Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Suicide Society

In an effort to become more positive in my view of the world, I’ve spent some time reading about permaculture, specifically the interpretation described by co-originator David Holmgren in his book Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability. Among other insights, the book introduced me to the idea that a significant amount of carbon dioxide could be sequestered in soil, potentially making a large dent in the global warming problem (further research showed this effect to be well known, and that in the U.S. it currently offsets 15% of emissions). With its emphasis on people learning to work with Nature in getting what they need, I found that Holmgren’s version of permaculture offers realistic hope that some of us may eventually be able to live happy and sustainable lives.

Then I read an article in my local paper’s Web site that made me cringe. Studies of sunscreen showed that, at best, much of it was useless against the most damaging radiation from the Sun; and at worst, it was dangerous. Having recently purchased a bunch of it, I visited a Web site referred to by the article (Skin Deep) and discovered that 99% of more than 30,000 cosmetics evaluated on the site had risks associated with health or the environment, many of them very serious. The main problem, apparently, is a lack of testing by industry and the government to determine just how harmful such products are. If I hadn’t read the article, I would mindlessly be slathering on a toxic mixture of chemical compounds that could potentially lead to neurological problems, cancer, and ecological damage.

I woke up the next morning with an encouraging thought. What if everyone suddenly decided to grow as much natively adapted food as possible? The concept of an urban garden is not novel, but a concerted effort by all owners of green space could have a significant effect on our dependence on large-scale energy (and corporate greed) for our most basic needs.

My optimism took another bashing when I happened across another report, this one detailing the poisonous compounds routinely and widely injected into oil and natural gas wells in Colorado with practically no regulation or accountability. It is hard to escape the feeling that the conventional energy industry, like the cosmetics industry (and likely many others), is content with physically harming and possibly killing people as long as profits continue to rise. I can’t help but wonder if this would change if all of us had to depend on locally contaminated ground water for our daily survival.

In the mean time, we live with omnipresent risks of our own making or acquiescence, which are killing us too slowly to care about. Our society is collectively committing suicide, and taking the rest of Nature down with us. Will we stop and try to repair the damage, and if so, in time to avoid the most dire consequences? It’s not because the knowledge and tools aren’t available, because they are; but we can’t count on them to remain that way. Soon, if not now, we need to acknowledge the reality of our situation and our responsibility for it, and then do whatever we can to deal with it.

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