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A Culture of Death and Destruction

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 Some people have likened the Earth to a relatively small lifeboat wheeling in an incredibly vast sea of outer space. If they also think that the sinking of the Titanic was a sad disaster, they will be heartbroken over the tragic devastation when this sort of occurrence happens on a planetary scale.

Recently, I read an article about the death of birds, bats, bees and butterflies across the world [1]. It didn't surprise me. Indeed, we can add to the list ever so many other species, also, heading towards extinction, including Asian elephants, frogs, toads, assorted big cats, polar bears, penguins, tunas, coral, vultures, chimpanzees, apes and dolphins. Indeed, the list goes on and on. Shockingly, there is, seemingly, no end to it.

In relation, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) has determined that 40 percent of ALL species are currently in danger of vanishing in entirety based on numerous worldwide samplings [2]. Further, this occurrence is largely due to a variety of manmade causes, such as our competition for their food or habitats (i.e., when forests, estuaries or meadows are torn apart to make way for factories, office parks, suburban neighborhoods, malls or other human developments), starvation (in which case they are eaten to the point of being done in), manmade climate changes and pollution.

For example, much of the life in Chesapeake Bay has disappeared and the organisms that are left are severely compromised, like the genetically altered, two gendered Franken-fish that have come into existence due to the waste flow of common products, like hair conditioner, deodorant and birth control pill residue from urine, all of which have entered the waterway [3].

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This sort of happening in mind, our culture is, doubtlessly, a covertly brutal one oriented towards razing the world for ever higher financial gains from an endless stream of manufactured goods and without much concern for damaging side effects. As such, humans keep ravaging ever further regions of the Earth, obliterating everything that gets in the way of monetary goals.
Take energy as one area wherein this is happening. For millennia, our ancestors used wood to keep warm, cook food and stoke their crude machinery. This act led to the decimation of huge forest after huge forest (and still does) while people, also, discovered that trees could be turned into furniture, floors, walls, whole buildings, books, paper towels, wrapping paper, check-out bags, printer paper, hygiene products, disposable chop sticks and toothpicks, and so on. (Imagine the amount of tissue that is used daily on a worldwide basis for the personal sanitation needs of six and a half billion people.)

Then, "progress" led to the discovery that coal was a better substitute for, at least, some processes, particularly ones related to industrial and residential electricity supply. (Currently, almost seventy percent of the electricity in the US is derived from fossil fuels and there is absolutely NO efficient pollution trapping mechanism close to being developed by the coal industry. In other words, there is no such entity as clean, "green" coal use despite that the concept is being proactively marketed. In the meantime, communities face hundreds of their mountains being blown to smithereens for coal extraction [4].)
In other words, we, by our constant demand for electricity and products made with electricity, support mountain range after mountain range being obliterated to seize coal. The social and environmental costs to each community in these formerly pristine locations is staggering. Who owns these mountains, anyway? Is this publicly or privately owned land?
In the end, the answers almost don't matter because, as Judy Bonds states, "In Southern West Virginia we live in a war zone. Three and one-half million pounds of explosives are being used every day to blow up the mountains. Blasting our communities, blasting our homes, poisoning us, trying to intimidate us. I don't mind being poor. I mind being blasted and poisoned. - There ARE no jobs on a dead planet."

One can add to her statement that, without doubt, the level of consumption, energy included, that we equate with success, comfort, ease and luxury is totally not sustainable. We are literally ripping apart the world in place after place to live as we, currently, expect to do!

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At the same time, the generalities concerning obtainment of resources no matter the degree of devastation, are, basically, the same in West Virginia, Iraq and Afghanistan irrespective that the details differ in terms of the ways that people's lives and their surrounding landscapes are ruined. Certainly, the thorough and blatant disregard for life, whether in the United States or the Middle East, seems, to many, a fair exchange for attainment of more fossil fuels. In addition, this outlook, further, applies not just to humans, but to the annihilation of many other species, such as polar bears, too.

For instance, US government officials have obstructed a significant evaluation of gas and oil drilling in the Arctic while the Mineral Management Service (MMS), a branch of the Department of the Interior (DOI), undertakes plans to lease 30 million acres for extraction in the Chukchi Sea. The reason is that this region is the setting for one of few remaining polar bear habitats.
Due to this conflict of interest arising from the fact that one-fifth of all polar bears left alive exist there, the environmental impact report was blocked and the bears were wait-listed as endangered. (Never mind that they are already slated for decimation, along with innumerable other species such as penguins, due to the rapidly escalating Arctic ice melt.)
Meanwhile, the frantic rush to snap up any fossil fuels, regardless of the related ethical considerations, clearly causes widespread harm whether in the US, the Middle East, northern Africa or the Arctic. Yet, the allure of ever larger economic booty by companies like Exxon-Mobile, an energy hungry and ignorant public, and callous indifference about the long range consequences drives such utterly outrageous events.

Therefore, it would naturally tend to follow that government agents would callously determine that the bears aren't, actually, endangered and need not be listed as such. How reassuring and credible -- just as it was when their colleagues told us that the large cache of weapons of mass destruction hidden by Saddam Hussein WOULD be found by our invasion force! (How many times do we have to keep hearing blatant lies before we loose faith in the whole governmental system, along with its large group of power and money hungry bureaucrats? How can any of the few elected representatives, who ARE dedicated to service and moral considerations, influence this unconscionable plutocratic rabble?)

In any case, we will move to ever more destructive methods to garner energy when we run out of fossil fuels.This is nearly certain as that sort of outcome has always been the pattern. Consequently, we can expect proportionally great amounts of food crops being subverted to biofuel development and more nuclear power plants being put online. (This will happen despite spent uranium disposal problems, especially as the waste is easily dispatched since it can be used for uranium tipped projectiles -- bullets and missiles and such. At the same time, there is a diminishing supply of finite uranium worldwide and nuclear power plants can face critical dangers related to lack of water for sufficient cooling as the Tennessee Valley Authority, TVA, management is discovering.)
All in all, though, biofuels and nuclear power will take sway as oil wanes in use, as they can yield more profits than can the production and widespread implementation of windmills, solar panels and hydro-generators based on water wave power. On account, one shouldn't expect much development for more benign forms of energy provision any time soon.

At the same time, few operators involved in biofuel creation worry that worldwide grain stores have only a fifty-three day supply in reserve and have reached their most depleted levels since first calculated forty-eight years ago. In the same vein, do they care about the inordinately large number of humans who will starve across the globe if there is a drop in the 2008 grain harvest? Have they any concern that, according to agricultural researchers, southern Africa is anticipated to lose 30 percent of it corn (maize) crop, a main dietary staple, and 15 percent of its wheat by 2030 unless highly drought and temperature resistant strains are able to be developed?
Meanwhile, others might start to wonder about the amount that will be in the global grain reserve when the worldwide population hits 9 billion humans in roughly 43 years, as is anticipated to happen according to the International Data Base. They might, also, be perplexed over the way that a gargantuan ongoing supply of fossil or other fuel will be supplied to run the many combines, augers, balers and other farm machinery on which we have come to depend for the enormous amount of food required to feed billions of humans daily.

From where is this to derive? Are we going to get into a largely self-contained loop wherein biofuel is used to run farm machinery to produce biofuel crops to create more biofuel to run the machinery? Hopefully, benefits will accrue beyond this limited availability despite that biofuels are considered not particularly energy efficient. Simultaneously, cultivation of its homogenous agriculture across the world is responsible for much slash and burn pollution. This in mind, ethanol futures expect to perform well as, one by one, rainforests are replaced by sweeping tracts of unvarying plant life.

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Food woes further in mind, trawling vessels, also, pose a problem... While spanning in size up to 100 meters long, they can weigh as much as 3,000 tons apiece. With a staggering number of them in existence, global fleets, as of ten years ago, managed to dreg 15 million square kilometers on an annual basis.

Now the expanse covered is larger and their trawling depths can reach down to 900 meters, while often scraping huge areas and, simultaneously, rendering them practically devoid of life. On account of this and other highly successful forms of demolition, nine of the seventeen major ocean fisheries are in severe decline and four are commercially collapsed, according to UN sources. In consideration, one has to ask, how much longer will sea life continue to be available to plunder?
For now, though, approximately 200 million people (a huge portion of the world's population) derive their employment from the fishing industry, no fishing vessel owners want to cut back their take when others will not do so and seafood delivers more than half of world's animal protein eaten by people. At the same time, there is a constant demand for more.
Concurrently, half the world's turtles face extinction and, for some, it is due to lack of shrimp, a dietary mainstay for many kinds. (Over four million tons of shrimp are eaten per year by humans of which three fourth is wild capture, along with representing a multibillion dollar industry. Furthermore, its consumption is quickly rising around the world, so shrimp holds much appeal from a business standpoint.)

All considered, perhaps our problem is capitalism, itself, as it is just too hard to forego ever greater revenues in a aim to deliberately protect the environment and ensure that other species can simply stay alive in moderate quantities. Put another way, money in exchange for ever more greatly dismantling of the Earth is an irresistible temptation for far too many people. Of course, an almost exclusive focus on materialism and personal resource obtainment was bound to take place in a cultural climate that assigns relative individual worth based on fatuous status symbols, such as the cost of the car that one owns or the degree that one's partner exudes raw sensuality and other gender related traits. How unfortunate it is that this sort of mind set holds more appeal than any qualities with substantial value and depth, such as the degree that one is philanthropic, principled, compassionate or heroic.
Moreover, those in the economic top tier, definitely, garner the lion's share of resources and there is a pecking order. However, look at these terms: lion's share" and "pecking order." They seem to point to the notion that the trouble with our species maybe runs deeper than one in which capitalism is to blame for our wild successes as we advance against other member of our kind and other life forms to "hog it all." So, perhaps, as we continue our movement towards massive annihilation, we are more like many other life forms, after all. Maybe we are even like plain old bacteria in a pitre dish, a small set of organisms with a substantial, although fixed, supply of agar (food) and a limited, although ample, atmosphere created by a lid.

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Emily Spence is a progressive living in MA. She has spent many years involved with assorted types of human rights, environmental and social service efforts.

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