousand are dying every single day, thousands more are sick, and untold numbers are standing in food lines, suffering economic hardships not seen since the Great Depression. As this onslaught continues, day after day, Trump has marshaled the full force of the federal government: not to relieve the physical and economic pain brought on by the pandemic, not to help the incoming Biden administration transition to the White House so that it can more effectively begin the healing we so desperately need. No.

Trump is using the power of the presidential office to destroy a protected wilderness in Arizona’s Coronado National Memorial, a huge swath of natural habitat in the far south of the state. He wants 450 miles of new barriers built before his term ends. The demolition companies hired to clear land in order to build Trump’s wall are cutting roads into a mountainside and sheering off slices of earth that nourish and sustain wildlife and plant life. The construction companies that follow the mega-demolition crews are driving concrete and steel into earth that for centuries has helped protect both natural and human habitat. The owners of Diamond A Ranch sued the government last week in federal court. In part, their complaint refers to explosives being used to level cliffsides for access roads and “…demolition dust, shrapnel, and boulders the size of automobiles are tumbling down Roosevelt Reservation onto ranch property.”

Opponents say the wall will worsen flooding. Massive steel and concrete structures cross dry creek beds and riverbeds. When the heavy rains come, those waterways become torrents that carry tons of debris. That debris can collect and clog around the steel bollards built into the waterways, causing floodwaters to back up; those floods can destroy properties that for generations have been safe havens for people and domestic animal life.

Demolition at NightThe ecological rape of the land is systematic: the work goes on day and night. Light towers kept on through the night enable the late shift crews to keep at it—build that wall, no matter the cost to the public purse or the defacing and destruction of the natural beauty that drew many people to live and work here.

When Donald Trump says America first, what he means is me first. Me first is not sustainable, and it violates a basic tenet of our democracy: to preserve and protect the common welfare. What underlies our common welfare is a foundational truth: we are all interrelated. That truth is one that Trump doesn’t understand; it’s a concept he’s not even able to compute. My guess is that most of his followers either don’t understand this or actively disagree with it. And his enablers choose to ignore the truth of our interrelatedness—that choice increases their profits.

Climate deniers who are ignorant of the consequences of violating our interrelationship with each other and the natural world are enabling Trump to carry out the carnage that he predicted in his Inaugural Address. Those who profit from that same ignorance are most culpable in the wreckage happening right now along the Arizona border.

Building a wall is not the answer to illegal immigration. No one is asking me, but if they did, I would submit that the answer is four-pronged. One: we need to invest in the health and prosperity of our neighbors to the south. Two: we need to help legitimate authorities root out and dismantle the corruption and violence that cause Mexicans and Central American people to flee their own country. Three: we must establish policies that make it possible for communities on both sides of the border to peaceably interact and support the business and welfare of their common livelihoods. Four: we need to return to practices that once enabled agricultural workers who are citizens of Mexico to cross the border legally, earn their living in the seasonal work required to tend our farmlands, then go back to their homes and families in the land of their birth. These are pathways to sanity—each of these four solutions is a win-win for America and Mexico.

If the pandemic has shown us nothing else, surely it is clear that each of us is dependent on the health of us all, and that the good health of our citizenry sustains and enlivens our economic health. As Jim Hightower’s father Walter Thomas Hightower used to say, “Everybody is better off when everybody is better off.”

To get to that world where we are all better off, we need to remember what Ann Richards told us: “Life isn’t fair, but government should be.”

The World Without Us

First, the fish came back – and even dolphins – to the canals of Venice. Maybe they never went away, but with the city almost entirely shut down in an effort to stop the spread of corona virus, the port and canals were suddenly calm and “crystal clear” according to some observers – not crammed full and churning with tourist boats and cargo vessels. The fish are visible again.

In Punjab, India, the shutdown-induced reduction in automobile traffic and industry exhaust has cleared the skies so dramatically that people can see the tops of the Himalayas for the first time in 30 or more years. In fact, compared to the same period of time last year, the air is suddenly cleaner all around the world.

Greatly reduced air pollution in Punjab, India (the result of lockdowns to reduce the spread of COVID-19) cleared the skies so dramatically that citizens can see the tops of the Himalayas for the first time in decades (Photo: Diksha Walia: https://twitter.com/Deewalia/status/1246080484813058048)

 

Lions enjoying the absence of traffic in Kruger National Park. Photo credit: Section Ranger Richard Sowry, Kruger National Park

In San Francisco, the nightly hootenanny of coyotes – usually audible only on the rural edges of suburbs – can be heard right in the middle of the city. Lions in Kruger National Park have taken to lounging around the middle of the empty roads. Sea turtles have a real chance of flourishing for one breeding season on Florida beaches, their nests untrampled by tens of thousands of feet, and their hatchlings able to navigate by natural light. A friend remarked to me, a little irritated, that the birds in her neighborhood are “so loud!” lately. For years, city birds have had to compete with noise pollution, adapting their songs to be louder and shorter. Now, with traffic reduced, and construction and other industry slowed, the raucous dawn chorus and vocal territory-marking stand out.

For a fleeting moment, the earth and its “more-than-human collective” is able to take a deep breath, “without the weight of our incessant industry on its chest,” as David Abram recently put it.  It’s almost like the proverbial “peaceable kingdom” — but only because so many humans have been shut inside their homes, not doing “business as usual,” while political leaders and healthcare workers try to contain a deadly virus that has already killed tens of thousands of human beings. Is this what it takes to bring a peaceable kingdom to fruition?

“The Peaceable Kingdom,” by Edward Hicks. If you think it looks a little different than another version you’ve seen, it’s probably because he painted over a hundred variations!

If nothing else, the global COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many of us to acknowledge the degree to which we are dependent on – but ignorant about – the invisible (also usually exploitative) processes that make goods and services instantly available to us, the degree to which we are dependent on regular contact with other human beings, and the extent to which we are entangled in the more-than-human web of life. It is from this web, of course, that COVID-19 and other viruses have transmitted from nonhuman to human, in the course of business-as-usual wildlife trafficking.

And as David Abram writes,

“We’re finally being forced to recognize that no top-down institution, governmental or otherwise, can fully ensure our safety. That our deepest insurance against disaster is going local—by getting to know our actual neighbors and checking in on one another when we can, participating in our local community and apprenticing with the more-than-human terrain that surrounds and sustains us.”

 

Alan Weisman described his book, The World Without Us, as a “thought experiment” prompted by an article he wrote in 1994 for Harper’s Magazine, which chronicled how “when humans fled Chernobyl, nature rushed in to fill our void. Plutonium or not, the ecosystem surrounding the ruined reactor seemed better off without us” (page 355, The World Without Us; you can read the equally fascinating Harper’s article here). It’s hard not to imagine that the planet would, in fact, be better off without human habitation – or at least without the habitation of especially arrogant, careless, greedy, destructive, pathologically individualistic humans. (Unfortunately, that description seems to characterize enough of humanity to do potentially irreversible harm.) But in the very first weeks of the shut-down, we saw that even just a little bit of restraint on the part of humans is enough to set some kind of planetary recovery in motion. How hard would it be to keep some of these restraints in place and actually make the earth more habitable for other creatures? To establish for them a regular sabbath, as Dr. Leah Schade recently proposed:

Rather than being forced into an emergency stop, we can return to the ancient biblical wisdom of planned, regular, and complete rest for ourselves and God’s Creation. Is it so bad to have stores close at 9 p.m.? Would it be unbearable to have one day a week when everyone—workers and consumers alike—gets a day to rest? Can we understand the prudence of leaving forests and natural lands alone to live as God designed?

Put in a more positive way, can we establish policies that enable us truly care for each other in a systemic way? …

Right now, barely two months into this altered reality, people are desperate to “get back to normal.” For the love of God and all that’s holy (really!), please, let us not go back to normal. Our “normal” ways of living and doing global business – privileging short-term profit over long-term planning, consumption over caution, rich over poor, and human over nonhuman – left us completely unprepared for a crisis like this. Republicans trimmed virus-fighting initiatives from our budgets, to pursue wider profit margins or sexier projects. We learned that major corporations, which have been minting money and over-paying shareholders and executives for decades, apparently did not have enough cash on hand to make it one month without steady income. And we watched as a horrifying number of Americans hoarded food and cleaning supplies and fought in store aisles over the last packages of toilet paper, as if trying to prove Thomas Hobbes correct: civility is a thin veneer that barely contains our far baser instincts. Forget normal; this is the time for abnormal behavior. We have a chance, now, to radically change course. To do better. To repent, we might even say.

In an essay that will be part of her next book, writer and activist Arundhati Roy described the corona virus pandemic as “a portal. A gateway between one world and the next.” We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to “imagine another world” and then “fight for it.”

 

I have to admit, my hopes are dimming that we will have learned anything, or that we – as a collective – aspire to do better. Spurred on by thugs in the White House, fools all over the country are staging armed protests in statehouse lobbies, overrunning beaches and parks, flagrantly ignoring social distance recommendations, threatening and even murdering store employees over face mask policies… just as public health safety measures were beginning to slow the number of corona virus deaths and infections.

I’ve been tinkering with this post for two weeks, trying to come up with something uplifting to say at the end of it. But you know what? Right now, I’ve got nothing.

And the portal is closing.

The future is plastic

Let’s first get this mea culpa out of the way. I drive too many miles, as the sole occupant of a fossil fuel-powered vehicle – electric or hybrid autos are not in my budget, yet – for someone who considers herself to be an environmental ethicist. Unfortunately, my job is 40 miles from my home, in a town that would take 7 hours (round trip) of each day to commute by bus. I checked. I’ve also checked RideShare listings; my commute is not a popular route. In addition, I drive to visit my parents who are, respectively, 2.25 hours and 4.5 hours from my home. So, yes, I drive a (fairly efficient, but nonetheless) fossil-fuel burning vehicle a lot of miles a year. Continue reading “The future is plastic”

“Where have all the birds gone?”

This post was originally titled “A Dearth of Birds,” but at first glance “dearth” looked like “death” on my home page. So I changed it, deliberately borrowing from John Terbough’s classic collection of essays (now 30 years old?!).

Robin in sumac (?), Tallmadge Meadow, January 2019. Photo by Marilyn Matevia

I have been trying not to panic about the absence of birds and bird sounds around my usual lunch-time walking trails since the descent of the Great Polar Vortex of 2019, but it unnerves me. Today I did hear a couple of jays, a handful of robins, one singing cardinal, a tufted titmouse, and – possibly – a pileated woodpecker. Then, at the very end of my short walk, I heard the soft, high-pitched whistles of cedar waxwings. I looked around and finally spotted almost a dozen of them, arrayed across the otherwise bare crown of a tree near the parking lot. I literally gasped with excitement, raised my camera… and they vanished; they took off across the meadow – followed by a second, smaller group I hadn’t seen – and settled at the other end. I had no time left to pursue them. Continue reading ““Where have all the birds gone?””

Birds, bees, butterflies, and bulldozers

Butterfly image (“queens” or “soldiers” – not sure – but not monarchs) used with the generous permission of Krista Schlyer.

The last entry I made on this blog before letting it go radio-silent for four long (complicated) years was a review of Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall – a stunning collection of photographs and essays about the US southern borderlands – and an interview with its author and photographer, Krista Schlyer. Ms. Schlyer is a tireless advocate for the ecological and cultural diversity and integrity of the borderlands, and her work has perhaps never been more essential. The unique and critical habitat in those regions is under constant threat from construction and maintenance of the wall (for which the US government routinely waives and ignores environmental regulations, including the Endangered Species Act), but the current administration’s bizarre obsession with lengthening the unwanted wall means that even more habitat, more creatures, and more livelihoods are in imminent danger. Continue reading “Birds, bees, butterflies, and bulldozers”

Bluebirds (and waxwings) of happiness

72DB0C4B-F419-4C59-8995-71D3ECF91825It has been a cruddy few days from the mental health perspective… The persistent damp gray chill outside has begun to infiltrate my brain, as well, giving all my thoughts a heavy, murky, cheerless quality. Still, I decided it was better to go outside in that unpleasantness and take a short walk on my lunch break today than to stay holed up in the office the entire day. At least a brisk walk would move my blood around.

Because birds had made themselves scarce on most other days like this, I was resigned to trudging around my short park loop seeing nothing but dead or dormant meadow plants, bare trees, and the permanently leaden sky. But I carried my addled camera (its focusing mechanisms injured by several hard falls) as I always do, just in case.

Sometimes the universe seems to know when you need a surprise, and I got the first one just a few feet down the path. Bluebirds! I was so startled and delighted, I actually missed some good photo opportunities: I just stood watching them, worried that my movement might scare them off — they were THAT close to me. In the pictures I managed to get, the birds were silhouetted by the uniformly gray sky, so I tweaked the lighting levels when I viewed them in my photo editor. Here are two brightened pictures of one of my bluebirds of happiness. Continue reading “Bluebirds (and waxwings) of happiness”

“Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall” – a short review and an interview with Krista Schlyer

The 700-mile long “fence” – the Border Wall – between the US and Mexico has not stopped illegal immigration, which is the purpose for which it was built by the US government.  But it is proving to be lethally effective at stopping the natural movement of wildlife along its length.  Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall, by Krista Schlyer, is a beautifully written and photographed essay on the ecological and sociocultural impacts of this preposterous wall.  I’ve been showing the book to everyone who enters our house, and now I’m bringing the enlightenment campaign to you.

In Continental Divide, Ms. Schlyer first introduces readers to the biomes of the Borderlands – the desert and grasslands, and the lower Rio Grande valley – then takes them on a tour of the Border Wall itself, describing its inception and political history, and the devastation it is already wreaking on wildlife and human families.  Her intimate knowledge of the region is evident on every page.  The photographs are stunning, and often jarring.  In one, two javelinas are shown wandering away from the Wall, back toward where they started, after walking along the fence looking for a place to cross.   This particular section of the wall is especially devastating: “The stretch of wall in Arizona bisects the San Pedro River corridor, one of the last free-flowing rivers in the state and a haven for wildlife traveling north and south.” Continue reading ““Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall” – a short review and an interview with Krista Schlyer”

A creaturely manifesto

Darkling beetle (photo by Whitney Cranshaw; used under Creative Commons license)

Recently we purchased two enormous book cases from a local bookstore when it (alas) went out of business.  The new real estate allowed me to open some cartons of stored books and bring them back into circulation.  I had been reading several of them (slowly) when I had to pack them away to move into our smaller habitat in 2009.  They stayed in Rubbermaid bins in the garage while I finished comprehensive exams and my dissertation and then started a new job.   It felt like Christmas last month when I opened those boxes.

One of the books was the marvelous Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild, by Ellen Meloy.  Last night I pulled it off the shelf to read before bed, hoping to de-electromagnetize my brain after hours on the computer.  One page into the chapter called “March,” I encountered a manifesto (p142): Continue reading “A creaturely manifesto”

What Marius represents

(Cross-posted at The Moral Mindfield.) (Photo attribution to be determined.)

An international internet uproar erupted late last week over news that the Copenhagen Zoo planned to euthanize a healthy, two-year old male giraffe (“Marius”) and use his body to feed other animals, because his genes were overrepresented in the captive giraffe population.

A petition was launched and other organizations offered to take him in, but the Copenhagen Zoo went through with its plans on Sunday morning. In fact, by the time I first read of the plan in Marc Bekoff’s Psychology Today column, the deed had already been done. Continue reading “What Marius represents”

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