I greatly appreciated Liza Field’s article two weeks ago on an underlying chemical cause destroying huge colonies of bees throughout the modern, industrialized and agricultural world. Using science, she has made us aware of the unintentional consequences of our human behavior. I remember growing up learning how underground miners used canaries to warn them when there was a methane gas buildup that might cause an explosion and death of miners. The bee is only one of many canaries we need to pay attention to.
We share a living planet that displays more and more how we are interconnected with — and not separate from — nature. Thus our behavior must be looked at in that context. We are increasingly aware of and attending to this interconnectedness in intellectual and sensory ways. Thus, what we perceive requires that we acknowledge the truth of a vastly more complex world that no longer lends itself to simple solutions easy for us to comprehend. But we have a long way to go. Too many citizens are in denial about the science and don’t want to face a truth: That we are one of the dots to be connected for our role in environmental degradation and it is the biggest dot.
To refresh your memory, Ms. Field reported that scientists found a pesticide (neonics) sprayed on crops, trees, garden vegetables and flowers made the bees more vulnerable to mites and disease and damaged their brains’ navigational system. Thus, they are dying in alarming numbers. That is one dot to connect to others.
Let me continue with another big dot. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued its fifth review of the data and research on climate change. They speak for about 90 percent of all climate scientists in the world. Among their many conclusions (you won’t be surprised to read) is that our species is a major cause of climate change. A concern I have about this big dot is one of “messaging”. It receives so much attention that it diverts energy and focus from the smaller dots that, when connected, are as frightening a predictor of the future as climate change, if not more.
On to the smaller dots. Here is a partial list of other ways that science has shown our behavior is damaging our living planet: acidification of the oceans; destruction of our coral reefs; air pollution that harms our lungs and pollutes our waterways; acid rain that kills plants and trees; our water resources diminishing rapidly and not regenerating because of human pressure; rapidly increasing extinction of plant and animal species globally; the death of marshes and wetlands, both freshwater and tidal; freshwater and ocean fisheries taking more for human and animal consumption than nature can restore; fracking that harms forests and their inhabitants, water supplies and increases methane escape; the desertification of our Great Plains (from Canada to South Texas) whose grasslands and their fragile habitat are disappearing.
But let me leave you with a hopeful commentary also. A much respected conservative/moderate magazine, The Economist, recently devoted a special section to biodiversity. The cover of that issue was called “Hanging On” and they reported a number of examples where we are improving our protection and regeneration of biodiversity. We need to do more than hang on.
As an example of trying to do more, I was encouraged to see that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson have just formed a foundation/think tank which will help cities and regions threatened by the effects of global warming do risk assessment and mitigation scenarios so they might start to plan for the inevitable consequences of global warming.
These are not “doomsayers.” The more voices like theirs that get added to this growing international concern about the sustainability of our living planet, the more we will move collectively from denial to a place where we can reason together and collaboratively seek solutions to reverse the flow of expanding warning dots.