Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the category “nature”

Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite, 2013 – Tom Rossi

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Life on the Rocks

Life on the Rocks

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir - San Francisco's Water Supply

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir – San Francisco’s Water Supply

Yes, the car stopped.

Yes, the car stopped.


Lembert Dome

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Lake Mono

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-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.




A Whale of a Whaling Tale – Tom Rossi


U.S. appeals judge Alex Kozinski, last week, declared that the actions of the group known as the Sea Shepherds amount to piracy. The Sea Shepherds sail the oceans, chasing whaling vessels and trying to interfere with the killing of whales.


In 1976, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) set the quota for a certain species of whale found largely in the southern hemisphere at zero in an attempt to get around policy difficulties with bureaucracy. Japan promptly issued itself a permit to hunt whales for research purposes, as allowed by IWC rules, and to dispose of the meat and other valuable components on the Japanese market.

Since then, the Japanese have taken hundreds of these whales per year in the name of research… while making huge profits at around $50 per pound wholesale (and climbing) of whale meat. I’m really hoping they don’t start researching Italian Americans.

Several issues come up, here…

If whales are simply a resource to be harvested for our needs (or wants), then that resource should be preserved at optimum production levels. That isn’t happening.

One of the so-called strengths of our economic system (a system which is in force throughout most of the world) is that, as a resource becomes more scarce, its price rises, creating an incentive to develop new resources as replacements. But in the real world, as the price of a resource rises, the incentive that’s immediately created is to exploit every last molecule of that resource until it disappears.

The Japanese claim that whale populations are healthy and that their hunting, er… research does nothing to harm sustainability. But real research, not funded by those profiting from whaling, shows that whale populations are in decline.

But what if whales are not just a resource, like oil, but are living creatures that have some value, other than “use value?” Whales are intelligent and complex beings. They show surprising depth of emotion and their communications are stunning in their richness. Would westerners accept the hunting of chimpanzees for their meat? Or mountain gorillas?


The fact is that Americans can’t even stomach horse meat. Why is that? Sure, there are stories that the current horse meat “crisis” has to do with horses from eastern Europe that may have been in poor health before they were slaughtered. But there’s something much bigger than that going on.

Americans would absolutely not accept even good quality horse meat, because America loves horses. Horse lovers cite the animal’s intelligence and sensitivity as reasons that they are so precious to them. And the image of the horse is one of a great friend to us – a partner, not a stock of meat.

Meanwhile, only a few people shed a tear for the cow. Cows are certainly not as intelligent as whales, or even horses. Is that the difference? So where do we draw the line? The Japanese harvest lots of intelligent creatures, such as the incredible cuttle fish. To them, the cuttle fish is a resource too.


Being a carnivore myself, I find that I cannot answer this question. It seems it’s another subtle judgement call. Prey animals, like cattle and chickens, make up an important part of the human diet (although vegetarians and vegans would disagree) as fish and deer and prairie dogs make up important parts of the diets of their natural predators.

But if we upset the balance of nature by ourselves hunting ocean predators, such as whales and tuna, the populations of the species that eat the oceans’ algae will explode. This will mean yet another huge insult to the world’s oxygen production, until the algae-eaters crash from an algae shortage. Their decaying bodies will then produce carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change.

By coincidence (not really), it is the predators that happen to be the most intelligent animals, with few exceptions. So maybe there are sentimental as well as practical reasons to curtail activities such as whaling.

A few years ago, I spent six months living in Japan. I really like Japan and its people. I made lots of good friends there and I hated to leave. And one of the great things about that country is its food – delicious, healthy, and incredibly varied.

The Japanese have eating habits that they are loath to change. Japan continues to fish bluefin tuna toward oblivion, for example, as its appetite for it hasn’t slowed in the least with news of crashing bluefin populations.

Habits die hard. But we need to see the science by squinting through the fog of political and profit-driven spin. The human population on this Earth is huge and growing. We have long since passed the point where our activities have significant effects on the functioning of the ecology that is our life-support mechanism.


I’m not really sure if these are chief among the reasons that the Sea Shepherds risk their lives to protect whales and other sea creatures, or if they just want to preserve what little they can of the beautiful life on this planet. Either way, in the face of the unwillingness of politicians, worldwide, to slow the rate at which we change our world down to a level that can be understood in its impacts, they are bravely taking action. I wish we lived in a world were extreme action was unnecessary. But when the rates of destruction of important elements of our world are extreme, the wheels of politics turn too slowly, usually reacting only when it’s too late.

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.


Nature’s Fate? Or Ours?

It’s been over a week since I returned from my most recent trip to Yosemite National Park, and I’m still benefitting from its effects on me. As I enter the park boundary, or escape the world of concrete in one of many other natural areas, I feel my blood pressure drop, as well as my shoulders. My eyes stop aching. The anxiety drifts away. The stench of the anthropogenic world is replaced in my nostrils by the cooling, calming, yet invigorating scents of the forest or the desert. I am home.


No, I wasn’t born in the jungle and raised by wolves. But I do feel the pull of the habitat of our long-lost ancestors.


In my studies, I have made it my goal to ignore aesthetics and any kind of “warm and fuzzy” values. I want to get to the bottom line in black and white. I often say I want to convince the Dick Cheneys of the world that nature has real value – economic value that can be seen on a balance sheet – and that that value is enormous.


I’m certainly right about all that. Lots of great scientists and economists have laid the groundwork for the inevitable and inescapable conclusion that we must manage The Earth and its resources more sustainably, lest we degrade its value and the value of its material and process gifts to us beyond the point of no return.


The Earth provides us with literally everything (except the light and energy that come from the sun) we need for life. It also provides raw materials with which we may “improve” our lives and our surroundings. I’m not actually sure the improvements really always work, but nature provides us with the options. And whether God, or Mother Nature, or some stochastic process have led to this world doesn’t matter. It’s here. It’s wonderful. And we must, for so many reasons, take good care of it.


The Earth also provides a miraculous process, akin to the flushing of a giant toilet, in the form of waste processing. We can put a lot of junk into our air and even our water and it gets filtered, digested, diluted, or incorporated into something else.


These sources and sinks, as they are known to geeky scientists and policy wonks like me, are themselves the source of an infinite amount of wonderful numbers, facts, and figures. I could put you right to sleep with all of it, I’m sure.


But I don’t really want to forget about the sights, the sounds, the smells, nor the feelings that I experience when I leave the concrete jungle behind, if only for a weekend. It’s true that I can make cold, hard, black and white arguments for nature and sustainability. But I have to admit that it depresses me that I have to.


I always feel, deep down inside, that all a person needs to do is open his or her eyes and he or she will see the path. We came from The Earth. We partner with The Earth. And if we so choose, this relationship can last far into the future… to our benefit and enjoyment.


-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.



Yosemite and Ron Kauk – Tom Rossi

Last week, some members of my family and I visited that most beautiful of American landmarks, Yosemite National Park. I’ve been there well over ten times, but I never get tired of the rivers, streams, trees, birds, and of course… the three-thousand foot, sheer rock cliffs.

During my trips to Yosemite, I mostly stay outdoors. In fact, I don’t want to listen to the radio, watch TV, or even drive. But this time I saw that a movie about rock-climbing icon Ron Kauk was playing at the Yosemite Conservancy Theater. It was called, “Return to Balance: A Climber’s Journey,” and I had seen a small part of it before, somewhere, so I knew it was really good.

A buddy and I went to the movie and, lo and behold, there was Ron Kauk himself. I hadn’t realized that he would be presenting the movie himself and doing a little talk, as well.

The movie features fantastic cinematography of Kauk climbing and of Yosemite, itself. Kauk’s ascents of (evidently) well-practiced routes were like a ballet – smooth, artful, and graceful. It was enough to make quite an impression on my friend, who had never done any rock climbing.

The beauty of this movie (the first 5 minutes can be seen by clicking here) is certainly reason enough to see it. But Kauk didn’t stop there. In his soft-spoken, humble way, he told us, both within the movie and in the talk, about the way he relates to the natural world.

Kauk sees himself as a part of nature, not an external force, bending nature to his will. He appreciates everything around him when he’s out in the wilderness. He realizes that he has been extremely lucky to be able to spend his life out on the rocks in Yosemite (mostly). He also said he can’t walk past a cigarette butt without picking it up and throwing it away.

The movie shows Kauk in various, Yosemite settings – sometimes climbing, and sometimes just taking in and enjoying his surroundings. His climbing and his quiet times at the top of some huge rock have become quite meditative.

Several years ago, when I was climbing (badly), my climbing partners and I would find ourselves behaving in a similar way to what I think most climbers do. When we reached the top of a rock or sometimes a mountain, we would just sit, without speaking much, and survey the world from our new perch. There is a feeling of accomplishment, to be sure, after completing a challenge. But it was much more than that. The reward for the climb was a new viewpoint and a new perspective on the surrounding area and all that was in it.

Years ago, Kauk was actually on what some would consider the wrong side of an argument about altering rocks with protection bolts and similar gear. The argument was with another legendary climber (and purist), John Bachar. I don’t really know the result of this conflict, but listening to Kauk today, it seems that he has evolved from someone who just pushes the limits of climbing to someone who places great value in the canvas on which he creates his art.

This is a controversy only within the climbing community as the metal bolts in question would probably only be noticed by climbers and maybe photographers. I wish I had known about this in time to ask Kauk how he had been affected.

I did ask Kauk if, as he got older, he would turn more to advocacy for protecting nature. He said yes and explained a few ways he already does a lot like taking foster kids out on trips and so forth. So Kauk’s advocacy might not take the form of Washington lobbying, but I’m sure it will accomplish a lot.

If you’ve never been to Yosemite, you owe it to yourself to go. Just don’t go on Memorial Day or anything – too crowded. Of course, there are many other incredible National Parks. Pick one! Make it a priority to visit. Your spirit will benefit much more that it will from almost any other vacation.

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.


Saving Nature, Our Natural Defense

A few days ago, I posted A Rude Intrusion, about BP and other multinational oil companies sponsoring an exhibition on the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, highlighting responsible cultivation of our oceans and wetlands. I spoke about the irony of the company who brought the latest oil spill to our coasts, and ironically the Gulf Coast, taking on this role.

The issue of the disappearing wetlands is an important lesson. During this past trip to help rebuild New Orleans, I learned that the disappearing bayou had served as a natural defense to surge water, what essentially destroyed much of New Orleans. This is chronicled in Hurricane on the Bayou. The bottom line is: had we taken care of this beautiful natural ecosystem, it would have protected the people of NOLA from a Category 5 hurricane.

It is scary that, despite possessing this knowledge, despite the harsh lesson that we were taught from Hurricane Katrina, we are still destroying the wetlands, at the incredible rate of an area the size of a football field is vanishing every 38 minutes.

There are a number of organizations trying to raise awareness and instigate policy that would reverse the trend. Unfortunately, they are not gaining much attention. One such organization was set up in our own San Francisco, by Louisiana natives who have raised funds for a new initiative. 

For the Bayou was founded in San Francisco in 2008 by Louisiana natives to increase public awareness of the disappearing Louisiana coastal wetlands, to foster restoration and protection of this culturally significant coastal environment and to aid and assist the people of Louisiana in the event of a disaster.” 

Here is their project:

It costs just $25 to buy and plant a burlap with the grass that can hold the wetlands. For details of how to donate, please click here. Perhaps it is not too late stop the sun setting on the bayou, and by saving this vital ecosystem, save our own beautiful Gulf Coast community and culture.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

On Flag Day – The Best Things About the Good-Ol’ U.S.A.

On Flag Day, and especially after I sort of bad-mouthed the flag wavers last week, I think it might be a good idea to list some of the things I do love, so much, about my country – the United States of America.

I love the mountains,

the rivers,

the fields,

the deserts,

the beach,

the wildlife,

the pets,

the people,

the ideas,

the scholarly thinking,

the enginuity,

the literature,

the art,

the music,

and, of course…

the flag.

I came up with this list in about 3 minutes. I’m sure I left some great stuff out.

What don’t I love? War, intolerance, senseless killing, police brutality, greed, materialism, and so on and so forth. The United States is certainly not the only place to find these things, and probably not even the worst in most of these categories. But we should strive for more of the good stuff and less of the bad. That seems like a sensible idea, doesn’t it?

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com


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