Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Most Wonderful Gift is an Environment Worthy of our Lives

Article by S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor and Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV

The title of one subsection of a communication from the German speaking part of Europe recently received was “Das schönste Geschenk ist eine lebenswerte Umwelt!” which translates into the title of this short piece. What a great thought for our time! It is so hard for many people to understand, but we are on the verge of a new way of thinking, much like the transition that took place when people began to understand the earth was a ball, not flat, the intuitive way of thinking since people began to think of what lay beyond the next hill.

Those folk, long ago, used local resources and could anticipate more of the same beyond their limited domain. In other words, there was no constraint to expansion that they could see.

The change came for most people during the age European countries sent out to dominate the world in the search for rare and valuable materials not available at home – certain kinds of timber, indigo, spices, tobacco, bananas, gems, and additional food supplies, particularly rice and wheat. However, wise men had known the earth was a sphere at least as far back as the classical Greeks, Plato, Archimedes. And Eratosthenes actually “lucked out” and got a fairly accurate estimate of the diameter of the earth 200 years BCE.

But for most people awareness came somewhere along in the beginning of the era of sailing ships. Funny thing is that there is still a Flat Earth Society. If you have the resources (are reading this while on the net), please look at this reference. The reason? Doesn’t this have an eerie resemblance to climate change denials, particularly the “Fighting the ‘Evidence’” section and the evangelical flavor? The Huffington Post puts it this way, ” Members of the Flat Earth Society claim to believe the Earth is flat. Walking around on the planet’s surface, it looks and feels flat, so they deem all evidence to the contrary, such as satellite photos of Earth as a sphere, to be fabrications of a “round Earth conspiracy” orchestrated by NASA and other government agencies.” Also, ” According to the Flat Earth Society’s leadership, its ranks have grown by 200 people (mostly Americans and Britons) per year since 2009.”

One wonders to what degree is it serious and to what degree it is a grand “hoot.”

The arguments can be seen as an echo of the arguments heard about the current paradigm change in understanding the earth. A lot of people see the earth as being so large a puny human can’t effect it. They are right, it is large compared to one individual, or even a whole city of them. They forget there are 7,000,000,000 (billion) of us and soon to be 9,000,000,000. It is hard to imagine how many of us there is! Our needs and our waste is up to the task of changing even the earth itself.

So what evidence is there, and how much do we know? Everybody is aware that species die-off is faster than ever before. Not everyone is aware it is 1000 times the “normal” long term rate, however. Here are some facts you come across frequently:

Humans annually absorb 42 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial net primary productivity, 30 percent of its marine net primary productivity, and 50 percent of its fresh water.

Forty percent of the planet’s land is devoted to human food production, up from 7 percent in 1700.

Fifty percent of the planet’s land mass has been transformed for human use.

More atmospheric nitrogen is now fixed by humans than all the natural processes combined.

(Further discussion and academic references are given here.)

There is a problem with soil degradation we cannot go into here, which is generally not as well known now as 70 years ago. Most have heard about the rising ocean acidity (lower pH values) which threatens to prevent coral growth and shell formation and the pollution with plastics and compounds used in plastic.

The most famous problem with the future earth is global warming, which the mass media mentions less and less. There are think tanks and numerous organizations (many connected with production of oil and gas and coal) set up to deny it. And why do you suppose they do it and where does the money come from? This article is quite convincing. The author claims “The anti-climate effort has been largely underwritten by conservative billionaires, often working through secretive funding networks.”

The article is based on research by Robert Brulle, a Drexel University Sociologist. Many famous names appear, such as Searle Freedom Trust (see Source Watch here), the John William Pope Foundation (Wikipedia, here), the Howard and the Sarah Scaife Charitable Foundation (at Foundation Directory here).

Much of the money comes from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, an organization designed to prevent identification of big donors to conservative causes.

Think of it this way: They are trying to save the high finance version of free enterprise, continuing things as they are going now, to benefit themselves. We are trying to save for our children what science and reason tell us is going to happen to the earth, considering the carbon dioxide entering the air, the disappearing glaciers and Arctic ice, the methane escaping from methane hydrates and permafrost, the northward migration of the growing season, the warming of the ocean, and all the other signs.

More carbon burning is just not going to cut it! The best gift  to give our descendants is an earth worth living on.