by Gerard Donnelly Smith
(Swans - December 19, 2005) Terror, fear, paranoia, insurgency, freedom, patriotism, disaster -- those words define political rhetoric for the last year, and perhaps for the first decade of the millennium. What do we have to fear? Another bombing, another invasion and occupation, another pandemic like HIV/AIDS, or avian flu, another hurricane, tsunami, an 8.5 earthquake, global warming or a meteor slamming into the Earth.
Though the likelihood of another of mass extinction seems low, slowly the planet seems to be rejecting her human inhabitants. I've often joked that humans, in relationship to the planet, seem more like a parasite living on a host, rather than an organism in a symbiotic, and thus mutually beneficial, relationship. Three possibilities exist for the host, depending upon the virulence of the parasite, be it virus, worm, or weeds in the garden: 1) The host weeds the garden, cleaning up the place; 2) The host adapts to the weeds; perhaps the weeds will taste good in a salad; 3) The host dies; the garden is overcome by weeds and nothing is left to eat.
If global warming is indeed science, and not a philosophy as my brother in Texas claims (they have had some good notions in Texas of late), then the above three options don't look good for humanity; that is, if we are the weeds. If, however, we do consider ourselves in a symbiotic relationship, then option 1 is our only hope to avoid the coming changes from our negligence: increased global temperatures causing more severe weather; loss of biodiversity including fauna and flora, leading to an increase in already increased extinction rates; and other health issues related to the increased pollutants in both the air and the water.
Isn't there any good news? According to Tim Clark, the executive editor of The Old Farmer's Almanac, "All the concern about the warming of the atmosphere may either be dead wrong -- we may actually be headed for a cooler period -- or this natural solar cooling may serve to counteract some of the warming trend that is being created here on Earth by human activity." Indeed, every cloud has a silver lining; at least that's what most green-thumbed farmers say. Yet, silver linings are either the glint of the sun on storm clouds, or plating on cheap jewelry.
The world is preparing for avian flu, especially in the United States. The Flu Protection Act of 2005 will help citizens, especially corporate ones, to reap the benefits of flu vaccines by requiring that the government purchase all vaccines that remain "unsold" using "routine market mechanism"; moreover, the US Congress is considering legislation that would exempt pharmaceutical companies from lawsuits if individuals, not corporations, react badly to the vaccine, in other words, die. However, the US government has already received enough Tamiflu to treat 2.3 million citizens, and has ordered another 2 million from Roche, the only manufacturer. Roche has pledge to increase production.
Tamiflu is for treating adults, adolescents, and pediatric patients 1 year of age and older with the flu whose flu symptoms started within the last day or two. Tamiflu is also used to reduce the chance of getting the flu in people age 13 and older who have a higher chance of getting the flu because they spend time with someone who has the flu. Tamiflu can also reduce the chance of getting the flu if there is a flu outbreak in the community.
Although the drug only reduces the likelihood of getting the flu, the drug seems to be the best bet until a vaccine specific for avian flu is produced, if a pandemic does occur.
Increased agricultural activity, especially closer contact with the animal carriers of viruses, has increased the possibility of a pandemic. HIV/AIDS, for example, which has killed an estimated 22 million people worldwide, is thought to have originated in chimpanzees who were hunted for their meat. These chimps lived in the "old-growth rainforests of Cameroon and Gabon." The late Dr. J.K. Maheshwari of the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow, India, warns:
Among the extraordinary biodiversity of rainforests are a multitude of viruses and other diseases that have not yet come in contact with humans. Viruses, which previously remained hidden in remote rainforests suddenly have access to large human populations. The appearance of such "rainforest diseases" as HIV/AIDS, Ebola and Marburg suggests that these could result from tropical deforestation. The rainforests hold such viruses in check, but without the forests to "lock" them in, they would be free to infect humans and other species. There are several ways in which ecological changes can activate the transmission and virulence of infectious diseases. The movement of people, plants, animals and goods -- known as biological mixing -- can increase exposure to diseases. The phrase "viral traffic" was coined recently to describe the transfer of viruses to new species or new areas, often through human acts.
Fortunately, some human acts do have positive benefits. People do weed their gardens, and some viruses can be expelled from the body politic. A large number of refugees from Katrina have moved to Sugarland, Texas, where the Republican incumbent Tom DeLay is facing criminal charges. In other words, several thousand very angry, very poor, and very disenfranchised African-American citizens will be voting for the Democratic ticket in Sugarland, despite DeLay's gerrymandering.
So perhaps storm clouds have some silver linings. Unfortunately, that small amount of hope does very little to assuage the agony suffered or reduce the bitterness felt for the incompetence of the government agencies who should have been prepared, because they were given adequate warning. Imagine a president reading children's books while a national disaster unfolds; imagine the FEMA director worrying about how he would look at a press conference as the citizens of New Orleans waded through toxic water.
Will the gardens of New Orleans ever be fit for growing vegetables again? So much oil and so many chemicals were spilled into the water some have suggested the Gulf Coast should be declared a Superfund site. The Sustainable Energy and Economy Network has compiled extensive data on the catastrophe:
Katrina's path tore through some of the most heavily polluted territory on Earth. Ninety-five years of exploitation of regional oil and gas reserves fueled the proliferation of refineries and chemical factories along the lower Mississippi River. The heavily industrialized and populated stretch of river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans has been dubbed Cancer Alley. The hurricane stirred up this "toxic gumbo" and heaped misery upon misery.
Of course, the EPA's response to the disaster, from Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, has been to gather soil samples to determine the risks to human health, and also to waive restrictions on fuel evaporation rates and sulfur content in fuel under the emergency clause of the Clean Air Act. "Thank you very much indeed," Mr. Johnson.
By easing these restrictions, Johnson hopes to bolster fuel supply. Rototillers and garden tractors will be running 24/7 to help clean up the mess.
We can, however, find a good gardener here, someone who knows how to take care of the commons: San Diego businessman David Perez and his "2 Life 18 Foundation." If only the Federal government would have been as compassionate and competent as Mr. Perez...
Instead, the Federal government took days to respond, an expected reaction given its track record. How long did the troops in Iraq wait for body armor? Parents of the soldiers had to purchase body armor for their sons and daughters. How long will the troops patrol in unarmored Humvees? Indeed, how long will US troops stay in a country where 82% of the population wish they would leave? The poll, commissioned by the British Ministry of Defence, found that "forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified -- rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province."
So, why doesn't the president follow Rep. John P. Murtha's resolution? Instead, Bush claims that victory is possible in Iraq, and that the U.S. will stay the course; instead, at the end of 2005, he falsely claims that 80 battalions of Iraqi soldiers fight along side the U.S.; instead, he denies the fact that the continued presence of US troops in the Middle East fuels the insurgency. Why not allow the Iraqi people to tend their own garden?
A good gardener, instead of using a pesticide, would consider an organic solution.
So where do we find good gardeners? Perhaps in the Fall of 2006 we will harvest the return of sanity from soldiers coming back from an insane foraging mission in Iraq. Nine soldiers returning from Iraq have announced that they will run for Congress as Democrats in the 2006 elections. Mother Jones has listed their names, the political battles they intend to wage, and provided webpages for contributions to their campaigns.
We can help them weed the garden.