Every form of life depends on another
January 6, 2014
What every school kid needs to know about life on Earth:
You are a participant in the infinite web of interrelations called the "ecosystem." Every form of life depends on every other form of life, and as the physical environment affects all life, all life affects the physical environment. The animals depend on the plants for oxygen and food. The plants depend on animals for carbon dioxide and food. The land and water and atmosphere depend on the plants and animals. The plants and animals depend on the land and water and atmosphere.
Everything comes from somewhere, and everything goes somewhere. There is no such place as "away," where you can throw things you don't want anymore. Think about the pollution generated by the manufacturing process that went into any product you want. Think about where that product will end up when you are through with it. Plastics don't become food; they become poison. They are all made out of petroleum, the oil that is fossilized ancient plants and animals.
Every decision you make has a little effect on everything, and there are billions of us on Earth — more than 7 billion now, and that number is doubling about every 30 years.
Is infinite growth — of population or of the economy — possible on a finite planet? The Earth is an island in space with just a certain amount of land, drinkable water and habitat for animals, birds and fish. Because humans burn a lot of petroleum, turning it into carbon dioxide, there is more of that in the atmosphere than since long before humans inhabited the Earth.
That carbon dioxide and other products of burning settle in the ocean and turn it to acid, killing the fish. They also trap more heat so the weather changes, causing droughts and floods and storms and melting the glaciers, causing the ocean to rise so there is less land. Some people depend on snowpacks or glaciers for their water supply and some for water in aquifers inside the earth, but now, there are less of both.
When the climate changes, all kinds of records get broken — heat, cold, wind, rain and storms. Every time a record is broken, the range of tolerance of some species of plant or animal is exceeded, so they either move or die. They become extinct. Because every species depends upon every other species in that web of relations, they take others with them. The fewer different species there are, the more fragile the whole ecosystem.
Not long ago, I thought that the bad news was that we were running out of petroleum that is easy to get. We got more and more and, at a certain point, started to be able to get only less and less. That point is called "peak oil." But because petroleum and other fossil fuels were poisoning the Earth, I decided that was good news. Now there is worse news. Engineers have figured out how to get a lot more fossil fuels by using technologies that pollute even worse, and oil companies want to burn it all.
They are strip-mining in Canada for sticky tar embedded in sand and want to add toxic chemicals and heat so they can ship it all the way across the United States from north to south via a pipeline called the "Keystone" to refine it in Texas and export it to other countries.
They are also injecting precious water and toxic chemicals deep into the earth to force rocks apart so they can extract natural gas, or methane; that's called "fracking." That invisible gas heats the atmosphere many more times as much as carbon dioxide does, and when it is burned it adds even more carbon dioxide.
A challenge more serious than peak oil is "peak water." We can live without petroleum; we cannot live without water. While supplies of water and land and other necessities are going down, the need and demand just keeps going up. What is driving demand? Maybe we should be careful.
Albert Einstein wrote, "Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act."
We can do lots of little things to use less energy, just like people always used to do. We can also do big things such as to tell our businesses and schools and lawmakers for the county, state, country and even other countries to be careful, too, and not waste or pollute.
We all have some power. We just have to find the courage to use it.
Carol Kuczora is a member of the Nevada County Democrats Communication Committee.