balance and the earth’s bioindicator.

On Sunday, I led a class on “Imagination”.  Most of the activities we can choose from for this section have to do with Global Warming.  I decided to do this activity called a “tea party” where I pass out roles to students for them to read out loud and later discuss.  Basically, the roles were testimonies from real people regarding the way their lives are being impacted by the idea of Global Warming.  A lot of the roles were from environmentalists or indigenous peoples.  Those were the ones who cared about stopping recent trends.  In particular, the indigenous roles discussed how entire cultures were being threatened by the effects of lifestyles others partake in, but which they do not themselves condone.  But there were also roles from people who were CEOs of businesses like airlines or nuclear energy facilities.  These people thought their efforts were the “lesser evil” in the energy departments, or their arguments were based on the services they’re expected to provide.  And, of course, there’s the argument about economy and creating independence for their countries.
We discussed these testimonies and how we could use our imaginations to create solutions.  But I actually found it pretty hard to lead the discussion.  No matter what solution we tried to come up with, all I could think was “Well, THAT’s a Band-Aid…” and “REDUCING emissions is still creating emissions”, etc.  I’ve become fairly convinced anymore that we simply cannot live a life of convenience.  It will never be sustainable…. But that’s not completely true.
When you look at the timeline of human history in relation to the Global Warming theory, most of our destruction has been in recent years.  While I hate that we are destroying the planet, the reality is destructive things have come in and out throughout the course of the Earth’s history.  The difference is what those pressures have been and how they’ve forced organisms to respond and adapt.  In other words, maybe there’s a balance to living a convenient lifestyle and living a sustainable one – we just have to give the Earth more time to catch up before we destroy the whole web.
If you damage part of a spider’s web, it can rebuild from what’s still there.  If you swat it down, that spider has to rebuild from nothing or die without a web to catch its food.
Being in an Environmental field, I’ve always had a limited view on Conservation.  I’ve always hated zoos, but anymore I question if we go to far trying to “save” certain species.  Things are meant to evolve.  If we have stressed an environment so much that species are changing, maybe we should let them change and recover on their own.  Otherwise, it’s like giving someone steroids instead of a healthy diet and weight lifting plan.  Or giving the fish instead of teaching how to fish.  Everything comes with a balance.
An interesting example of this is elephants.  Poaching is a ridiculous theft of innocent animal life.  Google for poached elephants and you will see images of elephants on their knees, their faces sliced off through their brains and their bodies just sitting there, discarded.  Humans can be so terrible, lazy, and selfish – and especially misguided.  But the amazing part about poaching is – it’s forcing elephants to evolve.  Their tusks are important for defense and winning mates, yet the very tools for securing reproduction are less important than the need to dispose of them to evade poachers.
elephants
In reality, it’s probably the smaller tusked-elephants having less competition, but it’s sad to see humans are the number 1 threat to these amazing beasts.
Nature has a lot of signs to tell us something is wrong, it’s just most people don’t take the time to think and care about it.  In particular, there are things – organisms or other signs – in nature that are considered excellent bioindicators of different environmental threats.
bioindicator
[ ˌbīōˈindiˌkātər ]
NOUN
noun: bioindicator · plural noun: bioindicators
an organism whose status in an ecosystem is analyzed as an indication of the ecosystem’s heath.
Powered by OxfordDictionaries · © Oxford University Press

Amphibians are a common bioindicator.  They absorb so much through their skin that they’re more quickly affected by pollution and contaminants than other organisms in an ecosystem.  So, if the frogs start dying, it’s time to figure out what’s going on before the larger creatures start dropping off, too.  But these typical bioindicators are generally used for an isolated ecosystem.  What indicates the health of the planet as a whole?  Well, I talked about this on Sunday to my students.  To me, one of the most sensitive bioindicators for the planet is: The Ocean.  Here’s what I told them…

In 2012, I traveled with SUNY Brockport to study San Salvador Island in the Bahamas.  It was a Biology/Geology course with a focus on Global Warming.  Now, some people hear “Global Warming” and they look outside at this harsh winter and scoff at the idea.  Yeah…You’re taking the idea too literally and looking at it too locally – the same problem with most of humanity.  We only care about the picture we live in and we fail to look at it as a whole.  Or, we simply don’t get it.  Like this guy:

It’s called a Greenhouse effect because of this: Picture a Greenhouse.  It harbors life where it is warm, can get sunlight, and can breathe and grow.  If you start a chainsaw in it, it will poison the air.  Start a car, it will eventually choke you and everyone else out.  Now, picture the Earth as a giant Greenhouse.  Enough cars and we choke out.  Also, trees make up the Earth’s “lungs” – so as we cut down trees, we cut down on the Earth’s lung capacity, and we accelerate us “choking out”.  If we don’t die from the atmosphere, we’ll die from the side effects of the atmosphere becoming increasingly tainted.

Greenhouse Effect

(P.S. I stole these images from the Internet…they’re not mine…)

So global warming is our increased emissions of CO2 building up inside our Greenhouse.  What does this mean for the planet?  Well, did you know that a lot of theories believe life came from the Ocean?  Whether you believe that or not, I think it’s hard to deny that the Ocean has some of the most ancient life forms on this planet.  Even if you believe the Earth was subjected to some kind of flood, I think it’s arguable that a flooded planet would harbor ocean life before anything else.  Furthermore, if you smooth out the planet so it’s completely flat, we would be living under 1.6 miles of water.  So, before tectonic plates began changing the depths and creating land, life was in theory thriving in those watery depths.

Okay – so Ocean Life has been here for (relatively speaking) forever…but as my trip to the Bahamas proved, the Ocean is RAPIDLY DYING.  We studied the coral reefs and parrotfish populations that live within those reefs.  Coral reefs are incredibly sensitive – not just to human activity (jet skis, people breaking the reefs, ships, etc.), but to indirect human or atmospherical activity.  In other words, the coral reefs to the Ocean are kind of like the amphibians to a small ecosystem.  And, if the Ocean is the “origin of life” – or at least the oldest, longest-standing habitat for it – then its recent rapid depletion should make it the planet’s BIOINDICATOR that something is seriously wrong.  So why is it so sensitive?

http://player.d.nationalgeographic.com/players/ngsvideo/share/?feed=http://feed.theplatform.com/f/ngs/dCCn2isYZ9N9&guid=2c9a368c-99f9-47e3-a748-ab35bdf70079&link=http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/

Coral reefs are the home to so many important organisms that keep incredibly biodiverse parts of the planet in motion.  Some animals eat the organisms that live in the coral structures (the coral organisms that build the structures themselves).  You can hear this if you hold your breath underwater and listen to the parrotfish.  They scrape and crunch as they go along, so it’s kind of like an underwater static that gets really loud when you’ve found a whole colony of hungry fish.  My favorite parrotfish is the Stoplight Parrotfish.  Like most fish, Parrotfish have different phases.  A Stoplight is an example of a fish with an Initial Phase:

initial parrotfish

Who then grows into my favorite, the Terminal Phase:

stoplight-parrot-fish-tropical-water

These Stoplight Parrotfish are also an example of an organism that can change its sex, theoretically allowing it to fill the community needs for reproduction.  We kept journals of all the fish we saw, but we also took population counts on the different varieties of Parrotfish to add to our study of the reef’s health.

Of course, the easiest way to assess the health of the reef is to look at its literal backbone: the coral itself.  In the Bahamas, besides actual reef damage, we’ve noted an alarming increase in what is called “bleaching”.  This is when the coral blanches because the zooxanthellae – the coral organisms – die.  It’s literally dead coral.  To accelerate this loss, there are algae blooms moving in.   These algae thrive on the various contaminants and pollutants that have been cropping up in our waters.  This is also a problem in the Great Lakes, especially after a storm event that washes contaminants into the water.  When algae thrives, it will block out light to organisms lower in the water.  When it clings to the coral, it accelerates the death of the zooxanthellae, consumes light and resources, and spreads.  It’s all a bad imbalance.

bleaching

But the coral are also struggling to grow.

How do coral “grow”?  Well, they build.  They build onto their structure which is, essentially, made of limestone: Calcium Carbonate, or CaCO3.  Coral organisms filter the water and get the minerals they need to build their homes.  These homes house the organisms that feed and protect so much biodiversity in the water.  The problem with Global Warming is… It’s destroying that basic chemical process.

Coralreefsandclimatechange

Normally, the atmosphere has CO2.  This CO2 precipitates in the ocean water, combining with H2O to create Carbonic Acid (like what’s in soda), hydrogen ions (H,+), bicarbonate (HCO,3-), and carbonate ions (CO3,2-).  This balance is really important because it determines the amount of free protons in the seawater – and free protons determine pH.  Life is very sensitive to changes in pH.

acidification_chemistry_chart_3-uun9tj

Well, CO2 dissolves very easily from its gaseous state into the water.  The problem is, we’ve been increasing the amount of CO2 in the air so much that the oceans are acidifying.  H,+ is the ion we look for to determine acid concentrations, and it’s exactly what’s being formed by all the excess CO2 in the air.  As the ocean acidifies, the tendency is for bicarbonates to be produced over the carbonate ions.  Meanwhile, there are calcium ions naturally in the water.  These can only bond to the carbonate ions.  When carbonate ions bond with calcium ions, they create calcium carbonate – or CaCO3.  Yes, the exact thing coral uses to live and grow.

So, as we produce emissions, we create a more acidic ocean, we destroy the ability to make calcium carbonate, thereby choking out the coral, increasing the algae bloom problem which also chokes out the coral, and therefore destroying the habitat for incredibly diverse, ancient ecosystems.

beforeandafter1

Yes, I consider these habitats an enormous planet bioindicator, and it’s indicating that we’re destroying the Earth.

In just the 20 years our Professor had been taking students to a handful of reefs for data collection on the island, he has seen the coral cover and parrotfish populations diminish to, relatively speaking, next to nothing.  These reefs used to look much more beautiful, but we had to swim far and wide to find coral that didn’t have colors being choked out by green and brown algae.  We swam along “The Wall”, where the ocean literally drops from 60 feet deep to over a mile of water.  Normally, one will spot a number of Hammerhead Sharks.  The only shark we saw was a Nurse Shark who had come unusually far up the shoreline.  You might think this is a relief, but we viewed it as a concern.  This popular vacation destination – the Caribbean – is dying because of human habit, and tourists are definitely making that happen faster.

beforeandafter2

Since the 1900s, there has been a 30% increase of H,+ ions in the Ocean.  Since the 1950s, the average temperature has increased by 0.31C in the top 300m of water.  Coral requires 25-29C, so it’s pretty sensitive.  Take a look at the changes in relation to the Industrial Revolution:

Climate Change

It’s predicted that 60% of the Earth’s coral reefs will be lost by the next 25 years.  And what about the 25 after that?

The carbonate threshold is predicted to be reached by 2050.  In other words, forget about retiring to snorkel in the reefs.  They’re going to be gone in under 40 years – UNLESS these environments are able to adapt quickly enough.   There have been prehistoric coral colony collapses that resulted in the corals we know today, but do we really want to be responsible for these threats to the planet?

To end on a less depressing note, check out how awesome the Triggerfish is when he swims:

The Small Farm Crisis in America.

My mom texted me a few months ago.  “Dave’s selling his cattle.  He’s going beef now – can’t make money anymore in dairy.”  That hit me hard on two levels.  First of all, I always grew up with dairy.  Grandma had the beef farm.  Seeing brown cows every day at the property line instead of spotted ones and Oreos (who are sometimes also for beef) was regular at home and I could tell already it would feel strange to me.  No milking stalls.  No “Got Milk?” sign.  Just cows awaiting slaughter, staring blankly towards my house all day then going home to be fed.

But that’s not all that hit me hard.  The second part – and by far the worst – is hearing someone say they “can’t make money anymore in dairy”.

We live in Pennsylvania, for God’s sake!  Milk is our STATE DRINK!  We are rolling hills and mountains lined with crooked, topographically-tilled cattle corn fields and littered with silos and milking barns.  Sun-up, to sun-down, to late night, with electrical bulb-lit barns, farmers are out there growing the crop, tending to the herd, then milking them away.  How can we be losing money like this?

I don’t think there is a simple answer, but I’ll spell out what I see: 1. Government regulations, 2. Consumer persuasion, and 3. Industrialization of the farm.

1. GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS
Not long ago, one of my neighbors sold his farm.  He was older, it was too costly, and no one would inherit it.  It was sold and developed and I now can see houses on a hillside across the valley from us.  What a shame.  My mom around the same time explained to me how someone had come in and drained the reservoir behind Dave’s because they want to drive a superhighway through our valley.  In response to this, and with concern that no grandson wanted to inherit his farm, Dave signed into the Pennsylvania farmland protection program so as to preserve his land from development.  Soon after, his partner left him and he was forced to downsize.  I think everyone thought he was crazy for keeping the farm running at such profit levels and in his advanced years.  That’s when EPA rolled in and threatened him for violating standards with watershed pollution.  He was forced to make changes in his practices and to plant trees and lay fence through the creeks to keep cows out of direct contact with the water.

Ain’t nobody got the money to do that.  I respect the EPA and it is part of my job to make sure projects are up to spec with the regulations, but how can you expect people with 200-year-old farms and old buildings to suddenly change their ways?  When they already have no profit?  When they’re in fact being environmentally-friendly to an extent by maintaining old materials instead of tearing things down and building new ones. Of this exact vein, a clipping my mom mailed to me in Ohio that she found in the Tribune-Review addresses these small farmer concerns, saying they’re “weary of new regulations” in Pennsylvania.  It talks about just what I have pointed out, how farmers use old barns, old methods, old wooden tools that may face tough laws soon that restrict how they handle their produce, meat, and dairy.  They cry, What can we do?  If we want local, organic, small family farms to operate, we cannot be so god-awfully stringent like this.

I understand the need to monitor health of food, but at what cost?  Everything we eat is to be controlled?  Our foods supplemented like our water without our consent because someone decided it’s better for us?  When we are constantly learning we were wrong about our previous health-related insights?  We say we need to support America, but aren’t we tearing it down from the inside out and encouraging imports and cheap labor and poverty?  Why are we letting the American Dream die?  Sometimes I feel like government regulations will soon leave us feeling like we’re living in (WARNING: SPOILER ALERT FROM THE HUNGER GAMES SERIES IF YOU HAVE NOT READ MOCKINGJAY) District 13 of the Hunger Games, where food is regulated down to the last calorie and you can’t take more than your share or act outside of your daily schedule.

(SPOILER OVER)

2. CONSUMER PERSUASION
So why do we buy the things we buy?  How is Dave going out of business with dairy?  What is causing this?  I think back to his “Got Milk?” billboard and realize how silly these nutritional notions Americans have are.  The lead of a “Save Your Bones” program discusses how milk actually depletes calcium and argues that countries that drink more milk have higher levels of osteoporosis.  Not only that, but modern milk is a processed food.  Think of Asians who, like me due to my Indian blood, cannot drink lactose.  Their cultures didn’t have milk outside of infancy/young childhood because they didn’t raise crops and drink the milk of other animals yet look at their health ratings, some of the best if not the best in the world.  Finally, like so much of our food, milk is almost always fortified.  You are better off telling your children to eat more dark greens!  No cholesterol, cheap, fresh, unprocessed, low fat, natural…

Then why does the government do these things?  I couldn’t tell you.  There must be some kind of profit in it for them.  Meanwhile, the other problem is that these small farms are selling their milk to large collectors who mix the milks regionally and mass-produce cartons.  These small farms are selling at minimum prices because everywhere you go in Pennsylvania you see signs like “Milk sold at state minimum!”  Who benefits from that?  The collector and the cheap customer is who, leaving people like Dave to break their backs for far-too-less money with inflation, regulation, and every other crisis knocking on their doors – not to mention global warming causing late frosts and draughts and wreaking all kinds of havoc on crops.

Why do we get so riled up about big chains like Wal-Mart who take over small businesses, but we let the same things happen to our farmers?  Why do we allow ourselves to be brain-washed by lower prices?  Higher prices don’t always mean the better choice, but a little research can tell you you’re making a lot of poor choices in the grocer’s.  Why do we fill our buggies with these “fillers” and products that undermine small-farming to keep your budget comfortable?  And, honestly, you can’t blame these big guys.  I mean, they’re just doing their job.  The only ones we can blame are ourselves for submitting to this monopolizing behavior and supporting it through purchases.  Think about what you’re doing.  The consumer has all of the power.  The producers just provide what will fit the demand in the most profitable way possible.

3. INDUSTRIALIZATION OF THE FARM
That is my lead-in into the final point I’m making: High demand of cheap, lower-quality goods is causing farms to become industrialized, thus defeating the whole concept of small, local, and healthy.  Instead, America wants fast, cheap, and easy.  Since animal farms might be hard to imagine as well, picture the huge agricultural farms in the Plains states.  Endless rows of soybeans and corn stalks.  Huge combines and plows combing and tearing up the land.  We are in a topsoil crisis, yet we continue to destroy the ground with machinery, chemicals, and high-yielding but genetically washed-out crops.  Why are we doing this?

Farmers just cannot compete on a small farm using traditional equipment.  We’ve already upgraded to tractors from horse-drawn plows, but it keeps getting worse.  Without an incredibly expensive combine and other contraption, famers cannot possibly meet the demand to yield enough produce for a solid profit.  They have to get big-scale and possibly hire some hands to get them there.  It’s not longer a family business but an industry.  And do you have any clue how environmentally-bad single-crop farming is?  How it destroys the land?  An intriguing prairie study I read in Biomimicry addresses that along with many other concerns.  (I wrote about that here, on my Cleveland blog.)

What’s worse is we are corrupting the God-given (literally or for emphasis) genetics that were evolved to be on this planet.  There are reasons things are here, whether godly or naturally.  Natural Selection.  There are ecosystems in existence.  We, as humans, were borne out of its byproducts, in the same environment, eating its literal fruits.  And now we have big-scale company monopolizing the system and destroying the beauty that was here, companies like DuPont Pioneer (to whom my company sadly caters in projects).  DuPont Pioneer is developing genetically-modified seeds and playing god, encouraging farmers to coerce, and dominating fields with single, unnatural crop types.  Sure, some benefits seem obvious (outside of profit, of course), but is that really helping the farmer?  Is it really helping us?  The planet?  How is making a crop withstand one disease going to prevent it from the next?  Similarly, I don’t support getting flu shots.  Let nature take its course.  That’s what it’s meant to do.  A resistance will build.  We will be better for it.  Nature will find its way to destroy what it wants to destroy regardless of a stupid, genetically-messed up seed.

Phew.

And so my rant concludes – for now.

But, in sum, I say support your local, organic, small farms, don’t support industry, low prices, or genetically-modified food, and keep in mind that the government has reasons for regulations, but some of the things it does are not necessarily worthy of worship.

Fueling Up the Smart Way

just-living-is-not-enough

My grandma and I were making a trip out to Ohio yesterday when I stopped at Get Go to fill up one of our Audis with her Fuel Perks.  Get Go and Sheetz have always had my admiration for how they create savings for customers as a way to keep business in their favor.  With fuel prices always rising and falling, saving at the pump regardless of the prices is an attractive choice.  I’ve long given up watching the fuel prices and accepted that driving a car with Premium petrol requirements and fueling up at competitive stores with competitive prices is always going to leave me paying a hefty bill.  I’ve also driven enough in Europe to realize our fuel prices are – relatively speaking – outrageously low, even in California.  Still, how to maximize your dollar at the pump?

First, let me just say: I am actually a fan of rising gas prices.  Before you grumble too much, consider what these prices are implying: Sure, you can argue it’s the oil industry being the king that it is and taking what it can from the common people.  But doesn’t it also come down to demand?  Not only do prices rise when we keep burning up gas at higher rates than we usually consume and/or extract it, but the prices are able to rise with our increased dependency on fuel.  I think it should cost an arm and a leg to fill up your car.  That’s a tiny sacrifice we make for a life of luxury that we don’t deserve and which is in turn destroying the planet.  So let the oil giants live like kings for the time being.  Their luxuries are short-lived, but also their investment in the business is incredibly genius.  They benefit from our dependency, stupidity, and greed as a society.  That makes them no less of a criminal than all of the other enterprises that thrive off of society’s demands.

But let’s talk about saving money.  Part of that comes from making good choices for the environment, too.  Sure, sometimes the green solution is the more expensive solution – but it’s the right solution.  And it doesn’t always have to be more expensive.  Sometimes it’s a matter of living with less, or just knowing how to spend less.

First, I am notorious for my miraculously low to non-existant electric and gas bills at my apartments in Cleveland.  How do I do it?  By living the same why I live in the country in Pennsylvania.  For the life of me, I don’t understand why city people drive as much as they do.  They have public transportation AND you can find five of the same stores within a five mile walk!  You’d be lucky to find a house that close to where I live, let alone a sole store… but we still make do!  Furthermore, city folk are all about working out.  They pay for gym memberships, drive the the gym, then do the same work that they could do if they made better lifestyle choices on a daily basis.  Talk about hypocrisy!

So how do I keep up my country, fuel-efficient, healthy ways in the city?  First of all, I always pick do-it-yourself before anything else.  Without a question, you can guarantee I walk up every flight of steps, walk to any store within a predefined radius, carry my own groceries in reusable bags, buy only what I need as I need it, buy things that are not only made or grown locally but that belong in the local climate, and I let the outdoors dictate my indoor climate as much as I can.  That means I open and close windows during the summer to utilize the cool night air and the breeze without the need of fans or air conditioning, and in the winter I seal my place up and keep it as cold as I like.  If you’re going to spend money on sweaters and socks, you might as well use them!  I hate artificial lighting, and if you’re going to have a place with windows that let heat escape, well you might as well use those too!  I do everything by natural light, save for some moments when I light candles or do turn on the electricity.

I cook my own meals from scratch and I grow most of my ingredients or harvest them from the patches of woods I find around Cleveland.  I am appalled that there are people in Cleveland who have asked me, “Wait, what’s compost?  You do that?”  I know down to the cents per kilowatt how much energy I’m using and I maximize this energy as much as possible.  If I’m making tea, I’ll use the steam off of the hot water to heat something else.  If I’m baking, I’ll use the cooling oven to reheat other things or just let it dissipate to heat my room or even my socks before bed.  I’d use a wood fire to cook in Cleveland if I could.  Also, I prefer to take baths rather than showers.  This allows me to run less water (although water is fairly recyclable in urban settings).  After my bath, I use the water to hand-scrub my clothes which then hang to dry on my drying rack.  I dream of the day that I can run all of my products off of a self-installed solar panel array.  I also think bikes are one of the best inventions of all time.

But this doesn’t answer the question of how to save money when I’ve gotta roll out my Audi and drive somewhere, like when neither a bike nor public transportation are suitable to haul my large hockey bag across seven states for my indulging in sports.  This is when I invest in Sheetz and Get Go.  Back to the pump at Get Go: I’m filling up only half of a tank on my grandma’s 50-cents-off-per-gallon discount and thinking, What a waste.  But my grandma is very particular about not letting the gauge go down too far and I know I’ve got to use it or she will complain.  Still, 50 cents off on only eight or so gallons?  I turned around to see a family with a huge truck tanking up, then unloading small gas cans and filling those too.  You’re not supposed to do that because that’s how you’ll make the system bankrupt, but they do it anyway.  Alas, my everlasting internal battle: social honesty or environmental responsibility?  I’d have to choose the honesty here.  I couldn’t milk a bargain that way without feeling guilt for how I was jeopardizing a widely-welcomed system.

However, filling up your truck – that is fair game and it’s a smart move.  I’m used to using Fuel Perks on my GMC pick-up truck, all 20-some gallons of it.  That’s why my tiny eight-gallon fill-up felt particularly illogical next to the F150 two pumps over.  But then I started recalling warnings from my parents about not using the Fuel Perks until a lot has been saved up and I realized that’s only true in a certain regard.  Honestly, you’re going to save the same amount of money regardless of the discount, right?  That’s just it, though: it’s a rate.  The rate may be the same, but your purchase size is what affects your savings.  So no matter if you’re saving 20 cents on a eight gallon fill-up or 40 cents on a 16 gallon fill-up, you’re saving the same amount despite the different rates.  What my parents were really trying to tell me is save up a lot of savings… then make a big purchase.  In other words, we rack up savings here and there, then buy a large quantity of fuel to expire our savings.  My little fill-up used up those savings on an unjustifiably small (if you’re not my grandma) quantity of fuel.

So do some math, weigh your values, and take the effort to do what’s right for your wallet – and the environment.  The point of this entry is really just to get you thinking about your daily choices and how it’s affecting your health, your planet, and your wallet in different proportions.

Land Ethics – Something Not To Be Underrug Swept

I am studying Civil Engineering, but I am specializing in the “Environmental Geotechnical” subdivision of the broad CivE field.  For this reason, one of my classes this semester is Environmental Geology.  I thought it would be a boring class about rocks, but it really isn’t.  Despite my preconceived notions, I ordered all of my text books months in advance and have since kept up on the reading.  I wish more students could delve into these materials as seriously because I am surprised by how relevant every topic really is.  I keep recalling these Indian proverbs recited in my family (Native American, albeit in French) about how life is one fragile web; what happens to one thread happens to all.  The expression fits this class perfectly.

Just within the first chapter, I was pummeled with scientifical points and pointed fingers.  The author of my “Introduction to Environmental Geology” book, Edward A. Keller, begins his book with “Concept One: Human Population Growth… The number-one environmental problem is the increase in human population”.  True or not true?  It is clearly his opinion, but he supports it well.  He talks about the “population bomb”, where exponential growth in our population explodes our numbers… and how our flocking to concentrated areas rather than pioneering and exploring has cornered us and subjected us to natural disasters.  My mother would argue that disasters, famine, disease, etc. are all mechanisms of the planet to balance itself out.  Now that we have improved technologies, agriculture, and medicine that extends our lifetimes significantly (and thereby affecting our population numbers in one stillframe), these disasters are merely keeping us in order.

But Keller takes this to another level.  He argues that “some studies suggest that the present population is already above a comfortable carrying capacity for the planet” (16), just pages before he explains the likelihood that Earth will outlive us by billions of years.  He constantly reiterates how short our time on this planet has been relative to the Earth’s age, and it’s a matter of hours around New Year’s after a whole year has passed before our arrival.  By page 18, Keller is essentially arguing that the Earth is not in danger.  We are in danger, some of the wildlife is likely affected by us and therefore in danger, but the planet keeps on apathetically turning.  Remember, this is a geology book, so plate techtonics, physical and chemical composition – none of that will change.  However, if we keep feeding the gases into the atmosphere that cause changes in the climate and the cold front patterns, the planet will naturally balance that with its ever-changing topography and natural disasters.  What Keller is trying to say is as simple as this: Don’t fix the planet, because it will balance itself out regardless; instead, view environmentalism as monitoring the Earth for the sole purpose of saving ourselves.

This brings me to “land ethics”, introduced on page 33.  It’s interesting how many people I know will go through their lives not thinking a second about the environment.  They’ll buy what they want to buy, drive where they want to drive, and not blink at all at the looming threat of a planetary disaster.  It’s people like these who do not invest in the vavlues of land ethics.  These ethics declare humans responsible, through their actions as citizens to this planet, for all other humans as well as the flora, the fauna, the ground, the water, and the air.  Believing in a land ethic means you agree that “we are the land’s citizens and protectors, not its conquerors”, that “this role change requires us to rever, love, and protect our land rather than allow economics to determine land use” (33), which it so often does.  This is no “hippie” notion – this is purely being responsible.

It sickens me that notions such as land ethics have such a classy, hippie, cool appeal.  Trigger words should instead include survival, necessity, and catastrophe prevention.  We are “blessed” enough to live in this era which teeters on the brink of some serious global crises.  Granted, these crises may only exist for our race, for our species, because the Earth will move on without us.  But, if we want to invest in the safe future of our offspring, we should concern ourselves less with economic survival and acknowledge the big picture.  We might all have our internal disputes, even those between nations, but what are those really to the planet as a whole?  They’re petty things.  The ONE THING that this entire planet should be able to agree on in the IMMEDIATE NEED to preserve a place for our children to live.  Other planets may not be a solution, and if we can’t fix our problems here then we will be certainly ill-equipped to take on an entirely new and foreign system.

The planet really is a fragile web.  However, it can rebuild itself.  Mother Earth a.k.a. Gaia is one crafty spider, and we are merely insects she’s got saved aside for later in her web.  It’s about time every human realizes he cannot live here for free, that he is indebted to his environment for eternity.  We might have fancy technology, but Mother Earth’s power will always overcome us in the end.  What makes us any different than the dinosaurs or any other mammal subjected to the same environment as we?  Have a conscience – it just might save your life.

P.S. Did you know?  Not only does the Earth’s techtonic plates, through their convergence, divergence, subduction, etc. dictate our living conditions on the surface, but the planet’s shape controls our climate.  Ever wondered why the equitorial jungles are surrounded by deserts?  It has to do with hot air collecting and dumping its burdening water content at the Equator, then its recycling away from the Equator in arid gusts that steal away any moisture in the deserts.  This is one of the many ways Mother Earth balances herself out and decides how we live.