The world's population remained relatively steady until the beginning
of the 19th century. Since that time it has multiplied fivefold
to over 5 billion, and grows at a rate of 92 million people a year.
83% of the world's income goes to 23°/o of its people. 140 plant
and animal species become extinct every hour of every day. The population
explosion is exacerbating all of the environmental ills perpetrated
by the developed world by providing an ever-increasing number of
Third World "victims" of its expansive, consumptive policies.
Six of the seven warmest years on record have occurred since1980.
Few scientists dispute the theory that we are now facing a global
temperature rise of three to eight degrees over the next century.
This is a more extreme temperature change than our planet has seen
for 10,000 to 15,000 years. A shift of even three degrees in such
a short span of time will upset the balance of nature that all human
civilization has been built on, reminding us that environmental
issues are issues of human survival, not the planet's. Among the
many predicted repercussions of global warming, the following:
•The polar ice caps will melt and cause a rise in sea level
that will effectively submerge much of our existing shorelines,
creating a new type of ecological refugee: those people who have
literally lost their countries under water.
• Desertification will continue to expand, raising the threat
of global famine. • Erratic weather patterns and "super-storms"
wilt become increasingly common.
• Plant and tree species will be unable to move north fast
enough and vegetation extinction will increase.
• In Northern America, species migration patterns will change
radically and upset ecological balance between plants and animals.
Chlorine is one of the 103 basic elements. Chlorinated compounds
are organic chemicals produced by the petrochemical industry by
adding chlorine atoms to other molecules, often hydrocarbons. Chlorinated
compounds (like CFCs) are therefore entirely synthetic. These compounds
are not found in nature and so can not be broken down by microorganisms.
As a result, these compounds persist in the environment indefinitely,
and are very destructive to natural systems.
compounds are used as insecticides and herbicides. (DDT, which was
banned in the U.S. in 1971, is still sold by U.S. companies to the
Third World under other names)
• Chlorinated compounds are used in domestic products like
typewriter correcting fluid and fire extinguishers. They are used
as grease and stain removers by dry cleaning businesses and the
microchip manufacturing industry.
• Chlorinated compounds are found in plastics/and during incineration
produce dioxins, one of the most toxic substances known to man.
CFCs are gases that have been used since the 30's as a coolant in
refrigerators and air conditioners, and more recently as a propellant
in aerosol cans and as a blowing agent for foam plastics in the
manufacture of fast food containers, dashboards and insulation.
• CFCs take at least 100 years to break down once they are
released in the lower atmosphere, so that even if we were to stop
releasing them today, they would remain in the air for generations
• CFCs in the lower atmosphere are "greenhouse gases,"
in that they allow solar radiation to pass through them to the earth,
but keep the earth's radiation from escaping, thus contributing
to global warming.
• CFCs are ozone depleting when they reach the upper atmosphere.
They are broken down into chlorine molecules by the ultraviolet
radiation from the sun. Each chlorine molecule can destroy up to
100,000 ozone molecules, destroying our shield from the sun.
Electricity Waste (C02)
Currently, all electricity produced in this country has an environmental
toll. Most of our electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels,
which produces C02, or carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is absorbed
by trees and plants. Coal and oil are fossilized plants and so,
when they are burned, they release carbon dioxide back into the
atmosphere. C02, CFCs and methane are the primary greenhouse gases
which are trapping the earth's heat and warming the globe. (The
other greenhouse gases are: nitrous oxide and tropospheric ozone
• Nuclear power is an unsatisfactory solution not only because
of the threat of disasters like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island,
but because the waste generated while doing business as usual can
not be safely discarded: A single plant produces about 30 tons of
radioactive waste annually. In '1990 the world's 413 operating nuclear
power plants, while producing 5% of the world's-energy, created
a byproduct of 9,500 tons of irradiated fuel, bringing the total
accumulation of nuclear waste since 1942 to 84,000 tons. This figure
will expand to 450,000 tons by the middle of the next century. (The
U.S. contributes one quarter of this figure)
• Currently, most waste is stored in buildings or dumped in
drums into the ocean, pending further developments.
• These byproducts have on average a life span of a quarter
of a million years, 12,000 human generations.
Most paper is made from virgin timber. When we cut down our forests,
we displace wildlife and destroy whole ecosystems. Most reforestation
programs establish a single species, or monoculture, of fast-growing
trees that do not provide the biological diversity of a forest.
These monocultures are susceptible to disease and dependent on chemical
pesticides and fertilizers.
• Trees play a major role in averting global warming by absorbing
carbon dioxide from the air.
• The white we have grown to think of as sanitary is actually
the result of a highly toxic process. The bleaching of paper, as
well as coffee filters, toilet tissue, and sanitary napkins, produces
dioxins, one of the most toxic substances in existence.
• Plastic is not biodegradable. Plastic lasts for 200-400
years in landfills and the environment. Biodegradable plastic only
degrades into smaller "dust" where it is ingested by bacteria
and pollutes the food chain.
• Plastic is a petroleum product. It is made from oil, which
is a nonrenewable resource. Oil is dangerous to transport, and our
dependence on oil has lead America into volatile political alliances
with foreign governments.
• Plastic produces hazardous waste when it is manufactured
and again when it is incinerated.
• Currently, plastic is not recycled to its own level again.
Plastic bottles are not recycled back into bottles; they are recycled
into benches, flowerpots, carpet backing, etc. Advances in this
technology are being made (pgs. 44-45), and it is likely bottles
will be recycled into bottles in the future.
• There are seven categories of plastic, each having different
properties and requiring different recycling procedures. To date
only two types of plastic are regularly recycled: type 1 and type
2. Even then, most recycling plants want materials by the ton, and
with the lightweight of plastic this requires the amassing of an
enormous volume of material, making storage a problem at most recycling
centers (The recycling symbol can be found at or near the bottom
of the container).
1. PET (polyethylene terphthalate) Usually Clear: used for soda
and seltzer bottles; also microwave trays and boil-in-the-bag pouches.
2. HDP (high-density polyethylene) Solid colored; includes soap,
bleach and detergent bottles, aspirin bottles and trash bags. Also
opaque; used for cider, water and milk.
3. V (vinyl) Clear; used for cooking oil containers and packaging
around meat. Blue tint; for some water bottles.
4. LDPE (low-density polyethylene) Clear: used for food wrap, grocery
store vegetable bags.
5. PP (polypropylene) Solid; includes yogurt containers, shampoo
bottles, straws, syrup bottles, margarine tubs.
6. PS (polystyrene) Better known as styrofoam. Hot containers, clamshell
containers, egg cartons and meat trays.
7. Other; all other materials.
Supermarket brand-name cleaning products contain highly toxic chemicals
that pollute our lakes and oceans when they are washed down the
drain. Few sewage systems are equipped to process these toxins,
and-so, as we wash and clean our clothes, dishes, toilet bowls,
cars and homes, we are dumping a bizarre array of poisons into our
water supply. It is estimated that 25% of all toxic waste in the
U.S. originates in the home.
• Detergents are made from petroleum, a nonrenewable which
is toxic and does not biodegrade quickly.
• Phosphates are added to synthetic detergents to improve
cleaning power. In nature, phosphates are a nutrient for plant life,
but when large quantities are dumped into our waterways, algae growth
is stimulated. Algae absorb oxygen and suffocate marine life. Chlorine
bleach produces toxic and carcinogenic compounds when it breaks
down in the water supply.
• Other additives such as enzymes and whiteners do not break
down efficiently and end up collecting in the fatty tissues of fish
and marine mammals.
Non-alkaline batteries, the most common type, contain mercury,'
which is released into the environment when the batteries are discarded,
either by seeping into the water supply under a landfill, or by
incineration. Mercury in any amount is toxic, causing brain and
• All batteries contain other heavy metals such as zinc, silver,
lead, lithium, manganese, which are polluting to the environment.
• Batteries consume up to 50% of the energy they put out just
to be manufactured.
In the 20th century, meat has arisen as one of the most environmentally
destructive products of modern life. Without the government, subsidies
(tend, water, oil, grain) which support the beef industry, a pound
of hamburger would cost $35. While it has taken the environmental
movement decades to approach this controversial subject head-on;
its severity has finally caught the attention of several organizations,
which now recommend eating "lower on the food chain."
• Since1960, 25% of the Brazilian Rainforests has been cleared
to produce beef for fast food restaurant chains in the U.S., displacing
thousands of natives and encouraging the drug trade among farmers
looking for cash crops.
• 55 square feet of Brazilian Rainforest are razed to produce
a single pound of hamburger.
• Desertification around the world is the result of cattle
• Cattle consume 90% of the grain and soybeans grown in the
U.S., food which could be fed directly to human beings.
• The cattle industry uses 90% of all the energy expended
on agriculture in the U.S.
• 50% of all the water used in the U.S. is related to beef
•The extensive use of drugs to counteract the disease and
stress of livestock rearing results in the contamination of the
meat and dairy produced. In particular, the presence of antibiotics
in animal products has reduced the effectiveness of these life saving
drugs in human medical application.
• U.S. livestock produce 230,000 pounds of excrement per second,
which contaminates waterways and air.
• 100,000 cows, chickens and pigs are slaughtered every day
in the U.S. alone.
Modern Farm Practices
After World War II, there was a chemical revolution in farming.
Chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers have been employed
by farmers in increasing quantities over the last 40 years to promote
growth and protect their crops. But the miraculous benefits of chemical
farming allowed many traditional farming methods to be overlooked,
and recently, the ramifications, of this extraordinary innovation
have begun to appear.
• Since 1945, over 450,000 tons of pesticides have been deposited
on U.S. crops each year.
• The chemicals seep into the groundwater and concentrate
in the fatty tissues of higher animals, contaminating food animals
and wildlife and eventually humans. 99% of American women tested
have some amount of DDT in their breast milk.
• Pesticides and fertilizers are dispersed in a mixture with
water, causing excessive moisture in the soil, which weakens our
topsoil by promoting erosion, and depletes the nutritional value
of the plants.
• New strains of pesticide-resistant pests develop over their
relatively brief generations, causing farmers to have to up the
doses of chemicals. Crop loss to pests in the 90s is at about 30%,
the same as it was in 1945 when chemical farming became the norm.
• Chemical farming has replaced many centuries-old agricultural
methods that promoted nature's balance. For centuries, crops were
planted so that the species of insect and plant life would cohabitate
and predatory insects and birds would interact and keeps their numbers
• Other traditions such as crop rotation, which allowed the
soil to replenish itself during alternating seasons, have been abandoned
because the chemical fertilizers have artificially enriched the
soil. As a result, we are losing our topsoil to mismanagement at
a rate of 6 inches per year.
• The cost of running farms which depend on chemical and high
technology is astronomical. It is driving more and more "family
farmers" out of business each year, and agriculture is bought
up by large corporations whose only relationship to the land is
through its dollar value.
The subject of animal rights is a very volatile one. Many environmental
organizations have traditionally left this issue out of their agendas
for fear of losing constituents by taking a stand on meat eating,
hunting, fishing, and questions of human safety and medical progress.
But in reexamining our relationship to the planet, the issue of
our treatment of animals must in fact be addressed. One thing must
be recognized in any discussion of animal rights: Those who are
gaining financially, professionally or even recreationally from
the exploitation of animals are going to defend their practices
staunchly. Animals on the other hand, do not live by our rules,
and will never be able to defend themselves on our terms.
• Everyone must decide for themselves if they believe it is
morally acceptable to use other species for our own ends. There
are philosophical and practical discussions of these questions in
a number of important books.
• Animal testing, for cosmetics and cleaning products is largely
a legal device to protect companies from suits filed against them
by consumers suffering from adverse effects caused by the products.
• It should not be accepted at face value that animal experimentation
in the medical field leads invariably to human betterment. These
are claims made mostly by the scientists who are funded to conduct
• There are cases of drugs proved safe through animal experimentation
that have been disastrous to human health (Thalidomide.) The final
"guinea pig" is the human patient.
• Many animal experiments have been repeated over and over
during the past decades, by students in universities writing dissertations.
Still other experiments are conducted to demonstrate and sell products.
(U.S. Surgical Corporation continues to demonstrate its surgical
stapler on live dogs)
• While animal rights groups and scientists continue the debate
over the benefits of animal experiments throughout history, the
real issues now are experimentation in the future. With the advent
of computers and "in-vitro" (in-the-test-tube) research,
the majority of animal research can legitimately be phased out.
• The $4 billion animal experimentation industry (breeders,
suppliers, researchers, etc.) continues to lobby against reform.
Americans dispose of about 180 million tons of garbage each year,
about four pounds per person every day. Garbage is either dumped
h a landfill or incinerated. Both of these methods pose problems.
• Incineration releases toxins into the air: sulfur and nitrous
oxides, hydrochloric acid, heavy metals, and dioxins.
• Even after burning, the ash ends up in landfills.
• Garbage in landfills rarely, if ever, biodegrades. Even
yard waste, which comprises 17.6% of landfills, does not biodegrade.
The natural combination of sun, moisture and microorganisms does
not have the opportunity to perform its regular functions.
• Half the landfills in the U.S. are predicted to be closed
by the year 2000, either because they have reached capacity or are
reaching toxins into the soil.
• Landfills pose a threat because toxins leach into the soil
and enter local water sources.
• What's in a landfill?
Paper (71.8 million tons)
17.6% Yard waste (31.6 million tons
8.5% Metals (15.3 million tons)
8.0% Plastics (14.4 million tons)
7.4% Food waste (13.2 million tons)
7.0% Glass (12.5 million tons)
11.5% Other (20.8 million tons)
figures are by weight; and so do not represent the sheer mass
of, for example, plastic, which is lightweight and very prevalent.
In any case, however the breakdown is structured, it should be
clear that much of what ends up in landfills could have been recycled.
We are basically throwing resources away.
Jobs vs. the Environment
A common theme with those opposing environmental reform is that
it will cost millions of jobs. The spotted owl vs. the logging
industry of the American West is one of the most visible examples
of this clarion cry for inaction. However, this represents nothing
more than a devastating lack of foresight. While America strip-mines
her own country of the extraordinary natural resources of topsoil,
underwater aquifers, old-growth forests, marshlands, lakes, shorelines,
and biodiversity for the sake of jobs today, she ignores the jobs
of tomorrow. The U.S. policy setters' disregard for the opportunities
presented by sustainable technologies is extraordinary and downright
• One example is the timber industry, which will clear the
remaining 10% of our old-growth forests by 2023 if it continues
at its current pace. The spotted owl will lose its habitat and
become extinct. And the loggers will lose their jobs. Why not
begin retraining now?
• Most of the paper collected for recycling in America is
shipped overseas, because there are no subsidies or incentives
in this country to set up recycling plants. And so, while we subsidize
the timber industry, we are allowing our foreign competitors to
establish technologies for the next century.
• In 1981, the U.S. Department of Defense research program
on high-efficiency lighting was halted. In 1985, General Electric
began distributing Japanese-made compact fluorescent lamps.
• The U.S. was number one in solar and wind power research
in 1972. All research and funding was cut in the 1980's.
Brand-name products sold and advertised across America are made
by a startlingly small number of corporations. Corporations own
the institutions that give us news and information, and this affects
the type of news we receive: NBC, owned by General Electric, is
not likely to broadcast an expose on the nuclear arms industry,
one of GE's major contractors. This relationship between enterprise
and information has brought us to the age of the "infomercial,"
and threatens to blur the line between truth and hype. Beyond
such instances where direct ownership effects the dissemination
of information, the power of advertisers over programming content
is remarkable. Our free market system has the potential to crush
the democracy that gives it life.