I’ve learned quite a bit in the past twenty years or so. Much more than when I was younger and should have been working on my education. We live in an age where information is easy to come by. Having been associated with some of the leaders of the organic movement and the native plant industry has changed my perspective a great deal. I have always been one who tries to simplify things in order understand some of the more complex issues in a general way instead of getting bogged down in the details. So I have decided step out of my normal role of gardener to share some thoughts on problems that need solving before we crash and burn.
1. Overpopulation- All of the problems that face mankind today are directly related to the fact that human populations just keep growing. Dwindling resources, pollution, habitat loss, starvation, just name any issue that plagues mankind and we find overpopulation at the root of that problem.
Back in 1980’s we in the United States were hearing about “zero population growth.” This was based on the fact that if each married couple would limit themselves to two children then our population should hold where it was. During that same period the Chinese stepped up and made this mandatory by issuing “contracts” to married couples to limit their reproduction. Neither of these strategies was popular and obviously did not work. Although the problem remains, we don’t hear so much about it these days.
I have a number of friends who are quite enthusiastic about neutering our pets to relieve the overpopulation and consequent mandatory destruction of millions of innocent dogs and cats. I tell them perhaps we should be neutering humans, and then the pet problem would take care of itself. They usually laugh, thinking I’m joking, but in a way I am dead serious. How many pregnancies are really unplanned or unwanted? This being an election year, doubtless we will hear endless rhetoric over the abortion issue.
The real answer to this issue is simply education. Statistics do show that educated people generally do not have large families. Furthermore, educated people are aware of birth control options and are much more likely to have themselves sterilized if they don’t want children for some reason. Birth rates are highest among the poor, under privileged and less educated people.
Our main source of communication is television. Even remote villages in third world countries will have a TV set up somewhere. When was the last time you saw a program, news report, or commercial dealing with overpopulation or birth control?
The biggest stumbling block to population control has been religion and politics. Religious leaders want more souls converted to their particular religion while political leaders need young people to build infrastructure and fight wars. I have heard the Bible quote “Be fruitful and multiply,” used many times. When this statement was made two thousand years ago, the world was not overcrowded. It was at that time excellent advice given to a race of people whose numbers was small. Shall we “Be fruitful and multiply,” to the point of millions who starve each year? This is exactly what has happened and will continue until we (all the human race) take it upon ourselves to reduce population growth. Is the greater morality to spawn more starving children or to educate those we already have?
2. Fossil fuels- Other than the threat of nuclear war or some great natural catastrophe, the fact that our world economy is based upon consumption of oil, coal, and natural gas is most likely to cause a crash and burn situation. While the demand for these resources continues to increase due to population growth, the supplies are decreasing and the costs of extraction, shipping, and processing have increased considerably. All the creature comforts, travel, and luxuries we in the present have known are based upon having a steady supply of fossil fuels. Even our food supply (more on that later) has become dependant on fossil fuels.
Every person alive today was born into a world of fossil fuel dependency with full knowledge that these finite resources will one day become depleted. Our parents told us not to worry because our scientists would find alternative solutions when the time came. They have. The problem is that regardless of the many solutions offered by sustainable technologies, these solutions are being held in check or kept off the market altogether by the big oil producers whose power has become world wide. Just who is it that controls our businesses, politicians, and is responsible for the propaganda we are allowed to receive through the news media? Just today I saw a front page title regarding the latest U.N. findings on global warming. The story was about 1/8 of a page found buried on page 10A. Conversely if the price of gas at the pump goes up considerably, the news media will be all over it.
Here is a good example of the power of oil. When Iraq invaded the tiny country of Kuwait, the world applauded as the United Nations liberated Kuwait within a few short weeks of that invasion. Later, even though the U.N. already had troops in place, the world stood down as brutal genocide took place in another small country called Rwanda. How is it that the peace keeping nations of the world could mobilize quickly to liberate Kuwait but would not allow their troops to engage the poorly armed rebels in Rwanda? The only plausible answer must be that Kuwait is rich in oil reserves and the much poorer (by comparison) nation of Rwanda (unfortunately) is not. So it is oil instead of morality, justice, or human needs that make the decision to send our young people to die or to allow whole populations to become victims of war.
There are good uses for oil as we move from an oil based economy to using sustainable energy sources. For example, this computer I’m typing on is composed largely of products synthesized from oil with some metal and silica thrown in. Look around wherever you may be and just count the number of items you see that are processed from oil. In order to continue to have these items we must begin saving oil reserves for manufacturing and begin using less as fuel. Bring on the biodiesel and gasohol!!
It has been said that oil will reach $100 per barrel by the end of 2007. Once the big oil companies get us used to paying high prices the price per barrel will stay high. It is a simple matter of supply, demand, and what the market will bear. The way we, as individuals, fight this is simply; don’t buy any more fuel than we absolutely must. Purchase biofuels every chance you get, buy electric vehicles or hybrids for local transport, use public transportation when you can, and get a bicycle if you are healthy enough to ride one. Do not simply gripe about fuel prices on your way to the pump. That will only serve to help the rich get richer while the rest of us tighten our belts.
3. Food- We can live without fossil fuels and we certainly will one day, but we must have food. We currently live in a world where millions are starving even though we have big agribusiness that claims it can feed the world. There are two major problems with that statement.
First of all, big agriculture is beholden to big oil to fuel big equipment and create fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and pharmaceuticals so we can manage to grow meat, poultry, and plant crops in an intense, factory-like manner. These huge stands of mono-crops and overcrowded feed lots are perfect breeding grounds for insects and diseases that prey upon our plants and animals. No problem, we’ll just spray a bunch of pesticides and herbicides, and then feed the animals plenty of steroids and antibiotics to keep them healthy until we slaughter them. The end result of all this is the quality of our food is definitely not what it once was plus many of these chemicals we’re using carry over in our food. Both of these situations cause health problems for us.
Anyone born in the U.S. after 1950 has been consuming these chemicals their entire life. It is virtually impossible to have a true healthy diet unless you literally grow, raise, and process your own food. When we hear about these things that have negative effects in the news media they are often described as carcinogens, or free radicals, or simply toxins. What you usually won’t hear is that these free radicals and such are the very things that we are treating our crops and animals with. Sure there are plenty of toxins and carcinogens to be found in nature, we just don’t normally harvest and eat them. Ever wonder why our kids seem to be maturing at an earlier age and are definitely more prone to be overweight? It’s the growth hormones we give cattle that are stored in their fat that permeates the burgers and pizzas our kids are so fond of. No kidding!! At least that is one contributing factor.
The second problem that is also related to chemical use is the soil itself. Seems our state departments, USDA, and ag-based universities have been so infatuated with the oil based chemicals and their lucrative success, they have overlooked some really basic soil components that are necessary to grow healthy crops and sustain healthy soils. As most people are aware, poison kills living organisms, plain and simple.
Healthy soils are so full of living organisms that the accepted theory among soil scientists today is that the life below ground may actually outweigh life above ground. Many of the agriculture chemicals in regular use today are so toxic that the life in the soil dies making it necessary to use more chemical to make up for that loss. The resulting depletion of nutrients due to chemical fertilization which is lacking in trace minerals and the all important humic acid complex leads to health problems in humans and animals. It has been said that today one must eat two apples a day to keep the doctor away.
Furthermore, this constant till, fertilize, spray, and do it all over again routine has depleted soil humus (derived from organic matter) which is again critical to healthy soil and healthy plants. Since there are few bacteria, no earthworms, or other organisms left to decompose organic matter, there is no way to replenish soil humus. As the tilling introduces oxygen into the soil our existing humus (which is a high carbon material) oxidizes into carbon dioxide and becomes a gas to add to the already high amount of carbon gases in the air.
Obviously our current agriculture system will fail as population growth demands more food and finite fossil fuel resources will not be able to supply the chemicals needed. It is merely a matter of time before we crash and burn.
The answer again is very simple. When you look at the history of agriculture, the human race has been able to feed itself all along. The chemicals used today are a direct result of manufacturing bombs and nerve gas during World Wars I and II. The intent was to turn these war chemicals into useable products in peace time. Our farmers have only been using them the past 50 years or so. There have always been droughts, famine, insects, and disease. There still are regardless of our modern irrigation and chemical fertilizers. There are in fact more malnourished and starving people on the earth today than ever before. Prior to World War I all agriculture was accomplished using natural and sustainable methods. It is inevitable that all agriculture will turn back to sustainable methods in the future. The question is simply how long will we wait before we make this change?
4. Water-The prediction here is that in the very near future wars will be fought over water rather than oil. Territorial disputes over water rights have become a major issue already. The availability of fresh drinking water or the lack thereof goes back to population and man made pollution. Our population cannot outgrow our water resources.
A recent study by our Texas Water Resource Management does have a plan that goes to the year 2050. As I read this plan, two things caught my immediate attention. First was that if our population continued its present rate of growth that a good deal of water needed for home use would have to be taken from the agriculture industry (Which is more important; food or water?) and secondly that if long term drought occurs, this current study would be rendered useless. Not a real positive message in either case. 2050 is not that far off.
Clean water is getting harder and harder to come by. Among the thousands of man made pollutants that can be found in our water supply, the most common are nitrates or nitrites. Where do they come from? Well………the main source is the synthetic fertilizers that are supposed to be helping us feed the world. As soil humus and microbial life become depleted, more synthetic fertilizer must be used to get results. The lifeless soils cannot hold useable nitrogen very well plus the plants themselves can only consume a small percentage at once so the rest is left to leach into groundwater or run off into our lakes, marshes, and bays. As we grow more food using current methods, we cannot help but pollute more water. Again, which is more important……..food or water??
Historically, crops were grown by recycling all vegetable, animal, and human wastes back into the soil as fertilizer. This age old formula along with growing cover crops (green manure) promotes symbiotic soil life and builds humus. This is almost too easy as a solution for clean water, healthy soil, and clean air. The better half of all our waste materials is actually good compostable materials which should be going to our farmers instead of dumped in the ocean or buried in a landfill. How many tons of human and animal wastes are being dumped into our rivers each day?
5. Air- Although we have made great strides in controlling exhaust emissions which has led to an improved air quality in our most congested cities, there is still much to be done. Mention global warming at any gathering and you will be met with staunch opposition, skepticism, and apathy. It amazes me just how many people choose to stick their heads in the sand on this issue even though the evidence is irrefutable. If our scientists have not calculated correctly or misread historical information, all one has to do is look at the parts of the planet that were covered in ice. Antarctica is melting, the North Pole is now open water during summer, glaciers are receding, and mountains that have been covered for thousands of years have shrinking snow caps. Evidence of melting ice fields can be seen world wide. How (or perhaps the question should be Why?) can we deny this?
Legislation is being proposed at this very moment to introduce a “carbon tax” to give incentive to coal powered plants and other big consumers of carbon based fuels to clean up their smoke stacks and seek alternative energy solutions. Although the present administration has flatly denied that our contribution to global warming is a significant issue and will likely veto any such legislation, it is very possible that we will see some similar legislation in place after the 2008 election regardless of who wins.
Carbon is the building block of life on this planet. Carbon is found in all living things, the air, water, soil, and stone. What we call fossil fuels are very high in carbon and are literally derived from plants and animal remains from many millions of years ago. As these highly concentrated fuels are burned, large amounts of carbon are released back into the air. So due to big business, big agriculture, and our current comfortable lifestyles we are spewing millions of tons of carbon into the air which traps radiation from the sun and causes the planet to warm.
Carbon is recycled into other forms in a multitude of ways but the two most important carbon converters are plants and water (the oceans). Problem is that as more and more carbon that was locked up in fossil fuels and in our once rich soil escapes into the atmosphere, it becomes more than our natural carbon recyclers can use. Furthermore, as more heat causes deserts to expand, oceans to warm, and ice to melt, less carbon can be stored in ancient ice therefore the situation tends to get worse exponentially.
Here again although the problem is complex, the solution is pretty simple. Carbon is a finite resource. Since we have had the same amount of carbon on Earth all along then what we must do is get it out of the atmosphere and back into our forests, oceans, and soils plus eventually store it in underground deposits from which our fossil fuels came in the beginning. As we address these other issues and reduce population growth, seek alternative energy, turn back to sustainable agriculture, and protect our water resources we will also be reducing the effects of global warming.
Malcolm Beck, who is well known in Texas for his expertise in organic farming, states that if we could increase soil humus levels by just 1/2 of 1% yearly by using organic methods we could offset the rate of global warming today. I am certain that even if Mr. Beck isn’t exactly 100% on the money, that his proposal would certainly have a positive impact.
6. Personal accountability- This is the hard part……..It is so common for us to blame someone else, or complain that someone else should do something about all this. It should be obvious to all concerned that our government is mainly interested in keeping things the way they are as long as profit can be made and as long as a comfortable living will keep the majority of citizens complacent. Most of us think that our personal feelings and contributions don’t (or won’t) matter.
Although many of us fail to realize it, the most powerful weapon we have is the dollar. The world’s largest corporations can be made to fall in short order if we simply stop buying their products. Every time we fill the gas tank, purchase synthetically produced food, or pay for electricity produced by coal we are fueling the economy of those who have created this situation. If we purchase electricity from companies who are building on solar, hydro, and wind power, if we purchase organic foods, and if we seek out biofuels we are casting a positive vote toward a sustainable future. There are many ways that we as individual consumers can cause these life threatening issues to change for the better without involving politics or outright revolution. Simply stop feeding dollars to this incredible monster that may soon destroy us all.
Many of my colleagues believe that the time is at hand for some kind of revolution. I believe we can promote change quickly through solidarity. A good example has been the recent rise in consumers buying organic foods and switching to organic products in a multitude of home and personal use items. This has been a grass roots movement that has come from the bottom up through increasingly educated consumers. True, it did not happen overnight and was too long in coming for some who pioneered it, but it is happening nonetheless. The demand for organic products far outweighs the supply at present plus the growth rate of those willing to produce those products has been phenomenal in most cases.
Historically, governments have managed to maintain power through propaganda. Self serving leaders who have become the spokespersons for the truly wealthy and powerful have always sought to keep the public engaged in the daily struggle to survive while withholding any knowledge that may cause unrest. Today our very existence on the planet is at stake. Believing this does not make you a liberal, tree hugger, or unpatriotic. It makes you an informed member of the human race. It makes you a parent or grandparent who wants their children to have a chance. It makes you a young person who has been educated. You may still have very strong convictions concerning religion and politics but realize that without sustainable agriculture, clean air, clean water, and renewable resources the rest doesn’t really matter. If we crash and burn, all will suffer, liberal and conservative alike.
We in the United States are lucky to live in a democratic society. The rest of the world looks to us for leadership and example. What kind of example have we shown lately? We have the right to elect representatives to voice our opinion in Washington. Please keep these issues in mind as election time rolls around again. We should not feel obligated to choose the lesser of two evils, or simply vote against those we don’t want in office. We should instead encourage those moral and intelligent people among us to stand and take office in our local, state, and (eventually) national government. While we listen to debate over health care, gun control, labor unions, social security, gay rights, and all the myriad issues that can get us confused, let us not forget the real issue; the fate of the entire human race.
We must act now. We must choose wisely. We must not settle for compromise. Make your voice heard. Be part of the solution or be prepared to crash and burn…………….