People's Consumptive Demands Undermine Planet’s Life-Support Systems
The Amazon rainforest is magnificent. Watching programs about it, we’re amazed by brilliant parrots and toucans, tapirs, anacondas and jaguars. But if you ever go there expecting to be overwhelmed by a dazzling blur of activity, you’ll be disappointed. The jungle has plenty of vegetation—hanging vines, enormous trees, bromeliads and more—and a cacophony of insects and frogs. But much of the activity goes on at night or high up in the canopy.
Let’s slow down, breathe, listen, look and feel. Only then will we understand our place in the world and what we must do to live well on this small blue dot spinning in an enormous universe. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Films of tropical forests don’t accurately reflect the reality of the ecosystems. They’re skillfully edited shots acquired over many months. Our media-nurtured impatience and urgent sense of time often prevent us from seeing how life truly unfolds.
Nature needs time to adjust and adapt to biosphere changes. After life appeared on Earth, atmospheric oxygen gradually went from zero to 20 percent, oceans appeared and disappeared, mountains thrust upward and then eroded, continents moved on tectonic plates, climate cycled between ice ages and warm intervals, magnetic poles reversed and re-reversed. Life flourished because species and ecosystems evolved over time.
The fossil record also indicates periods of rapid change, including mass extinctions when up to 95 percent of living things were wiped out. Each time, survivors changed, adapted to new conditions and flourished. Still, recovery took millions of years. Humans have been around for a mere 150,000 years. We’re an infant species, but our precocity has allowed us to expand exponentially. Now our technological power and consumptive demand are undermining the planet’s life-support systems on a geologic scale.
We’ve become impatient. We’re so demanding that we’re unwilling to slow down and ensure our major projects are sustainable for human society and the biosphere. Over the past century, we’ve burned increasing amounts of finite fossil fuels that were stored and compressed over millions of years, exacerbating conditions that lead to climate chaos. We’ve clear-cut vast tracts of forest that have evolved over millennia, flooded huge areas under large dams, depleted our oceans with over-efficient fishing technology and spread vast quantities of toxic waste throughout the planet’s air, water and soil.
Governments rationalize these actions by claiming to do proper environmental assessments, but continue to impose restrictive time limits on assessment processes while reducing the number of scientists and other staff who do the work. It takes time to acquire scientific information, and it can’t always be done on a strict timetable.
If we truly desire a sustainable society, we require vibrant and abundant nature. To recognize that nature isn’t separate from us and fully understand how it provides critical services, we need patience to learn its secrets. We can’t survive, let alone be healthy and flourish, without clean air, clean water, clean soil and food, photosynthesis and biodiversity. But we’re overwhelming nature—and ourselves—with the incessant demands of our ramped-up consumer culture.
Fortunately, people are starting to remember that we’re part of nature and that what we do to the natural world we do to ourselves. They’re taking notice of the drastic impacts we’re having on Earth, our only home, and demanding that we show more care.
In New York on Sept. 21, more than 300,000 people turned out for what was billed as the largest climate march ever, one of 2,646 marches in 162 countries. Leaders of some of the world’s largest corporations are calling for climate action and carbon pricing, and distancing themselves from organizations that have worked to stall progress. Even the heirs of the Rockefeller Standard Oil fortune announced they’ll withdraw their investments in fossil fuels, including the Alberta oil sands.
With the Blue Dot Tour, the David Suzuki Foundation and I are hoping to encourage all Canadians to become part of this growing movement to protect the air, water, soil and biodiversity that we and our children and grandchildren need to survive and be healthy. Like nature, social movements sometimes take time to evolve and unfold. We don’t always see their impacts as they happen. If we expect a dazzling blur of activity and immediate results, we’ll be disappointed.
Let’s slow down, breathe, listen, look and feel. Only then will we understand our place in the world and what we must do to live well on this small blue dot spinning in an enormous universe.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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