25 November 2007

Pathogenic Organisms

I had the fortune of recently running across a great little book that although published in 1999, offers an insightful view of global warming that I haven’t seen in recent literature (not that I have exactly read much of the recent literature, mind you). In chapter one “Crap Happens: something’s about to hit the fan”, Joseph Jenkins waxes thus: “When viewed at the next quantum level of perspective, from which the Earth is seen as an organism and humans are seen as microorganisms, the human species looks like a menace to the planet. In fact, the human race is looking a lot like a disease-causing pathogen, which is an organism excessively multiplying, consuming, and producing harmful waste, with no regard for the health and well-being of its host – in this case, the planet Earth.”

Pathogenic organisms behave like cancerous cells which act on their own behalf to the detriment of even their host, which may sound pretty ridiculous as it seemingly threatens their own survival. However, if we consider just a few of the ridiculous things we do, like steadily replacing real food with “edible food-like substances” that cause our own destruction, then the analogy is not too far fetched.

We all know what a host organism does once it detects pathogenic life forms in its midst: it fights back. Can the earth really defend itself? Well, think about what we do when we become infected. Our body raises its temperature which “not only inhibits the growth of the infecting pathogen, but also greatly enhances the disease fighting capability within the body.” With a raised temperature, many antibodies can be readily deployed to defend against the disease. This is, of course, an emergency response as it cannot be sustained for too long without causing further damage to the body.

Does this ring as eerily familiar to you as it does to me? “Global warming may be the Earth’s way of inducing a fever – as a reaction to human pollution of the atmosphere and human over-consumption of fossil fuels.” Antibodies aren’t too difficult to identify either: “insect population booms, new strains of deadly bacteria, viruses, and algae particularly toxic to humans.” The unbelievable proliferation of all sorts of cancers since our ridiculous behavior began, intimately linked to the production of synthetic organic chemicals, fits into this scheme as well.

However, we are liberating excessive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, so how does this fit in? Well, it seems that improper use of any organic material causes chemical imbalances in the soil, water and atmosphere, sending a clear message to the perpetrator that goes something like this: change your behavior or die. This quickly discourages the pathogenic behavior and corrects the balance.

The Earth will not allow us to continue to destroy forests, deplete water reservoirs, collapse fisheries, erode farmland, dry up rivers, fill wetlands and cause species extinction. Nor will it allow us to overpopulate our living spaces or worse carelessly produce and dump toxic chemicals into the environment.

Just reflect on how despicable cancerous cells are: maniacally selfish, pathogenic, multiplying machines bent on total domination. Can that really be us?

Our spiritual heritage opens us to understanding the one conceptual and practical tool we need to combat our own base behavior, and this is the organic unity we experience in moments of emotion, either sorrow or joy, not only with the entire human race, but with every living being. Cultivating this will allow us to see our planet and our neighbors for who they really are, for they are us, and we are they.


All quotes taken from: Jenkins, J. The Humanure Handbook, second edition, Jenkins Publishing, Grove City, PA, 1999, pages 15 – 19.

19 November 2007

Leaves in a Rainforest

In the forest:

“The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, -- master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

We spent this past weekend in the Rio Palenque Science Center. My wife is shooting a promotional video for the foundation that owns this forest so I took the kids to enjoy it in the meanwhile.

We hiked several of the trails that criss-cross the area, leading up hills, through streams, over decaying trunks and over animal dens and tracks. I was especially amazed by the leaves. You can stand in any place and just watch the leaves fall, hundreds of them. Most of them don’t reach the ground immediately as they get caught in the vines and overly lush underbrush. Some of the leaves were literally bigger than me and all of the trees are covered with vines whose leaves get bigger the higher up they go.

One of the biggest trees I have ever seen had recently broken in half because of the weight of the vines. 30 meters had broken off, leaving a whopping 45 meters of massive tree.

This is on the coast of Ecuador, not on the Amazon Basin side of the Andes. There are very few primary forests still standing in this part of the country, so exploring this was a real treat. As you can imagine, there is an amazing wealth of diversity there, both flora and fauna. According to their literature, there are 1,216 species of plants, 360 species of birds, and 350 unique species of butterflies, among others.

Only scientists or people doing scientific tourism can stay at the lodge, although many school children visit the area for field trips. We saw a party of such tourists there and they were birdwatching. There, you can see the Harpy Eagle, Gray-backed Hawk, Rose-faced Parrot, Ecuadorian Trogon, Chocó Toucan, Scarlet-backed and Lita woodpeckers, and Scarlet-browed and Scarlet-and-white tanagers, Gray Hawk, Laughing falcon, Rufous-headed Chachalaca, Ecuadorian Ground dove, Maroon-tailed Parakeet, blue headed parrot, Bronzy, Stripe-throated, and Baron's hermits, Guira tanagers.

Although we didn’t get to see one, several types of “glass frogs” live in the Science Center. This picture gives you a good idea of what they look like. Wouldn’t it be fun if we were “glass people”?

All of the surrounding area is used for plantations such as this one. They plant palm trees, pineapple or papaya but either way, it is all monoculture, heavily dependent on fertilizers and pesticides. The river is quite contaminated from runoff. I couldn’t help but imagine how this area must have looked 50 years ago, completely covered with lush tropical forest.

Walking through a rain forest is one of the most moving experiences a person can have. It is life in its fullest. Life explodes and comes and goes and the noise made by the bugs and birds will deafen anybody. I felt like an outsider, an intruder and at the same time I felt at home like I had been there before and needed to stay there.