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Posts Tagged ‘Environmentalism’

I have been a lot of discussion and debates recently over everything from religion to politics, from environmentalism to capitalism and beyond. It is very stimulating.  I always enjoy it when I meet people with opposing views who are articulate and cogent in their arguments.  The debate can help sharpen my own thinking or argumentation.  Sometimes, I even change my mind or at least give a little ground!

Not everyone is suited for these types of engagements, however. I find people from all across the spectrum of ideas, beliefs and philosophies who hold to ideas without solid reason.  In other words, they know what they believe.  They simply do not know why they believe other than someone else told them or they learned it somewhere.  For some, this causes them to dig deeper and search out answers.  For others, they simply blockade behind what they already believe and pursue it no further.

The intolerable ones in the public dialogue are always the ones, from whatever side of the issues, who are more concerned about being right than anything else. It is more important for them to be right than it is to respect the others differing opinions or feelings.  It is more important for them to assert what they deem to be the absolute truth than it is to mutually seek understanding and arriving at “truth” together with someone they started out in disagreement with in the first place.  In most cases, they may win the argument but they lose the battle.

The real battle in so much of our public dialogues of late is not who has the right answer but who can be the right person. Everyone thinks they have the right answers, whatever the subject being debated.  We witnessed this during the recent public health reform debate.  We see it in the discussion over financial reforms for Wall Street.  We hear it in the discussion about what to do with terrorists, or the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, or immigration reform, or drug control, or…well, you get the idea.

There are certain high profile individuals on both sides of any issue who think that shouting the loudest, more smartly demeaning their opponents or gaining mass agreement is all that is important to win the day. Once again, I am afraid the focus upon only winning the debate or argument will ultimately lose the larger battle of gaining common ground and understanding to build relationships and alliances.

Being right does not, no matter what one may think, necessarily guarantee one has the moral high ground if assertion of it only leads to hostilities and making enemies. One can be right in all the facts and wrong in every way.  However, being wrong in all the facts but right in one’s attitude and actions will, I am confident, ultimately bring one to the right conclusions even if their starting point was erroneous.  A position of being a humble learner of another’s point of view is not a position of weak acquiescence to their position.

I think this position is true in any number of relationships. For instance, should a parent assert their “rightness” over seeking to understand the position or thinking of their child?  I have been guilty of this – thinking that I must somehow convince them that I know better and that I know right.  I have discovered that sometimes seeking to understand their thinking and point of view become the bridge that convinces them that I am right after all.  In other words, being the right kind of person to my child is more important than always being right.

Lincoln City, Oregon, August, 2009

Lincoln City, Oregon, August, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

How many relationships have been ruined because individuals were more concerned about asserting the idea that they are right than they were about being the right friend, parent, son, daughter, brother, sister, grandparent, etc to the people around them?  Constructive dialogue sometimes requires us to enter into the world and mind of the other person before we make them cross the bridge into ours.  Seeking to be the right person for what is needed to reach mutual understanding becomes more important than simply being right all the time.

This does not require an individual to give up what they believe to be a rational and cogent point of view. They do not need to adopt erroneous thinking or a bad idea.  It is possible to hold onto one’s position and still enter into another person’s thought processes to understand them and their reasoning.  This exchange does not necessitate a denial of what one’s believe is true.  It does necessitate an honest effort to understand others.

So, the next time you are faced with someone who does not see things the way you do, whether it is your child, co-worker, friend, relative or acquaintance ask yourself,Do I simply want to be right?  Or to understand and be understood?”  The answer to that question will determine the outcome of the discussion or debate.  What do you want from this relationship; to be right or to be the right person?

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The recent ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has reawakened in me a conundrum about evolution, the meaning of life and the ultimate end of all things. This often rises up in my mind during these man-made tragic events or other natural catastrophes.  I am left wondering, from a purely evolutionary ideal, “What’s the big deal?  Isn’t this just the natural working out of our evolutionary and natural development?”  As far as I can see, it is humankind’s evolutionary destiny as well as right to attempt to subjugate nature.

Radical environmentalists decry the abuse of nature. They claim that humans are too anthropocentric and need to have greater care for other creatures – right down to the microbial level.  They throw around the word “speciesism” or “specism” to prompt guilt among bipedal humanoids for considering our species as more important or of greater worth than other species.  As a result, they claim, our needs and selfish desires have threatened the existence of other species.  According to them, we should take more care.

This begs the question as to why it matters whether one species lives or dies – exists or ceases to exist. What moral compass guides us in our decision making to even consider the value and worth of another species however big or small?  If one argues that it is because all species are interconnected and that their survival as a species is ultimately linked to our own survival as a species, then this seems to only end in the same selfish anthropocentric concern.  When humans become concerned for other species out of worry for their own survival; it seems to only be a back door return to speciesism.

After all, the evolutionary principle that continual improvement is necessary for the survival of a species seems to me to necessitate that one species is going to survive or thrive at the cost of another. The idea of balance in nature would seem to conflict with evolution since species are ever contending for the same room and resources within a biosphere limited with both.  Not only are species at war with one other for the same resources for survival, but they are all vulnerable to disease and natural disasters.  The survival of the fittest takes on a new level of urgency and importance in such a hostile environment.

So, are not humans simply fulfilling their evolutionary destiny by exploiting to the best of their abilities the natural resources surrounding them? Can we not call the massive struggle to fight against disease and natural disasters just part of our evolutionary duty towards our own species?  Should we not consider when a portion of humanity falls to natural disasters or diseases that these adverse events are simply a part of our own struggle to survive?  And, sometimes we come out the winners and sometimes the losers?  What makes us care or have compassion for others of our own species, let alone the condition of another?

If humanity is evolved from an impersonal mass of biological material, what moral guidance really regulates our care for the rest of creation? There are all sorts of competing philosophies and religions among our species.  However, if we are the result of an ongoing evolutionary cycle, then they are all meaningless.  Humanity only finds its meaning, like the rest of nature, in its own survival and thriving.  It seems that nothing else is really pertinent to the discussion.

As such, evolution does not really satisfactorily answer the question of neither what it means to be human nor how humanity should relate to the rest of creation. Evolution, after all, is an unfeeling and meaningless force moving all species toward the final existence of one specie’s domination over all others.  Humans would be dismayed to wake up some morning to find out that the planet had been taken over by apes (as in the movie “The Planet of the Apes”) or lions, tigers or bears (Oh, my!).  Therefore, according to our evolutionary mandate, we must continue to evolve, dominate other species and, if necessary, eliminate them when necessary; right down to the microbial level.

White Wild Flowers, Deschutes River Trail, Oregon, April 2010

White Wild Flowers, Deschutes River Trail, Oregon, April 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Confidence in the evolutionary path of humans, let alone all creatures, may be misplaced if we expect some form of higher-enlightenment to guide us into empathy for all species. Thousands of years of human evolution has shown to us that nature is very brutal and humankind as much or more so.  Not even considering our survival as a particular species, we divide ourselves up according to language and cultural groups and then seek to dominate one another by slavery, war or total annihilation.  We do not seem to be overly concerned with our own survival!  Granted, we do seem to care more about those who have the same skin pigmentation, language sounds and cultural similarities, but even that is no guarantee against our warring amongst ourselves for dominance and survival.

If humankind is a higher evolved animal, then there does not seem to be too much hope for all of creation. We are bent on our own destruction, the demise of all other species and the ultimate destruction of our biosphere.  There must be a greater guiding principle for us to pursue.  There must be, somewhere, a larger purpose for existing and caring for the rest of creation.  Otherwise, we are no better off than the fruit-fly.  We hatch, live, breed and die; albeit longer than the fruit-fly’s seven days.  However, the end result is the same.

If we are only the sum of an evolutionary process, then the conundrum it must answer or deny is, “Why should we care?” The logical conclusion is that we should not care or that the question itself is meaningless.  Then, why do we feel this tension and need to care for our own species as well as other species as part of our human consciousness and being?  What drives us – most of us anyway – to be empathetic towards the vulnerable, whether other humans or other species?  I think the answer must lie somewhere deeper than just bio-chemical evolution.

Is it possible that humans, as well as all of creation, is endowed with something greater than just chemical interaction? Do our existential questions stem from something that lays latent within all of us?  Is it possible that something we cannot see or measure actually is the cause and guidance creation’s existence?  Could our concern, broadly speaking, for the care and well-being of all creatures point to something imparted to us at the nexus of our beginning?  I think that an affirmative answer to these questions guides us to a more reasonable conclusion for humanity’s care and concern for the rest of creation.

Of course, this is a jump into the unknown and unexplained. It is a “leap of faith” of sorts.  However, our faith so far in what we have been able to observe, measure and reduplicate does not seem to be adequate either.  The hard sciences do not help us too much with existential questions.  They require their own “leap of faith” of sorts for us to connect the dots.  So, the question then becomes, do we keep them in two isolated spheres or do we attempt to bring them together to find meaning and answers?

The answer to that depends upon who you listen to in philosophical and scientific circles. The simple answer is that evolution at any level – biological or social – does not adequately address such questions.  To solve such a large conundrum, we must turn to larger answers beyond what we can see, hear and touch.  It may turn out that our very existence lies beyond the physical world.  The evolutionary conundrum answered by what is least expected in a world of physical sciences.  It may just be wrapped in mystery.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Delicate Purple Flowers, Deschutes River Trail, Oregon, April 2010

Delicate Purple Flowers, Deschutes River Trail, Oregon, April 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Protected in coveys during Winter,

the quail in pairs appear

to begin the rites of Spring.

Sounding to each the call,

chi-CAH-go, chi-CAH-go,

they seek shelter and nest.

Low lying brush provides cover

as mates prepare a shallow nest

to begin a new season of raising young.

Eggs laid in pine needles and dried leaves,

turns taken to care for the clutch

in hopes of young to guarantee a future.

Callipepla califonica walks proudly

in front of the young showing the world

a proud brood of offspring for a new year.

Father and mother alternate calls,

chi-CAH-go, chi-CAH-go,

for the chicks to follow.

Papa displays the larger topnotch,

a group of six small feathers arranged proudly,

allowing it to bob as he proudly struts.

Mother, with smaller plume,

antiphonally answers her mate

Chi-CAH-go, chi-CAH-go!

So, Spring has come to the shrub land

as the California quail arrives to

greet us with its rites of Spring.

(To hear the call of a California Quail, go to http://www.naturesongs.com/caqu1.wav)

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Imagine for a moment a day in the news that announced 20 jumbo jet liners crashed killing on board.  Or, imagine a natural disaster near you like an earthquake in which 6,000 people died.  In such a scenario, I can imagine whole communities coming together to offer assistance and aid.  I imagine people all over the world praying for victims and survivors and their families.  I imagine it would be big news and covered 24 – 7 on all the news channels.

Yet, everyday the equivalent of those very things happen.  It goes unreported and unnoticed.  Worse still, there is no rush of humanitarian aid.  There is no mobilization of communities or agencies to help.  And, still, every day 6,000 people die, mostly children, from something that is preventable.  The lack of clean water.  Shocking isn’t it?

In the Western world and in America particularly, we take for granted the easy access to water we enjoy.  We are only steps away from a cool, clean glass of fresh water.  We buy it bottled.  We take long showers and baths in it.  We play in it in our swimming pools and lakes and rivers.  We wash our cars and animals with it.  Every restaurant serves it with ice.  We are truly blessed.  The average toilet flush uses more water than the average family without access to clean water will us in a day!

Unknown Purple Flower, June 2007

Unknown Purple Flower, June 2007 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Meanwhile, every hour 250 people die from lack of clean water.  Every minute 4 people will die from the diseases that contracted in the dirty water they drink.  Every day, a woman or child in a community without access to clean water will spend an average of four hours retrieving dirty water for their family to use.  The water retrieved will contain parasites, bacteria, and animal waste.  Americans, on the other hand, spent approximately $16 billion dollars on bottled water alone last year (2009).

Because of lack of clean water, children do not get educated.  Parents need their children to fetch clean water instead of going to school.  Malnutrition and starvation is caused by lack of access to clean water more than anything else.  Children cannot assimilate their food properly and grow when they are plagued with parasites and diarrhea.  An organization like CauseLife.org tells us that “A single drop of water can contain over one billion bacterial organisms!  Diarrhea, malaria, typhoid, cholera, worms and parasites, and trachoma just to name a few.”

The lack of awareness is the biggest problem!  The vast majority of people in the developed world are unaware of the problem.  A problem that can be solved easily with communities and individuals coming together to do something about it.  Only $15,000 will provide a deep-bore well that will provide a village of 1,000 people clean, accessible water for 20 years.  Americans alone spent 1oo thousand times that much on bottled water alone last year.  Imagine what would happen if they came together with the rest of the developing world to provide clean, accessible water to the 2 billion people who need it.

I was made aware at a Children of the World concert.  The 15 children from all over the world who sang and danced captured everyone’s heart.  More importantly, it put the face of child to needs of children in underdeveloped countries all over the world.  Some of their stories are heartbreaking.  However, by becoming aware of their needs, we can get involved and do something.  As individuals, our participation combined others makes a difference.  I highly recommend seeing about scheduling a concert with them!

Once we are made aware of a problem we can do something about, it is incumbent upon us to act.   It is not the acts of evil people that defines our humanity.  It is when good people act in coordinated compassion for others with needs that defines us.  No one person needs to attempt to do it all or all alone.  In cooperation with others we can change our world.

Jesus poignantly identifies his true followers as those who “saw me thirsty and gave me a drink.”  There is no excuse not to do something.  Anything.  Donate.  Make others aware.  Volunteer.  Every time you use the faucet, toilet or shower and sink think of those who do not have such easy access.  Then, pray to the Lord to raise up people to meet the need.  There is someone somewhere today just dying for a drink of clean water.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Eagle Creek Hike, 2002

Eagle Creek Hike, 2002 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

The curlew bird’s call
more a wounded cry
than the chirp and whistle
of much prettier birds

calls from dry land steppes
between river shore wading
and in the shallows feeding
so unlike other water birds

steps from its nest
nestled near the bunch grass and sage
exposing its mottled eggs
in their shallow sand and gravely grave.

Nest now in danger,
parent bird feigns wounded wing
limps away from fragile treasure
a selfless sacrifice to its predator.

Dangerous conqueror consumes
bulldozer and grader works
bunch grass, sage, and nest
a sacrifice to larger human nests.

Consumed by tread and steel
conquered bird rounds the sky
sending out the wounded cry
of the curlew bird’s call.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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I got my fifteen seconds of fame when Matt Haugen from our local TV station KVEW (ABC) asked me for a street interview.  I was lounging down at Howard Amon Park in Richland, WA, enjoying the wonderful weather and working on a piece of poetry that was giving me fits.  So, why not?

He wanted my opinion about a recent news article (printed that day in the Tri-City Herald) about the Government Accountability Office recommending that some of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation’s waste be left and not cleaned up.  The problem?  The cost of completing the task.  Apparently, the Department of Energy originally estimated the clean-up cost to be around $77 billion.  Now it looks to be more in the $86 to $100 billion range.

Supposedly, the majority of the cost of cleaning the storage tanks – about 80% – comes in getting the last 15% of the sludge out.  The recommendation is to just leave it there.  To put that in perspective, the Hanford Area has around 53 million gallons of waste left over from the nuclear weapons production era.  Let’s see…15% of 53 million gallons…seems like it’s still a great lot of toxic sludge to leave in leaky storage tanks.

Beach Log at Neskowin Beach, OR

Beach Log at Neskowin Beach, OR ©Weatherston/Ron Almberg, Jr (2009)

Those storage tanks that are leaking are allowing their toxic wastes to seep into the underground aquifer system. Some of these pollutants have already reached parts of the Columbia River.  So, why would we think it is a good plan to leave any of it in the ground?  The Government Accountability Office does not think that the cost of clean-up is “justified by the reduction in radiation risk”.  Excuse me?  Is any radiation risk – or toxic waste risk – acceptable when it may impact the local population and a major river system with its abundant eco-systems?

I don’t remember my exact response to the television camera. It’s pretty hard to speak off the cuff about something that has so many details and angles.  I think it boiled down to my sense that it was not very socially or environmentally responsible.  Good grief.  I wish I had had more time.  Surely I could have come up with something a little more original and intelligent.  Well, you can bet I’ll not be pursued for future commentary on important local or world events.  So much for my dream of being a local commentator celebrity (just kidding, folks).

Further reflection upon this report by the GAO for a U.S. House Subcommittee responsible for energy spending gave me reason for greater alarm.  There are obvious reasons why this is environmentally irresponsible.  And they are extremely important to the discussion.  However, I think the social responsibilities are important too and may more likely be overlooked.  Let me tick off just a few for you:

  1. The clean-up should be completed 100% to honor the social contract it entered into when it vacated the 520 square miles of land for its nuclear project by removing people from their farms and shutting down the towns of White Bluffs and Hanford with their established communities and businesses.
  2. The clean-up should be completed 100% to honor the memory of all the early Hanford Area workers exposed to radiation and toxins and died horrible deaths from cancers.
  3. The clean-up should be completed 100% to guarantee as much as is humanly possible that none of the toxic waste will ever affect future generations by contaminating its water supply through the under ground aquifer or Columbia River systems.
  4. The clean-up should be completed 100% to recognize the trouble and pain caused to the “down winders” who suffered exposure to toxic clouds released into the air for government experiments.
  5. The clean-up should be completed 100% to, in some measure, attempt to repay the American people the millions of dollars lost in past bad management and fiscal irresponsibility.

I’m sure that there are other reasons. It just seems to me terribly irresponsible for our government to walk away from one of the worst environmental messes in the world and not finish what they started.  If it was a private company, the government would be all over it and demand complete clean-up.  Leaving behind 8 – 9 million barrels of toxic waste just isn’t acceptable in my mind.  As I tell my children, “You made the mess.  You clean it up.”

© Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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Lava flower

Balsam Flower © Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

How quickly the desert flower fades.
It fills its place for which it was made
greens, blossoms, reaches out with new blade
surrenders its fragrance in evening shade.

The tender root now searches deep
to moisten sap and tender leaf
that for one more day it might keep
its flowery fruit in furnace heat.

Watch blossom and blade upon the wind
gently sway and slightly bend
as thermal currents seek to rend
from petal and leaf the life it attends.

Amidst thorny weed and woody sage
the desert flower dresses landscape stage
the brevity of life and beauty its wage
for lifting flowered face against heat’s rage.

Grieve not as desert flower dies
leaving browny leaf where it lies
its brief life testifies
to the beauty of joyful resilience that defies
the hostile environ of all our lives.

© Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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