The Lorax Meets Waconda

Here’s a slight departure from our usual bogs.  I am including a previously posted article that documents how weather disasters have increased their severity and frequency – from every three months to every three weeks. I thought I’d wrap my own story around that report, and link it to what we might personally do to change this rapidly worsening picture. The blog is a bit longer than others, but I think you’ll enjoy it.

 

●       ●        ●        ●        ●        ●        ●

 

The Lorax Meets Waconda

 

And with his parting statement …

 

          “UNLESS someone like you

            cares a whole awful lot,

            nothing is going to get better,

            It’s not.”

 

… the Lorax left his effort half-finished. If you ask one hundred people if they care about the environment, you’ll get one hundred “Yes” responses.  But … talk is cheap.  Actions speak louder than words!

Away, away … in Canada’s far north woods … over two hundred miles north of Toronto … lies a land of cool lakes and lush green forests.

 

  • The water is clean and clear …

you can safely drink from it.

 

  • The fish thrive in abundance …

with all the food you might need.

 

  • Rather than “Swomee-Swans” songs …

the call of the loons flows in their place.

 

  • Instead of Bar-ba-loots frisking about …

deer and brown bear offer clothing and food.

 

  • And rather than Truffula trees …

Maple and Birch grow in their place.

 

But the winters are harsh, and the nights are so long, that the natives yearn for the warmth and the beaches of a far away land. Thus, they sprout into “Snow-birds” who fly southward … to Florida, the Sunshine State.  There, they bask at the beaches and frolic on amusement park rides. Until …

The climate changed, and a sunny life grew dark.

 

Excerpts from an August 30, 2023 article by Paul Elbein, from The Hill, provide a more detailed picture of the problem …

The rising weather-related risks from climate change, from coastal hurricanes to western wildfires, are increasingly pinching insurance companies, which are raising rates and pulling back from parts of the country in an effort to stay in business. Just this summer, two major insurance companies left Florida, adding to the long list of companies that have left the state.

In July, Farmers Insurance announced it would no longer write policies in the state; in August, United Property and Casualty went bankrupt, leaving 22,000 of Floridians high and dry and all Florida residents having to foot the bill to bail it out. Banks could be next, said Dennis Kelleher of public interest nonprofit Better Markets … 

 

“The banking crisis is only right behind the climate

and insurance crisis. Every time an insurance

company sounds an alarm, the banks ought to be

shaking in their boots, because they’re getting the bill.”

 

The unprecedented hurricane cutting across the Florida Panhandle is just the latest in a string of billion-plus dollar disasters to hit the United States this year. Those disasters are becoming more frequent. In the 1980s, an average of almost three months separated such large-scale disasters — but for the last five years, they’ve been coming about every three weeks.

The backstop to these losses is the insurance industry. In the wake of these disasters, some insurance companies have left areas where the risk is highest, leaving increasing numbers of Americans without insurance, according to The Wall Street Journal.

That’s a risk for banks since nearly two-thirds of U.S. homeowners are paying a mortgage to a lender — generally a bank.  Banks, in turn, use these homes as collateral … based on the increasingly obsolete assumption that the properties themselves are backed by insurance. In the past, this largely made sense. … But with the rise of climate change driven disasters, “the quality and reliability of the physical assets have dropped dramatically.”

Add the departure of insurance companies and banks face the possibility of undergoing total losses for properties destroyed by disaster — losses that … insurance payments would have largely made up. Kelleher argued: a wave of defaults is coming.

Carly Fabian, a specialist in insurance and climate change at nonprofit Public Citizen, told The Hill … “While you would think that state insurance regulators would have created such a database and series of reports through the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, this is unfortunately not the case.” Regulators are struggling to catch up.

Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) told The Hill … “If you purchase a home in Pensacola today, current sea level rise projections through 2050 mean that your home will likely be under water before your mortgage is paid off.”

He added that as insurance firms … stop writing policies in those areas, “a cascading effect” risks spreading through the financial system, as financial institutions offload loans, potentially threatening U.S. financial stability. In a stress test performed by the European Central Bank (ECB) that imagines a world in which global heating reaches 3 degrees Celsius by 2050 — three times its current level — banks assumed their total losses would be just $78 billion. This number, the ECB itself noted, “significantly understates the actual climate-related risk.”

In the U.S., both regulators and banks are taking heavy fire from the GOP and the broader fossil fuel industry, which is fighting hard to maintain a free flow of credit to the industry. When the Federal Reserve last year announced it was opening an initial pilot project that would require six banks to audit their climate risk, Republicans cried foul, arguing this was the beginning of a move to defund fossil fuels.

But while their attitude toward reducing their direct exposure to climate change may be different, in one way, Fabian of Public Citizen noted, banking and insurance see eye to eye: Both are happy to keep investing in the very fossil fuels whose combustion makes the problem worse. She said … “Even as they pull away from homeowners, insurers like State Farm remain major investors in fossil fuels and others like AIG are both major investors and major underwriters of fossil fuel projects and companies.”

 

As climate disasters increase … our quality-of-life experience decreases. When the emotional environment becomes negative and fearful, rather than looking at the root of the problem, to solve it, many tend to point blame …

  • Remove those books from the library!
  • Stop abortion and family planning.
  • Blame those LGBTQ people.
  • Cut school budgets.

As a result, Florida is losing population.  Tourism is diminishing.  Many physicians, especially OBGYN, are leaving, so that health care is poorer.  And many corporations found that they couldn’t hire or retain good employees there, so they left for states with better physical and emotional climates.

The “Sunshine State” isn’t feeling as sunny anymore.

Will Floridians still say they care about the environment?

Absolutely!

But … what will they do?

Well … are there any proven models that are environmentally sustainable and also lead to a better economy and better quality-of-life experience?

 

To begin … here’s a place that, like Florida, has a major tourism industry …

In the 10th and 11th centuries, just outside of Siem Reap, in northern Cambodia, many religious structures, mostly Buddhist and Hindu, were built.  One, known as Angkor Wat, is the world’s largest religious structure.  While its roofs are long gone, its stone pathways and ponds and courtyards and sculptures … and its staggering eminence … proudly beckons eager visitors.

Angkor, itself, is a region containing some meadows, some dense jungle, and several religious structures.  And … all visitors must be guided.  Guides are licensed, and trained in both historic facts and environmental quality.  No damage is done to the structures or to the natural setting.

When people leave trash in an amusement park, it’s soon a “dump.” Antarctica’s policy: everything brought in must be carried out; no visitor footprint

remains. Similarly, Angkor Wat’s been a global attraction for a millennium.

 

Second … returning to the Canadian north woods …

In the glorious place of the Lorax, they had Truffula trees.  And from the colorful tufts of the Truffula trees, you could knit a Thneed.  And: “A Thneed’s a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need!”  Well, the native tribes of the north call on Waconda, their spiritual leader, to guide them. So …

Birch and maple and other northern-forest trees support a lumbering industry, and that provides wood to built homes …which all people really do need.

When the Lorax expressed concerns about the clearing of the Truffula trees and problems it created for the population, the Once-ler responded …

 

     “I felt sad as I watched them all go,

     BUT … business is business!

     And business must grow,

     regardless of crummies in tummies, you know.

 

     “I meant no harm.  I most truly did not.

     But I had to get bigger. So bigger I got.”

 

But … how much “bigger” is big enough?

Now we have the quantitative issue, growth, creating a problem for the qualitative issue: our quality-of-life experience.  So …

The Canadian Province of Ontario created Algonquin Provincial Park.

 

First, an interesting aside … 

You likely know the story of Paul Bunyan and Babe, his big blue ox.  Well, what’s less known is that Paul had a brother, Seymour, who was also a lumberjack.  Seymour was not as powerful as Paul, but he had concerns about the areas in which they plied their lumberjacking trade.  For example, when Paul finished his work at the Mohave Forest, in the southwest USA, the forest critters all had to scatter up to the mountains, to survive amongst the trees there.  And the large nearby lake they used to enjoy became very salty. 

Suddenly, Seymour realized that the work he was about to begin, a few hundred miles north of Toronto, could provide the wood that everyone needs for their homes, but … it also had to be done in a way that allowed the forest – and all the creatures that called it home – to survive and even thrive.  So …

 Seymour spent his evenings talking with local fishermen, hunters, and officials. And each meeting was concluded with a local traditional saying: “May Waconda, the great camper of all great campers, be with us ‘til we meet again.” By the time he’d completed his lumberjacking work he’d gained their acceptance, the park’s boundaries were set, tree harvesting guidelines were in place, and the forest was even better than it was when he began his work. 

Suddenly, Seymour also realized that the park could provide huge amounts of wood, virtually without end.  And while he wasn’t as powerful a lumberjack as Paul, he also took solace in knowing that he could now spend those long, dark, cold, Canadian winter nights with his babe … who was not a blue ox!

 

One key Algonquin Park rule:  Lumbering cannot exceed the annual growth of the forest.  A single rail line was built, to help remove harvested logs with a minimum of collateral damage and air pollution.  The lakes are still crossed largely by canoe, and connected by portages. And …

 

  • The water is still clean and clear …

you can safely drink from it.

 

  • The fish still thrive in abundance …

with all the food you might need. And …

 

  • Rather than “Swomee-Swans” songs …

the call of the loons still fills the evening air.

 

  • Instead of Bar-ba-loots frisking about …

deer, moose and brown bear offer clothing and food.

 

  • And rather than Truffula trees …

Maple and Birch still thrive in their place.

 

For over 150 years, Algonquin Provincial Park has fostered a profitable lumber industry, and a heavy flow of visitors who camp and canoe and trek the trails of the magnificent north woods.  And the forest is as healthy as ever.

(If you, dear reader, are interested in a less intriguing but perhaps more substantiated version of how the park was set aside, and what its rules are, just contact the Algonquin Forestry Authority, the Crown agency that is responsible for sustainable forest management in Algonquin Park. Their contact information is listed on their website: https://algonquinforestry.on.ca/.)

 

Whom to count on to make positive change happen?

In our two examples, people who truly cared about those magnificent environments also had to invest considerable energy in convincing their governments to set those lands aside, create rules that would ensure the sustainability of those areas, and ensure that administrative operations were created that would then carry the ball for longer than their founders’ lifetimes.

However …

What if you, dear reader, are not personally effective in getting organizations formed, or in getting governments to sanction these visions?

Only twenty years ago, I had to search for a grocer who carried a variety of healthier organic food.  I found two, both run by aging Hippies.  The supermarkets claimed that organic foods were too expensive and that the public wouldn’t spend that extra amount.  But … consumers stayed the course.

Eventually larger markets, such as Whole Foods, committed to organic produce … and flourished.  The other markets finally had to change, or lose a share of their customer base.  So, when a grocer tells you …

          “This produce is actually just as healthy as organic” … 

Just say “No thanks” and go elsewhere.  “Just as healthy” isn’t measurable.  Simply put, your decisions as a consumer are all the power you need.  So …

If you’re buying a home or renting an apartment, here’s a “No Thanks” checklist you can use that should accomplish the outcome we all need …

 

“Are your walls painted with Zero VOC paint?” 

                        “We use the best paint quality you’ll find anywhere.”

                        “Our paints meet the best standards of the industry.”

 

                                    “Thanks for explaining this.”  Then leave.

(Normal paint off-gasses for ten years.  Indoor air quality is a major source for allergies and ill-health.)

 

“Are you net zero (i.e. 100%) with regard to solar power?” 

                        “We use the most efficient appliances out there.”

                        “We use the most cost-effective reliable systems.”

                        “Our systems are LEED certified.”

                        “All our appliances have Energy Star ratings.”

 

                                      “Thanks for explaining this.”  Then leave.

(Solar power is as reliable as the sun, and actually less expensive. It can also power your car, so driving is free.)

 

“Do you use wood casement windows?” 

                        “Double-hung windows are easier to clean.”

                        “Aluminum windows help keep your house cost down.”

                        “All our windows are double-glazed for energy efficiency.”

 

                                     “Thanks for explaining this.”  Then leave.

(Homes can lose 40% of their heating and cooling with air moving through.  Casement windows stop that loss. And wood insulates more than metals or vinyl.)

 

“Are your cabinets and shelves solid wood?” 

                      “Our cabinets and vanities are equal to any you see on TV.”

                      “All our cabinetry meets industry standards.”

 

                                    “Thanks for explaining this.”  Then leave, because …

(Builder cabinets are mostly plywood, with melamine shelves; both off-gas.)

 

“Do you provide metal roofing and rainwater harvesting?” 

                        “We use more economical shingle roofing.”

                        “Our roofing carries a 20-year warrantee.”

                        “We use the most cost-efficient roofing there is.”

                        “We ensure rainwater runs from the site.”

 

                                     “Thanks for explaining this.”  Then leave.

(Metal roofs are guaranteed for 50 years and for 99 miles-per-hour winds. Rainwater can be saved in a cistern and recycled, eliminating 92% of your water bill.)

 

“Do you provide induction electric cooktops?” 

                        “Most homeowners prefer even-heat gas cooking.”

                        “We use natural gas; it’s less expensive.”

                        “Natural gas is better; it’s the industry standard.”

 

                                     “Thanks for explaining this.”  Then leave.

(Natural gas, even when not in use, off-gasses benzine. Induction electric provides perfectly even heat, instantly, and with an amazingly tiny amount of power.)

 

“How efficient are your heating and cooling systems?” 

                        “We use the best natural gas systems available.”

                        “We use heat pumps to save energy.”

 

                                    “Thanks for explaining this.”  Then leave.

(A passive solar home can collect and use the sun’s heat to keep you warm without cost. And a closed-loop geothermal system uses ground temperature to keep you cool, with less than half the energy and maintenance.)

 

“How much insulation do you have?”           

                        “We’re now up to R-14, which is more than most.”

                        “Our entire home design features high efficiency.”

 

                                     “Thanks for explaining this.”  Then leave.

(Insulation is one of the cheapest things you can do to stay comfortable for less money. R-35 for walls and R-78 for roofs are now standard in sustainable design.)

 

This checklist is intended to help you get past the non-measurable terms – such as “eco-friendly” or “energy-efficient” or even “sustainable” – often used to convince a consumer to buy.  But remember:  it took a lot of people walking away from “It’s just as good as organic and less expensive” to cause every supermarket to now have an entire section of organic produce.  And if you’re healthier, you’re more likely to save on medical expenses … and more likely to enjoy what it’s like to simply feel better each day!

 

Well … the residential development industry is in the same place now.  Just as the Food & Drug Administration ensured that everything on a grocer’s shelf met a certain minimal standard, your only guarantee of quality in a home is the building code.  All developers and homebuilders must meet that code in order to get building permits and certificates of occupancy.  But, all you’re assured of is minimal compliance; anything above that erodes profit.

Just as food was sold on a “cheapest is best” first-cost basis, consumers realized that first cost isn’t “total cost.”  Just as health considerations supported the shift to organic foods, materials in a home have the same health considerations … and more.  (Foods don’t have the same maintenance cost and utility bill considerations as homes.)  And just as the healthy change to organic food was driven by each of us, the change to a healthier environment is also up to each of us.

The reason I used Algonquin Provincial Park as a sustainable example was that I was shipped up there to a summer camp by my parents when I was 8.  We did a lot of canoe-tripping. And the first lesson I was taught:

      “Always leave the campsite better

       than it was when you got there.”

                        “But what if no one else ever comes to this campsite?”

      “It doesn’t matter.” 

                        “But what if no one ever appreciates what we did?”

        “It doesn’t matter.”

                        “But what if they never know who did it?” 

        It doesn’t matter. It’s simply the right thing to do.”

 

Well … Earth is our campsite.  Returning to the plea of the Lorax …

 

     “UNLESS someone like you

       cares a whole awful lot,

       nothing is going to get better,

       It’s not.”

 

I would add …

 

No one may notice some small thing that you did … 

And no one may really appreciate what you’ve done … 

And no one may ever know that it was you who did it … 

But … you do need to do something for our campsite, anyway because …

 

It’s the right thing to do and it does matter! 

 

And so, dear reader, please take a moment to reflect and ask yourself what you actually might be able to do. We all have busy lives, with demands on our time and things we most enjoy doing, and financial limits.  But whatever even small, insignificant thing you can do, will add to what others can do. And collectively, we will have created the consumer pressure that can make the difference between Earth as a dump or … as a place for a joyful life!

                                                                               The Lorax

                                                                                Waconda

                                                                                … and Stu

 

Comments are closed.