ACHTUNG: the following is a 2 hot cocoa rant (HCR 2), meaning that it will take the author two 16 oz hot chocolates to recover from the depression of writing it.

I ran into an article on the NY Times’ science page the other day that upped (perhaps the correct terminology would be lowered) the reading on my despairometer. Apparently reporters are just now cottoning on to the idea that excessive carbon emissions aren’t our race’s sole contribution to environmental ill health–a fact that has been noted and researched in the scientific community since well before I was born. The article even cites a 14-year old paper!

This suggests that society has been in near complete ignorance of our efforts and research for longer than I care to think. There are papers, websites, videos, books, and classes devoted to many of the perils we inflict upon our world. To spark awareness, here’s a shortlist of (noncarbon) problems we create:

  • NOx and SOx emissions that contribute to smog, acid rain, deforestation, and detrimental changes of atmospheric chemical composition 
  • Nitrogen and other fertilizer runoffs that increase algae growth in oceans and waterways, choking out ecosystems 
  • the resultant loss of marine food sources for humans (and increase in disease among farmed fish) and decreased ocean biodiversity, which makes the ecosystem unable to bounce back after even relatively mild trauma
  • suffocation of soil where drainage is interrupted (ex. beneath cities, where pavement covers 90+ % of the ground)
  • increased pollution and flooding in areas around such paved sites–since water can’t sink into the ground (nobody uses permeable birms, for some reason), it  overloads nearby waterways and low points, taking oil and other leaked/dropped pollutants with it
  • Overworking/overgrazing of agricultural land, which turns what was lush into arid, and what was arid into desert. It is valuable to note that this has given humanity a number of problems over the years, including the expansion of the Sahara desert (in progress for a few thousand years, now), the 1930s Dustbowl (farmers have since learned how to prevent some erosion), and the Rwanda and Burundi massacres (which are bloody and maintained, since the people still have nothing to eat)
  • The renowned West Coast blazes, which are so disastrous because we work so hard to prevent them. Fire is essential to the pine forests; it clears the brush, deposits nutrient-rich ash, and triggers germination in many seeds. When left alone, forest fires tend to happen frequently enough that there is not enough fuel for them to spread too far or harm the mature trees. When we stop everything, though, the brush builds up. The next blaze, when it comes, has such an excess of kindling that it gets hot enough to burn the live trees. Then we struggle to put it out, the brush builds up, and the cycle repeats.
  • The destruction of coastal wetlands by clearing pathways for oil pipelines and shipping channels (the cleared channels let salt water in, which kills the grasses and cyprus). This is finally getting some attention now that Gustav’s “unexpectedly” high waters crested the levees in New Orleans. A healthy wetland system breaks both winds and storm surges, and is one of the reasons New Orleans was foundable in the first place. Ecologists and Environmental Scientists have been lobbying for wetland restoration for decades, while Louisiana’s coastline has shrunk miles every year.
  • In a uniquely American problem, the rerouting of the Mississippi and the control of its floods. Naturally, the spring floods deposit sediment on the delta, where New Orleans is built. This strengthens the delta and enriches the wetlands (which, as I noted above, need all the help they can get). When prevented from flooding (this is a mild flood, not Katrina material), the river spews tons of sediment into the Gulf. Guess what lucky compound the sediment contains? 
  • Slash and burn agriculture, on a large scale, is not only increasing harmful carbon emissions, but destroying one of our largest carbon sinks and our greatest drug development resource.
  • Over- or mis-prescription of antibiotics (along with patients not taking the full prescribed course) creates multi-drug resistant bacteria, which comes back to haunt us in the forms of incurable plagues (TB has gotten a bit of news coverage for this, lately).

The above are just a sampling of a few ways we routinely contribute to our frustration. We could detail and debate the reasons why people continue with ignorance and dangerous policies, but my point is that we haven’t the time. The Earth will continue without us, and that seems fine by most people*. Allow me to be selfish, however, and say that I’d like humans to be here as long as possible. That entails responsibility. Now, nobody willingly gives up even small comforts, but clinging to superfluous luxuries in the face of the extinction of your children or grandchildren–perhaps yourself, if we have a medical emergency–is the most asinine thing I can think of. Please, people, take a look at the impact of your actions, and have the guts to make the right choice.

*well, as long as it doesn’t decide to do so in their lifetimes, anyway