Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Of Which We Often Lose Sight

Somewhere in the midst of high gas prices, a President with record low approval rating, an unpopular war, and massive dissatisfaction with the way our country is being run we lose sight of the bigger, underlying issues.

So let us put on the macro glasses for one fast instant and examine a crucial fact.
It is the year 2007. As of this instant, Planet Earth contains an astonishing 7 billion people. Let me spell it out with all the zeros for the sake of emphasis: 7,000,000,000,000. If that wasn't impressive enough, the rate at which this growth is festooning is exponential. It's off the chart.

In 40 years time we shall have 12 and 1/2 billion people on this Earth--each of us squabbling for an ever-increasing dearth of natural and unrenewable resources. Human beings are notoriously selfish beings just by inclination. I don't mean this in any moral sense, but merely a primevial one. We are programmed by God to care first and foremost about our own self-preservation as well as the self-preservation of our immediate offspring.

Thousands of years ago, people realized this and came up with a construct called religion. Religion was perpetuated as a means of control, yes, but it was also perpetuated as a way to counteract human selfishness.

I digress.

While I agree that this latest Iraq quagmire has led to high energy costs and prices at the pump, what often is not mentioned is that China, Russia, and India have, within a relatively short period of time, rapidly industrialized. Now everyone from Bejing to New Delhi to Moscow wants a car and a television set and an Iphone, and an assortment of consumer goods. They are to blame for high energy costs as well and they will keep energy costs high for the foreseeable future.

The developing world is consuming natural resources at a staggering rate. Countries like India, China, and Russia have begun their own industrial revolutions.

I need not mention to you that we are no longer in an industrial phase of development in the United States. We have transitioned to a service based economy, which puts us in an awkward position of needing other countries' natural resources to drive our selfish desires. Thus, it comes as no surprise to me that we are finding that products from China reaching our shores are not produced with the quality and safety we insist upon in this country.
But I remind you that during our own industrial revolution, during the last half of the 19th Century into the early 20th century, we Americans were guilty of the same sorts of offenses. I remember reading Upton Sinclair's socialist novel The Jungle as a teenager and remarking at how vile and disgusting a practice meat processing was at the turn of the last century. Furthermore, I recall the human and environmental offenses committed at these facilities that would produce open outrage and scandal if they were to occur today.

A popular rhyme of the time read:

Mary had a little lamb
and when she saw it sicken
She shipped it off to Packing-town
And now it's labled "chicken".

There is a theory called transtudio emperii which states that the empires of the world rise and fall with the setting sun. We began in Asia with the Mongols, then came the Greeks, then the vaulted Romans, then we progressed to Europe and the British Empire, and then after World War II America became merely the lastest generation of Empire. Thus, according to this theory, China, India, Russia and the developing nations of the world will be the next empires.

This begs the question: what will we do about this? The burden of this problem falls upon the shoulders of my generation and I hope some enterprising soul will rise to the occasion. We need to understand that whether we believe it or not, we are our brother's keeper and sooner than later we won't be able to deny that fact much longer. Let us resolve to be stewards of the environment. Very shortly what is today someone else's problem will become tomorrow everyone's problem.

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