Darrell Berkheimer: About a brother and our environment
During the past 10 days I have been spending much of my time processing articles and photographs that resulted from the travels and writings of my brother, Ron.
Much of that writing and photography shines a spotlight on the beauties of our planet and the many animal and plant species who share this world with us.
Those writings appeared in various magazines and newspapers — ranging from the nationwide Country Extra magazine to the Harrisburg Patriot-News in Pennsylvania’s capital city.
He wrote about how important various insects are to our environment. And about the beauty of butterflies, dragonflies and various floral species. He wrote about the magnificence of Canada’s polar bears at Churchill, Manitoba, and the elephants of Africa — places where Ron traveled to photograph them.
And he wrote about one of the “methuselahs” of our world — Lonesome George, the last tortoise of his species — after Ron visited the Galapagos Islands in 1996. (Since then Lonesome George died, on June 24, 2012. He was 102.)
A common thread through all his articles — in addition to numerous details he provided as a result of a voracious reading habit — are examples of how our human activities are endangering and threatening so many species.
I am processing those stories and photos preparatory to publishing a book on the loves and legacies of my brother — something I was encouraging him to do before he became afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.
I’m giving more priority to that task after visiting with Ron earlier this month. He recognized me but could not think of my name, or even the name of his wife of 60 years. His body may be slowly shutting down, and I desire to present him with a copy of the book before he dies. He will recognize his favorite photos.
Upon our return to Grass Valley, I brought with me his copy of the book “The Sixth Extinction”, which he bought and read shortly after it was published. So I read it, too, after he loaned it to me in 2015.
It recounts the many species declining in numbers and heading toward extinction as a result of human activities. And it cites the probability that we may become extinct as well if we don’t change our ways — and most especially our attitudes on many issues.
Then this week we received a few copies of last year’s National Geographic from a friend who gives us his copies after he’s finished with them. Last August’s issue contains more disturbing reports.
One item cited the endangered birds we are losing. Another noted the poisoning of birds, big cats and elephants by farmers and herd owners in Africa. Yet another reported the deplorable capturing of rare butterflies in southeast Asia, and selling them for millions of dollars to international collectors.
But perhaps the most “gut-wrenching” of all was the photo of an emaciated and starving polar bear struggling to survive in our era of climate change.
If that was not yet enough, the same issue tells about a crisis in our oceans where colorful coral reefs are being bleached by the effects of climate change. And that reminded me of reading about the huge garbage patches of plastics in our oceans, and how tiny, nearly microscopic, bits of plastic are being found in recent catches of fish.
One plastics-laden garbage patch in the eastern Pacific was reported at three times the size of France. In addition, accumulations of plastics have been cited on various beaches and low river banks around our world.
Then I also noticed stories about numerous U.S. cities faced with lead and other toxic contaminants in their water systems.
That was followed with reports in The Economist, The Washington Post and The Guardian about how fatal our world-wide air pollution has become. The Guardian report said air pollution alone is causing an estimated 7 million deaths a year – more than the Holocaust.
There appears to be no end to the examples of what we are doing to destroy our planet and its many living things. And I am proud of my brother for being an early and frequent writer on some of these issues back in the 1990s.
It’s not enough, however, to write about these issues without tackling some of the measures needed to combat, eliminate or alleviate them. And initiating some type of Green New Deal is a fundamental necessity. But attitudes must be changed from the pursuits of greed to seeking accolades for simply saving lives.
And yes, taxes will need to be raised! There’s no skirting that issue.
Of utmost importance is the need to pour a substantial amount of new tax monies into research and development — because we need many new innovative ideas and ways to deal with these issues.
The argument that higher taxes thwarts innovation simply is not true. Some of our nation’s most innovative activities of the 1950s and ’60s — including landing men on the moon — occurred when our nation’s high marginal tax rates were more than twice what they are today.
It’s imperative that we increase federal spending on research, including research incentives to small, developing businesses. Our federal research budget has fallen from nearly 12 percent in the 1960s to nearly 4 percent today.
And our patent laws need to be reformed to make it easier for innovators to protect their creations. Negotiating patent laws has become an unnecessary maze for inventors. The freedom and ability to develop new ideas is what really made our country great.
These are the measures that must be taken to deal with our climate and pollution issues. Is it any wonder why millennials world-wide have identified environment issues as their highest concern during the past three years?
Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He is the author of six books available through Amazon. His latest, Essays from The Golden Throne, also is available at Book Seller in Grass Valley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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