"Root, stem, limb, leaf,
the glow and hue of flower and fruit-
one rain extends to them
and all are able to become fresh and glossy."~The Lotus Sutra
While the motivations of advocates for eco-friendly policies and practices seem fairly straightforward - being "friendly" toward earth's often fragile ecologies - those of their opponents appear murky at best. What, we might reasonably ask, could be the harm in looking after this, our only planet, our only home? Increasingly, it is difficult to come to anything but the unfortunate conclusion that the goal most highly prized among the "eco-belligerent" or the "eco-indifferent" is the immense pleasure derived from obstructing those with the unmitigated temerity to care for the planet which sustains our life.
The conflict between the aforementioned camps stretches back at least to the 1970's when it centered on high profile issues such as the detrimental effects of pesticides like DDT. Lately the issue serving as a lightening rod for liberals and conservatives is global warming, or under it's more technical name, anthropogenic global warming (AGW). The bone of contention between the opponents being the extent to which human activity may be leading the planet down the road to ruin. In other words, emphasis is placed on the predictability (or lack thereof) of an imminent ecological catastrophe.
I'll resist adding my voice to the armies of scientists, politicos, and hangers on parroting the talking points of their respective sides. For me, obssessing on the future is too speculative to be of practical help, and throws little useful light on our situation. More relevant is the track record of our species on this planet which is documented and thus is not in doubt. I am more concerned with what might be called anthropogenic trashing (AGT), which has caused, and is causing degradation, illness and ecological strain on our still beautiful planet. In this light, microcosm is macrocosm. Past is prologue. Greenhouse gases and garbage may be different in magnitude, but not in kind. Trashing the air arises from the same mentality as littering the streets.
One facile argument on the right regarding human activity and ecological degradation is the idea that we haven't been around long enough to do any serious damage. Such obtuseness dangerously underestimates the human capacity for exponential population growth and its predictable strain on resources. Such a notion ignores the many ecological disasters already on record which have threatened or destroyed natural habitats like coastal wetlands, and even claimed human lives. To listen to the minions of the eco-unfriendly these days is to witness a variant of mass selective memory. Its as though history has been expunged from their minds.
But in the reality based community, we know that the Great Pacific Trash Gyre exists. One estimate puts the size of this floating trash island caused by vortex-like currents in the ocean at around that of the United States. With a ratio of plastic to plankton of 48 to 1 this buoyant dump site is quite a testament to the proliferation of waste carelessly discarded by humans the world over. Do the eco-belligerent consider this to be a good thing for the oceans?
Another ecological nightmare seemingly forgotten by know nothing commentators on all things environmental is the October 2000 Coal Sludge Spill in which some 300 billion gallons of arsenic laced coal slurry deluged a significant portion of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. In classic right wing form, the lone official who attempted to investigate the incident was silenced. The Massey Energy Company whose breached reservoir was responsible for the spill, received a slap on the wrist by the Bush administration. Much of the slurry still lines the streams that feed the Ohio River.
Nor do the eco-indifferent recall the spectacular disasters of the distant and recent past which must be laid squarely at the feet of our species: The Libby Montana Asbestos contamination, Union Carbide's 1984 Bhopal India gas disaster (20,000 dead), Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Love Canal, Picher Oklahoma's lead contamination incident, The Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill. In light of our well documented tendency to foul our lands and waterways, can anyone seriously doubt our capacity for visiting environmental armaggedon upon the atmosphere?
In the end this is not about dire predictions of the future of global warming, but remaining cognizant of humankind's environmentally dubious past and present. The question becomes is it possible to care too much for the tiny raft of the earth set adrift in the vast infinitude of the cosmos. A helpful hint in answering the question: It has nothing whatsoever to do with politics, and everything to do with survival.