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The Nature of Things

By PAM BERNS

Nature has been unkind as of late. And nowhere has nature been more cruel than in Somalia, where drought pushed millions of fleeing families to seek water and food. None of us can look away from this devastation without feeling we must do more. (See unicefusa.org to give)

The Union of Concerned Scientists has issued reports on climate changes, including “Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.” The climate-related future depends mostly on future human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases and airborne particles. They write, “The relative indicators are rising” including air temperature over land, oceans and sea-surfaces; sea level, ocean heat, humidity and tropospheric temperature as well as three indicators that are declining: “Arctic sea ice, glaciers and spring snow cover in the Northern hemisphere.” 

Even when we are stressed by economic perils in unemployment and the markets, we can ill afford to ignore our contributions to global warming. States such as Texas and Oklahoma have experienced drought conditions reminiscent of the dust bowl era. Dealing with alternative energy and conservation are places to begin addressing man-made effects on the climate. But the forces of the energy of yesterday, with our reliance on coal—including mountaintop mining—and oil, are compromising our political system as well as polluting the environment. Campaign donations by entrenched business interests are funding candidates who will continue to maintain the status quo. Meanwhile, some candidates are denying man-made ties to global warming. Even in a state where wildfires and drought have taken an especially devastating toll, presidential candidate and current governor of Texas, Rick Perry, has shrugged off the connection, saying that it will eventually rain: “It always does.”

In Perry’s book, Fed Up!, he writes that Al Gore was a “false prophet of a secular carbon cult.”

According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, big oil has contributed more than $11 million to Perry’s political career. If elected, Perry said he would like to “put a moratorium on all regulations.”
   
The markets are not the only signs that we are dealing with a crisis of nature. Other forces are at work as well. Bugs, plants and wild animals are affecting us in ways that none of us have experienced before. Many of these species are moving north.
   
Kudzu vines—native to Japan and China—have taken over trees in parts of the country, even in Illinois. According to the News Bureau at the University of Illinois, the vines were introduced to the U.S. in the 1865 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Their roots can reach into the earth 12 feet and can grow to weigh 300 pounds. Kudzu can block sunlight and smother native plants.
   
Weeds, unwanted growths that can choke out more desirable plants, are thriving. This summer the E.P.A. banned the sale of an herbicide—Imprelis— that was used by professional landscapers and on golf courses to get rid of weeds like clover and dandelions. Unfortunately, shortly after the herbicide was applied to the lawns, nearby trees—even large old-growth evergreens such as Norway spruce, white pine and balsam fir trees—began dying. According to the New York Times, trees such as willows and poplars, with shallow root systems are especially vulnerable. Unfortunately, Imprelis was supposed to be an environmentally-friendly herbicide, harmless to animals. However, Imprelis didn’t bind with the soil and seeped into groundwater. The E.P.A. had originally approved the herbicide on a limited basis to professional landscapers. You have to wonder why the E.P.A. approved this product in the first place. Now homeowners who have lost huge trees on their property are suing DuPont, the manufacturer of Imprelis, because homeowners need to replace the trees and that can cost up to $25,000 a tree. Large trees are priceless to a community. They can enhance the value of homes, even up to 20 percent.
   
In Chicago, plans are still being considered to reverse the course of the Chicago river in order to protect the Great Lakes from the Asian carp. Surrounding states want to separate the Chicago area waterways from Lake Michigan, hence all the Great Lakes. When the carp were introduced into southern states to clean  up fish ponds, they escaped into the Mississippi River and continued to move north. The huge fish can weigh up to 100 pounds. They are known to jump in response to motorboats and the effects of being hit by the flying fish can be likened to being hit by a medicine ball in flight. The fish are mostly bone and have not found a market in the United States. But that isn’t frustrating some fishermen in the Illinois River, where 80 percent of their fish catch are Asian carp. The New York Times reports that local fishermen are seeing booming markets for the fish in Asia, processing it into Asian carp hot dogs, frozen fish and fertilizer. Another Illinois company has won a $1 million contract to fish and process the carp into fish oil. Ask Chicago restaurateurs how they will feel about carp replacing trout or whitefish on the menu.
   
Developing a market for Asian carp doesn’t make it any safer for the Great Lakes to protect its $7 billion fishing and tourism industries. But there’s more at stake than industry. Every time we play with Mother Nature we pay a steep price in environmental
degradation. Asian carp eat plankton which other fish need as well. Native Lake Michigan fish will likely be wiped out by the Asian carp. When we toy with the balance of nature, many times we cannot ever recover. Understandably, the barge industries do not want to separate Chicago area waterways from the Great Lakes. The courts will decide how this plays out, but developing markets for the Asian carp will not protect our native species.  Once the carp escape into Lake Michigan, it will be too late to stop the infestation.
   
It is our responsibility to leave this world a better place. Ignoring environmental pollution—leading to global warming and the upset of the balance of nature—is irresponsible.
   
Sign me up for the secular carbon cult.

Published: October 01, 2011
Issue: November 2011 Issue