Chiu-Nan Lai, Ph.D.
The headlines of 1999 were filled with news of disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and wars. Other more fearsome calamities that caused more harm also occurred during this period, but these news did not make headline stories.
Every year, about 50 million people die of cancer, and 30 million people die of heart attacks. Because of pollution, countless people have problems with their kidneys, immune systems and nervous systems. The sperm count of men has rapidly declined, leading to the possibility of extinction within two generations. Global warming has led to abnormalities in the weather. Every day, 200,000 acres of rain forests disappear, leading to the extinction of 4000 to 6000 species of animals and plants, as well as the extinction of over 95% agricultural products (for e.g., more than 6000 types of apples have become extinct, and in India, the types of rice available has declined from 50,000 to just 10). Genetic modification of agricultural products has led to irrevocable contamination of genes. Nuclear waste that has been deposited in different countries and the bottom of the ocean is a time bomb waiting to explode.
During this new year (which also marks the beginning of the new millennium), the practical question we face is: how long can mankind last on this earth? Minimally, this could be 50 to 100 years; maximally, we don’t know. In the past 50 to 100 years, we have chosen a lifestyle that emphasizes money but not life; therefore, not much time is left. To live, we have to make radical changes to our lifestyles and work. Do not create any more waste and pollution. Manufacturers and farmers must take the lead in this because they are the major contributors to rubbish and pollution in the form of solids, liquids and gases. The producers of these pollutants suffer the most. Emphasis must be given to human lives, and the health and lives of the workers must not be sacrificed for material gains. Currently, the threat to workers’ health and lives is considerably high in the agricultural industry; there are 20.9 deaths per 100,000 workers, which is significantly higher than the average of 3.9 deaths among all agricultural and industrial workers.
On average, a petrochemical plant generates about 1 million pounds of chemicals per day. Even if its waste comprises a very small percentage of the total output, the amount of toxic waste produced can be alarming. These toxic wastes accumulate every day and pollute the air, water, and land. The chemicals, raw materials, and cleaning agents used in light industries also produce waste and pollution. Many years ago, a consultant to a Southern Californian electronic company found that an overbearing smell of chemicals in its plants and recommended the use of distilled water or food grade alcohol to clean the electronic components for the benefit of its workers. The director did not heed the advice. A few years later, the director died of cancer at an early age.
The agricultural industry is the major culprit in releasing chemical pollutants to the air, water, and land. In Northern California, a thousand-acre farm was converted to organic farming because the owner realized that the use of chemicals on his farm had led to the development of cancer among his children and grandchildren. California uses 200 million pounds of farm chemicals, a quantity that is one thousand times that needed to kill every Californian resident. These pollutants accumulate in the environment year after year.
Currently, both the manufacturing and agricultural industries know of production techniques that are environmentally friendly. These techniques cost more or require more research. For example, smog devices installed on cars cost only US$100 more. However, manufacturers will not automatically install them. Californian laws now mandate that manufacturer produce goods that generate minimal garbage and pollution. For example, in the areas of transportation and packaging, wooden crates can be re-used in construction, paper boxes can be recycled, and fillings should be made of materials (e.g., corn) that can be re-used to make compost. Some U.S. manufacturers have begun using this type of filling materials. The number of environmentally conscious manufacturers is increasing. To facilitate and encourage consumers to select ‘green’ products and services, Cooperatives America provides a directory of ‘green’ manufacturers and ‘green’ products (website: www.cooparmerica.org or www.greenpagesstore.org).
Money is a chief driver of manufacturers’ product decisions. If consumers use less packaged products, and more recycled paper, environmentally friendly products, organic products, and heirloom (non-hybrid) products, they will directly reverse the suicidal manufacturing methods of the past.
Twenty or thirty years ago, few places in the world sell packaged products – consumers brought their own bottles when they purchased oil, and baskets when they purchased vegetables. They brought their own cloth bags, and food products were not packaged. Retailers sold their bags of rice, flour, sugar and salt according to their quantities that the consumers wanted. Currently, some cooperatives in the U.S. sell goods in this fashion.
Since 1997, my family has lived a life without garbage collection services. The U.S. is a nation that accumulates the most garbage in the world. On average, each person generates about 350 pounds of garbage, most of which is industrial waste. Every family generates two large bins of garbage every week. What about my family? The quantity of our weekly garbage is no larger than a fist. How do we do that? First, we do not purchase packaged or canned food and drinks. Our food comes from the farmer’s market and cooperatives, and we bring our own cloth bags and old plastic bags to contain the vegetables, rice, and corn. Kitchen waste are used to make compost. Paper, and the occasional glass bottles and plastic bottles, are taken to recycling stations. We feel that this way of life is natural and do not find it cumbersome.
When you drink canned drinks, think of the sources used and the garbage generated in the manufacturing of the cans. Remember, if there is no garbage, there is no pollution. If you want to drink bottled drinks, bring along a large empty bottle to buy water. Many stores sell water this way. Otherwise, install your own water filter. The recreation and travel industry can also adopt a ‘green’ attitude and reduce its garbage production levels. In golf courses, the amount of agricultural chemicals and herbicides used per acre is four times of that used in farms. The incidence of brain cancer and lymphatic caner among workers in golf courses is also very high. Currently, California has several organic golf courses. New York has mandated that new golf courses must be organic. Hotels and restaurants can choose not to create excessive garbage. Hotel guests who stay for several days need not have their bed sheets and towels changed every day. There is also no need to use harmful pesticides, disinfectant, and cleaning agents. Leftovers from restaurants can be sent to farms to make compost. In North California, vegetables grown by Bob Cannard are sent to several restaurants. The delivery trucks also carry the leftovers from restaurants back to Bob’s farm. These leftovers are stacked into tall heaps among the compost made of saw dust. Sometimes, French loaves can be seen sticking out of these compost heaps.
In selecting furniture, avoid wood made from virgin forests, especially those from the tropical rain forests. Wood from tropical rain forests has no annual rings, and is therefore particularly valuable. Pinewood comes from tree farms, but even in such circumstances, tree cutting should be selective and designed to extend the life of the trees. There should not be deforestation, and not more than 10% of the trees should be cut at any point in time. The soil in rain forests is not particularly fertile, and much of the soil’s nutrients are stored above ground. Once the trees are cut, the land will become infertile within years, and cannot support farm activities or animal breeding. In South America, the rain forests are burnt to grow bananas and breed cattle for hamburger restaurants.
Palm trees, coconut trees, and sugar canes are grown in Southeast Asia. My heart aches whenever I see vast areas of forests being replaced by these commercial agricultural products. Only nature, with its variety and diversity, can preserve the fertility and stability of the soil. On the other hand, commercial farms use large quantities of chemical fertilizers and herbicides, damaging the land, water and air.
In Hawaii, the Ministry of Health has found an unusually high incidence of cancer and birth deformities among residents who live on residential property converted from pineapple farms. In Malaysia, the land used to grow palm trees cannot be used to build houses as the land is unstable. Land that has been damaged needs the use of natural farming methods to regain its health. Microorganisms can be used to detoxify the land, after which seeds of plants and trees native to the forest can then be grown.
Companies or individuals owning properties can preserve the natural state of their land. This is a good gift for their descendants. For example, some of the natural parks in Santa Barbara have been donated by families for the use of future generations. The land by the ocean has also been brought by the public to preserve the land for the next generation.
The year 2000 signifies a new beginning. No garbage, no pollution. Only in this way will we be able to save humankind and nature, both of which are close to extinction.