The Environment is Everything

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Several years ago I was asked to define the term “environment” for a new geography textbook titled: Geonexus. So I kept it as simple as possible and wrote: “The environment is everything that surrounds us, everything with which we interact, everything that we are. In short, everything.”

The textbook, published by Thompson/Nelson in 2003 was intended for high school Canadian and World Issues classes. One major section of that textbook dealt with “manufacturing consent” and “the role of the media” in presenting diverse perspectives dealing with the realities of our geopolitical landscape. Another dealt with political and corporate forces controlling the media for purposes of propaganda and suppressing dissent.

If, at any time in our history, we need to go back to school and thoroughly read and discuss the many critical questions posed in that textbook, it is now.

In one of my last columns, I highlighted the concern we should all have about the appointment of Scott Pruit to the role of the U.S.A.’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) while Donald was trumpeting the glory of “clean coal”.

If we are truly the environment, then everything that we breathe, eat, and drink, produced from that environment that surrounds us and with which we interact, becomes us. When we breathe in polluted air, when we eat foods with little nutritional value, when we drink contaminated groundwater, it becomes us. And we become sick.

However, beyond the natural environment in which we live, there is the social environment which we create. If we live with passion and compassion, if we care for others, if we share our vast resources, if we respect our home planet, then we live in a place of balance. If we recognize that all of our economy is based on our ecology, then we become wise stewards. The environment in which we live becomes a peaceful and loving place.

On the other hand, if we allow bigotry and prejudice to permeate our perceptions of anything that is different from us, we open up a door to hate and create an environment that is toxic.  If we rape and pillage our planet, and rape and pillage our peoples, the social environment becomes a terror-filled and sorrowful place.

So, as much as I am deeply concerned about the impacts of accelerating climate change and the lack of political and corporate will to do anything significant about it, I am just as concerned at this point in history about the health of the social environment. The connection? When you have the “so-called” president of the United States of America refer to clean coal, you need to know that he is a liar.

There is no such thing as “clean coal” and never has been. We have hard coal and soft coal and coal in between, none of which is clean. What is scientific fact, something which seems to escape our Republican politicians to the south. It is true that hard coal burns with less effluent than soft coal that contains more Sulphur. We have technology that allows hard coal to be burned in power generation plants that are equipped with sophisticated scrubbers that remove the sulphuric acid … which then goes … where?

The whole reason that China is so on board with climate change protocols right now is that they are dealing with the health issues of having burned soft high sulphur coal in their power plants for years. When I worked with Dr. William Fyfe, then Dean of Science at Western University, and Chair of the international Geosphere/Biosphere program, he told me about a trip he had recently made to China.

“Skid,” he said, “at every doorway in my hotel corridor, there was a spittoon. Everyone had to spit up all the time because every time we took a breath, we were breathing in sulphuric acid.”

My older son recently worked as a teacher in Taiwan, and he said there were days that he couldn’t go outside, when his students were confined indoors, when you wanted a can of clean bottled air to breathe because the air pollution blowing in from China was so thick you could taste it. This is life on Earth now.

The connections are very clear. If we have politicians who are environmentally illiterate, who ignore mainstream science, and who base their decisions on corporate power and profits, we can expect our natural environment to continue to deteriorate to a point of overshoot. It is a simple biological principal.

When the consumers consume and degrade more than the natural systems of the planet can replenish, we overshoot our limits and suffer a catastrophic population collapse.  Understand that the reason why the war in Syria was accelerating climate change. Shifting rainfall and temperature patterns altered the growing seasons and resulted in drought and crop failures. Starving peoples moved from the rural areas into the cities on mass. When you put enough disenfranchised, hungry people into an overcrowded social environment, chaos and rebellion ensue.

It happened in the Fertile Crescent when Mesopotamia’s irrigated fields turned to salt and the crops failed. It happened in France during the French Revolution. It happened in Egypt during the Arab Spring.  And it is going to happen again. If you put enough hungry, angry, disenfranchised people together in a crowded space, you are going to have a revolution and it won’t be pretty.

The only way a society can prevent this is to ensure that their population is treated with equity and justice. If you work hard, you get to keep a bigger piece of the pie. But everyone gets a place at the table, everyone gets adequate shelter, everyone gets a chance at a good education, and everyone gets appropriate medical care.

If we treat the natural environment with care and work towards a respectful social environment, we may just pass on a healthy home planet for generations to come. If not … well, as we sow, so shall we reap.


Skid Crease, Caledon




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