It has been well-established that climate scientists are almost unanimous in their warnings of the consequences of climate change as the result of burning fossil fuels. Certainly, man-made global warming is one of the biggest threats of our time. But, unfortunately, it is not the only serious threat to the future of the planet.
There’s the threat of pollution caused by extractive industries as evidenced by the Deepwater Horizon oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, the toxic water spill from Colorado’s Gold King mine, and the pollution of Appalachian streams by the mountaintop removal form of coal mining. There’s the overuse of agricultural chemicals as evidenced by the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. There’s the destruction of carbon-absorbing forests by the agriculture, lumber and palm oil industries. There’s the destruction of marshes by oil drilling companies, pipeline companies and refineries. There’s the destruction of coral reefs by cruise line operators. There’s the consequences of overfishing our oceans by large, commercial fish factories. There’s the destruction of endangered species by poachers and big game hunters.
And we’re just getting started.
We also know that the agrichemical industry is poisoning our land and our bodies with pesticides. At the same time, these pesticides are causing a mass die-off of pollinators such as honey bees and bumblebees. Herbicides, such as Monsanto’s Round-Up and Syngenta’s Atrazine, are not only killing native plants. The elimination of those plants is jeopardizing the future of entire species, such as Monarch butterflies and amphibians. The herbicides have also been linked to cancer in humans. In addition, genetically-modified crops, which rely on the use of herbicides and pesticides, have destroyed the diversity of our crop species making it more likely than ever that a disease or blight could lead to famine.
Arsenic added to animal feeds to make animals grow faster ends up in our water, our food and our bodies. Poultry manure, poultry feathers and bedding which are fed to cows can poison our food and lead to mad cow disease. Manure run-off from feedlots poison our streams and the methane from cows adds to greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change. Antibiotics added to animal feeds accounts for 80 percent of all antibiotic use leading to a surge of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And the methods of large factory-style livestock farms are not only inhumane. They lead to injuries and animal stress which lead to hormonal changes in the meat which, in turn, impacts humans.
Not to be overlooked is what we’re doing to our aquifers. These underground rivers and pools represent the accumulation of water which has filtered through soil and rock over a period of thousands of years – water that is as pure as any on our planet. Yet, instead of reserving this water for human consumption, we are using it to irrigate crops otherwise unsuited for places such as California, Colorado and western Nebraska. We are also polluting the aquifers by fracking and mining. Even our attempts to “restore” aquifers are misguided. We are pumping them full of treated effluent – effluent still filled with pharmaceuticals and hormones. And, incredibly, in much of America we are using the water from aquifers to flush our toilets!
All of these ecological problems are caused by our unsustainable lifestyle – a lifestyle dictated and fueled by the greed of large corporations. Reversing these problems will require regulations, investments, education, new technologies, and, most important of all, a change in politics. The very future of our species depends on it.