Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: pollution

The illustrated title says "Happy Earth Day Celebrating 50 Years."

Earth Day, fifty years on

Earth Day, fifty years on, looks a lot different from the early Earth Days I remember. 

Followers of this blog may recall my claim to be “older than dirt” (as a gardener who composts, I can confidently make that claim). I also am older than Earth Day.

As with many things in the 1970s, however, I came to Earth Day a bit late. Many schools in the US let out classes or didn’t count absences, if students left campus to participate in peaceful demonstrations or “teach-ins” on April 22, 1970 (Seriously! What an awesome civics lesson!). But not my high school in conservative southwest Missouri! 

(Video courtesy of YouTube)

No, we may have glimpsed a story about it on the news. And it may have begun in a bipartisan spirit of cooperation. But it would take a few more years, and my evolution into a “somewhat-hippie” college art major, before I actively participated in any observances of Earth Day.

An expanding movement

The first Earth Day was a mixed success, but the movement persisted, because the problems didn’t go away. Decades of laissez-faire non-regulation of toxins in the environment had turned most of the “developed” world into a toxic mess

I cringe when I hear about recent changes that make the Environmental Protection Agency less able to hold polluters accountable, or when supposedly-reasonable political leaders discount climate change.

In this 1952 black-and-white photo, a tugboat squirts water on a fire that is burning atop the extremely polluted Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, OH.
The Cuyahoga River caught fire several times near Cleveland, OH, during the mid-20th Century. It got to be kind of a routine event. This is a photo from June 25, 1952, when it still seemed kind of novel. (historic photo courtesy of Wired)

That’s because I remember when the Cuyahoga River could be set on fire by sparks from a passing train. And I remember rarely being able to see the mountains from Denver (while the view of Denver from the mountains was a reddish-looking haze of pollution). I also remember being in Kansas City for only a day, before I could wipe a layer of grime off my car from particulates in the air.

In this 1980s-era photo, the Denver skyline and the Rockies beyond it are only dimly visible through the reddish-brown haze of pollution that routinely hung over the city.
Denver smog alert, 1980s-era (photo courtesy of the EPA).

But the USA wasn’t alone. Irresponsible governments and companies were freely destroying the whole world. So by the 1990s, Earth Day had grown into a global event. We all have a stake in our planet’s health!

Fifty years on, “Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world.”

But 50 years on, there’s still a lot to do

Global climate change is still accelerating. Too many powerful people don’t want to change, don’t want to risk having to pay for cleanups, and don’t seem to think they’ll suffer too many consequences if they drag their feet.

On this blog, I’ve sounded the alarm about deforestationhabitat lossextreme weather, and other aspects of climate change that affect us now–today.

And there’s plenty we can do. Let’s choose greater energy efficiency in our own lifestyles, advocate for climate-wise policies in our local, state, and national government, and stay aware and informed. 

Volunteer opportunities abound. So do donation opportunities. If we have more time than money, it’s pretty easy to find and get involved in local clean-ups, community gardening efforts, educational work, or any of the many other initiatives.

There are as many different paths to a better future as there are people–but time is running out. Fifty years on, Earth Day reminds us that the cost of ignoring the problem is too ghastly to accept.

The image reads, "Happy Earth Day."
(Image courtesy of Earth911)

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Kresge.org for the “Happy Earth Day 50 Years” featured image, and to YouTube for the 1970-vintage video from CBS. I’m grateful to Wired, for the historic photo of the Cuyahoga River on fire in 1952, and to the EPA for the photo of 1980s-era Denver. And finally, many thanks to Earth911, for the “Happy Earth Day” greeting image.

Why does the Earth so often have to die?

How many times and in how many different ways have we destroyed the earth?

here's a visualization of a very large asteroid hitting earth.
One common scenario envisions an asteroid impact. 

The “we” in that sentence refers to science fiction writers. Yet again the other day, a friend read a book description out loud, and the rest of us could almost guess how each phrase would go before she said it. A “dying Earth” (COD not specified in this blurb) has been fled by the “last remnants of the human race” who are, of course, “desperate [for] a new home among the stars.”

It doesn’t matter which specific book she was reading about. It’s a trope so common I’d say it’s a cliché at this point.

This shows a visualization of a cloudy earth with nuclear explosions all over the region.
A visualization of the destruction of Earth through war, courtesy of the Hellcat Fandom Wiki.


Is killing the Earth really necessary?

We’re always screwing up the Earth in science fiction

We over-pollute it, overpopulate it, blow it up (or aliens blow it up for us), fill it with fascists who drive us out, fill it with Zombies who drive us out, fill it with invading aliens who drive us out, we pave it, we run out of food, we run out of . . . you know the scenarios

All are pessimistic views of our future, and the underlying idea is twofold: killing our mother is inevitable, and we’ll find refuge in the stars. Somehow, somewhere

Here's an eerie photo of a dump in the early morning, with a little girl walking through clouds of mist generated by escaping gasses.
Widespread environmental destruction is a very real danger, dramatized in this amazing photo of an out-gassing dump in Myanmar. Photo: Nyaung U/United Nations Development Programme 


I’d like to argue that neither is likely, but there’s the oil lobby (to refute the first half). We’ve so far avoided the nuclear holocaust that haunted my childhood during the Cold War, but climate change might just do the job–for humans, anyway. 

I imagine that even if we humans kill ourselves, the planet will do what it’s always done: grow new things that are better-adapted to the new climate reality. Just look at the woods around Chernobyl.

bushes grow where streets were, and vines hang down from the sides of buildings in a visualization of how nature would reclaim cities if people disappeared.
Here’s a modification of a Google Street View by Einar Öberg, exploring the idea of how familiar places might change “after people.” It was inspired by the 2009 History Channel project by that name.

And how ’bout that home among the stars?

As I’ve outlined in earlier postsspace is a really hard place to live, much less be fruitful and multiplyMicrogravity makes everything harderdistances are, well, astronomical, and providing what humans need to survive is hideously expensive, at least right now. 

So let’s soft-pedal the destruction of earth already, people! We still have no good place to go!

A space habitat like a ring of boxes with an odd, forklike center orbits above a pink-looking planet in this visualization of a space habitat.
We’re very far, still, from creating a space habitat that can safely house space-dwelling families and provide for their childrearing needs.

Anyone who looks at a photo of the ISS can see we aren’t currently able to create a viable long-term habitat in space. Who are we kidding, here?

Personally, I’d rather explore the ideas of the Solarpunk movementwhich focuses on sustainable scenarios in science fiction. And yes, this means I’ll talk more about it in future posts.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Universe Today for the asteroid-impact visualization of Earth’s demise; to the Hellcat Fandom Wiki, for the visualization of war on Earth; to the United Nations Development Programme for the otherworldly dump photo; to Einar Öberg  on Geek.com, for the visualization of “earth without people” via Google Street View; and to the Patheos blog “Evangelical” for the Interstellar screen shot.

Sustainable protein–in SPACE!

If meat is an unsustainable protein source, what could replace it?

I ask the question because, unfortunately, meat production from livestock is an extremely resource-intensive exerciseThere literally are not enough resources on Planet Earth to feed everyone in the world a protein-rich, Western-style diet. You don’t have to be vegan to look at the facts and figure that out.

One of the most pernicious myths about meat, in my opinion, is the idea that confined animal feeding operations (abbreviated CAFOs) are more efficient and less expensive than less intensive farming methods. Say what you will about pollutionantibiotic resistance, and other serious problems, its proponents argue, at the end of the day, CAFOs produce more meat, more efficiently.

Well, only if you leave out several, really important costs, and only look at market price, it appears. Kernels of truth may be embedded in those myths, but they don’t stand up well to scrutiny.

It turns out varying degrees of rather large difference could be made if we Westerners made relatively small adjustments to our diets. My April blog posts have mostly been about Spaceship Earth, but questions raised on this terrestrial ball grow more crucial on the Final Frontier.

The designers of the Bernal Sphere in the 1970s envisioned intensive agriculture as the way to feed space colonists. They didn’t know then what we know all too well now. Painting by Rick GuidiceNASA Ames Research Center.

I recently gave Ty Frank and Daniel Abraham, AKA James S. A. Coreya hard time about the diet of fungi and fermentation on their fictional Ceres, but I’ve done much of the same research they likely did. I think they didn’t “sell” their Ceres diet in a very appealing manner, possibly to make an artistic point about the desperate awfulness of life on Ceres.

Truth is, many innovative ways are being developed to use both fungi and fermentation in food production. This includes the creation of milk that is molecularly identical to cow-sourced milk, and logically leads to many other dairy products, made from yeast and sugars.

Cow-free dairy products–brought to you by fungi and fermentation–with some help from Perfect Day Foods.

When you put it that way, life on Ceres might be grim and desperate, but there’d be ice cream! (Well, there SHOULD be). Lactose-free, to boot! Such a deal! This doesn’t answer where the sugars come from, although there’s a variety of options. But the innovations don’t stop with dairy products.

Hampton Creek Foods went through quite a bit of turmoil after the video above was made. They’ve come out on the other side of controversy and scandal as JUST, a smaller company–but their products are still available, and apparently commercially viable. Their egg-less solutions depend on using plant-sourced substitutes: pea protein, for their Just Mayo, sorghum for Just Cookies and Just Dough, and mung beans for Just Scramble.

But many of the best protein sources are meat/animal muscle-basedalthough “the best” depends on how you define “best.” JUST is tackling the problem of “clean” meat, too–and so are others.

The first lab-grown meat was unveiled in 2013 by Mark Post of Maastricht University. It was made using beef stem cells, as well as vegetable-sourced ingredients.

The livestock industry, not surprisingly, has mounted a defense against calling any meatlike cultured protein “meat,” much less “clean meat” (the horror! Although apparently “pink slime” is perfectly acceptable to call “meat”?)

JUST is going for a completely non-animal-sourced clean meat, but most of the pioneering attempts in that field begin with animal stem cells. However they make it, the process won’t require the same levels of resource-use, and it won’t involve slaughtering animals. That strikes me as a win-win, even while planetbound.

Although early attempts at clean meat have turned out to be relatively dry and extremely expensive, this industry is still in its infancy–and already the taste is improving. By the time Balchu tries to take Shady’s mind off her troubles by tossing bacon strips to her, the “carneries” of Rana Station will have perfected a delicious little piece of pork-flavored heaven with nary an oink nor a squeal in its origin.

“Outredgeous” Romaine lettuce in the Veggie Plant Growth Facility: will this someday be an “heirloom varietal” for space-farers?

Whatever we end up doing in space and in artificial, space-or non-terrestrial-based habitats, we’ll have to eat. Plants are likely to be the foundation of all space-grown food. They’ve been doing plant-growing experiments on the International Space Station for years. In 2015, this resulted in the successful cultivation-to-edibility of a type of red Romaine lettuce called “Outredgeous,” which expedition crew members were officially cleared to eat. It was grown in the Veggie Plant Growth Facility onboard.

To quote Astronaut Scott Kelly, it was “One small bite for man, one giant leap for #NASAVEGGIE.” What next? Perhaps to infinity, and beyond!

IMAGES: Many thanks to The World Resources Institute, for the chart of compared resources required to produce types of food; to FranceInfo, for the photo of the US feedlot; to Medium, artist Rick Guidice, and NASA Ames Research Center for the Bernal Sphere image; to Perfect Day Foods, for the “Favorite Things” dairy lineup illustration; to Bloomberg and YouTube, for the video about the chicken-less egg substitutes; to Borgen Magazine for the photo of the pioneering meat patty; and to NASA and Space.com, via my Space Station Designs Pinterest Board, for the photo of the space-grown lettuce.

We ALL live in a potential disaster zone–but we’re not helpless

Which Disaster Zone do you prefer?

That was the question my Beloved asked, not long after Hurricane Maria finished doing the job on Puerto Rico that Irma had left half-finished, and the central Mexico earthquake had leveled significant portions of the region.

His question caught his co-workers by surprise, but–if you think about it–none of us really should be surprised. So, then, what’s your answer? Where would you rather live?

You could live in a tropical paradise like Barbuda or Puerto Rico, where a hurricane can level your entire island in a few harrowing hours, or where rising sea levels threaten to swamp your home, your livelihood, and your most beloved scenic areas.

Photo of El Capitan rock slide by climber Peter Zabrock.

You could live in a mountainous region with breathtakingly gorgeous peaks, cliff faces that shear off without warning, enormous swaths of drought-parched forests that one careless cigarette butt or lightning-strike can ignite into an inferno that changes the weather and denudes stabilizing plant growth so you get buried in mudslides the next time it rains real hard. (The video that follows is from fires in 2015 but it’s representative.)

You could live in an earthquake zone, where grandfathered-in or shoddily-constructed buildings (or buildings on unstable ground) could collapse on you in seconds, and destroyed infrastructure may very well leave you with no water, no powerimpassable roadsand leaking natural gas.

For more amazing before-and-after Mexico City photos from The New York Times please click the link for the entire article.

You could live within range of a volcano that could turn your neighborhood into a “lunar landscape” of ash and death. I’m looking at you, Ring of Fire–but don’t smirk too hard, Plains States: do you know what lies beneath Yellowstone National Park?

Lava trees–actually the places where trees once stood–after a Hawaiian volcanic eruption.

You could live, as I do, in “Tornado Alley,” where extremes of weather created by our position in the middle of a large continent spawn violent storms during much of the year, and extremes of politics create danger from poorly-regulated toxic materials (think about Picher, OK, or Times Beach, MO), and many other insidious hazards (unfortunately, the NAACP’s travel advisory on Missouri seems all too reasonable, to this Missouri native). To be fair, though, none of the US is all that safe from racismgun violencepollution, and crumbling infrastructure.

An abandoned home in Times Beach, MO.

We can’t do much about some of the risks and hazards that surround us every day–but there are other things we can do, from building wisely for the kinds of environmental hazards our area faces (more on that in future posts) to speaking out and working for a cleaner, safer world where every person, no matter how troubled or disadvantaged, is seen as a being of infinite worth.

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Washington Post, for the video of Utuado, Puerto Rico’s situation after Hurricane Maria. I deeply appreciate climber Peter Zabrock’s photo (via the Associated Press) and The San Francisco Chronicle for the vision of the rockslide on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, and CBS This Morning for the video of the 2015 fires in the San Bernardino area of California. The  amazing before-and-after photos from Mexico city, published by The New York Timesare part of a larger article, featuring many more photos. Many thanks to Amusing Planet’s article, “The Lava Trees of Hawaii,” for the arresting post-eruption image of what used to be a forest. The photo of a ruin in Times Beach, MO, is from a Danish Pinterest board, “Udforsk disse idéer og meget mere!” (Explore these ideas and more).

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