Watching lace edged clouds between Sulpher Mountain and the ridge that wraps around the property to the east and south drift slowly over the chaparral - itself dotted now with cloudlets of Ceanothus in heavily perfumed bloom - it is easy to imagine that all's right with the world. Except that apocalyptic millennialism, expressed in terms of environmental destruction, now resides as a permanent back-beat in our collective consciousness and even here, in the relatively pristine urban wildland, I have not quite separated myself from this shared, cerebral mother-ship.

And so it is that I find it entirely plausible that the burning, over the last two centuries or so, of the stored carbon energy laid down between 300 and 360 million years ago, and dating back to well before the age of the dinosaurs, may have some small impact on the Earth's climate. And, that we will shortly learn the precise climatic tolerances within which our industrial and post-industrial societies can survive.

This energy, upon which was laid the foundations of the modern world, has enabled the sheltering of a population density, previously unimaginable, within a sprawling infrastructure of a steel, wood, concrete and glass and its feeding via endless tracts of irrigated industrial agriculture. Thus the cost to our habitat of its extraction and burning extend far beyond the impact on our weather.

Chaparral and coastal sage scrubland cover nearly ten percent of California, deserts another 25% and forests perhaps another third. Much of the biomass that these areas support remains native, while Jared Diamond reports in his recent jeremiad, Collapse, that, for instance, fully 90% of Australia's native vegetation has been cleared - primarily for agriculture. Our state has preserved, for a variety of geo-historical reasons and recently, a comparatively benign state government, much of its natural capital despite devastating losses of wetlands, old growth red-wood forests, fisheries and wild rivers.

In Brazil, by contrast, the blight of habitat destruction is ominously close to metastasizing - where the anticipated 20% destruction of the rain forest in the next two decades, on top of the twenty percent already lost, could cause the entire ecology to unravel in a downward spiral of lowered rainfall (arboreal transpiration of moisture into the atmosphere is reduced in a direct relationship to the number of trees felled) and the desiccation and death of the remaining forest. While no such immediate calamity threatens the chaparral or other signature ecosystem of California, Brazil, where the slash and burn agriculture in its frontier states of Pará, Mato Grosso, Acre, and Rondônia, make it one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases, indirectly threatens our natural systems.

Set against the carbon dioxide production of Brazil and its fellow BRIC nations, Russia, India and China, the mass adoption of the Prius and other hybrid automobiles by the California public, net zero-energy houses such as ours, and the development of vast wind farms (potentially destroying, in the process, the Mojave desert) are all but irrelevant in terms of ameliorating the global climate change. This change in the weather threatens our way of life and the earth's ecologies. It is not a death sentence, however, except for certain species of plants and animals who have highly specialized ecological niches that cannot be replicated say, a few hundred miles to the north, or can conveniently move in concert with an encroaching tide line. The native peoples of California, after all, demonstrated an ability to survive startling changes in climate, flora and fauna over 15,000 years of inhabitation that also saw the ocean rise some two hundred feet or more (Ancient Isle).

The global destruction of habitat for urban, suburban and exurban development and the land-based transportation systems that link them; the poisoning of the land and water through industrial processes, salinization of the soil through over irrigation and the ravages of drought-induced fires over landscapes drastically reduced in species diversity presents a more existential threat to the planet. Amidst such "extraordinary examples of the wanton destruction of immense natural resources by the blind force of unregulated capitalist greed" as Paul Craig Roberts writes in a recent opinion piece (Counterpunch) there have emerged, over the last decade or so, a series of extraordinary architectural monuments to precisely that capitalist ethos.

Until the end of the nineteenth century the tallest buildings in the world were all churches (Ulm Minster in Germany topped out at 530'). It was not until 1909 that a secular pile, Manhattan's Singer Building at 621', exceeded it. A series of commercial towers in New York then held the crown until 1931 when the Empire State (1250') put the record out of reach for over four decades. It was to this beacon of capitalist greed that I inevitably gravitated on first arriving in New York in 1967 (Waterland). The title of 'the world's tallest building' was wrested from it by another American monument to Mammon, Chicago's Sears tower, completed in 1973, that reached 1450'.

The demise of the American century was heralded by the Petronas Towers, in Malaysia, which rose to 1483' above the streets of Kuala Lumpur in 1998. These twin towers were eclipsed, by more than a thousand feet, by the arrival of the Burj Kalifa at 2717' in Dubai in 2010. But within five years it will be China that houses most of the tallest buildings in the world and, by March, it will have the tallest in the vertiginous form of Sky City, besting the Burj by some thirty feet. Several behemoths, cresting 2000', will quickly follow it. The embedded energy in the form of steel, glass and concrete contained in these towers is almost beyond calculation but in any case entirely dwarfs the efforts made in terms of energy efficiency through enhanced insulation, quadruple glazing, day-lighting and solar offsets.

The building of icons of unprecedented scale that memorialize a system while simultaneously helping to destroy it is, of course, eerily reminiscent of the classic case of environmental suicide practiced by the people of Rapanui (Easter Island). Isolated in the Pacific Ocean, Rapanui's environmental meltdown did not impact the overall health of the planet. Today, we all share the same bank account of natural capital: our fates are conjoined. My patch of chaparral, California, and the entire west coast are vulnerable to the ecological depredations across the planet inevitably transmitted through the medium of our shared climate and surrounding oceans. Smoke clouds from the dirty coal that powers China's steel mills are born aloft on the jet stream and the black dust settles in the chaparral (and announces itself on the white porcelain in our bathroom).

The cutting down of the last tree on Easter Island to transport a memorial stone statue (Moai) from the quarry to its resting place sealed the island's fate: there was no competing ideology to question the ruler's hubris. What will now stop the next steel I-beam from being bolted in place high above the swirling inversion layer of Beijing's pea-soup smog?

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