Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer thoughts

I can imagine one of my pre-civil war ancestors from North Carolina, raving about the wonders of human slave labor on their farm.  Their fine home, their well maintained fields and outbuildings, or perhaps the extra cash from their slaves' labor allowing a little extra finery in their store bought clothing.

I hear similar claims of awe nowadays from people praising the wonders of modern technology. From my own perspective, these claims also ring hollow, because I've had difficulty ignoring their ultimate costs. I'm not claiming any sort of abstinence from their use (I'm typing this on a Chinese built laptop, afterall), but I do make significant efforts to avoid it, certainly when the benefits are minimal.

So exactly what are the costs?  I'm not sure people know what I'm talking about, as most people I know have done an excellent job of ignoring them.

First, let's look at modern day slavery.   Own an Apple or HP product?   Guess who made it?   Still love it? Slavery doesn't have to be of the whips & chains variety to be slavery.   Modern day slavery maintains all of the benefits of human exploitation without the outward appearances of impropriety.

Not only are we exploiting these people directly, when we buy Chinese (or from India, or a dozen other countries with similar regulations), but we're trashing their environment. US companies don't love China just for the cheap labor, they love it for the complete lack of environmental regulations. Many Chinese with the cash (extracted no doubt through the exploitation of their countrymen) are now leaving the country, often opting for places like Vancouver or London. Their own country is trashed.   Eight year old girls get lung cancer there.  Much of their farmland is permanently contaminated, and the majority of their groundwater is no longer fit to drink. Yes, the Chinese economic miracle is a miracle alright. A society which flourished for millenia has trashed their country (and our planet) for millenia to come, and all this has been accomplished in a mere couple decades.

These costs aren't just born by the Chinese, of course. They were (and perhaps still are?) building new coal fired power plants to fuel their industrial revolution at the rate of one per week. That carbon is having some far reaching effects.

First of all, we all know the climate is changing.   Despite the seeming lull as a destabilized and mortally wounded Arctic bled cold air over the eastern US last winter, we're continually posting record global temperatures. We've just logged the hottest-ever May and June.

The carbon we're dumping into the atmosphere is mixing with our oceans, creating newly acidified environments which are already dissolving calcium shells. Oyster farms in Oregon and BC are seeing production fail as the pH of their seawater drops. While some farms have the ability to deal with this problem, we can be certain that wild stocks cannot.

With phytoplankton levels down 40% globally, this is not an isolated phenomenon. Like a child whacking a land-mine with a hammer, we're tinkering with the very base of the marine food chain, all so we can text our friends while speeding along the freeway in our Prius (or Escalade, as is quite popular here in Michigan) on our way to the air-conditioned office, or perhaps for something more important, like taking the kids to soccer practice. Then again, maybe our cars are more important than whales. Or fish. Or oxygen  (the oceans supply most of the oxygen we breathe).

Ditching the car is not an easy task. I understand, and I haven't yet done it myself. Participating in industrial society isn't just a matter of fun, but a matter of survival for most anyone with the means to read this blog. But with that said, there are some changes which are relatively harmless (such as avoiding vacations to far off destinations), and which would have huge benefits. Will we make them?

No comments: