Monday, April 16

Monday Propaganda: Seeking Resilience in a Thirsty Land



Not too long ago I was in a group of people where someone made the comment: "People come to Colorado to get rich." The statement hit me right to my core. It's true of me. I wasn't necessarily looking to get rich, but I was seeking an avenue to more wealth than I believed I had available to me in Kentucky when I accepted my current position. When you look at history though, it rings true. There was once a land grab, a gold rush, housing booms, and these days the promise of (somehow) a better life in this oasis on the borderline of the Great American Desert (as Zebulon Pike described the High Plains) and the Rocky Mountains. This oasis sits in a rain shadow and siphons water from the more moist (moisterest?) Western Slope.

When I first landed on the Front Range my new boss sat me down and gave me an hour long dissertation on western water law. On my own initiative I later read Marc Reisner's controversial Cadillac Desert. Reisner's book came before my concerted effort to educate myself on sustainability issues. But it had a more profound impact on me than even Silent Spring.

Before I'd even finished the book I felt like our move West had been a mistake. We had relocated to an area that had already exceeded its natural carrying capacity. It had not been a sustainable move.

In my Watershed to Waterwise class as we discussed these issues I made the point that the questions is never asked if we should perhaps prohibit new growth in an area like the Denver metro. It's a battle between common sense and a perceived sense of entitlement. "You can't move here!" versus "I have the right to move wherever I want!"

It's a tricky idea to attack. If we allowed that sort of mentality (indiscriminately prohibiting new development) to prevail anywhere then the whole world would end up being nothing but gated communities owned by the rich. Right?

But, if a region has truly exceeded its carrying capacity then why should policy allow further densification? In the case of Denver the real issue is water. And, as I have discovered, western water law is a complex system designed to...well, I'm not sure what. I've discovered that it's a complex system and it seems to benefit those with the strategery and dignitude to acquire senior water rights.

It was the recognition of the Front Range's true weakness that took me to the conclusion that, in the shadow of societal collapse, the Denver area would not be a happy place to be. And so, that line of thinking inspired two things: one, my Family Emergency Plan's Apocalypse Clause, and as a direct result of that clause, the inspiration for the story I've been working on. It's sort of a speculative autobiographical fiction.

Echoing my long standing feelings on the issue is this passage from Last Myth:

"The American way of life may not be negotiable, as former vice president Dick Cheney famously said at the beginning of this new century, but to an ever-increasing majority of our population, it doesn't seem quite sustainable either."


I don't really want to see society fail, but I can't stomach the idea of perpetuating an unsustainable society to uphold the sanctity of the American Dream.

Colorado or bust...that was the sign we put in the rear window of Forester Gump when I drove the tribe cross country on our move West.

Geez! Hindsight and all...

Would it have been better to have busted? I don't think so. I needed this journey to bring me to the understanding I have now. My perspective was limited in that place we left. But so many windows have opened and my perspective is so much broader now and my experience and knowledge have grown and become more robust and real.

I'm not happy with the precariousness of our chosen home. Resilience is superficial. We're still dependent on the fossil fuel scaffolding that keeps our house of cards from toppling. True resilience can only occur where the land and the sky provide for the majority of your primary needs. True resilience only resides where carrying capacity has not been exceeded and where overshoot does not exist.

I end up second guessing myself a lot. I realize I didn't have all the information in the years before we moved. I was trying to learn. I was seeking the truth. It just came to me later than I would have liked.

Then there is the part of me that desperately wants to be settled and looking back on a period of time spent building a home and a homestead and not thinking of change. That part of me wants to ignore the nagging feeling that life in arid suburbia is heading for calamity and ruin. Now is not the time for a career or lifestyle change! the voice implores.

I've learned not to question my better judgment though. And my better judgment, my reasoning and logical components, tell me that now is the best time for life-altering change. Always...

I'd be a farmer. I'd give up the house in the suburbs in a heartbeat, easy access to the city and its amenities. My soul longs to live closer to the land, further from the built environment. My body yearns to move in the sun and dress and keep the land. My mind cries out for escape from what it sees as a farce, a facade, an unsustainable lie.

Water rights. Rain shadow. Great American Desert. Gold rush. Get-rich-quick. Whore for sprawl. Rabid entitlement. Exponential growth. American refugees.

These are the thoughts that barrel through my head randomly, like a nine year old hopped up on Redbull through a crowded room, and keep me focused on the event horizon where my worldview will be revealed as truth, or not. Hope this explains the obsession a bit...

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