Category Archives: Pesticides

Ecology: The Keystone Science

A missing piece from most critiques of modern capitalism revolves around the misunderstanding of ecology. To put it bluntly, there will be no squaring the circle of mass industrial civilization and an inhabitable Earth. There is no way for energy and resource use, along with all the strife, warfare, and poverty that comes along with it, to continue under the business as usual model that contemporary Western nations operate under.

There is also the problem of constructing millions of solar panels and gigantic wind farms to attempt to bring the entire world’s population to a middle class existence based on a North American or even European levels of energy use. All of the hypothetical robots and artificial intelligence to be constructed for such a mega-endeavor needed to enact such a project would at least initially rely on fossil fuels and metals plundered from the planet, and only lead to more rapacious destruction of the world.

The dominant technological model is utterly delusional. Here I would urge each of us to consider our “human nature” (a problematic term, no doubt) and the costs and the manner of the work involved: if each of us had to kill a cow for food, would we? If each of us had to mine or blast a mountain for coal or iron, or even for a wind turbine, would we do it? If each of us had to drill an oil well or bulldoze land for a gigantic solar array next to many endangered species or a threatened coral reef, would we?

My guess would be no, for the vast majority of the population. Instead, we employ corporations and specialists to carry out the dirty work in the fossil fuel industries and animal slaughtering, to name just a few. Most of us in the West have reaped the benefits of such atrocities for the past few centuries of the industrial revolution. That era is coming to a close, and there’s no turning back.

The gravy train is running out of steam, and our age of comfort and the enslavement of a global proletariat to produce and gift-wrap our extravagances will hopefully be ending shortly, too. Some may romanticize loggers, factory workers, oil drillers, coal miners, or steel foundries but the chance is less than a needle through a camel’s eye that those jobs are coming back in a significant way. Overpopulation in much of the world continues to put strain upon habitat and farmlands to provide for the Earth’s 7.5 billion — and growing — humans.

Tragically, many with the most influence on the Left today, such as Sanders, Corbyn, and Melenchon want to preserve industrial civilization. Theirs is an over-sentimental outlook which warps their thinking to want to prop up a dying model in order to redistribute wealth to the poor and working classes. Empathy for the less fortunate is no doubt a good thing, but the fact remains that the real wealth lies in our planet’s natural resources, not an artificial economy, and its ability to regenerate and provide the fertile ground upon which we all rely. If we follow their narrow path, we are doomed.

Theirs is a sort of one-dimensional, infantile distortion of Vishnu-consciousness (preservation, in their minds at all costs), an unadulterated cogito, which does not let in the wisdom of his partner Lakshmi (true prosperity) or the harbinger of change and the symbol of death and rebirth, Shiva. Industrial life must be dismantled from the core for a new order to arise. Instead of clinging to this techno-dystopian model of the elites, we must replace it with what I call a Planetary Vision.

The Stone that the Builders Refuse

Only a serious education in ecology for a significant minority of the globe’s workforce can allow for a return to naturally abundant and life-enhancing complex habitats for humanity and all species to thrive. Understandably, fields such as botany, zoology, and conservationism are not for everyone, as much of humanity has been and continues to be more interested in technological fields, the arts, music, sports, religion, etc. It would only take perhaps 10% of the globe to be critically informed, and to be able to act, deliberatively and democratically, about subjects relating to ecosystem preservation and all the attendant sub-fields for a functional, ecocentric culture to flourish.

Thankfully, the foundation of such an ecological vision has been laid by millennia of indigenous cultures, as well as modern prophets and science whizzes such as Rachel Carson, Fritjof Capra, James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Barry Commoner, Donella Meadows, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, Masanobu Fukuoka, and many others.

Even Marx and Engels observed the basic deteriorating nature of advanced agriculture in what they termed “metabolic rift”, where they learned from European scientists of the overwhelming degradation of soil fertility on the continent due to poor farming techniques, razing of forests, and heavy industry.

Despite its current limitations, the United Nations offers a model of supra-national regulation and governance, especially the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and the almost totally forgotten Brundtland report of 1987.

The Deep Wisdom of Ecology

Modern nations, corporations, vertical hierarchies, and industrial civilization do not serve human health or well-being. It excludes the majority, cuts them from a connection to their neighbors and the land, and privileges an elite rentier class who sponges and sucks the marrow out of the bowels of the Earth and those born money, property, privilege, without a silver spoon in hand.

Ecological thinking, on the other hand, imparts us with the deep truth that we are all connected to each other, and the planet.

Permaculture farming has managed to match and even outpace productivity on giant agribusiness farms using low-impact or even no-till methods.

Food forests can be created around the globe using layers of edible plants at high densities to allow for the growth fruit and nut trees, vines, and perennial shrubs, groundcover, and herbs. This is the real meaning of the Garden of Eden, an agroforestry model which ancient people lived off of for millennia alongside responsible crop rotation, seasonal burns, biochar, animal herding, hunting and foraging, and obtaining protein from fish and shellfish.

Arid, barren lands have been reforested by planting native trees: in Assam, India, one man recovered over 1300 acres by planting just one sapling a day for 30 years.

In the Chesapeake Bay, oyster restoration has been ongoing for years to help improve water quality. Just one adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water in a single day.

An average acre of boreal forest can hold over 100 tons of carbon above and below ground in soil and biomass. As more forests burn carbon is instantly released, and as temperatures rise soils thaw out, leading to increased soil respiration and thus increasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. With 1,400 gigatons of methane stored in the Earth’s permafrost, any significant release into the atmosphere could ramp up warming even faster.

Wildlife corridors must be funded at multiples of current levels and substantially increased in size to allow for keystone, threatened, and endangered species to maintain population sizes and spread over increasingly patchy and unsustainable habitat due to urban growth, roads, and industry. Millions of acres of land should be reforested (some say 500 million total) to provide carbon sinks to offset the coming effects of global warming. Currently 18 million acres of forest are lost per year due to deforestation for grazing and corporate agriculture.

National parks, forests, monuments, as well as coastal, marine, and wildlife refuges as well as state-run areas should be coordinated at the highest levels of national and international regulation. I say coordinated, but I do not mean controlled by in a vertical hierarchy. Responsibility should “telescope” (borrowing a term from political scientist Robyn Eckersley) according to the size of the problem at hand: local deliberative councils may work best for bioregional approaches, whereas some framework of a supra-national structure will be needed for the mega-problems of climate change, plastic pollution, and GMO proliferation, just to name a few.

We have all heard terms such as “apex predator” or “top of the food chain” which capitalists and social Darwinists have misconstrued and adopted to fit their own hierarchical, fascistic beliefs. Yet anyone who has examined a food web knows there are interrelationships and mutualistic interdependencies between myriad species which dwarf and blow away any notion of rigid, calcified structures of permanent dominance of any species or eco-biome.

A systemic examination of global trade would teach the same lesson. There is no way to make any one country “great again” at the expense of other nations. This is a false binary embedded in Western culture that goes by the name of the “Either/Or”.  Rather, we must adopt the “And/Both” model of cultures synergistically and mutually thriving.

(Trickster/Provocateur homework for US citizens: Welcome or respond to someone on our upcoming 4th of July with a cheery greeting of “Happy Interdependence Day!”)

This false dichotomy has insidiously found its way into the Earth sciences, with the categorization and response to “invasive species”. Human disturbance accounts for upwards of 95% of invasives causing harm to new ecosystems, yet even within the academy, detailed plans for shifting our lifestyles are few and far between, and predictably ignored by mainstream society.

Nowhere has this sort of milquetoast-iness been more visceral for me than in listening to a guest lecturer years ago in a conservation biology class, when, at the outset of the lecture and without prompting, she announced that she would not tolerate any questions about humans as “invasive species”. This was perhaps understandable given the narrow definition of the term by some, or the aim and scope of her forthcoming talk, yet still, the rigid reactionary nature and tone of her dictum managed to produce a chill.

Further, the steps involved in combating invasive, non-woody plants do not usually involve more than a tractor mower or a backpack sprayer and Round-up, in public and private operations. Little is done to thwart the habitat systemically disturbed by human activity, the nutrient-depleted soil, over-salinization, etc. No thought given to the notion that the invasives in many cases are the only plants able to germinate and tolerate nutrient-starved soil and edge habitat which falls outside the purview of agricultural land, or the delusional urge within forestry management to preserve wooded or grassland areas in some pre-colonial or pre-industrial chrysalis.

We all observed this duplicitous portrayal of those evil invasives for many years following the media-driven and pseudo-scientific outrage and mania of the kudzu vine in the South. Covering roadsides and disturbed, recently deforested areas, the vine was portrayed with puritanical hatred. The loathed vine cannot penetrate into shaded forest and acted as a projection of our own fears, malicious intent, and ignorance.

The Revolution as Poetic Enchantment

There is also the problem of revolutionary activity where organization and specific roles are needed. We’ve been told that any and all organizing inevitably leads to corruption, hierarchy, greed, and ego inflation. Yet nature has managed to organize and spontaneously birth everything we depend on for sustenance and pleasure. The works of Mauss, Sahlins, and others have shown human behavior to be mostly peaceful, based on reciprocity, lived in balance with a naturally abundant environment.

The succession of a habitat, from the first pioneer species advancing to a climax community in dynamic equilibrium, is poetry in motion, an endless cycle of community relations where the dead provide for the living, just as the winds of history continue to shape our present, the lessons of our ancestors provide the courage to persevere, and the very real trauma and torment of past generations continues to stalk humanity, perhaps even epigenetically in our cells.

Nature’s ability to play freely and its tendency for creative, regenerative self-discovery offers a model attractive to the public where traditional approaches to ideology, mainstream politics, and moral exhortation have failed. Ecology uniquely offers an approach to our self-interest, with pragmatic and deep ethical implications, and in our nuclear and fossil fuel age, to our very survival.

Recent uprisings in Zucotti Park, South Dakota, Tahrir and Taksim Squares, Tunisia, and many other places demonstrate the organic, spontaneous nature of our ability to resist the systemic oppression endemic to our neoliberal, colonial, imperial world order.

The question of what comes after a successful revolt undoubtedly plagues many people, considering the bloody sectarianism that followed in many historical instances. Yet one of the root causes of such post-revolutionary failings necessarily includes the loss of jouissance, the senses of optimism, exuberance, and mutual aid which erupted throughout history in Paris communes, military barracks and factories in Petrograd, communes in Catalonia, etc.

Many progressives and so-called radicals in the US today seem more interested in internecine bickering and petty squabbling over turf than in implementing an authentic plan to re-enchant a comatose public. A citizenry, mind you, which has become exhausted and disillusioned from politics and any notion of defending the public sphere and commons due to relentless propaganda, neoliberal economics, structural racism, and a perverse imperial edict of global warfare which knows no bounds and sees no end.

Such small-mindedness and insularity is only compounded by a geographically isolated, narcissistic, spectacle craving media, celebrity-worshiping culture, and chattering class smugness which has robotized, dehumanized, and intoxicated a public which no longer seems to have the psychic or physiological energy and stamina to resist. This can be countered by providing material and intellectual nourishment, especially to our youth, through wholesome organic farming, natural medicines, and alternative education systems which promote and instill environmentalism, forms of direct democracy, and critical thinking skills, as well as continuing education for adults and seniors.

Much of our culture’s confusion is reinforced by a digital, social media driven, an ahistorical narrative, and a dematerialized market in the West where information and leisure is metered out to the poor, elderly, disabled, and working classes in a slow drip of bandwidth, bytes, pixels: poisonous cups of soma which we believe must all imbibe to partake in our “culture”.

Yet so many are now beginning to rattle their cages. Part of the reason being that savings and material wealth for the majority has declined, life expectancy dropping in neglected areas, suicide and addictive behaviors are increasing, inequality and gentrification skyrocketing. Yet also partly because creativity has been stifled, free time is eaten up by a gig economy relentlessly eating up our leisure, wild open spaces are diminishing, and the effects of a polluted, over-crowded world where alienation appears to reign and many see No Exit.

Digital technology, trickle-down finance, and media narratives are pushed so hard by the powers-that-be, in a pyramid scheme Ponzi economy bound to collapse. And data-driven, quantifiable, “objective” information doused on the public is losing its effect. Masses can now see through the high priests of officialdom, because their policies do not relate to any place or time, it is not embodied in the commons. The deluge of “empirical” statistics and innovation spouting out of mainstream media, government bureaucracies, and non-profit policy centers borders on absurd, and one could summarize their work as Informationism, for it truly represents an ideology. These are the apologists and court historians for the grand viziers of capital. They have created their own veritable echo-chamber ecology within the former swamplands of the Potomac basin.

How can the hegemony of corporate and state rule be further undermined? By acknowledging how they employ words, propaganda, ideology, and a false version of history as weapons to create a habitat of hate and fear. As the Situationists wrote: “Words work — on behalf of the dominant organizations of life…Power presents only the falsified, official sense of words.”

As the SI further noted:

Every revolution has been born in poetry, has first of all been made with the force of poetry. This phenomenon continues to escape theorists of revolution — indeed, it cannot be understood if one still clings to the old conception of revolution or of poetry — but it has generally been sensed by counterrevolutionaries. Poetry terrifies them. Whenever it appears they do their best to get rid of it by every kind of exorcism, from auto-da-fé to pure stylistic research. Real poetry, which has “world enough and time,” seeks to reorient the entire world and the entire future to its own ends. As long as it lasts, its demands admit of no compromise. It brings back into play all the unsettled debts of history.

Part of poetic resistance simply is awareness. We are not going to save the world without learning how to actually live in the world. Here words fall far short, they “float”, are too abstract. At the level of ontological awareness helpful concepts like “Dasein” and “existence precedes essence” can only show the doorway, yet the point is to walk through it. This is why I don’t consider, for example, Leary’s words of “Find the others” to be an escapist fantasy: they are a call to mytho-poetic revolution, for only in collective struggle can one transcend a selfish ego and a sick, dying culture. Communal living will be a big part of this, especially as the world economy seems very likely to fall into depression or outright collapse within a couple decades at most.

Initiation into adulthood, a model of dying and rebirth, is of utmost importance, as Barry Spector and Martin Prechtel, among others, have shown. Without this, the modern world is stuck in an infantile state, forever craving more, never satisfied.

The domination of man by man and nature by man now reaches global proportions. In our Anthropocene Age all boundaries between human and nature collapse, as we come to understand the web we are enmeshed in. Studies in modern psychics prove on the cosmological scale (relativity) and sub-atomic scales (quantum entanglement, superposition, double-slit experiment) have all proven definitely what ancient traditions have understood for millennia. Andre Malraux was correct when he prophesized that: “The 21st century will be spiritual or will not be.”

All major religions hold ecological balance, love of your neighbor, and conservation as a core truth. Teachings from the Sermon on the Mount, Hindu concepts of ahimsa and karma, Buddhist right livelihood, Islam’s tawhid, khilafa, and akhirah all have shown this, as well as indigenous mythology.

Sadly, most of the dissenters in our culture have been totally marginalized. The best minds of our generation have no longer fallen to madness; they are ignored, imprisoned, killed, or shipped off to a permanent “Desolation Row”. Consider the great works of Gary Snyder, Arne Naess, Robinson Jeffers, Wendell Barry, as well as environmentalists such as Wangari Maathai, Vandana Shiva, Sylvia Earle: the collective brilliance is astounding, yet industrialism allows no avenues for a praxis, for their ideas to be put to work or play.

Only an understanding of relationship and interdependencies can account for how our policy at the border, for instance, is connected to environmental destruction, factory farming, resource extraction, habitat destruction, the killings overseas in Yemen, Gaza, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the list goes on. It goes on for so long that the mind grows numb. Yet, we must counter this. Our government is the primary driver of the perpetual crimes of total warfare, planetary destruction, neo-feudal debt-based serfdom and global immiseration, and most of us have been complicit in varying degrees.

Have no doubt, many in power around the world, consciously or not, are waiting to start a new Kristallnacht against minorities and the poor which they will use to further the next stage of their privatized, totalitarian, surveillance-laden brave new world. It’s already started here in the US and in Italy against the Roma among other places. Theirs is an aesthetic of terror and brainwashing which knows no bounds.

Yet their individual pathologies only tell us part of the story: it is the system of alienation which breeds hate and must be dismantled, not replacing one figurehead leader with another seemingly benign one, as we did with Obama. Only a culture which understands the connections of how capitalism ultimately leads to fascism, one which comprehends the Earth’s limits, our own psycho-somatic frailties, and our bio-social relationships with each other and with flora and fauna can provide the resistance needed in this perilous age.

A Fatal Incompatibilty: Big Business and Human Survival

Dramatic as the title of the article is, it is becoming increasingly clear that this is not hyperbole or hysterics. It is the only logical conclusion one can arrive at if one analyses the facts of our current situation as a species.

Commerce has existed for thousands of years, with private and government-owned companies providing goods and services for sale, largely unregulated for most of that time. Of course, government has always had the capacity to intervene where business practices have been found to be unsafe or unethical, for the protection of society.

As economies have developed beyond a mostly agricultural foundation into a consumer-driven industrial system, corporations have gained increasing economic, social and political influence. Although there is now an enormous quantity of legal regulation in relation to the conducting of business (in the developed world particularly) corporations exert such a huge influence on countries (democratic or otherwise) that we could accurately be described as living in an age of corpocracy. The infiltration of governments by corporate interests is so severe that governments are almost powerless to prevent the wholesale destruction of our environment and huge damage to humanity without causing a worldwide economic collapse.

Most corporations are not owned by one or a few individuals any more. Generally a large number of unknown individuals (shareholders) own them, to whom the directors are solely answerable. In almost all cases, the priority of the shareholders is the maximising of dividends and share prices, which companies achieve by creating as much profit as possible within a given time frame; e.g., per quarter year.

As a result of this priority of creating profits, above all other activities, companies have a long history of ignoring ethical concerns or paying lip-service to such issues in order to avoid any negative impacts on profitability. Considering the continual impact of corporate donations and lobbying on the political process and subsequent regulation, it is clear that corporations have deliberately attempted to prevent or diminish assessment and legislation that might adversely affect them.

There are a multitude of examples of big business attempting to conceal nefarious practices or to prevent any actions to control or end them. It would be easy to write a huge tome on the subject but here I am only going to refer to a few of the most famous and serious examples of corporate irresponsible behaviour.

The production of energy that fueled the industrial revolution, the expansion of commerce, science, technology and the massive growth of human populations is a dirty business. This began with the discovery of coal and its crucial role in the use of steam power. It was clear from the start that coal was at times dangerous to mine, potentially explosive and extremely dirty to burn, as is still the case today. Crude oil and natural gas have long since overtaken coal as energy sources of prime importance, but these too are flammable/explosive and extremely damaging to the environment when burned but particularly so if leaked. Nuclear power, the youngest of the destructive energy industries, likes to portray itself as clean when the reality could not be more different. Apart from well-known polluting disasters such as Three Mile Island, Sellafield, Chernobyl and Fukushima, nuclear power produces huge quantities of troublesome waste that remain radioactive. This waste remains dangerous for centuries or millenia and the industry still has no way to decontaminate it or to guarantee permanent safe storage.

Throughout its history the energy industry has downplayed or dismissed health and environmental concerns in order to continue maximising profits – any changes that have arisen have been fought against and succeeded only due to overriding public pressure. Examples of this are the smog and acid rain from coal burning, lead poisoning due to tetraethyl lead in petrol, radiation leaks in nuclear power stations, oil and gas spills in the marine environment and most recently contamination of land and water from fracking. In each case, despite clear scientific evidence to the contrary, the energy industry has attempted to dismiss dangers, conceal or discredit incriminating data, avoid accepting responsibility and minimising reparations for disastrous incidents.

Even now, when overwhelming scientific evidence proves that these industries are polluting, unsafe and detrimental to all life on Earth, they continue not just to fight for their survival but try to expand and curtail any attempts to contain them. All this is still occurring despite almost universal government and public acknowledgement of the need to gradually close down these industries in order to secure the future of humanity.

The same problem is to be found in a wide variety of other industries. The tobacco industry is one of the most obvious examples – for decades it has fought against regulation despite knowing, all along, that its products are dangerous and entirely detrimental to health. The pharmaceutical industry was most famously scandalised by the Thalidomide catastrophe of the 1950s and 1960s but despite many benefits to humanity this industry is also responsible for repeated cover-ups, creating wide-scale dependency on addictive prescription drugs, over-prescription of antidepressants, causing antibiotic resistance through over-use and environmental pollution, all in the name of profit expansion.

Plastics, an offshoot of the oil industry, seemed like a manufacturing miracle but it has turned out to be a nightmare for humanity and a vast number of the world’s species. Despite increasing evidence of planet wide pollution and damage to huge numbers of species, including humans, the industry continues to fight against change and much needed regulation instead of attempting to transition to bio-plastics and reinvent itself.

Another major offender is the agricultural and food industry, which has been hugely responsible for the degradation of the environment. Apart from continual reckless deforestation, agriculture is responsible for damaging top soil run-off and pollution of rivers and seas with pesticides and fertilizers. In the 1960s DDT famously caused huge numbers of bird, insect and animal deaths as well as dangers to humans leading to it being banned. Despite improvements in regulations, pesticides continue to have a catastrophic effect on the environment (bees in particular) and contamination of our food and water is still occurring all across the globe. Irresponsible farming practices are degrading the environment, increasing desertification, causing water contamination and biodiversity loss; overfishing is depleting the oceans; genetically modified organism of questionable safety are entering the food chain, all of which is despite wide-spread public opposition.

These are just a few areas that I’ve chosen, but the list is almost endless – in virtually every area of industry and corporate activity attempts have been and are being made to circumvent or decrease regulation, deny responsibility and avoid adopting practices that will affect profitability. Self-regulation and government regulation has almost entirely failed to prevent unchecked growth at the expense of humanity and the environment we depend on. Perhaps the side-effects of industrial society were not so evident decades ago and one can assume businesses generally are not created with the intention to destroy the fabric of life. However, due to decades of solid scientific evidence, no-one can plead ignorance any longer regarding the dire situation humanity has placed itself in.

Short-sighted as it is, governments are so influenced by the corporate sector and by fear of economic instability that they are able to offer little more than token gestures or reforms over such a long timescale that they are too little, too late. Apart from a sudden and catastrophic economic collapse, there is little to indicate that the behemoth of corporate big business is likely to change its destructive practices in any significant way or stop attempting to prevent or diminish restrictions upon it.

So given, that the corporate world is most likely to continue to act against the greater interests of humanity (and ultimately itself) what can we do about the situation? Although we may feel powerless as individuals to effect change in the world, especially when faced with the enormous power of the corpocracy, we do in truth wield massive economic power. In the absence of governments fighting our corner with any sincerity, it is up to us to wield the only weapon we have in the effort to force corporations to change their ways.

The one and hugely powerful weapon we have is our choice as consumers. What corporations want and need most of all is our money; without it they cannot function and without consumers to buy their products they have no reason to exist. While campaigning to governments should not be abandoned, it is of unpredictable worth, with no guarantee of success – another approach is required. Direct action in the form of consuming less or withdrawal of custom has an immediate and severe effect on any business if enough people are prepared to take part.

If we meekly wait for government regulation to kick in and curtail the rampant irresponsibility of the corporate sector, then there is little chance of major change happening before the collapse of human society is unpreventable. If, however, we as concerned consumers, vote with our wallets and also let companies know why we are doing so, then businesses that wish to survive will be forced to change. In a revitalized society where the consumer calls the shots businesses that are able to embrace environmentalism, revolutionize their products and methods will succeed. In the past, when businesses that failed to adapt to new trends or new technology they simply disappeared, sometimes extremely rapidly. That is still the case today. Businesses that fail to adapt to consumer demand for ecologically responsible trade and a move away from putting profit above all else can be forced to change their stance or face extinction.

Personally I would rather suffer the economic effects of irresponsible businesses ceasing to exist than see the continued rapid extinction of species and degradation of our planet. Ultimately we as individuals have the power to change our own behaviour and demand that corporations change theirs. The time available to bring this transition about is not unlimited. In a decade or two it may already be too late; now is the time to turn the tables on big business and force it to change its ways.

Toxic Chemicals: PR Nightmare

A recent unidentified White House staff email referred to a still-pending federal study on chemicals as “a public relations nightmare.”1

People do not grasp the depth and extent of toxicity throughout the country because if they did, they’d be in the streets banging pots and pans in front of the con job White House as well as in front of the ultra-feeble bootlicking Congress.

Here’s why they’d be in the streets, angry, indignant, pissed-off: “Humans emit more than 250 billion tonnes of chemical substances a year, in a toxic avalanche that is harming people and life everywhere on the planet.”2

Making matters worse, and the reason why the public should kick and scream now: Scott Pruitt heads the EPA. And worse yet, only a small fraction of chemicals are analyzed for harmful human toxicity. Insanity? Yes!

Earth is categorized as a “toxic planet” by scientists, not by people in the streets. Problem is the toxicity takes effect; i.e., harms bodily organs, over time, not instantaneously, eventually flaring up as one of several chronic diseases, like heart disease or Alzheimer’s, but usually considered a “life style” disease. But, maybe, just maybe “life style” is the wrong target? How about extensively poisoned ecosystem-crushing life expectancies?

A recent UN report takes dead aim at the dangers of chemical pesticides:

The assertion promoted by the agrochemical industry that pesticides are necessary to achieve food security is not only inaccurate, but dangerously misleading.3

The UN report points to the inherent dangers of pesticide chemicals such as (1) damage to water, (2) damage to soil, (3) damage to biodiversity, and (4) spread of acute chronic disease as well as health issues like cancer, neurological and reproductive disorders.

It is time to overturn the myth that pesticides are necessary to feed the world and create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production.4

As reported by Politico and mentioned at the outset of this article, emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act exposed an unidentified White House source revealing a still-pending federal study on chemicals as “a public relations nightmare.” Imagine that!

But, the news gets even worse. All of Capitol Hill is aware that the EPA helped to bury the federal study that should have prompted warnings about toxic chemicals in hundreds of water supplies. Allegedly, Pruitt intervened to stop the release after the WH warned of “a public relations nightmare.” The report was supposed to be released in January, until EPA intervened. Hmm.

Because of that disquieting statement, alarm bells should be going off in public squares all the way from Seattle to Boston. In fact, further to the point, the Environmental Working Group estimates that more than 1,500 American water systems serving up to 110,000,000 people may be contaminated with chemical toxins. Egad! Chemical toxins are the bad stuff people don’t want inside their bodies. And, that’s a lot of people exposed to chemical toxins.

As recently as February 2018, local officials at Blade, Delaware ordered residents to stop drinking tap water, which is the liquid that comes straight out of the faucet. Why? According to the Associated Press story of May 22, 2018:

Soaring numbers of water systems around the country are testing positive for a dangerous class of chemicals widely used in items that include non-stick pans and firefighting foam.

Come to find out residents of Blades were ingesting perfluorinated compounds found in products including Teflon frying pans. Long-term exposure causes cancer, liver problems and/or destruction of immune systems. Fortunately for residents of Blades, after a couple weeks on trucked-in bottled water, a newly installed carbon-filtration system has returned city water back to acceptable drinking levels… hopefully.

But, the fact remains that deadly chemicals entered, and remain, in the water system, and who knows the full extent of deadly chemicals all across the country, coast-to-coast. Furthermore, nobody knows how long Blade residents were exposed. After all, a person can drink toxic water for years and suddenly get hit with symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Then, relatives whisper: “Oh, she’s/he’s getting old, some kind of a dementia; old age does that to people.” But, maybe yes, maybe no? Maybe poisoned ecosystems are at work.

The current threat involves thousands of compounds linked to a chemical family known as perfluoroakyls and polyfuroroakyls (“PFOA” and “PFAS”) used to make cloth, fast-food containers, and surfaces slippery and resistant to grease or water. Scientists believe these chemicals are at the root of serious health issues. Disturbingly, the chemical compounds are increasingly discovered in public water systems.

Within past weeks, senators urged Scott Pruitt to release the aforementioned federal study of findings on toxicity of chemicals, prompting the question: Will he release the findings to the general public?

Unfortunately, the EPA isn’t reactive. Even though hundreds of new chemicals are developed every year, EPA has not regulated a new contaminant under the Safe Drinking Water Act in more than 20 years.

Meantime, Pruitt is determined to dismantle the EPA; he’s spent a lifetime fighting its jurisdiction. He is the antithesis of EPA regulatory affaires. He’s Trump’s man appointed to protect the general public from harmful effects of chemicals, which are like the intangible ethereal demon of The Exorcist, a demon that is more powerful than a Freddy or a Jason. It can’t be shot or stabbed or detonated. But, it is there… and so is Scott Pruitt, the antipode of an effective EPA for all of America.

According to EWG President Ken Cook:

Only Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration would consider reducing drinking water contamination for the American people to be a ‘nightmare.5

The family of fluorinated chemicals reviewed by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (“ATSDR”) known as PFAS chemicals, have been linked to several types of cancer, thyroid disease weakened childhood immunity and other health problems and contaminate drinking water systems serving 16 million Americans in 33 states, as well as military and industrial sites nationwide.

Just at the time when America needs powerful leadership on the federal level to protect people from obscure dangerous chemicals, Trump is elected.

Postscript:

We farm workers are closest to food production. We were the first to recognize the serious health hazards of agriculture pesticides to both consumers and ourselves.

— Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) Co-Founder the National Farm Workers Association

  1. Annie Snider, “EPA Move On Chemical Study May Trip Up Pruitt”, Politico, May 16, 2018.
  2. Scientists Categorize Earth as a Toxic Planet, Phys Org, February 7th 2017.
  3. Special Rapporteur on Right to Food, United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Alex Formuzis, At Pruitt’s EPA, “Stricter Limits to Protect Americans from Toxic Fluorinated Chemicals are ‘Nightmare”, EWG, May 14, 2018.

Nature’s Breaking Point

Ever wonder how the classical philosophers/economists like Adam Smith and David Ricardo would view today’s credo of infinite economic growth, forever more, above and beyond yesteryear.  Well, in a word, they would be horrified. Ricardo, similar to the father of capitalism Adam Smith, believed in the concept of a “stationary state” when the land gets fully exploited and material progress comes to an end.

These classical economists did not advocate limitless growth, which today is how neoliberal advocates see their destiny. In fact, Ricardo added the “law of diminishing returns” to Smith’s original thesis, which included bold mention of the “stationary state.”

Well, surprise, surprise, or maybe no surprise! Today, Adam Smith and Ricardo would be labeled heretics as capitalism has morphed into a universal conviction that humankind is destined for enrichment via unparalleled unlimited economic growth. As such, GDP is revered; it’s maddeningly godly, a quarter-by-quarterly séance whilst prostrate on hands and knees in solemn prayer for profits, and more profits, and even more after that!

But, are there limits, and if so, what if limits are exceeded?

Then, what happens?

As a matter of fact, the limits have been exceeded by a country mile. That fact is beautifully expounded in graphic detail in Donald Worster’s Shrinking The Earth: The Rise & Decline of Natural Abundance (Oxford University Press, 2018).

“Always, humans run up against nature’s limits.” (Worster, pg. 49) It happened at Nantucket Island. The island literally dried up in 1864 when the last lone whaler came back nearly empty-handed. Over the preceding decades, the whalers, like wild bloodthirsty hounds chasing game, exceeded nature’s breaking point. At its peak the whaling fleet numbered 700 vessels, massacring whales and returning home filled to the brim with whale oil bounty, the massive carcasses left to scavengers.

Today’s infinite growth mind trip, seemingly “on electric Kool-Aid,” originated with the discovery of fossil fuels, a transition from an agrarian economy to an industrial revolution powered by carbon-rich remains of ancient plants. Coal created a new world order of economic endeavours, supplying 25% of all fuel energies by the 1870s. The success and growth of the emerging Industrial Revolution depended upon it.

Still, the greatest philosopher/economist of the English language of the 19th century, John Stuart Mill, one of the last of the great classical economists, similar to Smith and Ricardo, advocating trade liberalization and competitive markets, still harbored many doubts; e.g., whether endless growth was good for the human spirit.

According to the celebrated economist, reaching an end to growth might lead to a more enlightened happiness and satisfaction, freeing people from “extravagant dreams of material plenty and encourage them to seek other forms of fulfillment… In contrast, the ideology of progress, with its intense drive for wealth, was leading toward a new kind of deprivation. Increasingly, it was depriving men and women of any moral or spiritual purpose, leaving them trapped in a culture of excessive materialism.” (pgs. 53-54) Subsequently, Mill’s statement has been proven downright prophetic!

Worster takes the reader along fascinating pathways of Americana; e.g., the start of the modern conservation movement by George Perkins Marsh’s landmark book Man and Nature (1864), “man must learn to live with limits of nature,” an early trumpet of doom that represented the intellectual transition from the “age of plenty” to an “age of limits.”

Marsh argued that ancient Mediterranean civilizations collapsed due to environmental degradation, and, of course, they did, as they are faster than ever today! He saw early telltale signs of identical trends in the United States, as early as mid 19th century, over 150 years ago. Marsh’s Man and Nature next to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was considered one of the most influential books of the 19th century.

It was over 100 years later when the public at large was roundly exposed to limits to America’s celebrated infinite growth dogma with publication of Dennis and Donella Meadows’ punch-to-the-gut treatise The Limits to Growth (1972), the best selling (over 12 million copies in initial years) and most controversial environmental book post WWII.  “It was the book that cried wolf. The wolf was the planet’s environmental decline, and the wolf was real.” (pg. 157)

That wolf, circa 1970s, emphasized natural resource depletion more so than ecological destruction. However, ever since, scientists have increased knowledge of the earth exponentially, thereby demonstrating limits on several levels, terrestrial, oceanic, and atmospheric. “To ignore those limits, they warn, would be to put at risk the planet and human life.” (pg. 189)

Thus, scientists have discovered the limits posed by the planet’s natural systems and capacity to sustain life. Nowadays, those limits stick out like a reddened throbbing thumb, chemically debased ecosystems and crazed/loopy hydrological cycles and dangerous atmospheric concentrations of GHGs heating up the planet, threatening all life like never before throughout human history.

Meanwhile, nature’s breaking point is already nearly at hand in the Western United States from where the majority of America’s food-growing capacity feeds the country. Of course, nobody rings a bell to announce the official start of “the breaking point,” but Worster is quick to point out a troubling stranglehold developing throughout this key breadbasket region. Climate change, too much human-generated CO2 warming the planet, is altering hydrological cycles, especially in the Western U.S., to such an extent that California, the most bounteous state in the union, could experience a drop of 70% to 80% in its current water supply, assuming climate change, as it is now progressing, continues, thus prompting the million-dollar question: What’ll stop it?

Alas, also at the breaking point, across the acidic-infested, CO2 laced, heated up Atlantic Ocean and thru the Mediterranean Sea to its eastern and southern landmasses, the world’s biggest drying-out of land and aquifers is fast approaching crisis levels, accompanied by more and more frequent dust storms which scientists believe may turn into the equivalence of America’s infamous Dust Bowl of the 1930s, as the incredible historical flourish of the Tigris/Euphrates Fertile Crescent dries out at record rates.1

Alternatively, technology is the catchword and modus for continual drumbeat favoring the infinite growth credo, unrelenting GDP growth for eons. But forlornly, as expressed by Worster: “Technology does not open up immense, profitable frontiers of natural resources, untapped oceans filled with fish… or atmosphere rich in oxygen.” (pg. 222)

All of those precious resources were opened up anew to humankind with the advent of Christopher Columbus’s famous, or maybe infamous, voyage in 1492, which opened up, in Worster’s words, a “Second Earth,” the Americas to “First Earth” descendants.

The Second Earth,  a vivid bounteous land of riches is now part and parcel of today’s vast unrelenting Shrinking The Earth complex. Too much of it is now gone, or totally debased, with nowhere to turn for another great discovery, no more Christopher Columbus trips. There is no Third Earth.

Worster ends his book with a chapter entitled “Field Trip: Athabasca River”, which perfectly encapsulates the theme, Shrinking The Earth:

Scientists discovered that oil sands lay under nearly a tenth of Alberta’s territory, including the Athabasca area…The uncomfortable truth is that reclamation probably cannot succeed within any single lifetime, or perhaps for centuries… The companies, led by Syncrude, cannot wait that long and retain public confidence, so they have devised a strategy that is still in the early stages of experimentation. Near an old mine site close to the river stands a model of man-made, accelerated reclamation, a ‘park’ named Gateway Hill that Syncrude offers as proof of its commitment and determination to ‘return the land back to nature’… Gateway Hill boasts a hiking trail winding through a thriving set of aspens, the early succession trees of the boreal forest. It looks over a smoothly contoured artificial lake, a large hay meadow with mowing machines, and a small fenced compound where six bison are kept for viewing. This carefully nurtured mosaic has returned the earth from sterility to a practical, recreational, and suburban tidiness…. THE END.

Postscript:

Our option is to choose our own limits, or let nature chose them for us.

— Donella Meadows, American author, The Limits to Growth (1972)

  1. NASA, Earth Data, 2016.

Chemical Madness!

All of humanity currently risks exposure to toxic chemicals all over creation in a similar vein to the Mad Hatter of Alice in Wonderland fame.  And, maybe, as a result, goin’ kinda looney and getting horribly, dreadfully sick!

As soon as the Spring of 2018, the EPA will decide whether to risk the slaughter of birds and bees and pollinators that serve critical functions in crop production, as well as goosing-up the likelihood of chronic illnesses of citizens. The issue behind this flirtation with disease, sickness, pain, and death is regulation, or lack thereof, of chemical pesticides.

Meanwhile on a grand scale, and following decades of superfluity, the planet gurgles, drowning in a massive saturation of chemicals found far and wide, as high as Mt. Everest (arsenic and cadmium) as deep as PCB-infested squid in the Mariana Trench, glowing bright shiny toxicity.

This article discusses only a tiny smattering of chemical madness that haunts the world yet a subject of thousands of articles of research discussing potential dangers to health of which the public is dreadfully unaware.

Thus, the overriding thesis herein: Unwittingly, society is poisoning itself.

Anecdotal evidence alone is reason enough for alarm, but of more concern, several scientific studies show real, actual, direct links of pesticides to human chronic diseases. Regrettably, chronic disease is already at severe epidemic levels never before witnessed! But, nobody with absolutely certainty has publicly connected the dots of chemicals to chronic diseases. The truth is buried in scientific studies that nobody, other than scientists, reads or understands.

Consequently, one can only hope that this article you are reading is dead wrong about the connection of chemicals to chronic diseases. But who knows for sure?  And, that’s the point to be made: Nobody knows with 100% certainty whether humanity is poisoning itself or not, but it should be noted that the evidence is nearly almost compelling.

Furthermore, there is evidence that regulatory agencies have likely been looking at the wrong data, thus exposing innocent non-target species with unnecessary toxicity, leading to near extinction of some species that are crucial for crop production/human consumption.

The unnecessary exposure to causation of chronic diseases is a tragedy of immense proportions. For example: A recent Rand Corporation study says 60% of Americans have one and 40% have multiple chronic conditions:

Nearly 150 million Americans are living with at least one chronic condition; around 100 million of them have more than one.1

This virtual outbreak of chronic diseases throughout America begs the question of why? Is the normal course of human life stricken with chronic diseases, like arthritis, asthma, cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s? Is it normal, or is a rogue externality at work?

Understandably, it does not seem natural that 150,000,000 out of a population of 320,000,000 have chronic disease conditions. What’s up?

Chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, are often referred to as lifestyle diseases. This is because lifestyle factors, such as inactivity, diet, and smoking play a significant role in human protoplasm. But, is there something else behind this ongoing tragedy? Probabilities would say the answer is a resounding yes!

The Neonicotinoid Epidemic

By and large, Americans depend upon the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help shield from dangerous chemicals. In that regard, the EPA is currently contemplating approval of the pesticide thiamethoxam, allowing it to be sprayed directly on 165 million acres of wheat, barley, corn, sorghum, alfalfa, rice, and potatoes.

Thiamethoxam, an insecticide, is a neonicotinoid.

According to a major study: “Neonicotinoids are compounds that affect the nervous system of insects, humans, and other animals.”2

Twenty-nine (29) independent scientists who conducted a global review of more than 1,000 independent studies on neonicotinoids found overwhelming evidence linking the pesticides to declines in populations of bees, birds, earthworms, butterflies and other wildlife.3

When using chemicals to kill specific pests, does it also make sense to collaterally kill bees, earthworms, butterflies, and other wildlife that form and create the backbone of ecosystems vital to human food, health, and well being?

Or, looked at another way, how did the world’s population grow crops and sustain population growth over the past couple of thousand years without chemical pesticides? For certain, the Roman Empire did not spray chemicals on crops nor did the British Empire of the 19th and early 20th centuries nor did America as it settled the frontier from Pennsylvania to California.

According to a landmark UN report d/d 2017:

Excessive use of pesticides are very dangerous to human health, to the environment and it is misleading to claim they are vital to ensuring food security… Chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, etc….4

Prior to the year 2000 neonicotinoid chemicals were used but largely unknown. Since then, they have become the most widely used agricultural insecticide on the planet. Despite this universality of use, amazingly, human toxicity issues via ingestion of chemically sprayed fruits and vegetables are not yet fully understood. That’s discomforting.

Meanwhile, bees and other pollinators are dropping dead like… well, like flies. Thus, pesticides designed to kill pests of crops are, in fact, killing insects that pollinate crops. Consider: 1,000 independent studies found “overwhelming evidence linking pesticides to declines in populations of bees, birds, earthworms, butterflies, and other wildlife.”

Scandalously, by all appearances, humanity is killing off the base of the food chain, as mentioned in numerous research reports regarding near-total collapse of several insect pollinator species worldwide.

It should be noted that the EPA has broadened its stance on pesticides and protection of pollinators as expressed on the EPA web site under the headline: “EPA Actions to Protect Pollinators.” But, it has not banned usage of neonicotinoids. EPA is currently in a “public comment period” until late April 2018 prior to assessment of approval of thiamethoxam.

Imidacloprid is another insecticide in the class of neoicotinoids but used on sucking insects, termites, soil insects, and fleas on pets. According to a significant study:

In many areas of intensive agriculture, surface water is contaminated with imidacloprid. As a result, non-target insects are exposed to an extremely toxic substance for a long time, which can lead to massive insect mortality and a break in the food chain… The risks of imidacloprid have been completely underestimated, with catastrophic consequences….5

The Tennekes’ study discusses “a break in the food chain” because of the use of an insecticide. That is a prime example of one of many studies that seldom appear in mainstream publications even though the message is critically important to quality of life and death matters.

In the final analysis, flirting with too much chemical saturation is not understood 100% for certain, but the literature is filled with tons and tons of research about chemical obsession, usage, and the dangers thereof. However, there is very little astute, careful threading-the-needle-type regulation by governmental regulators, mostly accepting internal studies passed on from chemical manufacturer in-house studies.

Meantime, the massive amount of chemicals spewing onto ecosystems is a relatively new phenomenon, mostly within the past few decades and few have been properly tested for harmful effects. Here’s the problem: Similar to radioactive isotopes, like those emitted at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that slowly accumulate in the body with a latency affect, chemicals in the environment do the same. Problem is, once the problem fully manifests, it’s too late. By then, it is totally out of control.

The studies mentioned herein seem to somehow, someway but not 100% for sure connect to the horrific results of the Rand study showing 150,000,000 Americans with at least one chronic condition.

Albeit, the life and death question of the century remains: Does excessive chemical exposure cause chronic diseases, or is it something else at work on the human body? Nobody knows the answer with certainty. But, a multitude of studies that unfortunately collect dust on bookshelves or stuck in PC files out of public view do show evidence of direct linkage. Still, nobody has affirmatively, in the mainstream, connected those dots on behalf of the public at large.

Postscript:

When God created the Garden of Eden, she didn’t use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and GMO apples.

— Khang Kijarro Nguyen, Multidisciplinary Artist

  1. Chronic Conditions in America: Price and Prevalence, Rand Review, July 2017.
  2. Jennifer Hopwood, et al, How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees, 2nd Ed. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, 2016.
  3. EPA Considers Allowing Bee-Killing Pesticide To Be Sprayed on 165 Million Acres of U.S. Farmland, Center for Biological Diversity, EcoWatch, December 19, 2017.
  4. UN Human Rights Experts Call for Global Treaty to Regulate Dangerous Pesticides, UN News, March 7, 2017.
  5. Henk A. Tennekes, “The Importance of Dose-Time-Response Relationships for Hazard Identification and Limitation of Animal Experiments”, Journal of Toxicology, Vol. 1, Issue 5 – August 2017.

Global Weirding

Oh, what fun it truly was to experience the “bomb cyclone” in January in New England: the snowfall gave a sense of peace and calm, the winds were less strong than predicted, and the snow, while heavy, was not dense enough to take down trees and power lines in most areas. The following period of intense cold through February and March in the eastern half of the US, on the other hand, seems a harbinger of climate instability which will most likely worsen in upcoming years. As the jet stream weakens and buckles due to climate change, storm intensity and temperature fluctuations are certain to get worse.

The biggest danger for East coasters will remain the hurricane, as September 2017 registered as the most active month in recorded history for the Atlantic.

On the West coast, things are getting a bit Biblical: raging fires alternate with intense flooding and mudslides in Montecito and southern California a few months ago. The 2017 fire season set aflame over eight million acres mainly in the Western states. It’s not just a domestic issue: Portugal faced an epic firestorm in June of last year, killing close to 100, partly due to the monocultures of eucalyptus trees planted across the country. Millions face conditions of famine and drought worldwide.

Sadly, most reporting and discussion of global warming and climate change serves to abstract the issues into a diversionary attitude that the Earth is in crisis. Well, the planet, as a self-regulating super-organism, will do just fine without us, even if it takes millennia to recover from our misdeeds. It is stable and abundance-providing ecosystems that are in crisis, species that are going extinct at 1000 times the background rate, and humanity is the culprit.

Even though man-made global warming is acknowledged by most people, there is still a conflation going on in the West that the all-devouring Earth-mother is out to get us. Rather, it is Western civilization which is stalking any chance for future generations to live and prosper.

Ecosystems in Crisis

In Germany, a study was done measuring insect populations in nature reserves, and it was discovered that there was a 75% drop in total insects collected in only 25 years. Scientists estimate that 30-50% of all species may become extinct by 2050.

Tragically, regarding honeybees, scientists have discovered an important link between fungicide use and the herbicide glyphosate (Round-Up), showing a negatively synergistic effect on bee colonies and resistance to fungal infection. Bees seem to actually prefer honey set in traps with a small percentage of Roundup or fungicides added. Humans are not the only species to enjoy mind-altering drugs, even poisonous ones.

All of our problems involving the destruction of habitat are ultimately bound up in the fact that there are too many of us, conditioned to respond in violent outbursts, consuming too many resources, leading to stress, war, and unimaginable acts of cruelty. These acts are often sanctioned by the state or the corporation or religion or patriarchal vertical hierarchies.

The exponential population growth from the industrial revolution is already slowing and bound to top off at anywhere from 10-12 billion people by 2050-2100, if we manage to avoid the many catastrophes hurtling our way. Thus the growth curve will resemble an S-curve barring unforeseeable circumstances, with small waves and ripples due to the complexities of changing times, food sources, and a multitude of variables. In theory this population model could then lead to a steady decrease in total population due to a voluntary decision by humanity to slowly and carefully have fewer children due to stresses on ecosystems and natural resources. If we don’t convert to decentralized renewable energy and organic, communal-based agriculture, however, there is another model we may follow, and it’s not pretty one. Fossil fuel use is the habit that must be kicked for humanity to help recreate a sustainable world.

One of the most famous examples from studying mammalian populations is the debacle of St. Matthew Island, a warning to humanity. A tiny island located in the Bering Strait, with no carnivores, some lonely US coast guard officers decided to introduce reindeer onto the island. From a starting population of 29 in 1944, the hungry caribou ate through the entire island’s many lichen species, ballooning to 6,000 by 1963. Within two years and no other food source, the die-off was drastic, and only 42 remained in 1965. The entire population vanished by the 1980s. If our coal, gas, and oil run out without a democratic and scientific plan to make the leap to renewables, we are doomed to the same path.

The Unspoken Links

It would be simplistic to relegate these new and unprecedented levels of strangeness to the spheres of ecology and climate science. The deep wounds Western man has inflicted on fellow species and the planet are also inflicted on ourselves. From everything to decreased attention spans, the rise of xenophobia and mistrust towards minorities and immigrants, and billions living in poverty, these are by and large self-inflicted wounds. We must learn to see ourselves in the other, and see the other in ourselves

Cell phone, TV, tablet, and computer use, dubbed “screen time”, can now be understood to have a net-negative effect on human communities when consumed in vast quantities, as it drives anti-social behavior and isolation from the wider community. A recent study concluded the average screen time for US adults was around 70 hours per week. Keep in mind, that means for every person getting 40 hours of screen time there is another getting 100 hours per week.

The rising rates of cancer, autism, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, heart disease, and many other chronic conditions may be partly due to the stressors and conditions of modern life, including longer lifespans, but they do not account for the majority. Our polluted world and environmental crises play a mostly invisible role in the West, as our federal agencies such as the EPA and FDA have become corrupted by pharmaceutical and corporate interests.

With no way to systemically study or properly account for the rise of ill health and mental stupefaction of the public, medical and health professionals, shackled in their dim caves staring at shadows, have designated the “genetic” component to dis-ease as the Holy Grail. There is some truth to this: undoubtedly certain forms of breast cancer are linked to specific areas on chromosomes, etc. The idea, however, that billions of dollars in research must be shunted into the reductionist model of DNA manipulation and gene therapy is a huge waste of time, resources, and brainpower. (No, I don’t have mainstream “credentials” or a PhD, but I was happy to have my suspicions about targeted gene therapy confirmed straight out of the mouth of a former top researcher at the National Cancer Institute.)

The best way I’ve heard it phrased, regarding chronic disease and our toxified world, is like this: genetics is the loaded gun, and the environment is the finger pulling the trigger. Yes, many people are at risk due to genetic inheritance for many forms of cancers, diabetes, and the list goes on, but magnifying the capacities of the double helix as the primal cause of these conditions is not only dubious, it’s intellectually dishonest and dangerous. One may be at higher risks for certain disorders, but a healthy lifestyle can often slow, negate, or reverse chronic disease.

Many of today’s chemical dangers are invisible and thus fly under the radar of doctors and scientists. Yet, there are visible changes in our bodies that have manifested with the rise of industrial agriculture after World War Two. One change being the rise in obesity worldwide. Yes, we have increased meal portion sizes and live more sedentary lifestyles, and yes, food serves as a palliative for depression and anxiety.

Yet, this does not explain the study (summarized in an Atlantic article here) which concluded that between 1988 and 2006 a person with the same diet, nutrient and exercise routines would be 10% heavier in 2006. This is a historic finding, and I can find nothing in the literature which reports a change in size of any other species in such short a time frame (18 years), other than weight gain in the abhorrent factory farming conditions of chickens, pigs, and cows.

The problem is, as the authors of the study note, there are so many factors it’s nearly impossible to determine what the culprit is. There are persistent organic pollutants, hormones in our food which act as endocrine disruptors, prescription drug overuse which leads to weight gain, and the possibility of a change in our gut bacteria due to mass antibiotic use in animal produce. In all likelihood, it is a combination of all of these factors that is driving the obesity and cancer epidemics. While many researchers are waking up to effects from increasing use of digital technology and social media, hardly anyone in the scientific community and academia have bothered to think about the huge changes to our bodies in the past few decades.

For every one human cell in our bodies, there are about 10 symbiotic bacterial cells. We are in very real sense super-organisms, and the huge influx of herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics in our food is forming a negatively synergistic effect on our ability to reason, to exercise, to relax, and to resist these new forms of genetic-biologic oppression.

This comes down to the nexus of corporate agribusiness, complicit federal health “experts”, lack of funding for research and grants for responsible scientists, and a poisoned food and water supply which has hijacked and somehow rewired our metabolism, endocrine system, and immune-response pathways. Have no doubt, this is an uncontrolled experiment being run on us all, without our permission.

The rise in cancer in particular can be tied to the atmospheric nuclear tests in the 1950s, as I and many others have posited. Estimates range that anywhere from 1 million to 50 million or even higher have already died/may die in the coming century earlier than they otherwise would have, because of cancer due to nuclear radiation from these tests.

The chance of getting cancer in one’s lifetime is expected to rise to a 33% chance for women and a 50% chance for men by 2050. This is the microcosm within the macrocosm of a world system based on infinite growth on a finite planet. The ideology of capitalism is death, and there should be no mystification as to why the clear unhealthiness of the hegemonic socio-economic system has been transported into our very bodies via cancer.

A major problem is that modern medicine has become ideological and insular, with predictably deadly results. There can be no patents for plants, herbs, mushrooms, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practices, thus no conglomerate, multinational, corporate money to be made.

If it becomes clear on a mass scale that traditional practices including, but not limited to, herbal medicine, meditation, yoga, holistic traditional healing, Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine has immense value beyond the instrumental rationality of allopathic medicine, the gig is up for mainstream pill-pushers. Most health professionals would be unveiled as the educated fools that they are, drug pushers promoting dangerous drugs for children and the elderly, not to mention endless unnecessary tests and procedures which make billions for Big Pharma and medical technology companies.

Let me be clear here: I am not by any means trying to scapegoat every medical professional, as researchers and people who treat medical emergencies, trauma, surgeons, and doctors dealing with acute medical conditions do amazing work every day. What I’m driving at is the allopathic way of treating most chronic conditions is a farce, and our society should return to promoting preventative, holistic treatments.

Thanato-politics

Sadly, there is a legitimate reason why so much of society is organized around ignorance, fear, violence, denial of the body, and consumption: the death-drive. One does not have to subscribe to Freud’s exposition of thanatos to understand this: the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the desertification of our world, the razing of habitat shows this quite clearly.

Modern civilization does not only lead to obedience, submission, and structural violence, but also to a certain form of captivity. Humans tend to rebel against such a depraved social order, even if only symbolically, with varying amounts of success. Some do so constructively, forming social movements and protests, yet masses have fallen prey to the siren-songs of nationalism, consumerism, addiction, and war. Along with the enclosure of public land and the destruction of the commons (“There is no such thing as society”) comes a culture of fear, cruelty, and ultimately projections of the outer world as scary and downright evil.

Captivity in action: consider the recent missile alert in Hawai’i. Was this not an example of a captive audience, doomed by elites to worry and scatter over a phantom nuke over the horizon? None of us asked for this. Most of humanity simply wants to be left alone from the vagaries of government and corporate rule to live stable, happy lives. Yet the sad truth of the matter is the elites are not going to leave us alone. Their appetite is insatiable, and they will, in fact, drag down the entire biosphere, because in their current state of mind, they hate life, and want to transcend this world, either to heaven (the Christian fundamentalists) or have their consciousness uploaded or bodies cryogenically frozen for future immortality (the Kurzweillian techno-futurists).

Evil, or rather, a disdain for authentic living, is banal in many senses: one of these is the utter unimaginativeness resting in the dark hearts of our political leaders. Evil is a lack, a poverty of the soul. It is incapacity to create, an absence of imagination, spontaneous creativity, and compassion. You can sense this in our “technocratic” leadership, pushing us ever closer to the abyss of economic depression and ecological ruin.

It often conjures up a chuckle when I remind people of David Graeber’s comments (paraphrasing here) on the elitist corporate/managerial/bureaucratic mindset: “These are the most unimaginative people ever.” This is basically a gallows humor, as the elite are numbing citizens of the will, mental capacities, and physical abilities to organize and resist effectively, and are setting up the masses for collapse of our civilization.

Reclaiming Eros

If there does exist some sort of death drive (most explicitly recognized in Nazi, Italian, and Spanish fascist ideology: “¡Viva la muerte!”) that modern civilization is imposing on us, is there a countervailing force?

Countering the bleak pessimism of Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization offers clues. We can extrapolate and widen their focus on libido to consider Eros as an analogy for life-force or life-energy, similar to Eastern notions of prana and chi. If modern society has, in fact, regimented our lives around a Marcuse-esque performance principle, it does so at the cost of our very souls. It was no mythological coincidence that the ancient Greeks wedded the god Eros in immortal bliss with Psyche. One cannot exist without the other.

Alienation in the workplace is so all-pervasive it often goes unnoticed or unremarked upon. Perhaps this orientation around surplus repression is most visible in leisure activities such as today’s gyms, the insular form of physical exercise for the corporate workers and bosses. Regimenting the mind in the office is not enough: bodies must be splayed across endless rows of treadmills and metal strength-enhancing machines like legions of marching ants, with the requisite phone or Ipod and headphones attached. As for the flabby and out-of-shape, it is once again a lack of discipline and failure to take individual responsibility, rather than any oppressive social structure which is the causal factor.

These are the pod people, exemplified in a New York Times piece about a former Nike exec and artist who has refused to watch or read any news since Donald Trump became elected, who even goes to far as to use noise-canceling headphones blaring white noise in coffee shops to not overhear any chatter about world affairs. Why not just play music? “Stray conversation can creep in between songs.” The same game goes for the power elite: stray news about the poor and oppressed, and any possibilities of social transformation, are simply shushed away.

Thus, when the business and political elite blurt the snide “Be reasonable!” they are at the same time using the cynical trope of “no grand ideologies” (read: Marxism) which, of course, hides behind the moral relativism and lack of conception of the good life which liberal democracy has always played at, which is ideology at its purest: “the end of history”, “there is no such thing as society”, “there is no alternative”.

These people, whose ideas simply parrot the cultural hegemonic ruling class framework, are asserting the “logic of domination”. Drawing on Arendt and Orwell, Alexander Stern has dubbed this “Bingespeak”. Following Marcuse:

Reason is to insure, through the ever more effective transformation and exploitation of nature, the fulfillment of the human potentialities. But in the process the end seems to recede before the means: the time devoted to alienated labor absorbs the time for individual needs- and defines the needs themselves. The Logos shows forth as the logic of domination. When logic then reduces the units of thought to signs and symbols, the laws of thought have finally become techniques of calculation and manipulation.1

This corrupted Logos seems to have pushed aside Eros in the modern world. Nietzsche would call it Apollonian overtaking the Dionysian. As the socially-constructed ego has developed under patriarchy, civilization, and capitalism, it has done so with the fear of the maternal-based clan, and the Earth-based tribal modes of life. Returning to Marcuse:

The Narcissistic phase of individual pre-genitality ‘recalls the maternal phase of the history of the human race. Both constitute a reality to which the ego responds with an attitude, not of defense and submission, but of integral identification with the ‘environment.’ But in the light of the paternal reality principle, the ‘maternal concept’ of reality here emerging is immediately turned into something dreadful, negative. The impulse to re-establish the lost Narcissistic-maternal unity is interpreted as a ‘threat,’ namely, the threat of ‘maternal engulfment’ by the overpowering womb. The hostile father is exonerated and reappears as savior who…protects the ego from its annihilation in the mother.2

Does this fear not play out between the lines of today’s discourse around the environment? It cannot be the patriarchal, murderous version of global capitalism which is at fault, but rather, an all-consuming mother planet bent on destroying us all (even though it’s all our own fault due to rampant fossil fuel use). In fact, the father figure of global capital now swoops in to act as a savior for everything he has destroyed.

Contrast, for example, the rush to space and immortality that the Silicon Valley techno-utopian folk seem to prefer, or even the “pragmatism” of Steward “we are as gods and have to get good at it” Brand; with the ecocentric approach of Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock, co-creators of Gaia theory. Corporate-funded mainstream environmentalists would have us geo-engineer the planet and proliferate dangerous 5G technology via an internet-of-things around the globe. Rather, we should convert to small scale, decentralized renewable tech, and attempt to live in harmony with the biosphere by adhering to an ecological precautionary principle.

Thus, the “primal father” version of the future which Brand and his “green capitalist” (an oxymoron) acolytes believe in necessarily involves sacrifice of the masses and more exploitation of natural resources We are told this everyday: “austerity” is needed for economic recovery; delay gratification to pay off debts; foreigners must be killed and are simply collateral damage to protect the world from terrorism, public land is off-limits or only for recreation, not sustainable agriculture and agroforestry; etc.

Reconciling Apollo and Dionysus, Logos and Eros, a less repressive society would not simply focus on what we must sacrifice, but allow space for passion, imagination, and desire. A democratic society would allow for collective decision-making regarding the scale and scope of a host of socioeconomic issues, including sustainable agriculture, genetic research, preventative medicine, animal testing, as well as chemical use in farming and industry.

With a healthy balance between Logos and Eros, we can transcend the deadly framework of instrumental reason and positivism to build a livable future. Some like to call this a “supra-rational” outlook, a transpersonal and holistic view of the world, where emotional intelligence is blended with the analytic, intuition with abstract logic.

What lessons can we draw here? There must be a concerted effort to blend work and play, especially in regards to communal farming, collective home building, and low-scale renewable energy, to create the grounds for authentic liberation from capitalism.

Sustained and coordinated efforts to build autonomous zones free from governmental and hierarchical organization are paramount: indigenous movements throughout South America and worldwide, the mass strikes in France, Christiania in København, freedom fighters in Chiapas and Rojava, and the MST in Brazil offer models of resistance.

We are going to have to adopt a type of bricolage (Levi-Strauss) culture, scavenging what has not been absorbed by global capital, to create beauty in the ruins of empire. Thus, we can begin the Herculean effort to deterritorialize (as in Deleuze and Guattari) and thus reassemble a heterogeneous, co-evolving, transformational commons; to decolonize our minds from a simulated, mechanical mode of life; to detach from the Spectacle; to unlearn and deschool ourselves (Illich) from the oppressive social systems designed to rob and eventually destroy everything we know and care for.

  1. Marcuse, Herbert. (1974) Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. Boston: Beacon Press. Originally published 1955. pp. 111-112.
  2. Ibid., p. 230.

Insect Decimation Upstages Global Warming

Everybody’s heard about global warming. It is one of the most advertised existential events of all time. Who isn’t aware? However, there’s a new kid on the block. An alarming loss of insects will likely take down humanity before global warming hits maximum velocity.

For the immediate future, the Paris Accord is riding the wrong horse, as global warming is a long-term project compared to the insect catastrophe happening right now! Where else is found 40% to 90% species devastation?

The worldwide loss of insects is simply staggering with some reports of 75% up to 90%, happening much faster than the paleoclimate record rate of the past five major extinction events. It is possible that some insect species may already be close to total extinction!

It’s established that species evolve and then go extinct over thousands and millions of years as part of nature’s course, but the current rate of devastation is simply “off the charts, and downright scary.”

Without any doubt, it is difficult to imagine how humanity survives without insects, which are dropping dead in bunches right before our eyes. For proof, how many insect splats do people clean off windshields nowadays? Not many…. How many fireflies do children chase at night? Not many….

Several naturalists and environmental writers believe the massive loss of insects has everything to do with three generations of industrialized farming and the vast tide of poisons pouring over the landscape year-after-year, especially since the end of WWII. Ours is the first-ever pesticide-based agricultural society. Dreadfully, it’s an experiment that is going dead wrong… all of a sudden!

Insects are basic to thousands of food chains; for example, the disappearance of Britain’s farmland birds by over 50% in 40 years. Additionally, North America and Europe species of birds like larks, swallows, and swifts that feast on flying insects have plummeted.

But, these are only a few of many, many recorded examples of massive numbers of wildlife dropping dead right before our eyes.

Significantly, insects are the primary source for ecosystem creation and support. The world literally crumbles apart without mischievous burrowing, forming new soil, aerating soil, pollinating food crops, etc. Nutrition for humans happens because insects pollinate.

One of the world’s best and oldest entomological resources is Krefeld Entomological Society (est. 1905) tracking insect abundance at more than 100 nature reserves. They first noticed a significant drop off of insects in 2013 when the total mass of catch fell by 80%. Again, in 2014 the numbers were just as low. Subsequently, the society discovered huge declines in several observation sites throughout Western Europe.

For example, Krefeld data for hoverflies, a pollinator often mistaken for a bee, registered 17,291 hoverflies from 143 species trapped in a reserve in 1989. Whereas by 2014 at the same location, 2,737 individuals from 104 species, down 84%.1

Down Under in Australia anecdotal evidence similarly shows an unusual falloff of insect populations. For example, Jack Hasenpusch, an entomologist and owner of the Australian Insect Farm collects swarms of wild insects but now says: “I’ve been wondering for the last few years why some of the insects have been dropping off … This year has really taken the cake with the lack of insects, it’s left me dumbfounded, I can’t figure out what’s going on.”2

Concerned, Mr. Hasenpusch talked to entomologists in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, New Caledonia, and Italy.  All of them related similar experiences.

According to entomologist Dr. Cameron Webb/University of Sydney, researchers around the world widely acknowledge the problem of insect decline but are at a loss to explain the causes.

Obviously, something dreadful is suddenly happening throughout the entire biosphere. The insect catastrophe is a relatively new phenomenon that has caught society unaware, blindsided. Interestingly, 97% of the Animal Kingdom consists of invertebrates such as insects, crabs, lobsters, clams, octopuses, jellyfish, and worms, etc.

Scientists have been noticing the problem for some time now, but widespread public knowledge is simply not there. Jürgen Deckert, insect custodian at the Berlin Natural History Museum is worried that “there’s a risk we will only really take notice once it is too late.”3

The Senckenberg Entomological Institute/Frankfurt recorded a 40% decline in butterfly and Burnet moth species over a period of decades.

A Stanford University global index developed by Rodlfo Dirzo showed a 45% decline for invertebrates over four decades. Of 3,623 terrestrial invertebrate species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, 42% are classified as threatened with extinction.

The Zoological Society of London in 2012 published a major survey concluding that many insect populations are in severe decline. And in both the U.S. and Europe researchers have recorded 40% declines in bee populations because of colony collapse disorder and sharp losses of monarch butterflies.

Of particular concern is the widespread use of pesticides and their impact on non-target species. Many conservationists view a special class of pesticides called neonicotinoids — used over many years in Europe until a partial ban in 2013 — as the prime suspect for insect losses… “There are many indications that what we see is the result of a widespread poisoning of our landscape,” says Leif Miller, director general of the German chapter of Bird Life International.4

Widespread poisoning of ecosystems is the norm in modern day society.

Ours is a poisoned planet, … This explosion in chemical use and release has all happened so rapidly that most people are blissfully unaware of its true magnitude and extent, or of the dangers it now poses to us all as well as to future generations for centuries to come.5

“Most people are blissfully unaware” may be a blessing in disguise as the angst, dread, and uneasiness that knowledge of this horrendous crisis brings is the root cause of severe bouts of sleeplessness along with difficult spells of deep depression.

  1. Gretchen Vogel, “Where Have All The Insects Gone?” Science Magazine, May 10, 2017.
  2. Mark Rigby, Insect Population Decline Leaves Australian Scientists Scratching For Solutions, ABC Far North, February 23, 2018.
  3. Christian Schwägerl, “What’s Causing the Sharp Decline in Insects, and Why It Matters”, YaleEnvironment360, July 6, 2012.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Julian Cribb, Surviving the 21st Century, Springer Nature, Switzerland, 2017, page 104.

Love and Loss in the Anthropocene

What can we do?  We are without doubt in an historically unique and incredibly challenging position. The Anthropogenic extinction is here, now. It is not something we are anticipating or awaiting. It is upon us. Today, we are in it, watching the life we have known unravel on a hundred different fronts. And I find myself asking with crazy-making regularity: how can I — one ordinary human amongst 7.5 billion — honor this extraordinary time with whatever gifts and goods I happen to be carrying?

Many of us are posing similar questions to ourselves, to one another.  These are my own very personal musings of this moment, shared in the hope that they might spark or support others’ explorations. I expect that there are as many answers as there are humans willing to ask; we all must find our own way, our own truth in these times.

I experience a lot of gnawing low-level anxiety of late. I have frequent bursts of anger and I regularly skirt the precarious edges of depression.  It is not easy for any of us to hold in full consciousness the massive losses—and concomitant suffering– that are already underway, not to mention all those which are almost certainly just around the next bend. I try, like so many of us do, to balance awareness and honest acknowledgement of our impending collective demise with kindness and compassion. I work hard to avoid becoming completely subsumed by grief, to stay in the moment. It isn’t fun–or particularly functional–to wallow in sorrow. More importantly, I don’t want to be lost in my own inoculating darkness when there is relatively little time left to manifest the best of who it has been given to me to be.  I continue to believe that among the few meaningful actions left to us may be the choice to seek within ourselves love and courage and connection, even—and especially– in the midst of devastation.

But grief arises as part of that commitment. We know: loving almost always entails loss. To live with an open heart means being present for the slings and arrows.  Grief is part of the journey that lies ahead for all of us, should we choose to make it in consciousness. And sometimes the grief captures my attention in ways that take me completely by surprise. As a parent, I am ever aware of the legacy of our choices, all that we have made impossible for our children and grandchildren.  Easiest to see are the larger and most tangible of consequences – the horrifying prospects of global warming, climate chaos, habitat destruction, rising and acidifying seas, breakdown of civil order, war and…extinction.  Any human under 50 today– and all the other innocent beings on the planet–are facing a life immeasurably more difficult than the one I was granted.

Unbearable at times, I do try not to let the looming calamity keep me small or shut down, from delighting in the advent of another spring, from watching the birds with wonder and gratitude.  Nature, though brutally ravaged by human greed, still manages to offer deep sustenance, an unbeatable and incredibly generous antidote to the fear and anger and sadness that are afoot everywhere in these times.

A few weeks back, out walking in the unseasonably warm weather, I came upon a gnarled old apple tree, in full bloom. As I always do, I leaned in for a good whiff, a deep receiving of the tree’s offering.  My own personal ‘madeleine,’ the scent instantly conjures for me the glory of infinite possibility, the breathtaking capacity of human beings to make beauty, to create meaning, and to love heroically.  Twined together forty-three years ago, that particular fragrance and the aliveness I felt back then, on the cusp of adulthood, cannot be separated.

At seventeen, I embarked ebulliently on the adventure of my life.  My best friend and I moved into our first apartment in January, and we got jobs that paid us the minimum wage of $2.10/hour, to cover the rent. We bought big sacks of bulgur and millet to eat, and I brought home as many leftovers as I could from the college dining hall where I made salads all day.  As spring arrived, our landlady gifted us with armloads of beet greens thinned from her large garden, and then rhubarb stalks as they emerged.  We didn’t know what to do with them, but we learned. Turning down free food was not really an option.  Besides, we were saving for our very own telephone, and in a couple of months we succeeded in getting the necessary cash together, and proudly found ourselves waiting for the calls to come in on the brand new yellow wall phone.

Our apartment comprised the second floor of a farmhouse nestled in the midst of a rambling apple orchard.  The windows ran almost floor to ceiling, filling our living room with incredible light in the mornings, and being up high, we could see the purple shadows of the Catskills in the distance as we washed dishes in the early evenings.  The shabby furniture, the makeshift kitchen, the ancient bathroom—none of these eroded one iota our wonder and delight at the breathtaking freedom and promise of our lives.

We filled the place with too many plants, got a cat and a puppy, and spent a great deal of time dreaming.  I was going to be a French chef.  Maybe a Classics scholar, rendering obscure Latin poetry into meaningful contemporary verse. Possibly a shaman: I’d learn to fly and heal and see far into the future, into the very meaning of life.  And, of course, we were both going to find love that surpassed even our literature-fueled dreams.  Almost everything we imagined seemed within reach. After a few beers, listening to Mozart’s piano concertos and then The Velvet Underground and finally, Laura Nyro, we would weep for the unfathomable breadth of potential and possibility of what lay ahead, for the bittersweet knowledge that it would not, could not, all come to pass.

We were so fortunate.

As March drew on, something unexpected but utterly foreseeable occurred.  The orchard burst into bloom.  Everywhere, everywhere, the pale pink blossoms called to the bees and the scent, subtle but persistent, filled the air, drifted in the windows we opened to feel the spring on our skin.  Although we knew it was not especially ethical, knew that the farmer counted on each of those flowers to mature into apples for sale, we stole out in the night anyway and cut massive sprays of the branches to bring inside, sticking them in jars and arranging them in every one of our three rooms. Something beyond reason commanded us to immerse ourselves in this amazing efflorescence, this unlooked for gift from the earth. To bury our noses in the blossoms and sink gratefully into olfactory celebration of the new life that spring promises, the beginnings, the vastness of what might be.

We were so innocent; we had no idea.

Like many of my time and place, I ‘grew up’ in fairly short order. I made choices, and with each choice, I shut the door on other options.  My trajectory, though never straight, became clearer.  I learned about limits, and despite protestations both internal and external, I came to accept that there were things I would never, could never, do or be.  The lingering sorrow of this is balanced somewhat by the knowledge that I did manage some of my dreams, modestly understood. Following those dreams was a privilege that I took mostly for granted.  It was a privilege that many of my contemporaries never had, and which few, if any children today will claim.

Hard on that moment a few weeks ago, inhaling the scent of apple blossoms and being overcome with the visceral memory of unlimited potential, came the grief.  What have we done?  Oh, what have we done?

As a species, we have been unable to meet the challenges posed by our own misguided attachment to growth.  While the apple blossoms in the orchard around my first apartment faded and began their transformation into fruit (duly sprayed, no doubt, with stockpiled DDT), the fifth annual Earth Day was observed.  It is impossible to say whether we might have changed the course of things enough if we had paid attention to what was already known then, but the point is moot. We didn’t grasp the urgency, we didn’t act. And for the main, we still do not, even as the world burns.

Life, such as it is, goes on, and all of us try in our own ways to live it without undue pain or suffering.  In the developed world, those with the means drive, eat, charge our phones and computers, heat and cool our homes at minimum.  When we can, most of us look for release and entertainment, travel a bit, and take in the beauty of our planet while we still can.

I really do try not to judge anyone’s choices, much less their coping strategies. After all, I have done my bit to contribute to this situation, I am far from blameless. We are facing epic disaster, extinction in all probability, and although I have not always done my best for this planet and its inhabitants, it feels incumbent upon me to do so now. The truth is that these are desperate and utterly unusual times; no one really knows how to navigate them, there are no experts at walking gracefully into annihilation. We are making it up as we go and have only our own vast, and often ignored, inner resources to guide us.

For me, part of the answer lies in feeling it all, in refusing to turn away from what is before me. To look both the beauty and the horror head on, to keep my heart open, no matter what it finds. Some days this leaves me enveloped in a sizzling joy, encountering the glories of this world, human and otherwise. Other days, that same display plunges me into despair, as I sense the transient, ebbing nature, the impending loss of all that has been so good and beautiful.

On those days, there are moments when the hellish scenarios that populate my imagination take over and scare the shit out of me, but sometimes I simply long to apologize. To bow down and beg forgiveness, to offer up my sincerest regrets. To the waters, the dolphins, the oaks, the salamanders, the children. All beloved and all endangered. I was never especially profligate with my resources, but along with many others, I was entrusted with stewardship of this planet–my home. I did not do enough and I bear responsibility for the consequences of our shared indifference to the fate of the planet.

Leaving aside any breast-beating, which accomplishes less than nothing at this point, I am simply incredibly sorry for what has happened, and what will inevitably happen to the trillions of beings who will not have the chance to make their own choices. I am indescribably sorry for the destruction, the suffering, the pain that are already visited upon the many as a result of human action/inaction, and which will undoubtedly become universal in the not too distant future.

Our insistence upon having everything has ironically set us upon a journey toward an era of great loss. Some of what we will have to relinquish is painfully clear already, as we see cities and small nations burn and/or wash away, as we find ourselves increasingly donning masks so as not to die of the very air we must breathe, as we find cesium 137 in our fish, RoundUp in our grains, microplastics in our waters. These are the obvious costs.  The larger lamentations as we walk the road to extinction.

But there are other losses not so readily apparent or dramatic, for which I weep as well. They will make themselves known as we continue our collective walk down this road, the one we have chosen—consciously or not—for our species, our planet and most of the other beings with whom we share the earth.

Today, a lesser lamentation. There were, according to the United Nations Population Fund, 1.8 billion young people in the world in 2014. More now, to be sure, but we know that there are at least that many young human beings in the flowering of their lives, readied by time and nature to imagine, to dream, to believe in the future and all it might hold.  That which was so heady and life affirming for me is denied them. The future is no longer a place where vision can forge reality, where longing coupled with determination can lead to almost anything imagined.  Admittedly, this isn’t nearly so dire as losing life or limb or family or home, but it matters.

Prompted by the precious scent of this year’s apple blossoms, I am quietly grieving this little loss: the end of the future as something the young can dream into reality, take by storm, make their own.  Never an option for all, now looking obsolete and unattainable for everyone.  Even those with a luxury bunker in New Zealand.

And so I apologize to those young people whose lives will almost certainly be robbed of the richness, the freedoms, the potential—the very future– which I enjoyed.  I cannot substantively change what lies ahead; I am afraid it is too late for that.  But I can own my part in creating it.  And, perhaps more meaningfully, I can try to be an honest witness, I can find the courage to look without flinching, no matter how painful it gets.  I can decline to turn away, I can refuse to close my heart, I can continue to love even when it hurts like hell.  It isn’t much, it isn’t nearly enough, but in concert with my unfettered delight in the return to my neighborhood of a breeding pair of ospreys, it is what I can wholeheartedly offer today.

Is the EPA hazardous?

In an economically/socially-advanced pluralistic society, like the United States, the integrity of the EPA should never need to be questioned. However, simply posing the thought “whether the EPA is hazardous” suggests a disquieting response.

As such, and if true that the EPA is hazardous to health, it is incumbent upon the public to root out and toss out perpetrators because a democracy, or an autocracy for that matter, should never allow public servants to knowingly harm/kill/maim its own people.

Still, according to Karen Perry, senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists:

This EPA is not interested in protecting people from harmful pesticides. It’s more interested in bowing to the wishes of Dow [Agrochemical].1

Scott Pruitt is the first, and only, anti-proponent EPA leader. He opposes EPA regulators and EPA regulations, as he methodically decimates the agency. Scientists are fleeing like locusts in spring.

Disturbingly, it is reported that Pruitt gave a closed-door speech to the Heritage Foundation a week ago, outlining policy changes that will, in many instances, hogtie the EPA from advancing regulations by forcing it to publicly disclose all data. However, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists:

A lot of the data that EPA uses to protect public health and ensure that we have clean air and clean water relies on data that cannot be publicly released.2

For example, some scientific research, especially in areas of public health, involves longitudinal studies that are so large and of great duration that they could not realistically be reproduced. As a consequence, under Pruitt’s alleged new approach, such studies would not be allowed to influence policy decisions, putting the public at undue risk.

Wherefore, the EPA is one of the primary downsizing targets of “Trump Deconstructionism,” as defined by Steve Bannon at a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), to wit: Trump’s cabinet picks are aimed at “Deconstruction of the Administrative State.”

Additionally, by all appearances, Trump’s cabinet picks are instructed to side with big corporations as, for example, Pruitt rejecting in March 2017 the EPA’s own scientists’ recommendations to ban chlorpyrifos, a base chemical used in many pesticides. The EPA previously banned it for household use in 2000, but it ubiquitously continues in fields around the world. All-over it covers the planet.

The State of California classifies chlorpyrifos within the category: “Most Dangerous Chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm.” The Obama administration implemented a process for an all-out ban of the chemical scheduled for March 2017.  Subsequently, Pruitt ignored the advise of his own EPA scientists.

However, Pruitt defends his actions, saying deregulatory efforts are in the interest of “cooperative federalism,” meaning the states should take on more regulations. But, what if the states are not up to speed, properly funded, and staffed to effectively regulate environmental issues? Then, what happens?

And of equal or of more concern, what if Pruitt ignores his own agency recommendations about public safety vis a vis chemicals? What are law-abiding citizens to do?

It’s an open question… wide open!

What to do?

For starters, consideration should be given to research. For example, shortly after Pruitt lifted his department’s scheduled ban, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) claimed:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s own scientific analysis showed that the amount of chlorpyrifos ingested by young children through sprayed fruits and vegetables could exceed safety levels by 140 times. Yet Trump’s EPA is refusing to move forward with its previously proposed ban of the pesticide. Accordingly, NRDC headlines: “What’s at Stake… The Science is Clear… Chlorpyrifos is Dangerous.”

According to the Pesticide Action Network, chlorpyrifos is a globetrotter found in surface water and ice in the Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea, and in Alaskan snow, and fish in Alaskan parks, and in subarctic lakes, as well as in the Arctic Ocean.  Over time, as the chemical leaches into the planet, it travels the world.

Earth Justice opposed Pruitt’s rejection of the ban, saying: “It [EPA] is acting contrary to the law, the science, and a court order. In a word: unconscionable,” according to Patti Goldman, managing attorney for Earth Justice, which org appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to order the EPA to act “based upon its own scientific conclusions and permanently ban chlorpyrifos.” At the end of the day, the court refused to enforce EPA’s own directive to ban the chemical.

Furthermore, according to Earth Justice, in November 2016, EPA scientists released a revised human health risk assessment for chlorpyrifos, stating: “There are no safe uses for the pesticide.”

Yet, the chemical is found in apples, oranges, strawberries, corn, wheat, citrus, broccoli and other foods. Even after washing and peeling melons and fruit, residue of the chemical is found.

The attorneys general of (1) New York, (2) California, (3) Washington, (4) Massachusetts, (5) Maine, (6) Maryland, and (7) Vermont filed an appeal, calling for the ban to be enforced.

Last year Senators Udall (D-NM), Gillibrand (D-NY), Booker (D-NJ), Blumenthal (D-CT), Harris (D-CA), Durbin (D-ILL), Cardin (D-MD) and Markey (D-MA) introduced a “first of its kind bill” to ban the chemical.

On the other side of the equation, chlorpyrifos is, and has been for over 50 years, an effective pesticide for agriculture, recreational parks, and golf courses… but is it dangerously harmful? Remarkably, the answer to that question remains controversial in the face of considerable evidence of human health hazards.

There is a better and safer way. Many farmers in California have eliminated chlorpyrifos, as well as other harmful pesticides, by adopting integrated or ecological pest management practices. Already in California every crop that previously relied upon toxic pesticides, like chlorpyrifos, to some extent is grown organically. California produces nearly one-half of organic commodities sold in the U.S. No toxic pesticides needed.

All of which raises the provocative question: If food can be grown without harmful pesticides and if there is scientific evidence that a pesticide, like chlorpyrifos, is dangerous to human health, why doesn’t the EPA follow through on the Obama administration recommendation to ban it?

Further to the point of human health and governmental directives and/or suggestions, according to a United Nations report, the idea that pesticides are essential to feed a fast-growing global population is “a myth.”3

More to the point, the UN report says that pesticides have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole.” That eye-opener includes 200,000 deaths per year from acute poisoning.

According to the UN report:

Persistent use of pesticides, in particular agrochemicals used in industrial farming, have been connected to a range of adverse health impacts, both at high and low exposure levels… In some countries, pesticide poisoning even exceeds fatalities from infectious diseases.

Not only is human health directly at risk, early in 2016 one-hundred (100) nations met in Kuala Lumpur to discuss an alarming development, a rapidly accelerating loss of the world’s pollinators, such as bees, flies, beetles, moths, butterflies, wasps, ants, birds, and bats among others, as a result of global pesticide contamination, climate change, and habitat loss. In some instances, 75% of a pollinator population species has already been wiped-out. That alone meets the definition of “an extinction event.”

At Kuala Lumpur, the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services produced the first-ever global assessment of the damage to the world’s pollinators, which are an absolute necessity for pollination of 80% of human food. The conclusion of the intergovernmental meeting was grim, as many pollinators are already near total extinction!

Ergo, the risks of massive human starvation increase proportionately with loss of pollinator species. As a consequence, life on the planet has never been so precarious with so little public awareness.

In that regard, a spectacular documentary film Human Flow (2018 Oscar documentary nominee) by Ai Weiwei, the renowned Chinese artist and consultant for the Beijing National Olympic Stadium (2008), brings to the screen a sense of awareness of what the future holds for masses of people involved in the perpetual search for survival, as sixty-five million people transmigrate the world today. Yes, 65,000,000!

For the first time in the Earth’s history a single species – ourselves – is poisoning the entire planet.4

Postscript:

A Who’s Who of pesticides is therefore of concern to us all. If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones – we had better know something of their nature and their power.

— Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962).

  1. Leah Douglan, Environment, Civil Eats, February 5, 2018.
  2. Timothy Cama, “Pruitt to Restrict the Use of Data to Craft EPA Regulations, The Hill, March 20, 2018.
  3. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Human Rights Council, UN General Assembly, January 24, 2017.
  4. Julian Cribb, “Surviving the 21st Century”, Springer Int’l Publishing AG, Switzerland, 2017.

Ending Pollution Requires a Change in Attitudes

Pollution has become an everyday affair; a murderous way of life which, according to a report published in The Lancet, is responsible for the deaths of at least nine million people every year. The air we breathe is poisoned, the streams, rivers, lakes and oceans are filthy, — some more, some less — the land littered with waste, the soil toxic. Neglect, complacency and exploitation characterize the attitude of governments, corporations and far too many individuals towards the life of the planet, and its rich interwoven ecological systems.

The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, which is yet another cry for urgent collective action, found that pollution is responsible for a range of diseases that “kill one in every six people around the world”. This figure, while shocking, is probably a good deal higher because “the impact of many pollutants is poorly understood.” The landmark study establishes that we have reached the point when “deaths attributed to pollution are triple those from Aids, malaria and tuberculosis combined.”

Our selfish materialistic way of life is having a devastating impact on all forms of life; unless there is a major shift in attitudes the numbers of people dying of pollution will increase; contamination of the oceans will increase, deforestation and desertification will continue, and the steady destruction of all that is beautiful and naturally given will intensify. Until one day it will be too late.

Plastic oceans, poisoned air

Even climate change deniers cannot blame the natural environment for the plastic islands that litter the oceans, or the poisoned water and contaminated air. Pollution results from human activity, it “endangers the stability of the Earth’s support systems and threatens the continuing survival of human societies.” A sense of intense, life-threatening urgency needs to be engendered, particularly amongst the governments and populations of those countries that are, and have historically been, the major polluters — the industrialized nations of the World.

Although China has now overtaken the USA in producing the highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions, as the New York Times reports, America (which has 5% of the world’s population but produces 30% of the world’s waste), “with its love of big cars, big houses and blasting air-conditioners, has contributed more than any other country to the atmospheric carbon dioxide that is scorching the planet…. In cumulative terms, we [the US] certainly own this problem more than anybody else does,” said David G. Victor, a longtime scholar of climate politics at the University of California.

Russia and India follow the USA as emitters of the most greenhouse gases; then comes Japan, Germany, Iran and Saudi Arabia, which the World Economic Forum relates, has “on a per-country average, the most toxic air in the world.” Australia, Canada and Brazil should also be included amongst the principle polluters; as Brazil’s economy has grown so have the quantities of poisonous gas emissions, their effect made worse by deforestation of vast areas of the Amazon rain forests.

Indonesia, too, warrants our attention. This small country (3% of the global population) in the middle of the South Seas is a major polluter: It has the third largest expanse of tropical forest after the Amazon and Congo, and is cutting down trees at the highest rate on the planet; it produces approximately 5% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, is the second-largest contributor to marine plastic pollution after China and has some of the dirtiest water in south east Asia – only a third of the population having access to clean drinking water.

China also has a problem with polluted water; IBT reports that “Government analysis found that more than 80% of the water from its wells was not safe to drink…while about 60% of its groundwater overall was of poor or extremely poor quality.” Water pollution has reached serious levels in America as well: according to the Water Quality Project 32% of bays, 40% of the country’s rivers and 46% of its lakes are “too polluted for fishing, swimming or aquatic life.” The Mississippi River, which is amongst the most polluted rivers in the world, “carries an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution into the Gulf of Mexico every year. The resulting pollution is the cause of a coastal dead zone the size of Massachusetts every summer.”

Polluted rivers result in contaminated oceans; chemical fertilizers, detergents, oil, sewage, pesticides and plastic waste flow into the sea from inland waterways. Some pollutants sit on the surface of the ocean, many collect on the seabed where they are ingested by small marine organisms and introduced into the global food chain. The shocking condition of the seas was highlighted recently in the BBC production Blue Planet II. In a sequence that moved many to tears, an Albatross, having been at sea for weeks looking for food, was filmed feeding its chicks with bits of plastic collected from the surface of the ocean.

Recent research has identified 10 rivers as the source of 90% of the plastics in the oceans. Deutsche Welle reports that all of them run through densely populated areas where waste collection or recycling infrastructure is inadequate. Three of these filthy tributaries are in China, four more run through China, two — the Nile and the Niger (regularly the scene of oil spills) — are in Africa. The list is completed by the Holy Ganges in India, which serves as rubbish dump (almost 80% of urban waste is thrown into the river), utility room, bathroom, burial chamber and sacred temple.

Plastic waste is produced everywhere, but five Asian countries produce 60% of the global total, currently 300 million tons (only 10% is recycled): China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. If nothing changes it’s predicted that by 2025, plastic consumption in Asia alone could increase by 80 percent to over 200 million tons, and global consumption could reach 400 million tons. Greenpeace estimates that roughly 10% of all plastic ends up in the Oceans where it is thought to kill over a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals.

The statistics around pollution are numerous, shocking and all too depressing. Here’s a taste:

  • 5,000 people die every day through drinking unclean water.
  • About 80% of landfill items could be recycled.
  • 65% of deaths in Asia and 25% of deaths in India are due to air pollution.
  • Chronic obstructive respiratory disease (caused by burning fossil fuels indoors) is responsible for the death of more than 1 million people annually.
  • Over 3 million children under five die annually from environmental factors.
  • Worldwide, 13,000-15,000 pieces of plastic are dumped into the ocean every day.
  • At least two-thirds of the world’s fish stocks suffer from plastic ingestion
  • For every 1 million tons of oil shipped, approximately 1 ton is wasted through spillage.
  • A million plastic bottles are sold worldwide every minute; forecast to increase by 20% by 2021.
  • Around 1,000 children die in India annually due to diseases caused by polluted water.
  • There are more than 500 million cars in the world; there could be 1 billion by 2030.
  • Shoppers worldwide use approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags annually. This translates to about a million bags every minute and the number is rising.

Criminal neglect

Pollution and the environmental catastrophe more broadly is the result of insatiable consumerism, selfishness and individual and collective irresponsibility. It flows from a materialistic approach to living, rooted in desire and an unjust economic system that demands unbridled consumerism for its survival. Ideologically rooted Corporate Governments imprisoned in nationalism, and obsessed with short-term economic growth feed the system and the most important issue of the time is relegated to an afterthought, rarely spoken about by politicians who seem to believe that limitless development and mass consumerism is of greater importance than the health of the planet.

Designing policies that will clean up the air, the seas and rivers, and will preserve forests and farmland, should be the priority for all governments around the world, particularly the industrialized nations, who have been responsible for producing the majority of the filth and for cultivating the consumer culture that is perpetuating the crisis. But whilst governments need to take a leading role to stop pollution, individuals, all of us, need to change the way we think and how we live. It is imperative we consume less and that decisions regarding purchases should be made firstly with environmental considerations in mind.  Sufficiency and simplicity of living need to replace abundance, complacency and indulgence.

This demands a major shift in attitudes, not in 25 years, not in a year, but now. As Pope Francis rightly states in his groundbreaking papal letter ‘Care for Our Common Home’, “Our efforts at [environmental] education will be inadequate and ineffectual unless we strive to promote a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature. Otherwise, the paradigm of consumerism will continue to advance, with the help of the media and the highly effective workings of the market.”

The ‘market’, aided by the media, is not concerned by such liberal considerations as the welfare of the planet and the health of human beings; it is a blind monster with a compulsion for profit, and if the ecological networks within which we live are to be purified and healing is to take place it needs to be rejected totally. A new way of thinking is required that moves away from divisive selfish ways to inclusive, socially/environmentally responsible behavior based on a recognition that the environment we live in is not separate from us and that we all have a duty to care for it. This requires a fundamental change of attitudes.

“If we want to bring about deep change, we need to realize that certain mindsets really do influence our behaviour.” And, whilst there are many exceptions to this, the prevailing, carefully cultivated ‘mindset’ is a materialistic, self-centered one in which responsibility is passed to someone else, usually a government. It is a mindset that has been conditioned virtually from birth by the motivating mechanism of reward and punishment. This crude tool encourages deceit, undermines humanity’s essential goodness and relies on the stimulation of materialistic, hedonistic desire – the very thing that is fueling the environmental crisis – for its success. It is a method that may well work with corporations and to a limited degree with individuals, but a more potent and cleaner way to change the behavior of the population at large is the Way of Awareness: Awareness that we are brothers and sisters of one humanity, that cooperation, not competition is an inherent aspect of our nature and that that we are all responsible for the world in which we live. It’s up to us, each and every one of us, to consciously live in an environmentally responsible manner – no matter the cost or inconvenience, and to begin to repair the terrible damage we have done and continue to do to the natural world.