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.


Would you like Smoking or Non?

        Smoking ban in restaurants and bars is coming to North Carolina Jan 2 2010, three days. Secondhand smoke is a serious hazard. Children should never be confined in it, they have little choice. Every adult can choose to be exposed or not be exposed, and stupid as it is, I choose smoking. As a parent, I only smoke outside.

 Banning smoking in bars and restaurants is often tied with setting workers free from this environment. The problem is that these workers are adults. When I hire a person, they are asked if they have any objection to working in smoke and are accomodated.  Most of them smoke themselves!  I get that smoking is bad but so is drinking.  How many places are we really affecting with the formal LAW. Most places are non-smoking these days anyway. This law confines only a few holdout businesses. Don’t believe the old “saving health care costs” rational because a healthy person usually outlasts a smoker by 8 years. Those last aged eight years are more expensive than a smoker’s death. Smoking taken too seriously and goodbye smoked bacon, see you later charcoal grill, mark my words. I think it is ridiculous that banning smokers outdoors is steps closer and even discussed. Especially by example of Prichard Park, where you can’t smoke a cigarette, but a delivery truck can sit idle for 15 minutes puffing out black smoke?  Secondhand smoke studies have NEVER been done outdoors because there are too many variables. The wind goes where it wants to, so can you.

 I will comply with the new indoor ban but I don’t like it! I see it as the Squeaky Wheel Act. Non smokers all over this country have rallied round the capitals to get their way so they can go everywhere and anywhere they want to. Smokers are fully within their rights to smoke, yet have no freedoms or places to do so except in “certain public places”. Exemption of Cigar Bars, exemption of smoking in non-profit clubs, (hmm…open alcohol container law exemptions in limousines), gee, these all together scream what is not good for the goose is okay for the gander. And that gander has expensive taste! These un-banned exceptions are disingenuous and another example of our political leaders treating “the public” like dumb sheep.  Those who can afford to can be seen drinking in limousines to and from the cigar bar and club enjoying a smoke, while the average smoker is forced outdoors, freezing in the winter or boiling in the summer, not able to find anywhere publically indoors to commit this legal adult behavior. How equitable!

Honestly I don’t see my small business as being a “public place” in nature, it’s certainly open to the public but quite privately owned, it is my second home. I can ask people to leave and not return, just as  people can choose to come in or not. It’s not the post office.   That’s why it’s called the hospitality industry, you are the host, they are the guest.  People smoke, I would like to be able to accomodate them but my hands are tied. More people smoke than you think. Believe me when I say there are numerous self-labled non-smokers who occasionally have a smoke with a drink!

UPDATE : 4/4/10

So a few months in to the ban it is not so bad… I guess.  Like I said, I smoke outside in my own habit, but it should would be nice to have an adult spot where I could hang out indoors and enjoy!  Ha! Likely story.

I know I have to quit one of these days. Today is not the day.