Has Humanity Reached Its Tipping Point?
Humanity has come a long way since the living in caves and hunting/gathering existence of our ancestors. For the most part, humans live in solid edifices with an existence that stretches beyond the need to survive. Our lives are now filled with screens and automobiles and waste... Tons of waste. Our holidays involve frivolous gifts wrapped in one-time use paper that's only purpose is the gift-giving process. People enjoy sparkly things, whether they are jewelry, blinking lights, or fireworks. We hunt animals not just for food but for sport and their perceived threat, even when we are encroaching on their environment. Our need for fuel is so intense that we reach deeper into the earth, no matter the cost. Now, the planet is failing.
Signs of the Times
What are the consequences of our actions? A ruined planet, like a battered rape victim left to bleed on the bathroom floor.
Chinese pollution haze enshrouding the city of Beijing is one of the costs of centralizing production jobs in a single area due to cheap labor. Beijing has a population of over 21 million people with a large portion of their industry coming from production. The haze has become notorious and has even created an industry of products for individuals looking to fight the effects of the smog.
Our need for oil has grown to astronomical proportions. It is in just about any type of product that can be imagined: plastics, automobiles, clothing, soaps, lotions, medications, and even food coloring and preservatives. This has come at a high cost. Oil spills have cost millions of dollars, devastated ecosystems, and worked its way into the food chain. Our supply is finite, with supplies expected to last another forty to fifty years. Our quest for energy, has lead to fracking, the process of injecting water, sand, and chemicals with high pressure deep into the earth to further harvest oil and gas. Fracking has been shown to cause byproducts to leach into water supplies and destabilize the earth, causing tremors.
Byproducts of our wasteful lifestyles windup in landfills where our remnants will hopefully disintegrate and return to the earth. This has proven to cause an "Out of sight, out of mind" mentality where people keep buying more and more. Every product purchased has packaging and tags that need to be disposed of. Products have planned obsolescence where there is always something newer and better coming out. Making the products we need and love (such as Greek Yogurt) produces byproducts that are harmful to the environment and wasteful.
One of the biggest ways that people manipulate their environment is farming. To raise the plants and animals that we need, farmers clear large tracks of land, divert water supplies, add chemicals, and often plant non-native species to not only feed themselves but to turn a profit. Farming practices are being blamed for the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, a main factor for the Great Depression. Over-farming is still causing issues, specifically in the South West United States. A severe drought has been impacting California for years, while the need for water has gone up. With California producing the largest percentage of products like avocados and almonds for the United States, farmers are being forced to drill deeper wells, draining water from community water supplies and causing sinkholes and tremors.
What can we do?
We've all heard the slogan "Reduce, reuse, and recycle," and that is a big first step. We must also become smart consumers.
- Cut back - Is it really necessary to have a television in every room, a laptop, a smart phone, and a tablet? Do we need that meal super-sized? Do we need a whole new wardrobe with every season with accessories and cosmetics to match? For every purchase, fuel and supplies are used to manufacture and ship, and there is packaging that will wind up in a land fill, as well as remnants of the product. Also, adjusting energy usage by tweaking thermostat settings, unplugging/powering down devices when not in use, and editing travel plans can help conserve resources.
- Buy local or grow your own - Buying local has many benefits; keeping money and jobs in your community and a reduction in fuel usage and shipping costs are key benefits. Growing your own produce allows you to control the fertilizers and pesticides used and promotes habits such as smart watering and selecting items that are best for your environment.
- Grow/buy sustainable - If you are in the middle of a drought, do not grow items that use a lot of water; that includes a lush suburban lawn. Pick drought-resistant plants for landscaping. Avoid buying items that put a drain on resources, such as almonds from California. Use alternatives to pesticides and pest deterring plants. Using sustainable products also encompasses energy use. Don't rush out and buy new appliances, but when it is time to get new appliances, make sure they are Energy Star rated for efficiency. Also, if possible, invest in renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydro. If we only have forty years of petroleum left, we'd better start transitioning to something else now.
- Read the ingredients - For your health and for the environment, pay attention to the ingredient labels. Watch for petroleum-related ingredients (like some artificial colors and ingredient with the words butyl).
- Hold on and know when to let go - In a disposable society, it is so easy to just buy a new one and throw the old one away, but often there is more usage available when our belongings go into the trash. Get the last dollop out of that bottle. Re-use bottles, jars, boxes, and tubes and not just for DIY projects. When you are truly done, donate or recycle.