the Science of Sustainability


I am at war. I struggle with science, scale, societal governance and popular emotion. I know the planet is self-sustaining. Earth is far bigger and powerful than we generally give it credit for. The Earth might shake us off like fleas, but our planet will “go on” cause it works in repetitive cycles with slow, effective processes at work. Science tells us matter cannot be created or destroyed, only altered. You can’t really “waste” water, you just make it undrinkable for humans. Truthfully and scientifically, the idea of  “Save the Human” really is more the point of sustainability than actually saving the Earth.   

Human history has taken severe and aggressive leaps into the future over the last 100 years, especially when compared to science and technology from the 100 years prior to that, ad infinitum. But in todays social and political climate, sustainability and going green is wholly linked with reducing our individual impact. Get off the grid, paperless billing, recycle, compost, use rain barrels, organic food, caveman diet, just turn on the tv for another example. But how is all of this really reducing human environmental impact… exactly? In real terms of impactful scale to actually effect climate change. My ultimate concern is big business continues to  shirk the full brunt of the environmental monster they created by pitting us against ourselves, like a well planned guilt trip.  And perversely, individuals are spending a lot of consumerist energy trying to reduce their marginal impact. Have you seen the commercial where they suggest you throw away your old vacuum and replace it with this environmentally friendly one made from recycled plastic! Uh wait, what? Actually… the best thing to do is keep one vacuum for the rest of your life, fix it when it’s broken and recycle it if it dies. But who fixes appliances anymore? Repair is usually more expensive than to buy new.  If you are claiming environmental sustainability while you are selling something, I’m suspicious. The jury of scientists is still out, but marketers are running hot and heavy with it anyway.   

Everything, every material and every resource on this planet is natural, but not every natural thing is good for humans. It is not just the scientific altering of matter that creates all the problems. In every generation the experts or “smartest” most influential people, don’t always fully understand what they know or what they are doing, exactly. Not so long ago in our history, a nifty machine in the big shoe stores let you slip your foot into a box and look down on your foot to see if your shoes fit. (Sold  to retailers with the idea parents may better fit children’s feet) This box was a live x-ray machine… irradiating people to sell them shoes! Who approved this for commercial purposes? I’d guess the experts in science and technology of the time. It leads me further to assume that the science and technology of our time is no different in base dynamic.  I immediately think of trans fats and wonder what where the blinding motives of the science at the time or perhaps more insanely, did it have a big business agenda?  Also consider a simple alloy of lead , copper and tin called pewter which for many hundreds of years, people fashioned into plates and cups! While no lead is allowed in pewter today, it took many generations of scientists to discover the facts behind why lead is so dangerous. It is clear, historically, that the world of science will repeat this pattern no matter the advancement of their collective knowledge.  A part can never know the whole but gosh they sure will make assumptions along the way. The cutting edge of science always cuts both ways and so long as we forget to temper scientific academia with the potential dangers of the unknown we will always be their guinea pigs.  The modern use of the words Natural and Organic in the food marketplace is disturbing to me for this exact reason.  All carbon based living things are organic, if it decomposes, it’s organic. The word’s definition has instead been hijacked to imply pesticide or hormone free. Now consider Rotenone, a natural pesticide made from jicima used by organic farmers.  (I’d bet you didn’t know organic farmers used chemical pesticides!) This naturally derived chemical, banned from use in 2005, has since been re-approved for organic farmers. Uh, wait what? Clearly they are still experimenting!  

"The Earth Laughs in Flowers" is one of my favorite books of poetry


Remember all those gullible people who were willing to sign a petition to ban Dihydrogen Monoxide (aka water)?  This study mistakenly assumed people’s scientific ignorance as the  reason for agreement. I would argue that our aversion to complex scientific names is intrinsically linked to a general understanding that the world of science is experimenting on us, whether through carelessness or intent.  


Farming ain’t Easy  

 So I happened on this article about farmers who are rogue planting GMO crops in Italy and getting shut down by their government. (Feel free to take a minute and read it. ) So… I think it quite a mistake to assume that because no ill effects can be proven today of GMO crops that there is no cause to be cautious, and how weird is it that any country must submit to planting seeds it doesn’t want to. That would be like my neighbor insisting that I plant blueberries in my yard because he’s planted some in his!  

 The argument that never happened in the US over GMO has produced fields of very little but those. The argument supporting GMO, is the alternative heavy use of pesticides. The only reason we cannot currently see side effects from GMO is because not enough time or study has been done with this singularly invisible factor truly isolated.  Perhaps a more thorough timeline of GMO can be studied to potentially connect some dots to obesity or diabetes or cancer or longer life, who really knows?! But we got in the game too late and more than 75 percent of corn and soybeans in this country are today, right now GMO. If you watched the movie FOOD Inc. then you see Monsanto for what it is, a shifty pedler of its branded seed. We cannot allow any company to establish a monopoly on plant life. The very idea that anyone altering mother nature can fully “own” the rights to it, is perverse and wrong. We all “own” the plants, the water, the air, they are a divine gift. Can you imagine the day when households are required to pay the city monthly for rain barrels because we are collecting their water? Well… if water companies can ever claim to “own” water with full rights, then one day they just might.


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