I’ve lived immersed in poisons. Some of them were natural _ evolution handled most of those toxic effects. We should note that nature itself presents many toxins, from elements like arsenic and uranium to toxins from venomous animals, to deathly fungal mushrooms and hemlock plants . But the last century has been one long miasma of newly discovered and created chemicals, usually claimed to be harmless, but nobody knew for sure, and certainly nobody knows right away.
Those sublimely remembered good old days of the fifties were an immense waste dump. Everyone figured of one pound of something useful (like DDT) worked well, five pounds would work even better. Pesticides, herbicides, and unconstrained byproducts of processes old and new poured into the environment. Fish and birds died en masse. Babies developed strange maladies. Adults were exposed to coal dust, asbestos, industrial cleaning agents. Wearing gloves or masks (or even following directions) was for wimps. Streams ran black, smog obscured cityscapes, any unused patch of ground could be used as a dump for old oil, paint, or unknown liquids.
In these strange new days, it seems everyone is increasingly scared of chemicals. Never mind that everything is built of chemicals _ any of them must be bad. Why, just look how horrible their names sound! So we have “organic” and “cleansing” and some fairly obscure witchcraft practices to deal with. Meanwhile, my same neighbors who would never touch a regular old apple happily spray their yards and homes, accept combustion products from yard machines, and drink bottled “pure spring water” contaminated with plastic molecules. I sometimes think masses of people have simply been “reeducated” from one set of ignorances to another.
Enumerating poisons in our environment is useless, especially when we remember that just about everything is a poison in strength _ even water. And it is hard to make a case that we must avoid their use entirely _ mosquitoes are annoying and a health risk, herbicides do feed the planet. What bothers me is the unthinking contradictions I see around me. People trying to cut out poisons in foods, for example, while dumping them around and in their homes. To be honest, I think we do use somewhat less per capita than my parents’ generation, but on the other hand there are so many more capitas these days, which is a heavy load on the natural environment.
Is there some reasonable solution? Sure _ less people. Well … yeah … but … That’s the trouble, every solution has too many residual problems. Conservation would be nice, environmental awareness is great _ but everyone seems to want that boat or to have the ability to fly to some vanishing bit of jungle elsewhere in the world. I saw a crowd the other day staring and photographing a once-common big yellow butterfly as if it were a rare creature _ and today it is, perhaps to be gone in a year or so.
A concentration of people into cities might be helpful. Keeping the poisons we use constrained into small geographic areas would be the best outcome. Farms as we know them may already be giving way to robotic workers and different ways of raising things like meat. Meanwhile I’m enjoying my last few years admiring what remains, and trying to keep my own poison requirements as low as possible.