Creating a pollution-free 21st century: Rescuing an ecologically-stressed home
Chiu-Nan Lai, Ph.D.
The appearance of humans is merely a short moment in the earth's 6.4 billion years of existence. Yet, the human population has rapidly increased shortly after humans learned to harness the power of stored solar energy: coal and fossil fuel. 10,000 years ago, the human population was 5 million; 2,000 years ago, it increased to 250 million; 1000 years ago, this has soared to 500 million. In the year 1800, humans discovered fossil fuel. Following this, the human population reached 1 billion.
In the latter half of the 20th century, the human population increased from 2.5 billion to 6 billion. During this period, food and water consumption increased threefold, while economic growth was an astonishing 7 fold. People earned more money, and the quality of their lives improved. However, there has been an unprecedented cost to the earth's ecological well-being-much of the earth's resources are now depleted due to our greedy consumption of its resources. During these fifty years, between 20,000 to hundreds of thousands of animals and plants have become extinct. Every 24 hours, over 20,000 acres of rain forest are continuously destroyed, and this leads to creation of deserts downwind. Every 24 hours, we release 13 million tons of toxic chemicals into the environment. During these 24 hours, 45,000 die of starvation, among which 30,000 are children. In Southern part of Africa, which suffers from some of the worst ecological damage, the spread of AIDS has reduced the average human lifespan from 62 years to 30 to 40 years. In other parts of the world, heart diseases, cancer, and other kinds of contagious diseases are rapidly rising.
Economic development has led to an increase of 25% in the atmosphere's carbon dioxide level. `Global warming has moved from being a prediction to being a reality. The 16 hottest years in history occurred after 1980, coinciding with the increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. The global temperature has risen by one degree during the last 100 years, and is expected to increase by 2 to 10 degrees in the next 100 years. Rising temperatures lead to drought, floods, and tempests, which in turn cause more deaths as well as financial and agricultural losses. Do we really have to wait till "Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize that we cannot eat money?" This warning was issued by native American Indians in the 19th century.
For three consecutive years worldwide grain production has been lower than consumption, and this gap is getting bigger. Last year, it was 100 million tons, and every country's stock of grains hit new lows. In China, its grain stock decreased from 300 million tons to 100 million tons in a few years, primarily because last year's production fell by 70 million tons. Over the next two years, China will have to import grains from other countries. The problem though is that the entire world's peak harvest is just over 200 million tons, and this is required to satisfy the needs of over 100 countries. Major grain producing countries such as Canada and the U.S.A. cannot raise their production levels due to weather, water, and soil erosion constraints. In fact, their production levels have been declining. During the drought of 2002, Canada stopped exporting wheat. Food crisis is a consequence of ecological damage. Unless we immediately take steps to rectify this, the consequences are unimaginable, and have been described as "hell" by David Orr, an ecology expert.
Even if we immediately stopped releasing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, it will take 100 years before the earth's temperature will stabilize. This is because global warming is a delayed response. Our descendents will have to face the consequences of our choices and actions.
The photosynthesis process in plants stops when the temperature reaches 37oC and enters into a state of shock. The rice pollination process completely stops at 104 oF (40 oC), leading to zero harvest. Above 93 oF, every degree increase in temperature leads to a drop of 10% in yield. This implies that in the next 15 years, the yield will drop between 5% to 11%. At present, the three largest grain producers (China, India, and U.S.A.) are limited in their grain production by water and land constraints, so it is difficult for them to increase production. The midwest region in the U.S.A. produces 50% of the country's wheat. However, the underground water supply needed to irrigate the land is quickly drying up-the water level has dropped by 30 meters, and over 10 million farms' wells have dried up in the southern prairies. Soil fertility has also decreased by 50%, and the population there has fallen to a level equivalent to that of 150 years ago.
In the northwestern part of China, the ecology has collapsed, and large desert areas continue to expand and absorb the smaller deserts. Many of the 400 million cows, mountain goats, and sheep reared in China are found in the northwestern region, and these animals fight for the last blade of grass and the last drop of water. The remaining farming land is used to grow corn and sorghum.
In Hebei province, underground water levels have dropped by an average of 2.9 meters in the year 2000. In the vicinity of some cities, the drop is close to 6 meters. In Beijing, wells have to be dug up to 300 meters below ground before water can be found. This is exhausting the water supply for our descendents. India is facing similar problems. Major grain producing provinces such as Punjab and Haryana have seen water levels fall by about 1 meter. In Gujarati, water levels have fallen from 15 meters to 400 meters over a 30 year period, and its production level is anticipated to fall by 25%. The ecological damage around the world requires everyone to unite and undertake initiatives to repair the ecology. Stabilizing global temperatures is a major issue because grain shortage is a direct consequence of ecological damage. We can start with our eating habits. Plants are most efficient in absorbing the sun's energy. Animals that eat plants can only use 10% of the sun's energy. If humans eat animals, this utilization of the sun's energy drops to 1%. If everyone starts to eat plants from today, there will be sufficient and, in fact, more than enough food. Before 1994, China was a grain exporting country, but it is now a grain importer because of the increase in animal consumption. Indians consume an average of 200 kilograms of grains annually. In contrast, this figure is 800 kilograms for Americans (70% is used to feed animals). Not only does this damage the environment, but it also leads to health problems. The U.S.A. ranks 25th in the world in terms of the heath of their citizens-half of all males are likely to die of cancer, and the other half of heart diseases. Medical research consistently shows that when rats' food intake goes down by one-third or half, their lifespan increases and the incidence of cancer (whether caused by virus or carcinogenic products) significantly decreases. Heart specialist, Dean Ornish, discovered that in 90% of the cases, patients with serious heart diseases who changed to a 100% vegetarian diet showed an improvement one year later. Some people go a step further and completely switch to a raw/uncooked vegetarian diet. Effects are even better, with improvements seen in ailments such as hyperthyroidism, asthma, diabetes, learning difficulties, irregular heartbeats, and even cancer.
Experts believe that to stabilize temperatures and repair the ecology, market prices of commodities and products must reflect their true ecological cost. Food produced from chemical fertilizers and herbicides should reflect the costs of: soil into erosion, land turning into deserts, and medical expenses. The price of petrol should reflect the costs of air pollution, medical treatment for lung problems, acid rain damage to forests and lakes, harm caused to agricultural production, and damage from rising temperatures. Nuclear energy should also reflect the cost of handling nuclear wastes. However, some costs cannot be estimated. For example, if temperatures continue to rise, for every 1 meter that the sea rises, one-third of Shanghai will fall below sea level, and half of Bangladesh's farms will sink into the sea, leading to 40 million victims. The price of wood should also reflect its real costs. In 1998, the floods of the Changjiang river led to US$30 billion of losses, grossly exceeding the income from selling wood. The government banned the cutting of trees because a living tree is worth three times that of lumber. The forest is a priceless commodity in terms of how it stabilizes the temperature. The amount of water that a tree absorbs and evaporates is equivalent to a lake with an area of 40 acres, and it also absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen. Although Venus is only 27% closer to the sun than the earth is, its temperature is 700oC because carbon dioxide is a major component of its atmosphere. The rain forests in South America can help evaporate three-quarters of rain water to the inner land, losing one-quarter of the water. If the trees in these forests were cut to become pastures or farmlands, three-quarter of the rain water will be lost, and only one-quarter will be evaporated to the inner land.
In terms of its tax policies and use of tax money, governments need to pay primary attention to ecology. Currently, the entire world is subsidizing petroleum-related enterprises such as petroleum and automobiles to the tune of US$700 billion. This money can be used to develop energy resources that do not create greenhouse effects, as well as wind-generated electricity, solar energy, and pollution-free natural farming. The wind energy generated electricity in three of America's states is sufficient to supply the entire country's electric needs. Its cost is also lower than nuclear energy. Economists also suggest reducing personal income taxes, but raising taxes on industrial and agricultural industries that damage the ecology. In educating the next generation, we need to teach them to repair the environment, and how to actualize ecologically-friendly pollution-free farming, ecologically -friendly industries, ecologically -friendly economies, and ecologically-friendly food habits. They also need to have a renewed recognition of the human's place in the whole natural eco-system. Whether our current generation can save this ecological home that is facing destruction also determines whether there will be a next generation.
Seven generations or about 150 years ago, Europeans migrated to the prairies of America's midwestern region. To meet the grain demands during World War I, they converted all the prairies to farmland so as to grow wheat. This led to massive soil erosion. In 1930, the sand storms blew all the way to Washington D.C., and alerted politicians of the need to promote preservation of the water and land. Still, destruction of the prairies' wild grass with their deep roots led to a continued drop in the water level. Chemical-based agricultural practices led to a one-third loss in surface soil levels, and a 50% drop in the fertility of the soil. The wells dried up. Soon, the prairies returned to its desolate and wild state that it had been 150 years ago. The bisons returned, and the native American Indians also slowly made a come back. However, the descendents of the Europeans continued to decline to a very small number. Because of what their forefathers did to the prairies 150 years ago, their next generation did not have a land where they can live.
We also need to educate our next generation on ways to solve problems. They need to expand their consciousness, and learn how to enter into Alpha brain waves, which is associated with self-healing. Theta and Delta waves are brainwaves associated with problem-solving and intuition. They should avoid electromagnetic waves, microwaves, and wireless waves that interfere with the human's brainwaves, particularly for children and fetus in the womb. Man-made electromagnetic waves in the environment are 100 to 2 million times that present a hundred years ago, causing tremendous harm to the entire earth's ecology and to man's health. These electromagnetic waves interfere with our brainwaves. In a natural environment, children from birth till 7 years of age have primarily Theta brainwaves; between 7 to 13 years of age, the primary brainwaves are Alpha waves; from 13 years of age till old age, their brainwaves are largely Beta waves. Because electromagnetic waves are at least 55 to 60 Hertz, they naturally raise the frequency of our brainwaves; the frequency of Alpha waves is only around 8 Hertz. Children have strong self-healing abilities because their brainwaves are primarily Alpha waves. However, they are harmed if they are exposed too early to televisions and computers at home and in schools. Little wonder that anthroposophical education strongly discourages children under the age of 14 from getting close to televisions and computers.
We claim to be supreme among all beings. Let us then actualize our highest potentials, and make wise choices that innumerable lives on earth and immeasurable future-generation descendents are counting on. We must not let them down.
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