New Clear Vision

constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted
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Tragic History

March 24, 2014 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Ecology, Walt Anderson

A Naturalist’s Reflections on the Yarnell Fire

by Walt Anderson

Nine months after the tragic Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013, the event continues to touch many of us with a rawness only slightly softened by time.  My memories remain vivid.  With thunderstorm activity developing in the Prescott area that afternoon, Cactus cross, a burn survivorI grabbed my camera and headed out to the Doce Fire area south of Granite Mountain.  Fierce little rain squalls gave me subjects to explore visually.  The powdered ash deposits post-fire are very vulnerable to erosion, a step in the ecologic process I wanted to capture.

Then as a squall shifted south, I could see in the distance a column of smoke that caused my hair to rise — it appeared to me that the small town of Yarnell was on fire.  Without hesitation, I leaped into the car and shot toward Skull Valley, having to slow down once in the midst of an intense downpour.  The closer I got to Peeple’s Valley, the more my concern intensified, and I made a decision that gave me a perfect vantage point on a ridge north of the fire.  If I had continued any farther down the highway, I would have been stopped by emergency vehicles and stuck in a line of other cars prohibited from moving farther. (more…)

We Are All Noah Now

February 03, 2014 By: NCVeditor Category: Ecology, Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, Politics

Wake Up and Smell the Extinction…

by Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

We are all Noah now.

These words have been sounding in my head like a mantra these past few weeks, and this morning I woke from strong dreams of animals in trouble — a big lone fox, a frantically hopping toad — and felt the need to make my inchoate awareness of danger and responsibility more tangible by writing it down and sharing it with others.

Derrick Jensen asks with desperate, angry sadness how long it will take us to finally wake up and start resisting the accelerating extinction of species happening on our watch.

How can we love our pets so much (I ask with my purring cat on my lap and my snoring dog at my feet) and remain unmoved by the news that hundreds of sweet, innocent reptiles and amphibians, many of them from fragile, endangered species, were cruelly murdered by callous neglect last week, crushed into hot plastic tubs without food or water for days in a crate bound from Madagascar to the U.S. pet store market? (more…)

Inner Eye

October 22, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Ecology, Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, Politics

A Message from the Wounded Heart of the Earth

by Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

While in the foreground Washington politics continued as usual, a remarkable animal came like a messenger sent to remind me of the state of things in the background, where what’s really important is going on.

ospreyI’m using Mary Daly’s terminology here: she calls everything that mainstream society generally focuses on part of the “foreground,” which distracts us from the deeper and more significant issues and events going on in the “background.”

Instead of worrying about how the “snools” are jerking the country around from their headquarters inside the Beltway, Daly urges us to pay attention to the bigger, deeper picture of what’s happening on a global level to the ecological systems that keep us all alive.

Sometimes it’s hard to wrench my attention away from all the grotesqueries going on in the foreground.  Recently, I had help. As I was walking along a trail by a small river near my house, in the gathering gloom of dusk, I looked back to see my dog Loki standing stock-still near a large object that I couldn’t immediately identify. (more…)

Stewards and Balancers

October 01, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Ecology, Guest Author

Respecting Nature’s Limits Is the Solution

by Aaron Guthrie Lehmer-Chang

Last month, The New York Times published a fantastical piece on human exceptionalism entitled “Overpopulation Is Not the Problem,” in which author Erle C. Ellis claimed that human societies have no limits to their growth. That’s right — limits are merely an illusion. Expansion über alles! That’s our species’ birthright, and rightful destiny.

“There really is no such thing as a human carrying capacity,” writes Ellis, castigating those of us concerned with ecological limits as believers that humans are little different than “bacteria in a petri dish.” Perhaps even more outlandishly, Ellis goes on to state that “[t]he idea that humans must live within the natural environmental limits of our planet denies the realities of our entire history, and most likely the future.” Who’s history exactly?

As an associate professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Ellis should know better. Unless he steered clear of the stacks of thoughtful volumes available to him on the rise and fall of past civilizations, he would surely have encountered chronicle after chronicle of societies that faced progressively daunting ecological challenges, and which plummeted in population as a result. (more…)

Subversive Ecology

September 26, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Culture, Ecology, Evaggelos Vallianatos

Can It Be an Antidote to Our Toxic Age?

by Evaggelos Vallianatos

One of the discoveries I made during my 25-year tenure at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was ecology.

Of course, I had heard of ecology before joining EPA in 1979. I studied zoology as an undergraduate, so I was familiar with ecology and its theoretical focus on connections and processes. They underpinned the natural world.

But nothing had prepared me for the political ecology of EPA. I came to know a few ecologists and, more than that, I read dozens of their memos.

It was then I realized the harmful effects of pesticides — and the limits of ecology in America. (more…)

Landscape Lunacy

August 16, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Ecology, Walt Anderson

Reflections on Hubris, Mythology, and the Need for Ecological Literacy

by Walt Anderson

29 June 2013.  Prescott, Arizona.  At Granite Mountain, eleven days after the eruption of the big Doce Fire, the smoke has cleared — mostly.  There are still hot pockets (inedible ones) with potential for flames to rise from the ashes and run amok again.  Mother Nature teases us with clouds trailing virga — and even a few drops of liquid that reach the ground — but the hot winds accompanying the clouds continue their mischief, and dry lightning ignites new blazes around the county.  A microburst (sorry, not an artisan brew) takes down trees in town and starts a fire.  The firefighters are still out there at the mountain, and aircraft drone overhead on their missions of attempted control.  But for most of us, the adrenalin has subsided; our fears have receded.

30 June 2013.  One of those fires started two days ago happened to be in Yarnell, and today it erupted into the disastrous fire that took the lives of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the same folks who fought the Doce Fire and, in the process, saved the sacred ancient juniper that may have watched the comings and goings of wildfire for millennia. (more…)

Fire on the Mountain

June 24, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Culture, Ecology, Walt Anderson

Burning Desires and Incendiary Thoughts

by Walt Anderson

Hot winds batter the landscape, sucking whatever moisture they can coax from desiccated plants.  Record-breaking temperatures challenge the survival skills of wildlife, as they and we wait for the merciful monsoonal rains, should they come in a month.  We wait 1  Little Granite Mountain, Doce Fire_17 (Large)and watch, knowing that the first plume of smoke to rise skyward could create a blazing inferno defying our feeble but expensive efforts to limit the damage.

And then it happens.  June 18, 2013, starts out as a typical central Arizona early-summer day — vivid blue skies unlike one ever sees in humid coastal areas, stiff breezes to cool one off (or dry one out) as temperatures reach 90.  After running morning errands, I return home for lunch.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see what appear to be clouds — curious!  And then there it is — that dreaded, rising column of multicolored smoke signaling a wildfire at the worst possible time of year.  I drop everything and race out the door with my camera.  This trumps everything else.  (more…)