The Keys family were successful in making a life for themselves in the rugged landscape and environment of California's high desert, in what in now Joshua Tree National Park. What made them successful was their willingness to fit into the climate and landscape, rather than trying to change them into something more suitable for themselves, a task that would have been nearly impossible in the early part of the 20th century.
As an ecologist trained to understand the workings for ecosystems, I think the Keys' story can provide us with some important insights and lessons about fitting in with what Mother Nature throws at us. It seems that the mindset of most of the industrialized world, and the aspirations of many less-developed countries is to go in the opposite direction - to attempt to control and modify nature to suit our needs. And while it seems like the technology we've developed can allow us to do that, I would submit that, at best, all we can do is make such changes for a relatively short period of time before the ecological debt must be settled. Yes, we can use fossil fuels to create electricity to provide air conditioning and other modern conveniences. We can withdraw water from remote locations, or from local aquifers to make deserts turn green with plant life. And we can pull fish from the sea at rates sufficient to provide high quality protein for many people. But all of these actions, and many more, have real limits with respect to what nature can provide or cope with.
I'm not trying to preach, or be pessimistic, but rather I just want to point out the importance of understanding how the world we live in works, and how we can try to fit into that system instead of trying to modify it. The systems that sustain life on this planet are crucial for the long-term survival of every living organism, including human beings. Humanity has developed of sense of not being a part of nature, of not being constrained by the limits imposed on other living things by the natural world. But that is horribly incorrect, and has in many cases led to the destruction of important natural resources.
The greater Los Angeles region in southern California supports some 12 to 15 million people, yet the naturally available water supply here can only support something on the order of 200,000 people. We've engineered a system to bring the needed water to Los Angeles, but we usually ignore the impact and cost that has for the regions from which our water is drawn. And just because the system works, doesn't mean that it will work into the indefinite future. There are those who would contend that L.A.'s water problem is simply one of finding more water, but that point of view misses the critical fact that water, like all other materials on Earth, is in finite supply - it is a zero sum game. The unfortunate truth is that we live in a world with limits. And while that might not sit well with many people, it is really in our own best interest as a species that we begin to understand that, and start living our lives in a way that is in harmony with that fact.
I don't claim to have the answers to this challenge, only that I believe we must recognize that like all other living things we are inextricably woven into the fabric of life on Earth, and that as a species with the unique gift of speech, intelligence and foresight, we must start living in a way that is compatible with that position.
This photo was taken with a Canon 5D MkIII and an EF 17-40 mm f/4L lens zoomed to 40 mm. Exposure was set to 1/500 sec at f/4.0 and ISO 100.