The Stewardship of Footprints

February 22, 2010

A recent blog (click here to read) touched on the need for good stewardship of the earth; after all, it is our home.  With the juggernaut of the global warming movement these days, the basic need to act responsibly seems to take a back seat in areas outside of the generation of greenhouse gasses.  It would not be at all surprising if the ultimate global warming solution ends up polluting the world in some other form.

It’s not that addressing global warming is a bad thing, to the contrary.  What is wrong is to see CO2, and other naturally occurring gases, as a pollutant.  What we are concerned with is the balance of CO2, and these other gases, in the environment.  Statements regarding a person’s carbon footprint are commonplace today.  Thinking only about greenhouse gases, with regard to a footprint, is incredibly shortsighted and results in our “kicking the can” of our real problem down the road; the real problem being pollution as a whole.  Only when naturally occurring compounds are out of balance with nature are they pollutants, thinking about a carbon footprint does not take into account the unnatural compounds we create, other than the energy to produce them.

While many misconceptions about global warming exists, none is more glaring than the value of CO2 in the atmosphere.  It is impossible to remove it all.  Besides, we need it there, to remove it would end life as we know it.  CO2 must be looked at like a river’s level.  It has a normal level, a low level, and a flood level.  The CO2 we add takes the atmosphere closer to the flood level, what we want is to keep it normal.  You would never drain a river of all its water, nor should we attempt to drain the atmosphere of the compounds that give it balance. CO2 and other natural gases are only pollutants when we saturate the environment with them.

Here is a question to think about, do we hurt the earth when we pollute?  In reality, no, we hurt ourselves; we hurt the other living creatures and the ability of the earth to support life.  If we pollute the planet to the point were life ends, the earth will recover in time and start over, just without us.  I am reminded of the Jon Cleary quote, “the oxen is slow, but the earth is patient.”

The effect of pollution does not matter as much today as it does tomorrow.  Polystyrene, the ubiquitous Styrofoam cup, is not biodegradable.  It will erode over time into smaller pieces but remains polystyrene.  Even if you cannot see it, it is there.  In other words, if Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles used Styrofoam cups and plates at the last supper, they would still be in a landfill today, maybe not as a cup but the polystyrene would still be there.  That is the designed characteristic of most plastics – they are not biodegradable and last indefinitely.  Therefore, they have no use to the planet with regard to life cycle.  In truth, they hurt the life cycle as animals ingest eroded plastics they cannot process as food.

Styrofoam is just one easy example of the endless pollutants we surround ourselves with, but what other options do we have?  We could go backwards, but there’s just not enough caves for all of us to live in.  No, our only true option is to move forward responsibly with good stewardship of the planet, in all regards.  This means to not squander resources, like water, recycle waste products to prevent them from remaining in nature (including excess natural compounds like CO2), and changing our thinking regarding the long-term viability of the products we bring into our lives.

There is no question that plastics, and the other chemical compounds, we develop have the ability to improve our particular situation.  One only needs to visit a neonatal ward in a hospital to understand plastics are a blessing.  We simply need to handle that blessing responsibly after it’s served its purpose.  If nature did not make it, let’s not leave it to her to deal with.  Nature keeps the world in balance, we change that balance.  It cannot be helped but that does not mean we have carte blanche on the matter.  We have to act responsibly regarding our impact on the world.  It is in our own best interest to do so.

It is time to stop thinking about today and put tomorrow first.  Rather than thinking about “carbon”, we need to expand out thinking to our overall footprint.  Teddy Roosevelt said to “speak softly and carry a big stick,” its time we learn to walk that way, and reduce humanity’s footprint, no matter how big a stick we carry.

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