Out here in exurbia we coexist with nature. Surprisingly, the first sounds of the day are not from cars, school buses or children walking to school, they are from the yelping coyotes or screeching barn owls at dawn followed by the sounds of ravens, hawks, roosters, and horses. Sometimes, the dogs in our little valley are boisterous and if there is a breeze, we can hear the palm fronds catching the wind.
Lately the sweetest sound has been coming from the three baby finches cupped in a small nest under our eaves by the front door alerting us that their parents are feeding these tiny fledglings. This house finch couple has been laying eggs and raising their young in this same nest for six years now. The only visible peril I ever witnessed was when a blue scrub jay found the nest and gobbled the eggs.
Our human input in this canyon oasis is profitable to the local flora and fauna and the return on our investment is the nature show we get to witness on a daily basis. All variety of birds abound in exurbia and so do bees, dragonflies, moths, butterflies, grasshoppers, squirrels, rabbits, raccoon, groundhogs and coyotes. Our landscape attracts them, the fruit trees in the orchard nourish them and the water fall, which was built at the back of the house, bathes them.
In Boston, when we lived in an urban setting, our focus on nature was different. We literally had to stop and smell the neighbors’ roses to see the bees. To view the birds, it was helpful to hang bird feeders; especially in the winter. To be surrounded by ‘nature’, we would take the bus to the Boston Commons. There my daughter and I would feed the ducks and chase the pigeons. By the weekend, we could not wait to get in the car and drive out to the shore, the lake or the exurbs, where my husband’s parents lived. The sounds of the city may be exciting to some but what resonates with us, is nature and open space.
Coexisting with people in the city where nature is secondary feels unnatural. Coexisting with people in the exurbs where nature is primary not only feels natural, it’s healthy to our mind, body and soul. For the security and well-being of our environment it is essential to develop a compassionate relationship with nature. Sadly, the lifestyle in exurbia is being positioned as unsustainable because of alleged social, economic and environmental injustices, and a manufactured eco-crisis “where human activity is fundamentally altering the Earth’s dynamics.”
Sustainable development ideals are prompting planners and elected officials to enact a change in lifestyle for those of us who prefer to live beyond the urban boundaries. Not only are they pushing an urban consolidation agenda that focuses growth in urban centers through in-fill development and brownfields mitigation, they are proposing a low-density to high-density metamorphosis of small cities and towns. From an economic stand point I can see the benefits of redirecting some of the growth in urban centers but to cease construction of all single-family homes in the outlying areas is unnecessary. (Read Wendell Cox’s article California is at War with Suburbia here.)
To achieve sustainable development in California, regulatory agencies are using the Endangered Species Act and CEQA, to subject residents and business owners to increasing regulations that usually interfere with property owners’ land use decisions. Regulatory intervention is often supported by precautionary principles. In an article written by Jonathan Adler for The American, one of the principles is defined:
“The most common articulation of the precautionary principle is the Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, a consensus document drafted and adopted by a group of environmental activists and academics in January 1998. The statement defined the precautionary principle thus:
When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.
In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.
Absolute proof or scientific certainty is not required. Rather, a “reasonable” belief in the possibility of future harm is sufficient—indeed, such a belief may require action.”
Read The Red List where I describe the authority the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have to stop development that will impact “threatened” or “endangered” species. According to Jonathan Adler, the ESA “also requires government action in the absence of scientific certainty.”
“Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service must list species as endangered or threatened on the basis of the “best scientific and commercial data available.” That the “best available” scientific evidence may be inconclusive or uncertain does not relieve the Fish and Wildlife Service of its obligation to list a species if the “best available” evidence suggests that it could be threatened with extinction.”
Using the precautionary principle to determine whether or not a land owner is threatening or endangering certain taxonomy on their land is unscientific. Using regulations or laws to prevent provident land use choices is detrimental to our liberty.
Jonathan Adler continues,
“Simply put, the precautionary principle is not a sound basis for public policy. At the broadest level of generality, the principle is unobjectionable, but it provides no meaningful guidance to pressing policy questions. In a public policy context, “better safe than sorry” is a fairly vacuous instruction. Taken literally, the precautionary principle is either wholly arbitrary or incoherent. In its stronger formulations, the principle actually has the potential to do harm.”
“Efforts to impose the principle through regulatory policy inevitably accommodate competing concerns or become a Trojan horse for other ideological crusades.”
I contend that the “ideological crusade” being waged is the demonization of the suburbs as being unsustainable and the “Trojan horse” is the use of precautionary principles to advance a prescribed “livability agenda.” This agenda does not support the idea that humans be in harmony with nature but rather that humans be separate from nature.
It is impossible to live apart from nature in the exurbs. That is what is so delightful about living here. To lose the daily interaction between nature and man would only serve to dissolve the mutual benefit one gains from the other and destroy the compassion that is borne from coexistence.
The ethics of natural law not only evolves our sense of stewardship, it transforms our character.