Friday, May 24, 2013

Illusion of Individuality pt. 9


Similar to other terms discussed here, one has to first consider the term pollution in the broadest sense. 
“Presence of matter (gas, liquid, solid) or energy (heat, noise, radiation) whose nature, location, or quantity directly or indirectly alters characteristics or processes of any part of the environment, and causes (or has the potential to cause) damage to the condition, health, safety, or welfare of animals, humans, plants, or property.”[i]
When speaking about pollution, it is not just referring to litter on the side of the road, the thousands of massive landfills, or the 1312 Superfund sites.[ii]  
Any substances in water, soil, or air that degrade the natural quality of the environment, offend the senses of sight, taste, or smell, or cause a health hazard. The usefulness of the natural resource is usually impaired by the presence of pollutants and contaminants”[iii]
Pollution should be recognized in all its detrimental forms whether it be any byproduct from growing, obtaining, or using an otherwise naturally occurring substance or anything from food wrappers, to CO2 emissions, to the remains of industrial chemical production. Simply put, pollution can be regarded as essentially leftovers from sustaining ourselves. Weather it is a pile of prehistoric midden or barrels of radioactive material, it is all the same in that we have primarily labeled such things as “waste.” So rather than using materials in a way where whatever is leftover is converted into “fuel” for some secondary process, it has traditionally been piled and pushed aside to the realm of “out of sight, out of mind.”
As we have seen for some years now, we are running out of places to store all this waste where it can remain out of sight. Take any one of the trash islands in the mid-ocean gyres for an example.[iv] Or perhaps a more accessible instance is the terrestrial version of these islands otherwise known as landfills.[v] In some cases these landfills have been covered with dirt and grass and converted into parks or playgrounds. But after a few years the sludge underneath starts seeping out. And most are left open to off-gas and leak unmitigated. When these sites are no longer just a threat to “other” things like plants and wildlife, but infringes directly upon the heath of the people in proximity, only then is action occasionally taken to “clean up” the site at a cost that far exceeds what it would have taken to deal with the waste initially.[vi] [vii]
Another example of pollution, which has grabbed far more headlines over the years than landfills or trash islands, is that of atmospheric pollution, specifically carbon dioxide. There is little point in debating the extent of how detrimental this pollution may or may not be anymore.[viii] Regardless of what the specific numbers are, simply put, the more carbon there is in the atmosphere the worse the fallout will be.[ix] Consider that it took hundreds of millions of years for natural processes to sequester all that matter into what we have dubbed fossil fuels and in a matter of the past 150 short years humankind has expelled a considerable amount of that material directly into the atmosphere.[x] But in similar fashion to other air-born particulates and compounds (Methane, radioactive “dust” from the testing of atomic weapons, etc.) they cannot be seen with the naked eye. So we’re back at the same place: out of sight, out of mind. [xi]
Now that we have a more holistic and complete picture of what pollution is the broader concept of what pollution is can be related back to how it is solely a product of the concept of the individual. As long as people will see themselves as not intimately intertwined with the rest of everything, they afford themselves the ability to treat all that “other stuff” with a sickening degree of callousness. In that they can’t imagine how pissing in the water supply and shitting all over the land will in anyway come back to bite them in the ass. One could argue that there is something of a universally human taboo concerning the direct consumption of ones own excrement (bodily, industrial, or otherwise), yet that earlier mentioned callousness allows one to be able to not think of the reality in which all that excrement isn’t really going anywhere, unless it is managed responsibly, so it just winds up in similarly toxic forms right back into the food web. Whether one wants to realize it or not, without proper management of all that excreted pollution is taken up by processes such as biomagnification and that light illustrates that people are essentially just eating their own shit. If pollution is managed in a reusable way it can foster, rather than hinder, biotic processes and would then cease to be pollution. This could be achieved if we could create only wastes which could be rapidly absorbed back into the biosphere unlike the current habits of relying on petroleum based products whose half-lives are longer than a human lifespan. If civilization could view itself as a cog in the planetary machine that is Earth instead of a bunch of individuals our collective waste could function as fuel rather than endlessly increasing pollution.

[i] “Pollution,” Business, (accessed April 25, 2013).
[ii] “Final National Priorities List,” Environmental Protection Agency, (accessed April 25, 2013).
[iv] Russell McLendon, “What is the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch?,” Mother Nature Network, (accessed April 25, 2013).
[v] “Solutions for Landfill Applications,” RKI Instruments, (accessed April 25, 2013).
[vi] Marshal Brain, “What if We Eliminated Landfills?,” (accessed April 25, 2013).
[viii] James Grubel, “Summer Ice Melt in Antarctica is at the Highest Point in 1,000 Years, Researchers Say,” Huffington Post, (accessed April 25, 2013).
[ix] An Inconvenient Truth, directed by Davis Guggenheim, (2006; Hollywood, CA: Paramount Classics.)
[x] “Petroleum Industry,” Wikipedia, (accessed April 25, 2013).
[xi] Bill Mckibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Rolling Stone, (accessed April 27, 2013).

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