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Posts Tagged ‘environmentalism

“Technology made large populations possible; large populations now make technology indispensable”*…

 

 click here for enlargeable version of the full chart

For most of civilized history, life expectancy fluctuated in the 30 to 40 year range.

Child mortality was all too common, and even for those that made it to adulthood, a long and healthy life was anything but guaranteed. Sanitation was poor, disease was rampant, and many medical practices were based primarily on superstition or guesswork.

By the 20th century, an explosion in new technologies, treatments, and other science-backed practices helped to increase global life expectancy at an unprecedented rate.

From 1900 to 2015, global life expectancy more than doubled, shooting well past the 70 year mark.

What were the major innovations that made the last century so very fruitful in saving lives?…  Interestingly, while many of these innovations have some linkage to the medical realm, there are also breakthroughs in sectors like energy, sanitation, and agriculture that have helped us lead longer and healthier lives…

See the list in full, along with a nifty infographic, at “The 50 Most Important Life-Saving Breakthroughs in History.”

Readers will note that “history” for these folks seems to start in the 19th century… so that one doesn’t find, for instance, the development of domestication or the invention of the plow.  And even then, one could quibble: surely, for example, the understanding of contagious diseases, epidemiology, and medical statistics/cartography that flowed from Dr. John Snow’s mapping of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London belongs on the list.  Still, it’s provocative to ponder.

* Joesph Wood Krutch

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As we realize, with Krutch, that will the sweet comes the bitter, we might spare a thought for Rachel Carson; she died on this date in 1964.  A pioneering environmentalist, her book The Silent Spring— a study of the long-term dangers of pesticide use– challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, and called for a change in the way humankind relates to the natural world.

The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.
– Rachel Carson

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Written by LW

April 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

“We should preserve every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means to humanity”*…

 

According to Bioversity International, an international research and policy organization, just three crops — rice, wheat and maize — provide more than half of plant-derived calories consumed worldwide. This is a problem because our diets are heavy in calories, sugar and saturated fat and low in fruits and vegetables…

Generally, agrobiodiversity is significantly lower in wealthy nations, where the industrial food system pushes toward genetic uniformity. For example, federal agriculture policy in the United States tends to favor raising large crops of corn and soybeans, which are big business. Crop subsidiesfederal renewable fuel targets and many other factors reinforce this focus on a few commodity crops.

In turn, this system drives production and consumption of inexpensive, low-quality food based on a simplified diet. The lack of diversity of fruit and vegetables in the American diet has contributed to a national public health crisis that is concentrated among socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. Low agrobiodiversity also makes U.S. agriculture more vulnerable to pests, diseases, and climate change.

To connect these conditions to agrobiodiversity, consider potatoes. Although the United States has 10 times more people than Peru, only about 150 varieties of potato are sold here. Six varieties account for three-quarters of our national potato harvest. They dominate because they produce high yields under optimal conditions and are easy to store, transport and process — especially into french fries and potato chips. Federal policies have helped these varieties become established by reducing the cost of irrigation…

Global shifts of urbanization, migration, markets, and climate can be compatible with agrobiodiversity, but other powerful forces are undermining it: “Agrobiodiversity Is Disappearing at a Time When We Need It Most.”

To put all of this in (very) deep historical perspective, see also: “Why Did We Start Farming.”

* E. O. Wilson

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As we value variety, we might spare a thought for Benton MacKaye; he died on this date in 1975.  A forester, planner, professor, and conservationist, he wrote widely on land preservation and on the need to balance human needs and those of nature, and he co-founded The Wilderness Society.  But he is best known as the originator of the Appalachian Trail— a 2,000-mile footpath from Maine to Georgia– an idea he presented in his 1921 article titled An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning.  The Benton MacKaye Trail, some portions of which coincide with the Appalachian Trail, is named for him.

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“Let us give ourselves indiscriminately to everything our passions suggest, and we will always be happy”*…

 

Walter Rothschild with a member of his menagerie

Some men shoot tigers. Some men love bears. Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, Major in the Yeomanry, Conservative MP for Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, heir to one of the greatest banking fortunes in history, and collector of the largest zoological collection ever amassed in private hands, had a specific and incurable addiction to cassowaries. He bred them. He stuffed them. He gathered living representatives of every known species and sub-species at his parents’ manor house in Hertfordshire. Bewitched by their beautiful and highly variable neck wattles, he identified new species where there were none. He wrote a book, A Monograph of the Genus Casuarius, about them and made excuses for them, and he could never get enough…

From A Monograph of the Genus Casuarius. London: 1900.

More on the curious connection between cassowaries and their champion at “A Natural History Of Walter Rothschild.”

* Marquis de Sade

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As we ponder passion, we might recall that this date in 1970 was the first Earth Day.  First suggested by John McConnell for March 21 (the Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, a day of natural equipoise), Secretary General U Thant signed a UN Proclamation to that effect.  But Earth Day as we know it was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (who was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award for his work) as an environmental teach-in to be held on on this date.  The first Earth Day had participants and celebrants in two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States.  Later that year, President Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Agency into being.  Earth Day is now observed in 192 countries, coordinated by the nonprofit Earth Day Network, chaired by the first Earth Day 1970 organizer Denis Hayes– according to whom Earth Day is now “the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year.”

Earth Day Flag created by John McConnell

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Written by LW

April 22, 2016 at 1:01 am

Hallelujah!…

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Back in 1972, your correspondent spent a summer working working as a utility infielder at WBTV, the Charlotte CBS affiliate.  In those distant days, local stations did original public affairs programming of all sorts, including local documentaries (that weren’t simply “service” programs promoting tourism, shopping, or dining out); for instance, your correspondent recorded the audio for the first documentary made on the now-legendary Blue Grass conclave, The Union Grove Fiddlers Convention.

But the most memorable shoot of that summer was a documentary on Charles Keyes, The Parson of the Hills.  Keyes, an itinerant preacher for 71 of the 76 years that he lived (he passed away in 1996), ministered to the poor of the North Carolina Appalachians.  His flock was scattered in such out-of-the-way places that he was, for many, the only “outsider” they knew and trusted… and so, as we accompanied him, filming his “rounds,” we saw corners of America that were then effectively as remote and untouched as as the most hidden corners of the Brazilian rain forest.

Among the extraordinary things we saw, probably the most striking was the snake handling service to which Keyes led us– one he attended as an unofficial social worker, not an officiant. Since the early 20th Century,  snake handling has been a feature of Pentecostal worship in a small number of Appalachian congregations which take the Bible literally…

And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:17-18)

Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Luke 10:19)

Snake handling survives, but it’s dwindling.  So it’s a gift that Oregon-based photographer Hunter Barnes, who had spent time documenting “Rednecks,” turned his lens to create “A Testimony of Serpent Handling.”

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Barnes posted his project on Kickstarter, where he successfully raised the funds he needed to finish– and where readers will find a fascinating video explaining and illustrating the project.

As we contemplate the manifold manifestations of faith, we might send the simplest of birthday greetings to writer, philosopher, and naturalist Henry David Thoreau; he was born on this date in 1817.  From 1845 to 1847, Thoreau lived in a small cabin on the banks of Walden Pond, a small lake near Concord, Massachusetts.  Striving to “simplify, simplify,” he strictly limited his expenditures, his possessions, and his contact with others, intending “to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach.”

Thoreau became a pillar of New England Transcendentalism, embracing and exemplifying the movement’s belief in the universality of creation and the primacy of personal insight and experience.  Perhaps best remembered for his advocacy of simple, principled living, his writings on the relationship between humans and the environment also helped define the nature essay.

source: Library of Congress

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