Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Closing Circle. Barry Commoner.

The Closing Circle: Nature, Man and Technology. Barry Commoner. New York: Bantam Books. 1971.

Why read it? Can the human race survive environmental pollution?

The problem of modern pollution begins with technology. Technology increases productivity and profit, which increases pollution.

Synthetic products replace natural products. Synthetic products are not biodegradable. They pollute the air through burning or add to the massive piles of garbage. The production of power pollutes the air through chemicals and then water by way of rain and snow. Nuclear power pollutes by spreading radiation. The automobile’s engine is improved and increases pollution in the air, choking cities with fumes.

The complex problems of the environment require interconnected, complex solutions, but science and technology solve problems by breaking complex systems down into their individual parts. Nature is interconnected. Its problems cannot be resolved piecemeal. The pollution problems in nature are complex and interconnected and affect the whole of nature. The solutions will have to be complex and interconnected. We need to act. But how?

Return sewage and garbage to the soil. Replace synthetic materials with natural ones. Expand, don’t shrink land cultivation. Shrinking land cultivation increases the need for fertilizer to boost production. Excess of fertilizer pollutes land and water. Use biologically based pesticides. Discourage power consumption. Control and reclaim wastes from power production. Recycle, recycle and recycle metal, glass, and paper products. Plan land use to preserve the ecology.

The author offers several practical solutions, but no basic, underlying complex solution to the complex problems of environmental pollution.

Some sample quotes:

“…the displacement of railroad freight haulage by trucks…. This means that, for the same freight haulage, trucks burn six times as much fuel as railroads—and emit about six times as much environmental pollution.” p. 169. ………. “The search for a simple cause-and-effect relationship between a given air pollutant and a specific disease breaks down in a hopeless morass of complex interactions.” p. 74. ………. “It begs the insistent question: by whose hand was this deed done? When explanations are demanded, the response is often a plea of innocence or ignorance, evasion or a recourse to the influence of uncontrollable forces.” p. 103. ………. “Natural organic compounds have enzymes that will break them down. Man-made organic systems have no enzymes that will break them down. And the material tends to accumulate.” p. 40.

“In sum, we can trace the origin of the environmental crisis through the following sequence. Environmental degradation largely results from the introduction of new industrial and agricultural production technologies. These technologies are ecologically faulty because they are designed to solve singular, separate problems and fail to take into account the inevitable ‘side effects’ that arise because in nature, no part is isolated from the whole ecological fabric.” p. 191. ………. “A process that insists on dealing only with the separated parts is bound to fail.” p. 185.

“…the world is being carried to the brink of ecological disaster not by a singular fault, which some clever scheme can correct, but by the phalanx of powerful economic, political and social forces….” p. 299. ………. “In general, modern industrial technology has encased economic goods of no significantly increased human value in increasingly larger amounts of environmentally harmful wrappings Result: the mounting heaps of rubbish that symbolize the advent of the technological age.” p. 172. ……….

“What is the connection between pollution and profit in a private enterprise economic system such as the United States?” p. 256. ………. “…evidence that a high rate of profit is associated with practices that are particularly stressful toward the environment….” p.262. ………. Vance Hartke, Senator from Indiana: “A runaway technology, whose only law is profit, has for years poisoned our air, ravaged our soil, stripped our forests bare, and corrupted our water resources.” p. 5.

“The issue of survival can be put in the form of a fairly rigorous question: are present ecological stresses so strong that—if not relieved—they will sufficiently degrade the ecosystem to make the earth uninhabitable by man?” p. 215.

I learned what I guess I already knew: The change in the world’s ecology came after WWII when we entered the world of technology. I also learned that science analyzes and nature synthesizes and that solutions to the problems of pollution might therefore not be resolvable. Ouch! Rays.

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