Thursday, October 23, 2014

Our Changing Environment - 20 Major Issues

Dr. Abe V. Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday
Looc River in  Bohol before Typhoon Yolanda struck 

“The ultimate test of any civilization
Is not in its inventions and deeds;
But the endurance of Mother Nature
In keeping up with man’s endless needs.”

AVR, Light in the Woods

No period in history has man influenced the environment as much as what he is doing today in pursuit of seemingly unending affluence. And instead of “tailoring his lifestyle to the environment” as what his ancestors did for centuries, he is modifying the environment in order to meet such affluence.

Environmental Issues

1. The environment has changed a lot in the last two hundred years since the start of industrialization, which is also the start of the modern age. The biggest effect to human health contributed by this era is widespread pollution. Pollution is the by-product of industrialization, and the scourge of modern living.

2. Pollution is no longer confined within geographic divisions of land, water and air - or in a particular country or region; it has grown into global proportion. The effect is worldwide in the form of global warming, causing more erratic climatic disturbances, thinning of the ozone layer, worsening effect of acid rain, among others. Pollution allergy cases arise directly from garbage, smoke from factories and vehicles, acid rain contact, sudden changes in temperature and humidity, ultraviolet rays near the ozone hole - and most specially from the gas-fed engine.

3. Modernization and the “good life” have brought about affluence, first to the industrialized countries, and later to countries which followed the same Western World model of development. People want goods and services beyond their actual need. Affluence - more than necessity - has greater impact on the environment in the form of depletion of natural resources and pollution. Affluence in the extreme is indeed a wasteful land destructive style of living.

4. The increase in population continues in geometric pattern, reaching 7 billion to date. At its present trend, another billion people will be added to the world’s population in the next 10 years or so. New settlements, bigger cities, increasing population density predispose people to various pathogens and allergens.

5. The general trend all over the world is exodus to urban centers. Metropolises and megapolises with 10 to 20 million people ensconced under crowded condition are not uncommon, with Tokyo, New York and Mexico City topping the list. Meantime villages grow into towns and towns into cities. The ratio of rural dwellers to city dwellers will soon reach equal proportion, and is likely to overtake the latter. People crowd in subdivisions, condominiums, malls, schools, churches, parks, in great numbers sharing common lifestyles and socio-economic conditions, thus predisposing them to common health problems and vulnerabilities, including disruptions of basic services (brownouts, water interruptions, and the like).

6. Destruction of the environment is a consequence of increasing population and affluence, leading not only to loss of productivity of farmlands, but also loss of farmlands to industry and settlements. This leads to the irreversible destruction of ecosystems like the lakes, rivers, forests, and coral reefs. Loss of health of the environment means loss of health of living things. And loss of environment is loss of life itself.

7. The ecosystems bear the brunt of development and progress. These are the sanctuaries of biological diversity, the natural abode of organisms assigned and organized in their respective niches. The ecosystems are organized into biomes, biomes into one biosphere. The ultimate cause of extinction of a species is in the destruction of its natural habitat. Man’s existence is highly dependent on a complex web of interrelationship with the members of the living world that by disturbing the integrity of this order will affect humans, and other living things as well.

8. Humans continue to invade the wildlife, and as the wildlife shrinks, the displaced species invade human habitats in return. Finding sanctuary in his home, backyards, farm, park and other places these species transmit deadly diseases like SARS, HIV-AIDS, Ebola, and Bird Flu, allergy notwithstanding.

9. The “Good Life” spawns obesity and other overweight conditions with millions of sufferers around the world. In the US one out of five persons is an obese. Obesity is a product of sedentary living and imbalance nutrition, and suspected to be viral. Victims suffer of various health problems, and the difficulty in getting adjusted to an active life style. Because of their conditions they are merely spectators, rather than participants, in games and other physical activities, thus exacerbating their pitiful condition.

10. “One-half of the world’s population has too little to eat, while the other half simply  has too much,” as revealed in How the Other Half Dies, a book by a former UN expert, Susan George. The hungry and undernourished are mostly children, no less than 800 million of them living in Third World countries. For one who is hungry most of the time, it is difficult to diagnose the effects of hunger and physiologic imbalance from those of the accompanying symptoms of diseases and ailments. It is as if these symptoms were all welded into one.

11. Global warming is changing the face of the earth: shorelines push inland, islands sink, lowlands turn into swamps, while icecaps and glaciers disappear. As sea level rises there is need of relocation, and building new settlements. Adaptation is key to allergy resistance and immunity, but this is not possible overnight; it takes a lifetime if not generations to obtain. Indeed displacement of settlements and change in living conditions predispose people to ailments and allergies.

12. Globalization is taking place in practically all aspects of human endeavor – trade, commerce and industry, agriculture, the arts, education, politics, religion and the like. The world has shrunk, so to speak, as it travels on two feet: communications and transportation, Traveling from one place to another across latitudes and longitudes predispose one to unimaginable kinds of ailments, allergies, and discomforts. Permanence of domicile has given way to transience, to impermanence.

13. Homogenization involves pooling of genes through inter-racial and inter-cultural marriages resulting in various mestizos like Eurasian, Afro-Asian, Afro-American, Amerasian, and the like. Mélange of races results from East and West marriages. Biologically it is the native genes that provide organisms resistance to pests, diseases, and adverse conditions of the environment. Native genes lose their effectiveness when “thinned out” too far. In the process their gene pool narrows down and may ultimately disappear. Mestizos of subsequent generations are likely to lose such advantage.

14. Science and technology as the prime mover of progress and development has also brought doubt and fear to man’s future. The first breakthrough is the splitting of the atom that created the nuclear bomb, the second is the invention of the microchip which shrunk the globe into the size of a village, and the third, Genetic Engineering now enables man to tinker with life itself. Each invention or discovery bears heavily on the way man lives, beneficial or otherwise. Radiation related death still occurs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima 50 years after the bombing. The young generation spend more time with the computer and TV than with outdoor activities and with nature, Gene Therapy – curing gene-link diseases before they are expressed – is revolutionizing medicine. Naturally all these have repercussions on human health and welfare.

15. Revolutionary industries have been born out of these breakthroughs and related discoveries linking them with the business world and growing affluence, giving rise to in vitro fertilization or test tube babies, surrogate motherhood, Human Genome Project (HGP or gene mapping), multiple childbirth, DNA mapping, etc. The prototype human robot is born, and he is not defect-free. In fact he is more dependent on medicine, and could not possibly withstand the conditions of the natural environment the way normal individuals do. Indeed he will lead a very dependent life.

15. Globalization is dissolving the rigid walls of nationalism to give way to regional and international cooperation and unity as evidenced by European Union, ASEAN, APEC, CGIAR with seven members such as ICRISAT, CYMMIT, IRRI, and the expansion of the United Nations to include WTO, ILO, and UNEP. Fighting global diseases that include asthma and allergy depends largely on cooperation on all levels. In the same way a community fights Dengue, so with whole continents arresting the spread of HIV-AIDS, SARS, Bird’s Flu, and the like.

16. Green Revolution has expanded to cover non-conventional frontiers, invading the seas, deserts, watersheds, highlands, and swamps. On the other hand it has began adopting a revolutionary approach through Genetic Engineering – that is, the splicing of genetic materials between and among organisms that may not be at all related, pooling traits as scientists deem desirable. Thus the introduction of GMOs and Frankenfood, which are now in the market. To augment limited farmlands, aerophonics (farming rooftops), hydroponics or soil less farming, urban greening, and organic farming, are being developed, as measures to bring nature closer to settlements, and augment urban food supply.

17. Agriculture today depends heavily on Post Harvest Technology. To bridge the production source with the consumption end, the farm and the market, is no easy task, especially with perishable goods. Thus the proliferation of processed goods, supermarket, and fast food chains, ready-to-eat packs, sophisticated culinary art. Many food additives and adjuncts are allergenic, from salitre in longganiza to pesticide residue in vegetables, MSG in noodles to Aspartame in fruit juice, formalin in fish to dioxin in plastics, antibiotic residues in meat, poultry and milk notwithstanding.

18. Modern medical science is responsible in reducing mortality and in increasing longevity. But it is also responsible for the many ills of today, from genetically linked abnormalities to senility related ailments. It made the exchange of organs and tissues through transplantation possible, and lately tissue cloning - which some scientists believe will make people live as long as 140 years. Bodies are ultra wealthy individuals lie in cryonics tanks waiting for science to discover the secret of resurrection. As a rule, evolution culls out the unfit members of a population to keep the gene pool healthy and strong. This is true to all organisms. Only man can influence his own evolution and that of other organisms, thus putting Darwinism in his hands.

19. Exploration has brought man into the fringes of Planet Earth: into the depth of the sea and beyond the expanse of the Solar System, ushering the birth of inner and outer space science, and preparation for interplanetary travel. Man is are learning to live outside of the confines of planet earth. He has succeeded in probing the bottom of the ocean, put up a city in space - the Skylab, and aiming at conquering another planet – a long distant goal of assuring the continuity of mankind after the demise of the earth.

20. Globalization is dissolving the rigid walls of nationalism to give way to regional and international cooperation and unity as evidenced by European Union, ASEAN, APEC, CGIAR with seven members such as ICRISAT, CYMMIT, IRRI, and the expansion of the United Nations to include WTO, ILO, and UNEP. Fighting global diseases that include asthma and allergy depends largely on cooperation on all levels. In the same way a community fights Dengue, so with whole continents arresting the spread of HIV-AIDS, SARS, Bird’s Flu, and the like.

*Part of paper, Human Life and Environment, Capiz Archdiocesan Gathering of Priests, August 4, 2011, Roxas City.

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