It is flooding in Iran. Unseasonably flooding. Yup…go get your coffee…or your wine…maybe keep a shot nearby…If you’re looking for a ray of light…just scroll all the way to that last list about “good” at the bottom.
Y’all…I came here to give you some light-hearted enlightenment about environmental justice…There’s Earth Day this month, and we finally have solid examples of environmental racism and conclusive evidence of the effects of energy production and pollution on different demographics….Instead, I feel nauseous. My hope…just keeps getting killed over and over. When this post started coming together (I don’t really seek out these must-know topics, they just sort of take shape as I’m being inundated with news, then I kind of intuit The Issues We Can’t Afford To Ignore), I thought I’d be my normal tongue-in-cheek self about how now there’s evidence that The Former Colonizers and ‘White’ People benefit most from pollution, and People of Color and Low-Income folks suffer as a result the most…But Mamas…The State Of The Planet makes this so much less about simply social justice, and so much more about The Fate Of The World.
Poison in the River
The most common effect of pollution in women’s creative life is loss of vitality. This disables a woman’s ability to create or act “out there” in the world. Though there are times in a woman’s cycles of healthy creative life when the river of creativity disappears underground for a time, something is being developed all the same. We are incubating then. It is a very different sensation than that of spiritual crisis.
In a natural cycle, there is restlessness and impatience, perhaps, but there is never the sense the wild soul is dying. We can tell the difference by assessing our anticipation: even when our creative energy is involved in a long incubation, we still look forward to the outcome, we feel pops and surges of that new life turning and humming within us. We do not feel desperate. There is no lunging and grasping.
But when the creative life dies because we are not tending to the health of the river, that is another matter entirely. Then, we feel exactly like the dying river; we feel loss of energy, we feel tired, there is nothing creeping, roiling, lifting leaves, cooling off, warming up. We become thick, slow in a negative way, poisoned by pollution, or by a backup and stagnation of all our riches. Everything feels tainted, unclear, and toxic…
So we see that the river must be reasonably balanced between its pollutions and its cleansings, or else all comes to nothing. But in order to carry on in this manner, the immediate environ must be nutritive and accessible. In matters of survival it is an incontrovertible fact that the less available the essentials — food and water, safety and shelter — the fewer the options. And the fewer the options, the less creative life, for creativity thrives on the many, on the endless combination of all things.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD., Women Who Run With The Wolves
Fire on the River
I grew up in the AK (aka Akron, Ohio). Home to LeBron James, the Black Keys, Chrissie Hynde, and most notably, historic astronaut Judith Resnik. The Challenger crash was devastating, especially for us kids who were watching it on TV, were attending her alma maters, and were thinking we’d have to live on Mars or the Moon as adults. Yup — that’s how I grew up…making recycled art, Biosphere 2 dioramas, and rainforest murals in elementary school…condemning anyone who littered, really believing that the End Of Life On Earth As We Know It was imminent. To be fair, I lived in Northeast Ohio, where 50 years ago this June the disgustingly polluted Cuyahoga River CAUGHT ON FIRE — but not for the first time. The numbers are unclear, but range from the 5th time to the 13th time with the 1952 fire (the one in the pictures you’ll see citing the 1969 fire) as the largest and most costly. That fire and subsequent grand jury investigations eventually led to the Clean Water Act, the EPA and Earth Day among other initiatives. It was the beginning of Earth-friendliness as we know it.
Keep Akron Beautiful (implemented in 1981) signs were everywhere, and I learned to recycle early and often. In fact, because I was certain (wrongly) that I’d be denied admission to a certain prestigious university, I submitted a poem as my college essay (imposter syndrome runs deep). It opened with imagery of a vibrant rainforest, and closed with the awakening of a young, coughing, chronically ill girl, whose mother had only water to offer, because the rainforest, which she’d been dreaming about and held curative ingredients, had been decimated. DARK….I know, but that was the future as I knew it. The admissions people must’ve agreed; in spite of or because of my “story that imparts a message,” I got in. It’s in my bones to care about the planet. HOWEVER, all that is to say, that our tunnel vision back in the ’80s was on pollution, trash, recycling, the destruction of our resources…it wasn’t on the bigger picture — climate change or even environmental justice. Which is what I’m here to shed darkness on today. UGH.
I don’t know whether to ease into this…or just come out there with it. We’re here. The Destruction Of The Earth is here. It’s not 50 years away, or 30 years away or even a generation away.
It’s not about a bomb cyclone, or even feeling annoyed because the weekly temperatures reflect multiple seasons. It’s the literal ‘seas’ of water in the midwest we saw last month with the flooding after the bomb cyclones. It’s the literal ‘oceans’ of water created in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawai last month after Cyclone Idai. It’s in climate gentrification (that’s a new one, eh?) and environmental refugees, and even in our computers. We have just 12 years to Save The Planet….I know…Oi…There are some huge conundrums here. Let’s look at them together.
This might be the saddest post I ever write…I don’t know…next month I HAVE to talk about ‘Murica and immigration, so it’s tough competition for the saddest post I ever write….actually, that one’ll probably be more angry, yeah…so this might be the saddest.
Trigger Warning: This post contains FACTS.
OK. Phew…that’s done. For those of you still with me, here we go.
If you don’t know what environmental justice is, watch this clip of Desi Lydic from The Daily Show: That’s Fracked: Can a Colorado School Combat Environmental Racism?. I’ll also tell you, but watching The Daily Show is so much more fun (Humor + Current Events = TheOnlyWayICanHandleLifeSince2016). Anyway, environmental justice refers to fighting things like fracking sites or truck-laden roads near elementary schools, or “waste to energy” plants in low-income neighborhoods with high populations of POC. (Pssst — “waste-to-energy plant” is like the PC term for incineration plant. Even ethnic abuse wants to be on the right side of history (pun intended?). But here’s the thing: the law doesn’t have protections to combat environmental racism — yet. This is likely why there’s not much outcry that Philadelphia (and a bunch of other major cities) is burning its waste in the neighborhoods of Black and Latinx folks.
But now we have A Study. And studies mean everything to The Decision Makers (research has been done, the scientific method employed, and the results will matter). This study tells us what most of us already knew already knew: “The researchers found that air pollution is disproportionately caused by white Americans’ consumption of goods and services, but disproportionately inhaled by black and [Latinx] Americans….’Inequity in exposure to air pollution is well documented, but this study brings in the consumption angle,’ says Anjum Hajat, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington who was not involved in the study. ‘If you’re contributing less to the problem, why do you have to suffer more from it?” Indeed.
This episode of Reveal from 2017, School haze, is particularly horrifying. I was used to worrying about particulate matter and polluted air when I lived in Asia, but here…? Yup, here too. Listen because it’s about how we’re polluting our kids’ school environments (#HelloLosAngelesFreeway). BUT also, check out your school’s location. I knew before searching that our kiddos’ school was close enough to truck-laden freeways, but I’m slightly relieved that’s in the yellow? Insert laughing/crying emoji. Sadly, our apartment building is in the red….I kinda knew that because I sit and type while gazing out the window at a major interstate highway (#NeverOpeningTheWindowsAgain). Let’s face it — if you live in a gentrifying or gentrified neighborhood, you likely live near pollution. Why? Because the neighborhoods deemed by The Decision Makers ‘sucky’ enough to cut through with a highway, or drop a toxic waste site in or that cropped up along railroad tracks during segregation and red-lining, are the ones where people with time and money and resources want to live now. The irony.
No — here’s the irony. Our new term of the month: “climate gentrification”. Miami is another place already living the Climate Change Dream: “Last fall, the city adopted a resolution to study ‘gentrification that is accelerated due to climate change’.” Real estate at higher elevations (like, where poor folks and POC have previously been relegated to living) is now on offer at a premium (to the people who can afford it), meaning we’ll be seeing our own climate refugees stateside — exactly yesterday.
Some Perspective on Plastic
Plastic is THE WORST — no surprise there. Steve Kurtuz, author of Life Without Plastic Is Possible. It’s Just Very Hard, documents how “Plastic purgers need to rearrange their lives to avoid the offending material.” If you’re thinking of going completely plastic-free, there’s good stuff in there. I’d listen to the Brian Lehrer Show episode here, and then skim Kurutz’s piece for the so many good resources for living plastic-free (too many to list here). One place to start though — don’t buy any more reusable bags. That’s right — I heard it on NPR — say ‘no’ to the tote bag. According to reporter Zoë Schlanger, the manufacturing process for cotton totes is worse for the environment than manufacturing plastic bags. This is, as Kai Ryssdal says over and over in the Marketplace segment, not considering the waste created by plastic bags once they’re set free. You need to use your organic cotton tote bag more than 20,000 times to make it better than using a plastic bag. So, in short, keep using the reusable bags you already own. Paper bags should also get the boot if you’re thinking of production in contrast to plastic bags — again, none of these studies consider the amazing journey of the plastic bag (if you missed it in 2011, watch it here). There’s also a cool chart in Schlanger’s original article about how other bags stack up to classic grocery store plastic bags.
If considering the lesser of all the evils, this Here & Now episode about the unintended consequences of banning plastic bags is worth a listen. When we ban plastic bags, not only do people rely on cotton and paper bags, which have a nasty manufacturing process, but they also buy more plastic garbage bags. UGH. I don’t know what the answer is. Do you? Right now I’m using recycled, biodegradable bags for composting in my kitchen (no, I don’t compost), but once that betch is in the landfill, it’s fine if it biodegrades, right?
I learned, inadvertently, while giving a practice AP Lang & Comp exam last decade, about the amount of fossil fuels not only required to make plastic water bottles, but also to ship them overseas for recycling. It’s problematic. There’s a cost for every environmental choice we make. For instance, I don’t have a car, BUT, I order a bunch of crap (not literal crap) online. If my Target.com order has eight items, those eight items might arrive at my building in five different boxes, from five different trucks. So our online shopping might decrease our automobile use, but it’s creating more traffic congestion and breaking the environment. Where’s the vaseline? (whoops, that has petroleum also).
AND, sending our recycling to China — although not a perfect solution — is over. Done. Kaput. As of OVER A YEAR AGO. Approximately 14 months after China enacted its National Sword Policy banning the import of most plastics, I pause in our co-working space, dumbfounded, wondering which receptacle to throw my trash in. Recycling or Landfill? Or this random waste basket over there that seems to be a catchall? One of the main drivers of China’s refusal to accept our nasty-ass trash? That we can’t be bothered to clean the food out of our containers (this is mostly a result and requirement for single stream recycling). “No, thanks,” said they. So what’s happening to our recycling (aka trash) now? In a lot of cities it’s being incinerated. LAUGH/SOB…ugh. Yes, it’s true. Our dear Philadelphia is the poster child for incinerating its waste out in Chester County (there’s is a commercial on the ‘radio’ RIGHT NOW, about how recycling and zero waste are the law here…sob, sob, sob — it’s a mindf*ck, y’all). It turns out that’s where a significantly high number of low-income, Black and Latinx people live. Surprise! So, instead of our recycling polluting China (where it was, to be fair, supposedly recycled and re-used*) it’s being carted out to a suburb, where it’s incinerated, and goes on to pollute the lungs of and lives of low-income and people of color here.
The loss of this overseas dumping ground means that plastics, paper, and glass set aside for recycling by Americans is being stuffed into domestic landfills or is simply burned in vast volumes. This new reality risks an increase of plumes of toxic pollution that threaten the largely black and [Latinx] communities who live near heavy industry and dumping sites in the US.
“People in Chester feel hopeless—all they want is for their kids to get out, escape. Why should we be expendable? Why should this place have to be burdened by people’s trash and shit?”
Some experts worry that burning plastic recycling will create a new fog of dioxins that will worsen an already alarming health situation in Chester. Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64 percent higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24 percent higher, according to state health statistics.”
*The likelihood that our fouled waste was contaminating people in rural China once it could not longer be processed there, if that was the case, is equally problematic.
Even though us humans are reaping the havoc we’ve wreaked ourselves, let’s not forget the animals. The stomach of a dead whale recovered off the coast of the Philippines recently contained ‘Nothing But Nonstop Plastic’ — 90 ibs of plastic, to be precise. “Within the last 10 years, we have recovered 61 whales and dolphins just within the Davao Gulf,” said Darrell Blatchley, a marine biologist and environmentalist. “Of them, 57 have died due to man — whether they ingested plastic or fishing nets or other waste, or gotten caught in pollution — and four were pregnant.” And this isn’t just an issue related to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean. In the Mediterranean, a pregnant whale was found with a dead fetus, plus 50 ibs of plastic, including plastic plates and fishing lines.
The Land Loss Crisis
When The Levees Broke should perhaps not be a title about the past, but about the present — the present progressive — because the levee failure in the Lower Ninth Ward is just the first prominent event in a series of many recents. If you read The New Yorker, it’s unlikely you missed the two side-by-side maps of Louisiana — the one we normally see that includes, well…land…and the accurate one, that contains…ummm…islands or isthmuses surrounded by water. The rumor — that Louisiana loses a football field of land an hour — is mostly true. The actual measurement is “at a rate of a football field per hour and a half”, so it’s not that every hour a mass of land the size of a football field drops off — but that’s the average rate — and it’s been happening since the ’80s. And it’s a *manmade crisis. (the likelihood that men designed All The Ways To Contain The Mighty Mississippi is pretty high #MenHadAllTheEngineeringJobsBackThen).
Anyway — read this article by Elizabeth Kolbert — it is phenomenal. Kolbert’s description of the land (or lack thereof) and her research on the ground is enrapturing. I have not even moved on to the cartoons in the next issue, because it is so engaging to read about how faulty our decisions for managing the flow of water in this country have been #WhyAreWeNotAsSmartAsTheDutch — since the 18th-century, before the Louisiana Purchase — and we are reaping the consequences in all the ways, all right now (also aided by the climate crisis and rising sea levels, which is abetted by our terrible practices as humans, like drilling for oil in the Gulf). Not to mention that this is happening ALL OVER THE UNITED STATES – those seas in the midwest in March I alluded to above = climate change + levee failures (and an April snowstorm is hitting as we speak). You can also pick an hour to listen to Kolbert’s article, Louisiana’s Disappearing Coast — obvi while you’re doing something else, because #momming.
And yeah….remember when there was that oil rig accident over 14 years ago during Hurricane Ivan? Off what’s left of the “coast” of Louisiana? There’s been oil leaking into the Gulf ever since.
We Are What We Breathe, We Are What We Eat
I don’t know which part of all this is the most depressing, but it might be this (again, anyone putting all the pieces of the puzzle together has already figured this out): Air pollution is way more harmful than Science previously acknowledged — in addition to suppressing lung growth and lung function growth, it crosses from our lungs into the bloodstream and affects our cardiovascular system and our brains. ALSO — bad eating habits are more harmful than smoking — and if everyone in the world ate the healthiest diet for us all — we’d run out of food.
…So just forget about corn. If there’s one food our country is full of (#ThanksGovernmentSubsidies) it’s toxic corn. While we’re all obsessed about reducing the amount of beef we eat, so that there aren’t so many farting cows creating methane, (which destroys the ozone) or with how much water is used to produce one almond or some alfalfa sprouts, we might want to consider all the corn produced in this country.
“Fertilizer application, gas use, pesticide production and dust kicked up from tilling all affect air quality….The researchers found that corn production accounts for 4,300 premature deaths related to air pollution every year in the United States….Previous work has found that agricultural practices — like fertilizer production, running tractors and tilling land — account for about 16 percent of all human-caused air pollution of a type called PM2.5….exposure has been associated with cardiovascular problems, respiratory illness, diabetes and even birth defects….That’s about a quarter of all [air pollution-related]agricultural deaths. That’s significant.”
PM2.5 is what we all want to avoid (it’s part of the reason I left Sai Gon with a growing Goose).
And we wonder why the number of adults with allergies has increased by 400 percent since around 1997-1998? Right now, one in ten (or 10% of) adults have food allergies, and another ten percent suffer from food intolerances. For the lowdown on all that, listen to this episode of The Pulse.
Opening the Overton Window With A Green New Deal
Thank goodness for Sam Sanders! When I heard about The Green New Deal, I desperately tried to think of the official term for drastically moving or expanding a public conversation by positing an absurd, extreme idea. That’s not the official definition, but it is the gist, and on a recent episode of It’s Been a Minute, Sam Sanders said exactly what I’d been thinking — “the Overton Window”. Here’s the thing — we have #45 in the White House and AOC in congress — BOTH of them are brilliant when it comes to expanding the Overton Window — (the range of ideas the public is willing to consider and accept).
The Overton Window is WIDE OPEN right now. The Green New Deal, sponsored by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and some other dude, does just that. It’s a loose set of ambitious goals outlined in a nonbinding resolution (not an actual bill) that calls for a global goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 — but no policy specifics on how to get there. Dismissed by Congress’ Queen of Snark as “The Green Dream or whatever“, and voted down (even though it wasn’t a bill) by the Senate, this pie-in-the sky framework is absolutely necessary. It’s what allowed us to send a man to the moon within a decade of Kennedy saying it, and it’s what still allows us to strive for a day when ‘little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.’ It is also what allows us to imagine that we actually have a chance to Save The Planet somehow.
As Samantha Bee opines “it’s too expensive and too hard isn’t a reason not to save the world, it’s a reason not to have a destination wedding”. Truly — the idea that we should try to save a planet that will be ravaged by climate change in a mere 12 years if we do nothing about it should not be controversial. Beyond getting Americans re-energized about taking drastic measures to actually save the planet, it’s also gotten us talking about tax avoidance by millionaires and a Universal Basic Income (championed by This Guy You’ve Never Heard Of as a potential “crown on capitalism”, more on that next month). At this point, I’ll give anything for a chance to ensure Goose reaching adulthood isn’t at risk simply because we’re too comfortable to give up our fossil fuels and plastic. The ideas in her personalized [Goose] Saves the Planet book seem laughable in comparison to what we’re facing.
Tech won’t save us either — at least anytime soon. Our tech is biased. This covers a range of situations, from predictive policing and trying to find works of art that look like you, to medical diagnoses for women and people of color. We have a HUGE data gap. Lulu Garcia-Navarro spoke with Caroline Criado-Perez about her book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, and why women are more likely to be injured in car crashes and more likely to die after a heart attack, plus data incidentally geared toward producing more male coders. Listen to Weekend Edition clip here. Criado-Perez also highlights the need for gender-disaggregated medical data, which Irene Chen also wants to fix. Because let’s face it: most medical research through the early Aughts, is on white males. Chen, a graduate student in the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, found huge data gaps for Asian Americans in her research on an algorithm for predicting who needs the highest level of attention in an intensive care unit. How Can Doctors Be Sure A Self-Taught Computer Is Making The Right Diagnosis? speaks a bit more to how algorithms are being used and fine-tuned right now for diagnoses.
In Full Frontal’s ‘Black Future Month’, Sasheer Zamata speaks with all manner of talented black women to learn exactly why algorithms are biased — one reason: fewer than five percent of employees at the vast majority of social media and tech companies are African American, producing racial blind spots. Because humans are biased, our tech is biased. Solutions include not only Black Girl Magic, but also black girl money and black girl power. Get the word version (hilarious video included) from the LA Times here, or just watch the Full Frontal segment here. To hear what it’s like as a black women working in tech, check out Catt Small’s description of a video game she created (listen to the interview from Marketplace here):
I released “SweetXheart” in January of 2019. “SweetXheart” is what people call a visual novel. The goal behind “SweetXheart” was to convey what it’s like to be someone like me in the United States, a black woman who works in technology. As you go throughout the day, Kara [the main character]has a lot of different interactions that she experiences and depending on those experiences she either feels more positively or she starts to feel really negative, and at the end of the week the hope is that you can have a positive week which requires five good days. It’s really challenging to get five positive days in a row which is honestly quite accurate for me in real life. But things have gotten better lately.
And that’s the thing — things do get better, even when they’re not perfect. We’re at a tipping point, but we’re not toppled, and that’s why I’ve added a little section to highlight that. So for just a minute, let’s take a few breaths of fresh air…
The Good That We Don’t See
Good On You – The members of the Commonwealth tend to make it clear when you yourself have done something AMAZING. They don’t say “you’re so lucky” or “well done” or “great job”…they say “Good on you.” It’s clear exactly who took action and did the good. So, Good on you…
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – In less than a month you showed the world’s leaders how to unite your country after a massacre, you led women and children in donning headscarves to stand in solidarity with a community victimized by terrorism, and you banned military style semi-automatics and assault rifles nationwide. WOOT!
Brie Larsen – Despite attempts by the alt-right to derail Captain Marvel, it earned $153 million opening weekend. Larsen had noticed that the critics showing up to do interviews about her films were overwhelmingly white and male. So she offered to sit down for the magazine Marie Claire with journalist Keah Brown, a woman of color who has cerebral palsy. The “mens’ rights” protest of bad Rotten Tomatoes reviews against Larsen failed.
Ellen Page – I can’t tell you much about Ellen Page’s filmography, but I can tell you she’s a passionate human being. During her appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, she goes from celebrating the first anniversary with her wife and noting Hollywood’s lack of progress, to setting us straight on environmental racism and railing against our hateful leadership. Her perspective (and emotion) commands our attention.
Jessi Roberts – Author of Backroads Boss Lady: Happiness Ain’t a Side Hustle spoke with Kai Ryssdal on Marketplace last month, about starting her boutique in rural Idaho, basically….because she had kids to feed. The online apparel and accessories brand, Cheekys, is now a multi-million dollar enterprise.
Kaiser Permanente – The health care company is partnering with local social service agencies to provide health care and housing for 500 homeless people in Oakland. They’ll spend $3 million in 15 communities nationwide to combat chronic homelessness. This is huge. Recognizing the link between housing and healthcare (currently, there’s a return of Medieval diseases among America’s homeless populations), the goal is not only good PR, but also better community health and lower healthcare costs.
Fed-the-FU*K-up Female Animators – In #MeToon, Samantha Bee highlights a group of female animators who pressured the Animation Guild to take down a repeat sexual harasser. So f-ing inspiring. The link for the Slate synop is here, and the Full Frontal video is embedded right there.
Full Frontal Writers Kristen Bartlett and Ashley Nicole Black – I love these two segments about fat shaming, and the way the media (and medical community) treat people who are fat (it’s OK to say it – just watch). Sam Bee and her writers have created positive camera roll of fat people called “Fat People Have Heads” that the media can license, and they also wrote this important piece: Thicc not Sick about how our country’s obsession with obesity is getting in the way of other proper (and life-threatening) medical diagnoses.
Moriah Ratner – This photographer spent a year a half documenting the life (and death) of Lola, a 12-year-old with a rare inoperable brain tumor. The survival rate of children with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is 0. The interview between Ratner and NPR is here. The story about Lola giving her final days to science is in National Geographic. The Washington Post highlights how Lola shows us how to live.
Katie Bouman – Say Her Name. Dr. Bouman is the 29-year-old woman who became the face of the first image of a black hole. She’s one of 200+ people on the project (from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the MIT Haystack Observatory) who all deserve credit, and her algorithm is one that helped make it possible. Dr. Bouman’s been a recent target of internet trolling for getting so much credit (and for being a woman), but that doesn’t diminish her accomplishments.
Everlane + The New York Times – Teaming up against climate change are two stalwarts when it comes to doing the right thing. We’re obsessed with Everlane’s ethical business model and The Times’ commitment to truth and information. Check out their ‘Truth’/climate change collection, the proceeds of which sponsor NYT subscriptions for students.
Finally, we must celebrate the youth. They skipped school last month, (some inspired by Greta Thunberg of Sweden, whom you may remember from Shana’s recent weekend post), for the Youth Climate Strike (happening again next month), because those of us who are supposedly ADULTING are doing a piss-poor job of protecting the planet. As I reflect on that, combined with the last paragraphs of Elizabeth Kolbert’s land loss article, where she waxes poetic on our catastrophic attempts at human nature, I am paralyzed. We are imbalanced.
Through activities like farming, mining, and clear-cutting, people have directly transformed more than half the ice-free land on Earth—some twenty-seven million square miles—and we’ve indirectly altered half of what remains. As with the Mississippi, we have dammed or leveed most of the world’s major rivers. Our fertilizer plants and legume crops fix more nitrogen than all terrestrial ecosystems combined, and our planes, cars, and power stations emit about a hundred times more carbon dioxide than volcanoes. We now routinely cause earthquakes. (A particularly damaging human-induced quake that shook Pawnee, Oklahoma, on the morning of September 3, 2016, was felt all the way in Des Moines.) In terms of sheer biomass, the numbers are stark-staring: today, people outweigh wild mammals by a ratio of more than eight to one. Add in the weight of our domesticated animals—mostly cows and pigs—and that ratio climbs to twenty-three to one. “In fact,” as a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences observed, “humans and livestock outweigh all vertebrates combined, with the exception of fish.” We have become the major driver of extinction and also, probably, of speciation. In the age of man, there is nowhere to go—and this includes the deepest trenches of the oceans and the middle of the Antarctic ice sheet—that does not already bear our Friday-like footprints.
Atmospheric warming, ocean warming, ocean acidification, sea-level rise, deglaciation, desertification, eutrophication—these are just some of the byproducts of our species’ success. Such is the pace of what is blandly labelled “global change” that there are only a handful of comparable examples in Earth’s history, the most recent being the asteroid impact that ended the reign of the dinosaurs, sixty-six million years ago….
If there is to be an answer to the problem of control, it’s going to be more control. Only now what’s to be managed is not a nature that exists—or is imagined to exist—apart from the human. Instead, the new effort begins with a planet remade, and spirals back on itself—not so much the control of nature as the control of (the control of) nature….
Don’t forget to plant a tree, choose YOUR lesser of two (or twenty) evils, and have a happy Earth Day!