Our Environment: Living Like There is No Tomorrow

During much of our history humans have had this idea that everything was placed on Earth for our consumption.  In the West this notion may at least partially stem from the Bible’s Book of Genesis which commands humans to “…rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Western philosophers such as John Locke and Jean Jacques Rouseau promoted this belief that all animals, plants, minerals and other resources exist only for human consumption.  That belief is threatening the only world on which we have to live.

  • A study released two months ago concluded that approximately 60% of the planet’s primate species are currently in danger of extinction because of human activity and populations of 75% of primate species are on the decline.
  • There is evidence that half the Earth’s wildlife has disappeared during the last forty years.
  • The population of bees has been on the decline in recent decades, and at least a portion of that decline results from herbicide and pesticide use.  One in three bites of human food come from crops pollinated by bees, so this really matters.
  • The use of coal, a plentiful and cheap source of energy, releases numerous chemicals that lead to acid rain, respiratory illness, lung disease, developmental disabilities in humans and other species, and other environmental problems.  Also, about 2/3 of the coal used in the U.S. is extracted by strip mining which removes the top soil (including mountain tops) to expose the coal seams below.
  • More than 600 million of the Earth’s inhabitants do not have access to clean and safe drinking water.  More than two billion do not have access to clean sanitation systems and almost a billion go to the toilet outside.
  • More than 97% of actively publishing climate scientists believe the current global warning trend is likely caused by human activity.
  • Humans dump eight million tons of plastic into the Earth’s oceans every year.
  • Humans also dump about 2.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide, the worst of the greenhouse gasses, into the atmosphere every second (China is the worst offender but the U.S. is in the top ten). In 2013 a total of 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide were released. CO2 is removed from the atmosphere by plants, but it also remains in the atmosphere longer than other greenhouse gasses.
  • Oh… and 32 million acres of rainforest (that remove a great deal of CO2) were lost to deforestation between 2000-2009.  Thankfully the United Nations’ REDD program has created incentives for countries to slow or halt deforestation, so the loss of forest land has at least slowed in some key countries.

You get the idea. I’m inclined to believe this is NOT what the Book of Genesis meant. It appears that humans are determined to slowly destroy our own home.  We also seem to believe that resources are unlimited and will last forever, a rather short-sighted point of view.  Because of a growing population and an increasing desire for more “stuff” (new cars, TVs, clothes, furniture, Snickers bars, etc.), our demands lead us to explore new avenues for energy development such as fracking without seriously considering the potential long-term consequences. It is almost like the human race is so determined to have what we want NOW and to satisfy our need for instant gratification that we ignore the potential consequences for future generations.

I am in favor of improving our current infrastructure (highways, airports, power grids, etc.), but I also believe we need to urgently seek energy solutions that ensure future generations a clean home in which to live.  As an optimist I do believe this dilemma can be resolved, but not until we begin funding research into alternative and renewable energy sources with the vigor of a modern day Manhattan Project.  We should approach the issue with the resolve required for success in a war that must be won. We must also begin investing in mass transit, begin weaning ourselves from reliance on automobiles that burn fossil fuels, and must find ways to make planes and other modes of transportation as energy efficient as possible.

People of my generation will not likely live long enough to suffer the more severe consequences of inaction, but our children and grandchildren certainly will.  To continue behaving as if this is not the truth is selfish and irresponsible.

  • http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/1/e1600946.full
  • https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/29/earth-lost-50-wildlife-in-40-years-wwf
  • http://e360.yale.edu/features/declining_bee_populations_pose_a_threat_to_global_agriculture
  • http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=coal_environment
  • https://www.unicefusa.org/mission/survival/water
  • https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/jul/01/global-access-clean-water-sanitation-mapped
  • https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/
  • http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150212-ocean-debris-plastic-garbage-patches-science/
  • http://www.cbsnews.com/news/carbon-dioxide-emissions-rise-to-24-million-pounds-per-second/
  • https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases
  • http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/09/10/people-near-fracking-wells-health-symptoms/15337797/
  • https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/19/why-is-fracking-bad-google-answer