|Air, Atmosphere and Breathing|
We prefer Clean Air, Clean Water
Topics from the Book
The Way of Breath
Environments in Crisis
The tolerance for environmental destruction is ancient and human history is littered with civilizations that failed because humans indiscriminately exploited natural resources and spoiled their own nest. The benefits to citizens of all modern industrial societies peaked sometime in recent decades. Now, we are paying penalties for careless consumption and pollution of our own nest. You could argue that all human activities have adverse effects of environments, but, at the same time, you can argue that humans are capable of enhancing environments, protecting animals at risk, cultivating plants, and above all else, humans are capable of understanding their dependence on healthy nature.
In an ideal world, everyone would seek personal health and well being, but at the same time would strive to restore planet health. Smart people realize that no personal benefit will survive long in a world that is ailing, polluted and careening toward more man-made disasters.
Complex Systems The attempt to understand complex systems has taken a quantum leap in recent years. We have gone beyond naïve linear models and now appreciate that if complex systems such as the atmosphere, the oceans, and land ecosystems change, they may become unstable, more unfriendly and less predictable.
Extra heat will cause more turbulence, and weather patterns will change in unpredictable ways. Unfortunately nature changes in abrupt ways and catastrophes are natural phenomena - volcanic eruptions, storms, floods, earthquakes, avalanches all represent basic patterns of nature. We have to understand that our actions contribute to weather events - the issues loom large when you consider that climate changes with increasingly destructive extreme weather events are adverse consequences of human activities that can be improved.
Air pollution is an obvious adverse effect of human activities. Air pollution was first noticed as problem of city dwellers, poisoning themselves, but more recently, air pollution is acknowledged as a problem of global significance. Air pollution is not a good idea for a variety of reasons, large and small. The right ideas for remediation of environmental degradations involve unselfish and compassionate behavior, a scarce commodity. The right ideas involve long-term planning, conservation and a deep commitment to preserving the natural world. Without a healthy natural environment, there will be few or no healthy humans. The really sad part of our current predicament is that all the right concerns and the right ideas for remediation have been around for decades and have been clearly articulated in many forms by a host of intelligent people.
The immediately negative effects of air pollution in cities is measured on a daily basis; however, the negative impact on human health remains mostly undefined. The largest issue is climate changes due to burning fossil fuels, increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The release of the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was a milestone, a scientific consensus that we had created problems of catastrophic proportions. A political consensus was required for real, effective remedial action in all countries.
Dec. 2007, Al Gore shared a Nobel Prize with the IPCC, a United Nations agency. In his acceptance speech, Gore, made another passionate plea of recognition of the climate crisis and the need for cooperative action across the planet. Gore warned that “we, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency — a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly.”
Humans and other animals are in peril, not the planet. Planet Earth is a work in progress that changes continuously. No environment has been stable over the stretch of millions of years and climates change without human help. The problem today is that human activities have changed the environment quickly and that current arrangements to supply clean air, good food and clean water are not sustainable.
Dec. 2007 Indonesia: At the international climate conference, the world’s nations committed to negotiating a new accord by 2009 that cut in half emissions of heat-trapping gases by 2050. While the commitment is welcome, humans remain critical of each other, disputatious and focused on self interest. The negotiations that might lead to an accord will not be a smooth path. Even if an accord is achieved, compliance with its terms will not be enforceable. The description, global warming, has generated one of the more irrational debates of this century. A better description climate change is more readily demonstrated from weather records and insurance claims. See Climate Change.
The climate talks in Copenhagen in December 2009 involved 200 nations who failed to achieve enforceable agreements to reduce carbon emissions. If you were an optimist you might value the Accord that was achieved, a five-page document that represented another tentative step toward global action to reduce atmospheric pollution and climate change. A realist would restate our understanding of human nature – that local interests always trump global concerns and local interests are divergent and divisive. US President Obama stated: “I think that people are justified in being disappointed about the outcome in Copenhagen. The science says that we’ve got to significantly reduce emissions over the next 40 years. There’s nothing in the Copenhagen agreement that ensures that will happen.”
If you were an environmentally conscious God watching human behavior, you might be properly annoyed - who gave them the right to burn all that fossil fuel, pollute the air and water, cut down all those trees, kill all those animals, pave all those forests and farmers' fields? Why didn't they move closer and walk to work everyday? Of course, God is likely to have a longer-term view and while lamenting the current folly of humans will probably recall that planet earth undergoes continuous change and from time to time, cataclysmic events alter the entire planet. At least 90% of all the creatures that have lived on the planet are gone. Perhaps our folly is seen as just another natural phenomenon. What if 500 years from now, God enters a note into her journal " Humans on Planet Earth had the chance to get it right but they didn't quite make it. Humans turned out to be self-destructive, short term planners and tragically selfish. They soiled their own nest and now they are gone."
Big environmental problems are built from many business and personal decisions, little mistakes that add up over time. If there is a solution, it will emerge from the collective value of millions of better decisions made by individuals all over the globe. The environmental action plan is to think globally and act locally - it does make sense.
Discussions of Environmental Science and Human Ecology were developed by Environmed Research Inc. Sechelt, B.C. Canada. Online Topics are developed in several books by Stephen Gislason MD. These can be found in two catalogues, Alpha Education and Persona Digital Books. Environment Home
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