Why should we care now? The environment has been hammered so hard for so long, desecrated by greed and corruption, by a never before possible array of man-made poisons, carcinogenic and teratogenic (meaning the affects are not seen until future generations, like thalidomide) compounds. In my humble community, not unlike many others, 90% of our wetlands have been either drained or filled. Dredged shipping channels shunt nutrient, and toxic chemical rich effluent miles out into one of our Great Lakes. These five Great Lakes hold 20% of the World’s fresh surface water. The rich, life giving sediments, washed down from hundreds of miles upstream, are both contaminated and then washed “away”, denying the marshes of the nutrient load that used to make them healthy. You can see the plume from space. I never understood the concept of environmental triage, writing off locations that are “too far gone”, until I began to understand the real human costs of the pollution generated over the past five generations and have had to reconcile that with the fact that people need to live somewhere. As becomes evident to anyone looking carefully into their environment, what we have inherited is virtually all desperately out of balance. So, why should we care now, what direction the Earth might take? What rationale can lead us to begin to care for the earth, which after all will either sustain us or not, according to rules that we can only vaguely estimate. Many of the forces alive and active in the environment have no device calibrated to detect them. I fully expect that if we ever begin to get a sense of the real damage we have created on this planet, it will convince everyone that we should have taken drastic action long ago.
Recently, a workshop that was polishing aluminum cases for Apple computers, exploded from build up of aluminum dust in the air. Several workers were killed, many were maimed. Even though we have equipment designed to protect us from this single source of danger, aluminum in the air, without the device, or having someone care enough to look at it, deadly consequences are assured. We currently have hundreds of thousands of fingers pointing in the same direction, toward sustainability, but how are we to achieve sustainable factories, households, neighborhoods, farmettes, villages, and cities from such an out of balance starting point? How do we develop a culture of rehabilitation and caring in light of the immense bolus of toxic attitude and the chemistry of debt that we have saddled our mother with? That the Earth has received anything but discord from the powerful forces of humanity over the past century is not debatable. The current issues revolving around the use of hydrofracking and mountain top removal mining, utter intransigence of the automobile industry to give us high mileage vehicles and the continued reliance on dirty fossil fuels, both coal and oil, are symptoms of a culture of violence and exploitation of the planet. The entire biosphere is under assault.
When our water source is threatened by commercial interests, the responsible parties are not held accountable. Those who irrevocably taint the environment are often held up as bastions of the community, their philanthropy looked upon as a “gift” to society. All too often, their donations are conscience money paid to placate the guilt that they experience for ruining the places that they exploit for profit. Ironically, some of the “best jobs” that were available over the past several generations were the most damaging to the planet. I have known folks who spent their whole lives squirreling away cash that they earned while dumping chemicals into the same water that they fished on the weekends, others who have died of cancer from the water that they drank out of their own contaminated wells that were poisoned because of the way they chose to make a living. I have lived in mining country where the average age of mortality was reduced to the point that government funds were made available to help surviving children to have a chance at survival. Even though all the rivers were contaminated by acid mine drainage, the local still defended the mining jobs as the best available, and would often quit school to get their chance to die early.
If for no other reason, we need to stand up for the right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and to have the chance to catch a fish that will not make us sick. One thing is for sure, if we wait for the world to change, we will be waiting a long time. The youth movement that espoused peace love and understanding has aged out of the urge to make a difference. Many claim that they are just too tired to protest. They tell me that after working twelve hours straight, under incredibly stressful conditions that they just need time to relax and recover. This may be true, but at what cost to the future? Supporting a morally bankrupt culture of greed and hostility toward mother Earth, whether by being an apologist for the perpetrators, or accepting it as inevitable makes us as liable for the resulting damage caused by that system as the greedy and deceptive leaders, the titans of industry and the chemical manufacturers themselves. Learning to thrive in less harmful ways may require us to live on nothing, it may force us to ask very difficult questions and revise our stance on a variety of issues, but there must be a drastic change if we want to bring back the planet to a state for health that will be reflected in the health of our own species. One thing is for sure, if we do not make the change, we certainly can’t expect our children to. Progress toward sustainability can only be measured over time and the time for change is now.
It is time, whether we like it or not, to turn the tables.