Our Sick Earth

by Belinda Munoz on April 12, 2010

earth

I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security.  Defense of our resources is just as important as defense abroad.  Otherwise what is there to defend? ~Robert Redford, Yosemite National Park dedication, 1985

In the midst of writing a piece bemoaning the perils of capitalism, an alarming, almost spiritual experience interrupted my thoughts.  In the peaceful hours of the night, without warning, hail plinked loudly against glass windows  in my home.

PEBBLES POUNDING

The aggressive rhythmic sound of pellets of ice pounding past lush green leaves onto softened soil, newly-soaked roofs and slippery concrete was hard to disregard.  After weeks of sunny California days with blossoms abloom and tourists in floral springtime outfits, this qualified as a veritable unseasonable occurrence.  This sonic disturbance that was aurally musical and striking to the senses, gave me goose bumps.

I so wanted to explore the fascinating ways we spend money, but let’s save that for later, shall we?

COSMIC MELTDOWN?

It seems as though I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but for a moment during the hailstorm, I wondered if this was the earth’s atmosphere’s version of an emotional meltdown.  After all, therein lies every particle of greenhouse gas that I, among others, have been adding to for many years.

It felt very much like a friend calling at midnight, bawling through unintelligible words while communicating deep hurt beyond question.  Reaching out from miles away.  Begging for attention.  Wanting to be heard. Needing to be soothed.

I felt compelled to rack my brain to do something, anything, to quiet the torrent of intrusive noise, predictably to no avail.

MINUTES OF INCREDULITY, FEAR AND GUILT

Mere minutes went by when, eerily, total silence followed instantly without a decrescendo.  These few minutes, gone quickly, were fertile with conflicted thoughts and emotions.

It’s spring.  We’ve had weather in the 70s in the Bay Area for days.  I’ve been wearing sandals everyday.  I’ve stored away my warm sweaters.  My logical mind thinks it’s crazy to for ice to fall in San Francisco in the middle of April.  And yet I remember one day not long ago it hailed twice in one day.  That same day, the sun came out.  It was crazy then.

While I was oddly awed by the sheer force of solid rain ricocheting off my son’s bedroom windows, I feared that they would break and that he would wake up cold and engulfed in a flood.

My offensive contribution to greenhouse gas emissions poked at my conscience and stayed at the forefront of my mind.  All those times  — when I drove a car when I could’ve taken the bus, when I purchased water in a plastic bottle when I could’ve drunk from the tap, and ate meat from factory farms bereft of compassion — mocked me.

DRAMA, DENIAL AND CLARITY

Does this sound much too dramatic for your taste?  If so, I have to agree it does to me, too.

But, I have to wonder: to what degree will I remain comfortable being my planet’s fair-weather friend?

This onslaught of solid rain, though lasting only a few minutes, caused me to ponder my seemingly benign actions, my life, and all the lives of those around me.

When I gleefully embrace spring and all its splendor and then curse the heavens for intruding into my thoughtful 2 am flow with blustering icy showers, who am I kidding?  How much denial is going on?  Who’s fighting whom and who will win?

I know I’m not the only one here on this mighty fine planet.  And yet I generate trash that will long outlive me in the dumps that will probably outlive my son.

I know I share with you and everyone you know, and everyone we don’t know, every square inch of life-giving land and every ounce of freshwater lake and saltwater sea.  And yet, I continue to consume food from inhumane factory farms that further pollute the water, land and sky.

At the rate we’re going, without reaching a turning point in civilization, we are slowly killing ourselves.  The conundrum that we can’t escape is, as sure as death is, so unsure is the future of life.  Why do we have to endure new strains of diseases when we have within our power to meet this planetary crisis toe to toe?

This climate change problem that we share threatens you and me.  Unsparingly.  Unequivocally.  There are those who, to this day, dispute it despite mounting evidence we can no longer ignore.  There are those who take solace in accepting their own personal death before things worsen beyond repair.  But no amount of denial will cover the truth that everyday, the health of our good but sick planet, is in our hands.  In the words of Rachel Carson, only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species — (hu)man — acquired significant power to alter the nature of his/(her) world.

Reversing climate change, clearly, is a feat that needs cooperation on a global level.  What will it take to reach a turning point?

I understand that these words may be challenging for some.  But this issue is arguably a matter of life and death.  Why must more species become extinct or endangered when we can prevent it from happening?  Can we live guilt-free lives as it concerns the planet earth without upping the ante on how we make dalily decisions regarding the environment?

The earth, our good but sick planet, is our collective home.  Would we do to our own personal homes what we do to our planet?

Endangered species list

Image by woodleywonderworks

{ 2 trackbacks }

Yes Is the Answer. What Is the Question? — the halfway point
May 25, 2010 at 4:36 pm
Mother May I? — the halfway point
April 19, 2011 at 12:21 am

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kristen @ Motherese April 12, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Hear, hear, Belinda.

As much as I try to live in a “green” way, I ultimately live a life of convenience in which I drive most places, use a plethora of packaged goods, and possess way more stuff than I need to. The most offensive act I commit each day, though, is living in blissful ignorance: not giving much thought, if any, to environmental issues that do and will affect us and, more importantly, our kids.

Thanks for a thoughtful post reminding me to wake up and smell the fair-trade, shade-grown coffee!

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2 Patty - Why Not Start Now? April 12, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Thanks for a very powerful post, Belinda. It’s interesting about the weather in Northern California lately. I’ve just been thinking about how much I’m enjoying the rain and outbursts of hail and the like, interspersed with sunny days. Reminds me of spring when I was a kid, when we weren’t in a drought all the time.

Like Kristen says, I live a life of convenience too. Although I do much more than I did ten or twenty years ago, it’s still far beyond what I could be doing. My goal in the next few years is to downsize and move to a walkable neighborhood with great transit. The problem is, though, that while I have the resources to do that, so many others don’t. I think when you’re wondering if you’ll make it to your next paycheck (or have no paycheck at all), concerns about the environment kind of go out the window. So it’s an economic issue as much as anything else.

I wish there was some clear answer about how to deal with this. I’m always stunned that some people still don’t believe in global warming. I guess that would be a good start, to end the denial, as you say.

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3 Jenny May 5, 2010 at 8:12 pm

How wonderful of you to make changes. That’s so much more than most other people are willing to do.
I would like to point out one thing though. It’s not as much of an economic issue as you might think.
They know that generally speaking, the higher you are on the economic scale, the larger your carbon footprint. When you’re living from paycheck to paycheck, you can’t afford to drive everywhere, or travel, or buy as many goods.
The point is, if we all did everything we could and were really willing to make some sacrifices, we’d really make a difference.

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4 BK April 13, 2010 at 12:22 am

You are definitely not alone in feeling this. There are many times when my conscience is pricked by the things that I am doing to this planet. The weather has been unusually hot over here and bushes fire occurring frequently. How I had hoped for the return of rain so that the trees, flowers and grasses could be nourished. And yet I can’t stop questioning myself if this is the result of us slowly killing ourselves? More than two decades ago, the situation here was definitely not like it is today. Just in twenty years and we are seeing such a drastic change in our environment. What more can our children expect?

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5 Tony Single April 13, 2010 at 5:31 am

Yup, I’d have to agree with Patty there. The culture of denial would be one of the first things that’d need to be dealt with I think.

It shocks me just how many of my friends, acquaintances and family members think that global warming is just a myth concocted by killjoy environmentalists. It seems to be easier to paint all greenies as a little removed from reality than to admit that they are facing the reality head on! Strangeness.

There’s really only the little things we can do as individuals to try not to leave too deep an environmental footprint. Save water. Use as little plastic as possible. Turn off lights and electric devices that aren’t being used. The list goes on and on. All of these things in and of themselves are a drop in the ocean, but together with x number of folks doing the same… well, you do the math.

But the pessimist in me says that I don’t think people will do something about this now. We’ll try to do something about it when we’re beyond the brink, which is a scary thought. That’s human nature for you though. 🙁

I’m going to share this one on Facebook, Belinda. It’s wonderfully thought provoking, and I hope to get others reading this too. 🙂

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6 Phil - Less Ordinary Living April 13, 2010 at 10:36 am

Belinda –

You’ve picked a topic that is really on my mind recently. I have been thinking about the need for everyone to learn to live in a sustainable way. We are cruising in our gas guzzlers towards a global disaster – and its one that our children and children’s children will pay for. We seek conscious approaches to life, and need to be conscious of our impact on the planet we inhabit too. We need to start being grateful for “enough” rather than wanting “more”. We need to think about the impact of the food we eat, the water we drink, the energy we consume, the travel we make, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, the offices we work in. And we need to do it now. Everyone should start with themselves and make some small changes – then encourage others to do the same. I’m trying to cut out unnecessary travel of any kind through using technology, eat more sustainably and less meat, reduce my power consumption at home through careful management and stop drinking bottled water. Great post and not a minute too soon!

Phil

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7 Fr. Michael April 13, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Belinda,

May I be the sole dissenting voice? Let me say that I am all for taking care of the environment. I think “going green” is great. There needs to be more alternative energy solutions. We should treat the earth with respect. There’s no doubt that many of us take for granted this place we call home on our earthly pilgrimage. However, although I have not read enough about climate change, I do wonder how much of an effect our behavior does have on the weather, etc. I’m no expert, but it is my understanding that the earth goes through climate change cycles, independent of our behavior. From the time of the industrial revolution until now, have emissions really brought about climate change or is the earth’s climate cyclical?
Your post has convinced me that I need to educate myself more on this important issue.

The Dissenter,
Fr. Mike

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8 Belinda Munoz April 13, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Fr. Michael,

Thank you for your question. Really. I believe in conversation and one of my goals with my blog is to foster discussion that is honest, open, even challenging if necessary in order to give light to the truth. So I’m grateful for your stance on this issue. You ask a great question as this is on the minds of a lot of people.

While part of the work that I do has me learning a lot about global warming, the environment and climate change, I’m no expert. So, I consulted with one, a friend named Joe Sciortino who runs The 11th Hour Project. Following are links to peer-reviewed science that address your question:

Real Climate is a blog written by climate scientists. You can find a list of myths and facts here.

Climate Central, a media group staffed with climate scientists, gives easier-to-understand explanations for why CO2, greenhouse gas and temperature are all related here. They describe why increased CO2 leads to increased temperature, and how we know where the CO2 is coming from. CO2 resulting from fossil-fuel burning has a different chemical signature than naturally occurring CO2. They also reference the time of the Industrial Revolution here, and that over a 1/3 of the current CO2 in the atmosphere has come from fossil-fuel burning.

Here’s a graph of CO2 in the atmosphere, using ice core data. You can clearly see the huge spike in CO2 since around 1750. Scientists know that higher CO2 causes higher temperature, and the current source of CO2 in the atmosphere is from fossil-fuels.

Here are a couple more interesting sources you might be interested in:

The Clergy Corner: http://interfaithpowerandlight.org/clergy-corner/

Religious Statements from every Denomination (from Yale): http://fore.research.yale.edu/climate-change/statements-from-world-religions/

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9 Nadia - Happy Lotus April 13, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Hi Belinda,

Here is an example of how we impact the planet by what we do. In China, there was an area that they placed a dam in order to have water to give to certain towns and areas. As a result of the dam, the axis of poles shifted by one inch. This story was told to me by a research scientist and I wish I could remember the source of the story.

Everything we do creates a ripple effect…regardless of whether people believe in global warming or not.

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10 Eva April 13, 2010 at 3:01 pm

I believe this will be the issue of our generation. Whether you believe in climate change or not, taking care of our earth and valuing our resources should be universal. Learning to make small changes (thanks, Phil) in our daily lives will be the key… IF we can get everyone on board.

Now, as I’ve said that, I have to admit I’m environmentally conscious, to a point. I carpool to work with my husband, we live in a small house, I have a vegetable garden and buy meat from my parents’ farm. But – I’m not yet willing to give up my car, to bike to work, to buy all my food from local sources. I guess I feel I’m doing a decent job, and why should I go further if so many other people refuse to do their part. It’s such a cynical view, I know. I need to work on this – and your post has prodded me to reconsider this.

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11 jane woodman April 13, 2010 at 9:03 pm

thanks for discussing this….i have always had such a problem with our disposable-minded culture. recycling should be mandatory, in IMHO. there are still some areas that don’t even do it, and people that don’t recycle even though it’s supported. the main thing is to be educated so you can make the right choices, because not everything has to make you feel evil. for instance, bamboo flooring is great because the material is sustainable, but some fabrication techniques pollute or offgas. for new parents, it’s a toss up for the diaper thing, because diaper services use a lot of water; probably the most precious of resources that is becoming short in supply – how about a biodegradable diaper? also, more & more companies are starting to recycle plastic bottles (coca cola for the emeco chair, my organic arugula container, sunchips biodegradable packaging). here are some of my green practices, fyi:

1. compost as much as possible
2. recycle as much as possible
3. drive as little as possible
4. purchase as little plastic as possible
5. purchase items in glass, aluminum, paper or no container at all
6. use your own bags at the store
7. when remodeling, use a designer & builder that practices green techniques
8. educate yourself as much as possible. things will make sense or not.
9. do as much as you can.
10. pass it on.

regardless of how global warming occurs, green practices will propel us towards a sustainable future that will most likely be adaptable in the event of a climate crisis.

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12 Michele Mas Martin April 13, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Belinda.. as a “die-hard” follower of your blog and recovering IT Manager turned Environmental Science student at age 42, I have been waiting for you to poetically and prophetically put forth your thoughts on the subject. Not surprisingly, your words did not disappoint. THANK YOU!
michele

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13 Greg Blencoe April 13, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Hi Belinda,

This post is such a powerful reminder to me of the impact of our day-to-day actions. I am just as guilty as anybody else of not thinking about this enough.

To be completely honest, I have gotten pretty frustrated over the past couple of years in my hydrogen work with the apathy towards the oil crisis. In general, people just don’t seem to want to change until a crisis happens. And this is obviously not the best way to go.

Since you can only control yourself, I just try to do the best I can to educate other people about what I think is happening. I’ve learned that’s all I can do. But this is difficult to accept, because that’s not good enough for me. It’s been a constant internal struggle.

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14 Tracy Todd April 14, 2010 at 1:41 am

Thank you Belinda for making me stop to think again about how I can make a few small changes in my own life to take care of our planet. The scary part for me is that there are so many people out there who still believe that there is no such thing as global warming. Our planet is changing, that is obvious. We need to stop destroying it and do our bit to save it!

A powerful post, thank you!

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15 Nicki April 14, 2010 at 7:30 am

Ah, a topic and issue near and dear to my heart. Do I do everything I can? No but I try. I put out more recycling bins than trash cans. I compost. I try to not drive places I can walk or run to but this is difficult as I live in a rural area. I would gladly take public transport if I could (considering it for the week I have Grand Jury duty).

I have a degree in forestry and many hours of course work in environmental science. It is an issue that I believe Redford was right about in your opening quote. And, thank you for quoting an author whose big environmental piece was written in 1962. Amazing that even then, there were issues that many chose to ignore to make life more convenient.

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16 BigLittleWolf April 14, 2010 at 2:10 pm

I’ve read this several times now, over the past couple of days. You’ve made this subject feel so personal, to each of us. Which of course it is, or should be. And I’ll be thinking, again, about small ways I can make changes. Manageable changes, in the right direction.

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17 Rudri April 14, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Belinda,

Thanks for such a thought provoking post. I have to admit that I am not as “green” as I should be. I need to do my part, whether it be consuming less, recycling more, or drinking less from plastic bottles. Small changes may lead to a more green life.

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18 Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities April 19, 2010 at 2:47 am

“to what degree will I remain comfortable being my planet’s fair-weather friend?”

A brilliant and haunting question at the core of a brilliant and haunting post. When will we wise up?

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19 sewa mobil di surabaya April 30, 2010 at 12:12 am

for celebrate this old earth, then maintain and cultivate the land by not throw trash in our environment. To stay clean and healthy always
😉

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