Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Today Donald Trump headed out to EPA headquarters to begin his plan to dismantle the many climate saving measures put into effect by Obama. Fortunately, his efforts will be greeted by activist lawyers who will file lawsuits blocking all or most of them, at least temporarily. Meanwhile, Trump’s actions bring to mind a little-known fact about the history of civilization.
Historians have traced the “start” of civilization to, of all things, sewage disposal. The ancient Greeks figured out, for example, that if you use pipes to move feces and urine away from places they lived and ate, life went better. Disease rates dropped. Living areas smelled better. The major early civilizations, like the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and the Persians used similar waste disposal systems.
The method worked extremely well, and primarily because these groups of people represent early civilization. World population grew from 1.5 billion to 6.1 billion between 1900 and 2000. Whoa! Please think about that. In 200 BCE, around 150 million human beings roamed the earth. On October 31, 2011, the world’s population exceeded 7 billion.
You may recall my recent posts about the unifying ego defense mechanism of dissociation. Many of you have heard of it in reference to multiple personality disorder, a rare condition in which person’s develop two or more distinct personalities, each dissociated from the other. I bring up the psychology of dissociation because of its relevance to EPA regulations and global climate change.
In those early civilizations, plenty of room, literally, existed for dissociation to occur. Moving feces and urine a few kilometers away, or dumping it into nearby rivers or seas worried few. Human attitudes were almost certainly, “out of sight, out of mind.” Civilization is thought to have started, roughly around 5,000 years ago. Therefore, until several hundred years ago, the world’s attitude of dissociation mattered little. Few realized the effects of pollution. Not that many pollutants, save urine and feces, existed. We’ve had quite the problem since the Industrial Revolution, starting rather recently in the early 19th century.
Companies began mass producing products, using machinery, and waste products from such mass production ended up in rivers and oceans. However, it was not long before people figured out — amazing as it might sound — the environment is FINITE. Only a certain amount of clean drinking water exists on the planet; the amount of ocean water is similarly limited, as is the land. Really gaining ground in the second half of the 20th century, various environmental movements sprang up. They sought to bring attention to the finitude of crucial resources for human existence, like air and water.
I was just a kid when Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring came out, warning of dangers to wildlife from DDT. By that time, nuclear power had already come into existence. Along with it came the always-absurd idea that you can store radioactive waste products, some with a half-life of 500,000 years, somewhere out in the wilderness. It was absurd then; it is more absurd today. The “wilderness” is vanishing; meanwhile, air pollution, to consider just one type of waste, in one city can infect another one thousands of miles away.
The problem is: Dissociation, never a good idea within a human mind, will not work in an increasingly populated and connected global environment. No where exists to run; no where is left to hide. Trump’s idea of opening up coal mines, or reducing restrictions on fossil fuels, rests on the omnipotent idea that precious, life-supporting resources, like water and air, are infinite. They are anything but.
Just shy of one year ago, in April 2016, 141 countries signed an agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, called it a “historic turning point” towards reducing global warming. I consider it a good start. Poetically, of course, E.B. White is quoted as saying this in the introduction to Carson’s book:
“I am pessimistic about the human race because it is too ingenious for its own good. Our approach to nature is to beat it into submission. We would stand a better chance of survival if we accommodated ourselves to this planet and viewed it appreciatively instead of skeptically and dictatorially.”
True words. And now Trump threatens to pull out of the Paris accords, just so that a few oil companies — exploiting an over-used and now obsolete energy source — can make more money. It is breathtaking. It is wrong.
If free market forces could have controlled pollution, it would have stopped a long time ago. The market will not stop it; only government regulation can. Global agreements like the Paris accords are a good starting place. We have much farther to go. Humanity needs to realize that, like any type of dissociation, freedom is compromised by failure to look at the big picture.
Yesterday I described how alcoholism typically involves denial, namely the afflicted person ignores the fact that alcohol slowly kills them. By analogy, opening up coal mines, or continuing to drill for fossil fuels, represents a colossal form of dissociation. Whole populations or, better, the entire human family, is threatened by these waste-producing, global-temperature-increasing technologies.
I remember a mortality myth I read about while I was in college, in a book about mind by Gregory Bateson. As I recall, some primitive peoples’ in New Guinea built their huts elevated above the ground, propped up by tree limbs. Until they developed their own sanitation systems, they used to defecate out of the bottom of their huts. The mortality myth went like this:
As the piles of shit reached high enough to hit the bottom of the dwellings, the Gods decided to create death to stop the problem.
Conservatives, liberals, persons from across the political spectrum realize the time for “above-ground” energy production, like hydroelectric, wind turbines, and solar. Mr. Trump, traveling certainly by automobile as he drives back in time to the EPA headquarters, might as well be building those huts on struts. If we, as a global family of human beings, cannot or will not stop our omnipotent thinking, and continue in our dissociative style, we will move even more rapidly towards mortality. We will end up buried in our own shit.
Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Carson, R. (1962). Silent Spring. New York: Houghton-Mifflin.
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