If we stop investigating externalities, (the hidden costs of our actions) we can continue living in denial and profess that there are no problems, no consensus, no evidence that our impacts are both global and threatening to our species. We have had science (the new religion on the block) that our way of life is a detriment to other species for nearly a century. Rather than excuses, if there are humans to remember us, don't we want them to remember us as valiant, triumphant even? Is it a crime to think of our age as the solvers of the biggest crisis humanity has ever known? I'm perhaps naive, but in my country, we have a history that includes whatever folks said "you cannot do...", we have done. We created "manifest destiny" to imply that native people had better get out of our way. We drove a transcontinental railway through the Rocky Mountains, then two more, strung several trans-Atlantic cables, kept the nation together in spite of Secessionists, heck we shot guys to the Moon and successfully retrieved them. So, here is my proposal...create no waste. Try it for an hour, then a day. I tried to do it and it changed my life. Live like every other (naturally occurring) organism on the planet.
Zero Waste is most often a concept for humans, but it needs to become the rule. I would like to list just a few ways to eliminate, or drastically reduce waste, but it is worthy of a lifelong quest to try to live sustainably through this practice no matter what the advertizing desire creating media would have you believe. (Keep in mind, no one is paying me to say this.) We grow our own vegetables in soil that we built from scratch (Other than fallout from the atmosphere, there are no toxic chemicals present in our garden beds.) and put up what we cannot consume immediately in jars. Aside from occasionally breaking a jar or retiring a tired lid, we only have recyclable waste and virtually none of that compared to getting most of our food from the grocery. For every trip to the store we can avoid, it reduces air emissions of carbon and noxious compounds. Indeed, on another level, it reduces the need for exploiting oil shale deposits in Canada as well, so as you can see, the external costs could be pushed beyond the ability of many to fathom. The carbon footprint of an organic carrot, grown from saved seed, eaten in the same backyard garden in which it was grown approaches zero. Therefore, eating them becomes an act of resistance.
When one contaminant alone, fly ash from coal-fired electric generating stations in the US of A, are causing about the same amount of disease and premature death as adding 100,000 new smokers to our population each year, the combined affects of hundreds of unregulated compounds, must contribute substantially to illness and premature death. It may be hard to draw direct cause and effect lines of evidence implicating any specific compound responsible for our cancers, our heart disease, our kidney failure or our liver damage, but the combined cocktail certainly cannot be defended as an aid to staying healthy. How we adapt to and change our physical surroundings can only be understood through concentrated mental effort. I learned recently that pound for pound, the brain consumes more calories than any muscle in our body. However, to get it to use calories, you have to use your brain. Go figure. The time has come to see ourselves as agents of change, either for good or ill and we have a historical record of which undertakings create balance and harmony with the natural ecosystem and what leads to destruction and poisoning of it. These are not hypothetical threats, they are a real and present danger that we must learn to step back from, analyze, and determine are the very real costs worth the true price.
This week I lost another friend to cancer. Over the years his life had been repeatedly disrupted by several types and kinds of cancer, the first time being when he was a very young child. Up until the last time I spoke with him, he still believed that being born within a mile of a nuclear facility had nothing to do with his cancer, nor did he believe that any of his other cancers were caused by the radioactivity which he was routinely exposed to during the many years that he spent growing up within sight of the facility. The public relations campaign that has surrounded the nuclear industry consistently downplays the fact that leakage is par for the course and ignores the fact that there is no safe dose of radioactivity. That is why the atmosphere of Earth and the Van Allen Belts are essential to our survival. It is also why arbitrarily raising the "acceptable" levels of radiation that we allow people to be exposed to is not only irresponsible but indefensible. The negotiations between what science knows and what is economically expedient have always erred on the side of commerce over human health. But when we understand this, we need to let it be an impetus for us to change our behavior.
The interactions of millions of discreet ideas, concepts and awarenesses combine to create the landscape of our minds. The three pound instrument we can our brain has the power to guide us in new directions, but we will only make change if our understanding of where we are includes a strong enough reason to change. As long as we feel that we need or deserve the burden of an eco-catastrophe, or early death as penance for screwing up the planet, no change can occur. As long as we allow vast swaths of nature to be turned into dumping grounds for poison, we will continue to reap death and mayhem as the unintended costs of business as usual or what the corporados deem to be "just business". I think that we are beginning to understand the real meanings of those words.