For the past 49 years, my late wife and I left our professions, mine Architect, builder, wife choreographer, teacher for a more simplistic back to earth lifestyle.  We saw the trend that we are experiencing today with excessive growth and expansion in all areas.  Our goal was as it is to this date to minimize our adverse impact on the environment and teach others how they too, can live productively while becoming more sustainable. 

 This essay was sent to Dean Christine, Cal Poly, California State University in San Louis Obispo. I am pleased that Dean Christine finds it important enough to make it available to her students and alumni. 

Hi Christine, 

Looking over your winter 2017 Connections magazine for the second and third time brings back memories of my time at Cal Poly. I am sorry that Westley Ward was not included in the mid 50’s photo as he was my favorite professor, a gentleman, and friend for as long as he lived.

Comparing the growth in number of students, faculty, and facilities of the college is really phenomenal. There is no doubt that you and your colleagues are doing a great job preparing students for a career in Architecture, engineering, construction, and related fields.

All of a sudden, though, I am wondering – can this engine of growth we are experiencing in almost every avenue of our lives here and abroad be sustained indefinitely?  I do not think so!  From my perspective of old age, comparing what it was like 85 years ago, as to what is going on today, I feel I can reasonably project what this country and the world may look like for future generation.

I do not like to be a dooms day advocate but I would like to take you for a little walk with me - as I see the past, as we continue on our present path, and what can be expected for future generations. Yes, it is a fact that growth fuels economies so that people can prosper. Let us take a look at the engines that fuel this growth to try to understand if we are able to manage them especially for the benefit of future generations.  Let us look at money and how it works in our system for the exchanges in goods and services, of capital investment in how it plays in the roll of industrial development, labor, energy, natural resources, and ingenuity.  How each of these parts play in the roll to make up where we are today and what we can expect in the future.

 Money – capital investment – industry

Money works well as a tool for the exchange of goods and services.  In the past, money bought slaves to provide goods and services for the rich.  Now money buys people to do the same kind of things. The difference is that, for most of us, money does allow us to choose a job or profession or a place to live where as in the past, if one happened to be born in slavery, one had no choices. Realistically, for some people even today, money is a form of slavery - for these people have no choice but to live in a place and work at a job they do not like in order to earn a living to survive. 

Our capitalistic system is based on consumption which in turn fuels Industrial growth stimulating evermore investments which in turn produces profits often at the expense of the environment.  Money incentives works marvelously well for people to be able to up grade their situation and it works well to build a nations and their economies.

Labor – population - expansion

Population growth is good for economies as economies need consumers. Taking into account that nature is extraordinarily prolific! For eon’s nature’s checks and balances kept populations growth in their proper perspective along with all other ecosystems. Then man came along with modern medicine and machines. Major diseases were conquered overriding natures checks and balances so that the population of the planet has increased exponentially. Humankind has not able to manage population overload to keep this expansion in balance. In our time, there were vast areas of undeveloped land available to accommodate this unprecedented growth and expansion.  In a relatively short time, rural areas could no longer sustain this growth so urban area became a natural development.  As a result, more housing, cities, automobiles, highways, factories, airplanes, etc., came into being.

One of the most tragic part of this development occurs when excellent food producing being land is being converted into the concrete jungle.  Land that will be required to feed this ever growing population not only in this country but worldwide. In the past 60 years, in the immediate area where I live, I have seen vast truck garden farms, orchards, and other excellent food producing areas transformed into highways, shopping centers, commercial buildings, housing, and other structures of all kinds and shapes. In just the last 40 years, SF North to Santa Rosa has become one continuous urban corridor. I have seen the arms of this growth stretching 130 miles north of San Francisco to Willits. Can we continue on this path indefinitely? I do not think so!

Energy

We are almost complete dependent on sequestered hydrocarbons or fossil fuels that have been dormant for eon, better known as - oil, coal, and natural gas to fuel our economy. The adverse effect of this relatively cheap source of energy is global warming which is no longer a myth. We are experiencing, as we speak, drastic weather changes globally. Furthermore, the long term effect of this global warming trend is still to be determined. It is foolish for us to harvest these sequestered hydrocarbons that have been dormant for eons putting them into our atmosphere along with all the other hydrocarbons being released as a result of global expansion.

Natural Resources

Along with the above mentioned engines that fuel our economy, natural resources are essential. Many of our essential natural resources even renewable ones are being depleted at an astonishing rate. Let’s take a look at the redwood forest as an example. Only 4% of our old growth redwood forest stands remain standing mostly in state parks. Where there was an average inventory of about 450,000 board feet of merchantable timber per acre 100 years ago, our present inventory now standing and being is less than 5,000 board feet per acre in most area.  Fish populations both in rivers and oceans, as wild birds, etc., also, are  diminishing to extinction.  

Ingenuity

Man loves to build all kinds of things. Just look at the marvels that are found in all walks of life. Given the opportunity he will build edifices, highways, bridges, overpasses, and byways of extraordinary size and complexity. The tendency is for more, bigger, brighter than ever  from strawberries to automobiles, to houses, to skyscrapers, even cities worldwide.

If there is to be a future for future generation, I believe the time has come where growth needs to be toned to sustainability in all phases of life not today but yesterday or we the people and most importantly future generations will have to pay the consequences for our negligence. As individuals we must take actions to govern ourselves as much as is possible. Governments, institutions, and industry cannot do this for us as they all have a vested interest in continuing the status – quo.

And this my fellow men and women is the conclusion of my essay. I am not sure this wakeup call can be/will be heard in time for us as individuals or as a nation to act responsibly in a timely way for the benefit of future generations but if you agree  with this premise, we surely can try!

What do you think?

Charles Bello