Friday, March 4, 2016

Fire Air Earth and Water

There comes a day each spring  when I suddenly see that everything is sprouting new growth.  The 'red bud' tree is awash with color, even the Yellow oxalis look beautiful with intense yellow.  (I do my best to overlook how invasive they are...) New growth is sprouting out of 'dead' branches. It is a riot of activity!  It is good!  I walk with the dogs and everywhere - the world appears as it should be on such a morning...
Fig tree bud

 I say “I don’t see any great changes taking place..." "Melting polar ice caps don’t affect me" " the air pollution in China isn’t my problem" " So what if the average annual temperature is .5 degrees warmer this year than last and the sea level has risen a fraction of an inch?  These changes may well accumulate  to affect future generations of people and even mass extinctions of some organisms, but not me on a morning like this!   It requires effort on a day like this to deal with real problems.

Plum blossoms
But I know -   There have been natural changes in  the past - but never such a rapid change related to human activity. We have only one earth - and every day there are more us of living on it...What can I do today to be a little more responsible...?  Like your mama used to say to you - "its time to clean up your room!" Isn't it ironic that the 4 elements of our universe recognized by the ancient Greeks, (and independently by other cultures) have come back to prominence for us again? 

Bad air day in Bejing
Many organisms on our earth are adapted to live in very narrow environmental limits - adding chemicals or changing temperatures even a slight amount  have already been fatal to thousands of species - "once something becomes extinct it will not return to our earth".

To the ancients it made logical sense that all forms of solid matter were aspects of 'earth' - the rocks and minerals, the flesh of animals and plants, metals and pottery...
German  Air - Fire - Earth - Water 
Air was what we breath, what surrounds us, what a bird flies through.  Air was not visible but essential for life...It would be long years before such fine distinctions as Oxygen, Nitrogen, and Carbon dioxide were known.
Natural 'fire' from the Earth
Fire was seen as a strange 'substance' to the ancients - it was something powerful that could be locked within some forms of matter (wood. coal), it was the energy of the sun, even the earth generated it in volcanoes...  Fire (heat) tended to rise and dissipate into the air...
Imaginary periodic chart
Water was different from 'earth' in that it was fluid - Oceans were a mystery - Was the earth afloat on a 'great sea' ?- Did the earth have known limits and then endless water? Was there a great sea over our heads that sometimes gave us rain?  Moisture could rise in the air to form clouds and then fall as rain... Water is capable of evaporation and freezing ... pretty mysterious!
Air - water 

Now the interesting thing is that these elements could often combine into single phenomena...  Humans had components of solid earth, we breathed 'air' in and out of our bodies, there were aspects of 'fire' within the human body - hence our body heat.  Fish however did not have this fire in their bodies.  And water was an important component of our make up.

To us today this all seems naive - yet to Aristotle, early Arabs, Chinese, and Indian cultures this was the product of good inductive reasoning... In the the origin of our primordial 'science'.

Why is it important today - because we have gotten ourselves in a fix over these same 4 elements?  We have created systems out of balance with the natural world.  Please visit this site - highly recommended!

Long ago, deposits of fossilized organisms trapped sunlight energy stored inside them- they would represent solid "earth" to the ancients but they contain the capacity to release fire - energy to make our gasoline or coal to burn for industry.   They also release vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the air and this has resulted in a mechanism that traps energy in our atmosphere and even heats the ocean.
The great surging sea - constantly exchanging materials and heat with the atmosphere
In addition, we have through our industrial manipulations created an array of liquid and solid products that have found their way into the ocean - causing changes in the chemistry of the sea... Atmospheric CO2 has dissolved into seawater to create changes in sea water acidity... plastics are extremely slow to break down and they tend to concentrate in the sea interfering with the feeding of natural organisms.  Even the air we breath has become contaminated with exhaust from our cars and industry causing a serious increase in asthma and respiratory and blood diseases that shorten life.  Products of the plastics can mimic naturally occurring hormones and alter the development and life cycles of organisms, also stimulate abnormal cancers.
If we deny these facts we are 'ostriches" burying out collective heads in the sand...

Our one and only Earth 

Why are we reluctant as a society to correct these problems?   Thats simple - we are entrenched in a way or life and an economic system that would find the corrections painful - coal and oil producing states would stand to lose jobs, taxes, and a way of life.  We like the convenience of jumping in our cars and 'going places' (I do!) ...But every time I go to the store to buy milk or bread I am adding to the climates greenhouse gases...  ( Its just easier to pretend that these problems dont matter! ) We need new technologies to eliminate the need for fossil fuels... its starting - if you have solar panels on your house- hurray!  If you drive an electric car...super!  These technologies will continue to grow and expand.  Imagine what eliminating our dependence on foreign oil would do to the world economy and politics.. There would be winners and losers.
What can I do and you do to minimize my damage to the environment?  The Sierra club has the motto "When you go into wilderness - leave nothing but footprints"

Sea Anenomies are very sensitive to changes in seawater pH

We are so in love with our current system of conveniences it is a challenge - I want to go to Europe?  No problem hop on a commercial plane (jet exhaust), I love my plastic everything - it doesn’t last very long - but thats OK -when I'm done with it I throw it away (There is no 'away' in this world).  I get hungry for fresh tomatoes in January - ah the supermarket has them - They must travel by diesel truck from Mexico - but I'll overlook that) When I want to throw something away I now have to make a decision is it compost, trash, it recyclable...Is it too much trouble to make that distinction. 

But on a day like this please cut me some slack - I will enjoy the glory of springtime and watch the buds swell and sprout new life.