Thursday, August 20, 2015

Musings: Forwards and Back

The other day, I spotted this meme on Facebook:
It's appealing, in that simplistic way of memes, but what does it really mean?

Don't most, if not all, of the activities that humans engage in — driving, flying, eating food, drinking water, ordering from Amazon, using computers and cell phones, having kids, taking vacations, furnishing homes, burning energy (be it cow dung or oil), to name but a few — contribute in some way, large or small, to destroying the planet, killing other human beings?

Is it even possible for us to simply exist — 7-plus billion strong and growing — without destroying our planet or killing people?

We can't blame technology for our plight, because slash and burn agriculturists, and even hunter-gatherers, had their own impacts on the planet. Nor can we blame religion or politics, because our behavior pre-dates all of that, and those are human constructs, anyway.

It's the combined sum of our activities over the 200,000 years that humans have occupied the planet. We're all in this together, in terms of both the problems and the solutions.

I thought about that when I read Jan TenBruggencate's Raising Islands blog post on Hawaii's beautifully-patterned land snails. Some 95 percent of the species have gone extinct, a systematic extermination that began with the arrival of the Polynesians and accelerated with the arrival of westerners, massive land clearing for agriculture and the introduction of invasive species.

It's a process that's been repeated around the world and continues today as we precipitate the “sixth extinction,” which is also the title of a book by journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, that won this year's Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. As Kolbert notes in an interview with National Geographic:

There are very few, if any, extinctions that we know about in the last 100 years that would have taken place without human activity.

The sort of fundamental question is, can 7.3 —going toward 8, going to 9 billion people —live on this planet with all of the species that are now still around? Or are we on a collision course, in part because we consume a lot of resources that other creatures also would like to consume? That’s a question I can’t answer.

There are two questions that arise: One is, OK, just because we’ve survived the loss of X number of species, can we keep going down the same trajectory, or do we eventually imperil the systems that keep people alive? That’s a very big and incredibly serious question.

And then there’s another question. Even if we can survive, is that the world you want to live in? Is that the world you want all future generations of humans to live in? That’s a different question. But they’re both extremely serious. I would say they really couldn’t be more serious.

There's another question, that is also very serious: How are we altering humans in the course of altering the planet and all of its other species?

A friend recently sent me a link to an article that ran last year in The Atlantic about toxic chemicals that are blamed for widespread cognitive and behavioral problems. A former teacher, he wondered if this could explain the changes he saw in his students over the years, most notably the advent of ADD and ADHD. 

The chemicals include methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, ethanol, lead, arsenic, and toluene, manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, tetrachloroethylene, polybrominated diphenyl ethers and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane.

Still, as the article's author writes:

I found that the real issue was not this particular group of 12 chemicals. Most of them are already being heavily restricted. This dozen is meant to illuminate something bigger: a broken system that allows industrial chemicals to be used without any significant testing for safety. The greater concern lies in what we’re exposed to and don’t yet know to be toxic. Federal health officials, prominent academics, and even many leaders in the chemical industry agree that the U.S. chemical safety testing system is in dire need of modernization. Yet parties on various sides cannot agree on the specifics of how to change the system, and two bills to modernize testing requirements are languishing in Congress.

Could these exposures also be contributing to the increased rates of dementia and degenerative brain disease we're seeing? After all, Boomers are the first generation to be exposed to so many toxins, frequently before regulatory schemes were developed.

It seems we're all participants in a grand, largely unplanned experiment that is changing life and the planet as we know it. Still, some risks and fears are real, and others, like genetically engineered products, are perceived, even manipulated, by special interests. It behooves us to discern the difference if we want to take meaningful steps toward change. 
Because there is no "going back."


Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of the great Carl Sagan and "the pale blue dot"

Aloha Joan

Anonymous said...

what Joan, no snarkiness today?

Joan Conrow said...

No, I'm leaving that to you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the post. As the kids in "High School Musical" sang, "We're all in this together". No escaping the natural laws regardless of your race, religion or socioeconomic status.

Anonymous said...

Remember we are all living longer than we did generations back, which gives us more time to develop things like dementia, cancer, etc. Perhaps things like ADHD, autism, etc. are natural byproducts of evolution. As we leave scourges behind (e.g. polio, smallpox, etc.), new and more creative scourges develop. Can we really control this? Is there anything to blame other than natural adaptations of humans over time? I have my doubts.

MrB said...

Like it was stated in a "POGO" comic strip decades ago: "We have met the enemy, and he is US!" The problem is really "attitudinal"! If we (the human species) maintain the attitude that we have "dominion" over the entire planet to the extent that we can plunder,take, destroy, contaminate, and do whatever we damn well please, then we have no one to blame but ourselves for being so self-centered.
And yet, there are many environmentally-conscientious cultures and/or groups of inhabitants who have another point of view----to protect and preserve our finite resources as a shared kuleana (the kanaka maoli are on target on this one)!
What will it take for the nearly 9 BILLION of the rest of the human population to shift gears about environmental integrity? Sincerely, MrB

Anonymous said...

Enough already with romanticizing indigenous people, including kanaka. None of them have lived without impacting their environment. Their numbers were just small enough that they could get away with it.

Anonymous said...

ADHD stimulant drug use in college: Is it a form a cheating?

May 2, 2014 2:16 PM EDT

With demanding schedules, heavy workloads and competition from peers, today's college students are under tremendous pressure. In an effort to stay at the top of their game, many students turn to stimulant drugs such as Adderall, commonly prescribed for ADHD, to boost their stamina and concentration levels.

A new study, presented this week at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Vancouver, B.C., surveyed students at an undisclosed Ivy League college and found as many as 18 percent of the students admit to misusing stimulant drugs at least once to help cram for an exam or finish up that 20 page midterm paper. And a third of students said they did not consider it cheating.

For the study, the researchers distributed a written survey to 616 sophomores, juniors and seniors who were not known to have ADHD. The authors found 24 percent of students at the college reported use of these drugs at least eight times or more. The majority of them -- 69 percent -- took the medication to write an essay; 66 percent did so to study for an exam; and 27 percent used the drugs to take a test.

Students involved with extracurricular activities and social commitments, such as varsity sports and fraternities or sororities, were more likely to use stimulants.

The researchers also found mixed opinions on whether students felt stimulant use is a form of cheating. About 40 percent believed using the drugs to aid academic performance is unethical, while 33 percent of the students did not see a problem with using stimulants. A quarter of the students surveyed were undecided.

"It is our hope that this study will increase greater awareness and prompt broader discussion about misuse of medications like Ritalin or Adderall for academic purposes," said Natalie Colaneri, lead investigator and research assistant at Cohen Children's Medical Center, in a press release. "It is important that this issue be approached from an interdisciplinary perspective: as an issue relevant to the practice of medicine, to higher education and to ethics in modern-day society."

A number of similar studies have found students frequently obtain stimulants by faking ADHD symptoms such as restlessness, inability to concentrate and disorganization. This strategy can have serious repercussion.

A report released last year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found emergency room visits for nonmedical use of stimulants tripled between 2005 and 2011.

Dr. Jon LaPook, chief medical correspondent for CBS News, discussed the report and warned of the dangers these drugs pose. (Watch the video at left.) "They're really playing Russian roulette. There could be very serious side effects," he said. He said risks of stimulant use include heart attack, stroke, psychosis and even death.

LaPook spoke with pre-med student Emily Gelber last year about stimulant use at her school. Gelber said she is adamantly against using the drugs to improve academic performance. "One of my first tests I took in college, I found out afterwards they had hidden cameras all over the room to monitor for cheating but the real cheating nowadays doesn't come from peering over a friend's shoulder to look at a test answer," she said. "It comes before the test when people take a pill like Adderall in order to study."

Additionally, Gelber has noticed the drugs don't always provide the desired effects. "A lot of people will tell me things like they had a test one day, they took an Adderall and they ended up cleaning their room for 10 hours instead of studying," she said.

I have a coworker who took Methylphenidate while in college to get its degree(s) and now shows signs of Meth withdrawals.

Anonymous said...

Not to be flippant about species extinctions, but long before humans arrived on the scene, the earth had been subject to cyclically massive specie extinctions throughout the last 500 million or so years, including extinctions from the coming and going of ice ages, meteorite impacts which reduced sunlight, etc. Just noting that these have happened with us - and without us.

Anonymous said...

This is why we need world wide government. Limit the number of babies. No medical care if you are over 50 years old. Get rid of all medicine that is genetically modified, including insulin. Stop all uses of chlorine and penicillin.
Pretty soon we could have a Earth with a manageable population.
The Illuminati have been working on Environmental hysteria for years.
Don't worry an environmentalist will be coming to your door soon. They will tell you how to live.
How self-centered can we be? Is there an unseen finger of God directing the so called fiasco?
Or is it a bunch of cry babies that have lost God and now look to Mother Earth for their Omniscience?
The Earth can handle, man will figure out a solution..............and leave Kee Beach alone, the tourists have as much right to Gods Green Earth as any resident.
Life is good. Don't fall into the grip of the Felicia knows they might be watching from your KIUC Smart meter.
In a world where the Kardashians are the number one Google search and their father becomes the number 2 Google search, err I mean the former Father that is now the Mother? Somewhere priorities are askew.

Anonymous said...

That list of chemicals is disparate. Many are common but harmless in quanitites normally encountered.. One is nutritionally necessary to flora and fauna. A couple necessary for the latter, but not the former..I doubt that list is anything more meaningful than someone claims a member may be the cause of some unpleasantness.
As for AD. Yes it is more commonly diagnosed. It is also being reevaluated as it may include subcategories that are beneficial. It is unlikely to have a chemical cause. It is more likely attributable to 1. The breakdown of normal family and societal life in America as parents become more immature and juvenile, and children have few real open play opportunities and 2. Electronic visual stimulation that is literally devoid of knowledge or societal value.

Anonymous said...

Joan did you see this? What are your thoughts?