Updates, Oceans, and Words

 

 

 

 

 

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

Naked Man’s New Direction (also known as Skip to the title Ocean Updates for the meat of the article!)

Hello 2010! Today’s entry is about returning to a few topics explored in the past by Naked Man in the Tree as well as give a little information on the lack of updates coming from this site. In this brief entry there will be some good news to be shared and some bad news to be shared. Such is life.

This image depicts a tree and woman excitedly imagining about the big changes coming to Naked Man in the Tree, one of which, I know not, is clearly hard of seeing

We’ll begin with the good news: This site was started in 2007 as a place for me to begin to start writing about my personal passions in which my previous site (yes, I bet you didn’t know I had a site prior to this one!) was not directed towards. My prior site was silly and funny, while this site tended to focus on more serious topics (hopefully I kept some parts of it fun). Naked Man in the Tree was a place I could to develop my thoughts and viewpoints about the world and was never truly meant for public viewing. Of course if anybody wanted to take the time out to read what I have written and constructively criticize or appreciate my writing, I was happy with that too. I didn’t need it to be private although it was created as a playground for my personal creative adventures. This is in part why my entries rarely have any association with each other. This is why in one entry I will write a modern translation of an ancient Arabian story and in another entry write about an ecological disaster. These are things that interest me personally and I never meant to appeal to a “base.” This is also the reason why I will go months without updating.

I am about to graduate with a Masters degree in 2 months which (I’m sure you can imagine) has been the biggest thorn in my side stunting my creativity in favor of prudence. And although this child has been neglected, it has not been forgotten. In fact, it is quite the opposite. This child has been coming to adulthood in my head and I am going to create a new project site that will become my highest priority outside of financially supporting myself. In this new site you can expect the following:

1. Revised and updated articles on the topics you have already read on this site.

2. Audio-versions of the text for those of us who have more time to listen than to read.

3. A wide variety of new topics to be discussed with an addition of other creative projects.

4. Far more frequent updates.

5. Increased opportunities for discussion.

And let’s face it, this is good news. The only problem with this good news is that unlike this site I am going to create a “reservoir” of articles and projects before I begin the site which will take me a large portion of my Spring and Summer of 2010. When this reservoir is complete I am going to create a professional layout on an actual domain name (it’s already chosen and saved) with an incredibly user-friendly interface (not so much like this one). The best part is I’m actually leaving out a few of the best surprises for when the site actually opens (hopefully this fall). Unlike the site I had before Naked Man in the Tree, I will share the location of my new site to everybody who visits this site, so please continue to return for the actual posting of the address. However, at this point I DO plan on posting a few more entries before I create my own site.

Finally, I want to relate how impressed I am with the visits to this site despite my infamously infrequent updating. Each day hundreds to thousands of visitors flock to this site for some reason or another. It is clear that when I discipline myself and create something it can be appreciated, and my future site will be almost completely about enhancing your experience as a visitor to my site. I appreciate all the positive, thoughtful, and caring comments that I have received while creating these entries. Every single positive or thoughtful comment is the true payment I receive for my labor (because everyone knows I’m not doing this for the money). At the end of this article I am going to share a couple of organizations that came to me for some help.

This guy knows how to keep track of the ocean!

Ocean Updates

Now it’s time for some bad news: National Geographic, stalwart in their understanding of the natural world, has three pieces of information crucial to our greater understand of our Ocean’s problems.

In June, 2008 and in May, 2009 I wrote an entry on The North Pacific Garbage Patch and The State of our Oceans respectively. The North Pacific Garbage patch entry was largely about the fact that plastics can’t easily decompose and spend time meandering for years in oceanic stasis around an unimaginably large groggy abandoned forgotten vortex in the Pacific Ocean. It touched on the fact that with each new tide that comes in on many islands, including the United States’ Hawaiian islands, a new disgorging of plastic is left behind in its wake. A big concern was that the plastics would not biodegrade for hundreds of years, floating seemingly forever. Also, I alluded to the idea that Bisphenol A (BPA) is likely the cause behind higher female birth rates.

National Geographic contributed more knowledge to the community at large in this August, 2009 article entitled Plastics Do Break Down in Ocean, After All – And Fast.  “Ha!” laughs the sociopath skeptic “I knew you were all left wing environmentalist crazies who make up problems that don’t exist. You all were worried that the plastic would never break down in the ocean and here is National Geographic proclaiming that they not only break down in the ocean, but they break down quickly. All of that worry for nothing.”

Although it is true that plastic does break down in the ocean at a much lower temperature than was previously expected, by all accounts this is not a good thing. Instead of our ocean water consisting largely of 2 things – Water and Salt – now we are making ourselves a little chemical cocktail that just so happens covers 70% of the entire planet. Our ocean was so old-skool, you know? I mean how plain can you be? Salt and water were the 2 main ingredients in the ocean when the dinosaurs reigned the planet for goodness sakes. Can we please get an upgrade?

Yes! The chemical companies of the planet are happy to oblige. Again, referring to our oceans as a “plastic soup” our NEW ocean is already consisting of large quantities of BPA and styrene trimer which are wrecking havoc indiscriminately on biological systems across the planet and found as ingredients in our most inexpensive products. Which is part of the irony of course, because the cost they create are so exorbitantly expensive the human race just prefers to turn a blind eye to the problem rather than immediately and appropriately address it. What else is new? The article lists a myriad of everyday products that are made with our new oceanic chemical compounds. Also, the article briefly mentions that almost half of all seabirds eat plastic garbage on accident (you mean they don’t get any nutritional value out of our material defecation? Sounds to me like we need to build new birds!). Also, they throw out the arbitrary number of species (267) negatively affected by our plastic garbage. I love that it’s only 267, no more and no less. I don’t have any scientific data to back this statement up, but I am going to go out on a limb and guess that ALL ocean species are affected by our plastic garbage. But hey, who am I?

This research was conducted by a chemist named Katsuhiko Saido from Niho University in Japan. I like how he kindly sums up his feelings on his study: “Plastic, he said, should be considered a new source of chemical pollution in the ocean.” Oh, you think so? Maybe after it gets argued in congress for months with billions  of dollars poured into propaganda only to find ourselves exactly with the same rules and laws as before, then we’ll think about treating plastic as pollution. But kudos to Saido for saying what needed to be said and having the data to back his statement up! So Saido gets to go on my list of people we need to listen to (note:  I did not use the words should, could, might consider… I used the word need). Also on this list (which you can find in my Ocean entry) are Callum Roberts, Jeremy Jackson, Steve O’Shea, Daniel Pauly, and Robert Diaz. Again, there is no other alternative than to physically raise these divine professors over our heads and crowd surf them directly to the leaders of the planet and force the leaders to listen to their professional advice.

Oh Prometheus, we know the pain of foresight all too well! Yet, we are still working on our ability to be as provocatively dressed as you!

Why? Why? Why were only a small handful of us given the capability of foresight on a planet covered in an identical species that has none? We are poor Prometheus, painfully aware of our gift of foresight, clearly acknowledging the horrifying tsunami of repercussions about to douse us, and we live on a planet inundated with Epimetheus, filled with afterthought and excuses. It is no wonder why Epimetheus was the cause of mankind’s misery by accepting Pandora as his wife! With no foresight, always creating a convenient excuse, our planet easily teams 10:1, no 1,000:1, no 1,000,000: 1  of Epimetheuses to Prometheuses. But I digress…

Plastics and their negative influence on the ocean is not new as I had written about the North Pacific Garbage 2 years ago. And I was not even one of the first to be aware of it. But the North Pacific Garbage Patch is only the grotesque superstar in a morbid production as National Geographic reports a Huge Garbage Patch Found in the Atlantic Too. If I could give it a name, I’d probably give it the Mid-Atlantic Garbage Patch as it’s determined to be about the size of Cuba to Virgina. I thought this was a nice touch because both the Pacific and Northern part of the hemisphere were totally stealing all the limelight. Now we can at least enjoy a nice swim in some tropical chemical soup. Doesn’t that sound appealing? Well too bad, because the package is already signed, sealed, and delivered.

In all honesty, I don’t believe the North Pacific and the Mid Atlantic are anywhere near the total of these delightful little garbage vortices. The Southern Hemisphere gets nowhere near the love that the Northern Hemisphere does and my spidey sense tingles at idea of more trash vortices down there – particularly the Indian Ocean, which seems to be more of a favorite to malnutritioned pirates than scientific study.  So what are some details about Miss Mid-Atlantic in our first annual garbage patch beauty pageant?  Well she is a bit more petite than her famous sister in the Pacific only weighing in at 520,000 bits of plastic per square mile while Miss North Pacific weighs in at a buxom 1.9 million bits of plastic per square mile. But, don’t discount Miss Mid Atlantic yet, she promises she’s working on her curves and before you know it, she’ll be just the same size as her sister, or bigger!

Ah yes, trash, billions of infinitesimally small pieces being forever absorbed into our ocean with reckless abandon by our species and the best part is most everybody doesn’t even think twice about it! The centuries, nay, millenia of human descendants that must inhabit the planet after us in gloom and despair riveted with malnutrition, diseases, and cancer will daily fall to their knees and look to sky and ask their creator why they must suffer so greatly. They will be certain that we, today, could not possibly have foreseen how we poisoned our very home. But if they have any record of history, they will know that all the evidence was there, clear and broad as daylight, and ignored by a vain species brimming with hubris. Yes, we deliberately ruined our only home – a mode of dust suspended in a sunbeam (score! Carl Sagan reference!). We turned the car on in the garage, ran a hose from the tailpipe to the kitchen, reversed the sewers, threw everything from the refrigerator onto the floor (2 weeks ago uncleaned), and replaced anything consumable with DRAIN-O. There is time to still curb this negative impact, but being a citizen in the United States I can tell you my government has a hard time tying its own shoe, let alone saving the world today.

"What did you just say?" "Obtuse, I said don't be obtuse..."

"What did you just say?" "Obtuse, I said you're being obtuse..."

You think I’m being obtuse, don’t you? It’s okay, you can think that, I won’t throw you in solitary confinement for a month for telling me that (unlike the Warden at Shawshank!). But I know, you think that I am exaggerating the situation. Of course, if that is true then you never read my entries or checked my sources. But to show you how accurate I’m trying to portray our situation, National Geographic has created a documentary entitled The End of the Line, which talks all about the state of our oceans today, and how it is truly The End of the Line. What line? How about the line of a non-primordial ocean without consisting globally of poisonous man-made chemical compounds? Maybe we’re at the end of that line. Watch the documentary please – it has some of those on my list of people we need to listen to.

One point where I will give some credit is to the company Sun Chips, they appear to have created a chip bag that decomposes in 14 weeks! Sustainable thinking. I like it.

Generosity Opportunities and Karma Points!

Now have I made you feel terrible enough? Good. Because it’s all your fault and the entire purpose of this entry was to make you feel terrible. Why would that be my purpose? Now you are sufficiently feeling guilty enough to donate, aren’t you? Aren’t you? Oh, I kid, I kid. If you’re feeling guilty then that’s your own stupid fault. This isn’t one person’s fault, but it’s our collective fault. I’m just writing about things that I feel are important and I don’t care if you donate money to anything or not. In fact – you can go and throw your money away on cheap plastic toys, and designer clothes, and big screen tvs and not donate ANY of it – I hear it’s all the rage these days. But let me tell you about two organizations that e-mailed ME PERSONALLY for some help concerning their organizations. I am greatly humbled by any organization e-mailing me on the topics of our oceans as if I was someone who even lived near one or even worked in the field of science. These are two organizations dedicated to the cause of saving our oceans. I decided to donate what I could to them, but I am totally nowhere near rich (does anybody using a wordpress account have any money anyway?) and these organizations could use your help. They also could use fanfare and you should tell people about these organizations so they can be more well known and get even more money.

Project Kaisei – A man creating a documentary following this project e-mailed me for media information. I actually had the honor to see the trailer for the documentary and I was very impressed. I would share the link but I do not see it on the internet yet. Kaisei is the flagship of a fleet of vessels that are doing the legwork on cleaning up the Garbage Vortices. On this site you will find some great videos and some relief that at least a small handful of people are doing something about this garbage patch problem. They could always use donations which are easy to give at the bottom of the page. I highly urge you to consider it, but I’m biased, I like clean plastic-free oceans.

The International Seakeepers Society – The organizer of the newsletter for the International Seakeeper’s Society actually requested to use some of my writing for their upcoming newsletter! This felt really good to me for somebody to appreciate my writing that much. So look for me on the first quarter newsletter of the International Seakeeper’s Society! Why should you support this group? They are incessantly collecting data from the ocean which we can turn into useable information to help protect our oceans through various methods. If Project Kaisei is our legs then The International Seakeepers Society is our eyes. They are giving us awareness of our surroundings making the frightening specter of ocean trauma tangible and something we will then be able to tackle. Check out the section labeled “Our expanding fleet” for more detailed information! I know! It’s super tough to decide which organization to donate to, so you might as well donate to both. After all, they both asked me for some help, and I always like to give more help than asked for.

Bonus Section for Word and Language Lovers

But wait! There’s more! If you are one of our first 100 customers you will receive a FREE… sorry. Really though, I have one more organization I would like you to donate to. After all, 3 donations is way luckier than 2. There will probably be a lot of good coming your way with 3 donations.

 

One Good Turn Deserves Another!

Librivox – I have totally become a Librivox fan lately and I have to tell you why. Librivox is an organization where anybody with a microphone (hey! That’s you!) reads stories that are in the public domain so that the rest of us don’t have to read them and can listen to them in the car or on the subway on our way to work. I have taken librivox up liberally on their offer of free audio books and have listened to everything from Grimm’s Fairy Tales to Rudyard Kipling to Mark Twain to Joseph Conrad. In fact (don’t tell anyone this because it’s super nerdy) I even PERSONALLY have read aloud multiple stories to add to librivox’s collection and they were super thankful and nice. And since one good turn deserves another (I always hear that idiom in the voice of the doorknob from the cartoon Alice in Wonderland) I am going to be super nice and thankful back by both donating and recommending that you donate to help librivox. In fact – librivox has never asked for donations before, but their site is getting so popular (because it’s so good!) that they are asking us to help cover the costs of free audio books. How can we say no? Help Librivox keep culture alive in the digital age! And go see if you can guess which stories I read!

Finally, I will leave you with a thought-provoking e-mail I left Merriam-Webster after attempting to search some definitions lately. Could you tell I was frustrated? If you loved language like I love language, you’d be frustrated too. Until next time!

m-w.com: For as long as I have used the internet I have used Merriam-Webster for my professional dictionary needs. However, as the years pass by, I am noticing a disturbing trend that must be addressed by a professional organization such as yourselves. It is so disturbing that I am e-mailing you with the hope and prayer that you might actually be unaware of how unprofessional and shockingly disrespectful to the user your website is.

While advertisements are crucial to the success of any website, no website uses quite the variety and cleverness of cruelty in their advertisements as your website. Whether those in charge of advertising are unaware of basic internet etiquette or are apathetic to it I am still unclear.

The ads found surrounding the page are natural and are to be expected. Even the pop-ups, as obnoxious and rude as they are to a user, are understandable. I guess you have to make money and if you truly believe pop-up ads are that successful then who am I to argue? But the fact remains that you are supposed to be a professional organization.

So when I choose your site (out of the many dictionary sites on the internet) to look up a word, and I type that word in the “Search” box, I do not think it is very professional of you to show me a PARTIAL definition to a word while an advertisement that could easily fit in the corner of my screen sits proudly in front of the definition purposefully obscuring it ensuring seething hatred toward whatever is being advertised and your website for participating in such rude advertising.

And when you finally do get the full definition, it is still surrounded by ads for Google and Bing hardly distinguishable from the definition. But what truly makes Merriam-Webster unique in their advertising is after you search for your definition and hunt for the tiny “skip this ad” button hidden to the side. Finally, the definition you have so longingly come for lay in front of you in its entirety and it is possible to begin to read it. And just when you do begin to read the definition a box from the corner of your site comes flying to the center of the screen, again, yes again, obscuring the definition until you click the tiny x to make it go away. Then at last, I am bestowed the honor of the definition in which I originally came.

The only websites that I have seen using such Machiavellian advertising tactics have been pornographic websites and infomercial sites. I hope your group remembers that you are attempting to appeal to an intelligent audience that actually cares about the definition of words and the advertising tactics you are using is flying in the face of what any intelligent person would consider respectful advertising.

Afterward, I got an automated response that promised a reply within 24 hours. It’s been like 168 hours, oh well.


Home the movie

Click on the picture to see a free high def movie!

Click on the picture to see a free high def movie!

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

Wow! Hands down, I just watched a movie that should be mandatory for every human on this planet. A lot of what I try and talk about on here is expressed through gorgeous high definition images ALL for free right on Youtube!

Home” – the movie that should change your life if you weren’t already thinking like this every day of your life. If you weren’t, you should start doing it now. What this movie says is what you should base all your foundational decisions on. This movie is incredibly moving to me.

Why? First off, this movie is oriented correctly. This movie is filled with stunning images and jaw-dropping facts that most people are unaware of – and yet it’s free on Youtube. This is the kind of people we want making movies in our future. The entertainment industry is deadlocking our court system. With the advent of the internet we do not need the largely bureaucratic systems that were built to promote an artist or a movie. The only people who complain about copyright infringement and stealing are giant corporate bureacracies such as the MPAA and the RIAA. The MPAA and RIAA are the giant screaming toddlers that the United States government pacifies with the granting of retrieving ridiculous amounts of cash wherever they deem an unjustice happened to them. What would happen if the courts ruled against them? What would happen if we persecuted the entertainment industry where agents and promoters were the victims rather than a useless remnant of the 20th century still acquiring an income for simply existing? Where artists had a direct relationship with their fans and created their own mp3s which they could sell or even just give away and they make money by playing a live performance? Where anybody who wanted to make a movie would just fund it and toss it up on Youtube? Like “Home” did. What would we lose if we did such a thing? Such gems as “Night at the Museum” and “The Mummy” series? Bastardized Spielberg versions of “War of the Worlds” and “Indiana Jones”? Jokes such as “National Treasure” or “300” or “Titanic” or “Pearl Harbor” guised as historical but clearly warped? Oh, how terrible, imagine a world where those cookie-cutter movies that are churned out yearly as if from a factory disappeared. Money might actually be spent on something useful. Which brings me to my next point on why I like “Home.”

The movie steps back and tries to look at the world from an outside perspective. It really tries to show you the big picture and how critical THIS MOMENT is right now to our actions as a whole. There is no excuse in ignorance – the facts are clear and laid out and our bureaucratic mechanisms need to respond swiftly. And they shouldn’t be mucking around in the entertainment industry – we’re humans – we are entertained VERY easily. “Home” chooses its images carefully and contrasts where our money SHOULD be going and where it IS going. They show how we build cities in deserts such as Dubai as monuments to our glut at the expense of limited and quickly exhausting resources. The movie throws out important facts that reorient where we want to be and where we are: “The world spends 12 times more on military expenditures than on aid to developing countries.” “40% of arable land has suffered long-term damage.” “Every year, 13 million hectares of forest disappear.”

The man behind this film is a French photographer, journalist, and reporter Yann Arthus-Bertrand. This is a man who apparently cares about the future of humans not living in post-apocalyptic Hell within our lifetime and is calling us to attention with this movie. I can tell you that this man is someone you should take information from because he puts it together and can read the implications. And, as you know from reading this site, the implications are dire. “One mammal in 4, one bird in 8, and one amphibian in 3 are threatened with extinction. Species are dying out at a rhythm of 1,000 times faster than that of the natural rate.”

Also, I liked how it ended. It did give me hope, and I might even admit a tear. Because no matter how much we’ve destroyed or ruined, humans are notorious for perseverance. And we might have to learn a hard lesson, but it would be a shame to have our lonely species annihilated due to our collective ignorance.

But what kills me is despite the beautiful images and despite the important and dire messages “Home” portrays it has only been viewed by just over a million people on Youtube. This thing is way too important to stay so far under the radar. So please – push this movie as I am because this movie should be a basis to a question to all people in charge of anything – what are you doing with what you’re in charge of to align yourself with this situation? Well, what are you doing?

Population

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

Who doesn’t love babies? I know I sure do. Some of you may claim to be that one who “can’t stand babies” but all things being serious I’m certain that experiencing the death of a baby would be far more traumatic than that of someone older. Like all species we are attached to our young with something so adhesive only Life itself could’ve come up with it. Like any animal protecting their children we can go primal when it comes to threatening their safety. The abortion issue is a clear indication of how important our children are to us, they need only be conceived and their life has become sacred.

The reason why we, as humans, all love our children; the reason why all life loves all life, particularly their own species is because it is genetically imbedded in us. To evolve we need something driving the continuation of the species – otherwise life would be a lot more of a “miss” than a “hit.” The reason why sex is so unimaginably pleasurable and seductive to us is not so much sin but instead our natural urge to do the one thing we were knowingly meant to do – and that’s reproduce.

Our genetic code is complex, but the urge for sex will surpass social standards, legal standards, and moral standards that also keep the genetic code intact. That is why this drive is so primally strong and so zombie-esque in need. As a species we feed on sex like vampires to blood.  But of course – nothing new here – we are not even the most sexually active species on the planet.

There is a point to all this – the preservation of life is sacred to us all that exist through it. But specifically the preservation of your particular species, even more specifically – your personal genetic code. From this simple purpose you came to know to love, for nothing melts our hearts more than a love for a child. And I’ll admit – that sounds really sappy – but it’s just a simple fact that shouldn’t be overlooked.

A single life is so complex and beautiful. The creation of a child should never be diminished in its importance as it might as well be a miracle for every time it occurred. The conception of a new life is practically magical in the rapid assembly of itself. For generations which I cannot even fathom this has occurred and this is something profound to say about both life and humanity.

The Problem

With all that being said above, we do have a problem. I just wanted to make it perfectly clear that I think human life is a beautiful, sacred thing that has signficant importance to all our lives. The problem lies directly on the graph to the right. Now, I know you all see what I’m talking about and you want to skip right to the end where you see the giant leap. But let’s take this graph step by step. First let’s recognize that 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 years ago not very much changed in the human population growth. How do we know this? Because more people would’ve meant more bones and bodies found in the ground – but we stayed a relatively low-key species for about 2.5 million years.

Then something happened about 10,000 years ago to change this very sustainable way of living. What was it? What took the population control away from Fate’s hands and into our own? What was our key to control over our own population levels? The answer happens to be something pretty boring sounding considering its power – the agricultural revolution. It’s hard to express my emotional attachment to this time period in human history. To me the agricultural revolution is more than just simply learning how to farm and store food, it was the first breath of civilization. This is important to me because civilization is the one thing we are completely surrounded by with virtually no questioning or truly understanding it. And it was simply the result of deciding to stop running around everywhere and make use of what was directly around us.

And a human living in a world of tribal sustenance, hunting and gathering, incessantly setting up camp and taking it down, almost completely exposed to unfavorable weather, and sometimes not knowing if they’ll have a next meal or have a day to rest I can only applaud their sheer brilliance of fortifying a single spot and attempt to master some of nature to work for us for a change – instead of the other way around. And because of this we prospered, and our genetic code was ecstatic pumping our brains with endorphins as our species finally could put their efforts in to other things rather than simply surviving – one of those other things quite obviously being sex. Yet other things were medical advances which helped people live better and longer lives, and still yet other things were to make life more convenient so as to decrease the risk of something going wrong. And through this we prospered even more, having more free time, and being productive in our own definition of the word with that free time.

Continuing on the graph our species goes through the many periods on which historians use to define eras – we float by the New Stone Age, in which some of the earliest civilizations on the planet began to flourish, in modern day Egypt, Iraq, India, and China. The Iron Age gave rise to the world’s most prominent civilizations to date, mighty empires rising and spreading across the planet only to crumble and fall again, sometimes centuries later. Additionally the Iron Age gave rise to our modern day commonly accepted religions, hardly a blip on the radar of humanity, life, the planet, and the Universe.  For now we’ll skip over the Middle Ages and move right to the Modern Age. Wow. How did the population get so high so quickly? Things hardly changed in millions of years and in the course of a few hundred years it skyrockets.

This is known as an exponential curve. The exponential function is an interesting concept best summed up by this quote right here:

The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponentional function.

Albert A. Bartlett, Physicist

And even though humanity has done a great job of demonstrating exponential growth with our populations and subsequently demand for resources, we as a race, rarely take it in to serious consideration. So what is this exponential function? What does it mean? And really the best source of explanation of that comes from the same man who gave the quote above. He has about an 80 minute video on Youtube aptly labeled The Most Important Video You’ll Ever See. If you truly want to feel the gravity of a blindsiding slap of what we as a species are doing to ourselves and the planet with very simple math, you should watch that video. Additionally if you want to understand why John McCain should not support drilling as much as he does – this isn’t political – it’s math – solid fact.But here is how Albert A. Bartlett brilliantly describes exponential growth (with my clever illustration to go with it).

He tells you to imagine a bottle with a bacteria in it that splits every minute, so that after an hours time the bottle will be full.

See the bacteria? He’s in there. The number along side the bottle? Bartlett decides this is the time in which we’ll put the bacteria in the bottle to watch it reproduce.

And there it is! The miracle of life! Where there was once bacteria there now is two. Now, at 11:02 both bacteria are going to split, so again there will be twice as many bacteria.

And there they are! All 4! Now, again, they double. And Again. And Again.

I like how they are stacking themselves up. It reminds me of a flea circus or something. But Bartlett asks this question: Using this method, at what time would the bottle be half full? My initial answer was probably similar to yours if you never thought about this before ” I dunno.” But the question is a trick because it was answered by the problem itself. If it doubles every minute, and after an hour it is full, it must be that at 11:59 the bottle was half full, as such:

Not as cozy and cute as the first 5 minutes. And in a single minutes time, we recieve this:

Even when you are expecting it, it is still slightly shocking, I must admit. For the simple reason that every single minute PRIOR to 11:59 you would’ve never guessed such a substantial growth rate. There is an old riddle whose origin and type of grain changes, but the story follows the same line. You start by putting one piece of grain on the first square, two on the second, and so on – before you reach halfway (or so) you’ve already used up all of the world’s known resources of grain. This is exponential growth – it sneaks up on you even when you know it’s coming. The next question Dr. Bartlett asks is If you were an average bacterium in the bottle, at which point would you realize you were running out of space?  I have taken the liberty to graph the bacteria experiment aforementioned above. Along the bottom is time and along the Y-Axis is the percentage of the bottle that is full (I have no idea how to tell Excel to stop at 100):

That is a fair question. Becuase certainly we can discount almost the entire history of the bacteria existence up until about 11:50. Bacteria at 11:50 have lived the whole history of their entire world, all 50 minutes of it, with a number that virtually amounts to 0. By 11:55 the bacteria are only taking up 3% of the entire bottle. 5 minutes until 12 – and the bottle is 3% full. What bacteria is going to naturally think that in 5 minutes the entire bottle is going to be full? Especially when the last 55 minutes have hardly incurred any growth at all?!

The beautiful thing about a man like Dr. Bartlett is that he thinks ahead. He allows the ability for him to be wrong by large proportions and still make his point. He first off allows the bacteria to “recognize” their danger when they are 25% full – or 2 minutes to 12, which is very generous as the average bacteria would say “There is still 75% of the bottle left to go.” So the bacteria recognize that they are running out of space at 2 minutes to 12 and they send out search parties across the world and they find 3 new bottles! Problem solved, right? Well, this leads to Dr. Bartlett’s 3rd question: How long can the growth continue as a result of the discovery of three new bottles; this quadrupling of the proven resource? Well by 12:00, the first bottle is full, by 12:01 2 bottles would be full, and by 12:02 all 4 bottles would be full, what does this mean?

It means that in this Bacteria-world, even though it took 59 minutes to fill only half of the first bottle (or 98% of the time), it would take only 3 minutes to fill 4 bottles (or 0.05% of the time). Now before I lose you, let me explain how this relates to people: This is why it’s bad to continue on the path of the exponential consumption of oil. Even if we found 3 times the total known amount of oil – we would still use it all up in minutely small amount of time.

You see – that chart I showed you with the rate of growth of the bacteria – it looks familiar. It looks like I’ve seen it somewhere before, where could it have been?! Oh wait, I remember! It reminds me a hell of a lot like the people graph I originally showed near the top of this entry – let’s take a look at what I mean:

So what does this mean? Simply – it means we are the bacteria in the bottle. Instead of bacteria in the bottle, it is humans on the planet. Just as the bacteria cannot survive outside of a bottle, we humans cannot survive outside of our planet. 12:00 is a metaphor – one that is almost cliched – it is a metaphor for our doom. And what time is it now for us? At the very earliest it is 11:59. And the problem for us, unlike the bacteria, is we cannot go exploring out in space and drag 3 other similarly identical planets back near us so we can populate them. We only have 1 bottle – 1 planet – that will sustain life as we know it – diverse and abundant. But every day the seconds tick by to our 12:00, human’s 12:00, in which maximum capacity has been reached and the only way for the population to go is down.

What Does The Population Going Down Really Mean?

Let me tell you what I’m not saying – I’m not saying every square inch of this Earth is going to be crushed with people – that is silly. But at some point this idea of “growth” that civilized culture so unwaveringly supports will not happen anymore. Why am I so certain? One neat thing to do is to take a look at this site that really puts you in perspective with the rest of humanity. Population: One shows what it would be like if each person on the Earth were a single pixel, with you being the first. If you did not click on that link, I encourage you to do it now. Each pixel you see there is a mouth to feed and a butt that poops. Each pixel you see there is someone who needs shelter, and potable water. Each pixel you see there is someone who needs resources to create what they desire, and each pixel you see there creates waste. Many of those pixels contribute to creating waste that does not turn in to something useful again for a long time – leaving less useful natural resources for the pixels to come… and they’re coming. Each of those pixels was once a precious indispensable human fetus.  The pixels are getting larger at an exponential rate – every day. If you would like to see it in real time (as well as many other jaw-dropping statistics) I suggest the World Clock. No matter how hard you try, you can never feel the full impact of what the World Clock is counting – it’s literally impossible as it silently calculates its statistics – yet it’s happening. Right now. Right. now.

At about 2 minutes to 12, or in 1798, a man by the name of Thomas Malthus was our bacteria that recognized the problem early on, when the world was still only 25% “full.” While he did not send tug-boat space ships to each corner of the galaxy to find us 3 new planets, he did prophesize that eventually food production would not be able to increase at the same rate as population. This has been known as the Malthusian dilemma. While some have ignorantly attempted to ignore the exponential function the Malthusian Dilemma is still a very valid and encroaching fear. A quote from Thomas Malthus:

The Power of population is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce substinence for man that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race

Premature death visiting the human race. That is probably the most eloquent way to put it – however in reality that means the creation of humanity’s worst nightmares. And yet we play blind and ignorant to this fact because it is taking on the responsibility of curbing the population of our entire species, which individually we all feel too small to do. And this is so counter-intuitive in thought as everything that we consider good, from medicine to peace all facilitate population growth. But the fact remains – our species will reach a point that if we don’t curb our growth, nature will. How?

Well one way is to look back up at my initial chart of the human race over the last 2.5 million years. There is something noteworthy that I breezed over initially. Between 1000 AD and 2025 AD the chart makes note of the only dip in our population – the black death. For any who choose to minimize the severe impact of disease on humanity, I encourage to click that link, and recognize the apocolyptic scenario we would be facing. In the span of about 6 years, 6 measley years, about half of the population of Europe was wiped out – so much that it even impacted the entire global population of humans (hence the dip on the chart). Today disease is even easier to spread with the simplicity of transportation. A disease that lay dormant for 24 hours, yet strikes like the black plague, could decimate our entire species in roughly the same timespan, if not smaller, than the black death.

And if the disease doesn’t get us and we continue to ignore our population growth – something else will. As we continue to team the planet, wars will be fought more frequently due to the dwindling amount of energy or fresh water sources, there is sufficient evidence to link the current Iraq War with the demand for the untapped oil resources that lay beneath the country. What other energy wars may occur in the future? And of course there is Malthus’ ever-famous famine that will occur if all else fails to diminish our population. There is only so much arable land on the planet and every year we lose more of it to the already voracious need for food in some places around the globe.

But let’s take a closer look at food. As it was the agricultural revolution that had sparked this population dominoes. A man named David Pimentel is quoted in this (boring, yet still relatively) informative slide show :

The populations of all organisms increase to the limit of their food resources

Let’s see. Are we an organism? Check. Well, that was easy, we’ve met all the criteria needed to increase to the limit of our food resource. Ever since we’ve been able to store food, we’ve been subconsciously increasing our population to meet the amount of food available. David Pimentel claims it in his study Human Population Numbers as a Function of Food Supply. All too often we hear people cry out that in many places in the world people are starving and that we need to be able to make more food for them. WorldHunger.org refutes this by saying:

The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day (FAO 2002, p.9).  The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.

Notice how they openly admit that we are currently producing more food than we ever have before, despite the 70% increase in population (in only 30 years). To make this point clearer, I am going to cite a portion from one of the most inspiring authors I’ve ever read, Daniel Quinn, in his book The Story of B (p. 261 – 262):

Imagine if you will a cage with movable sides, so that it can be enlarged to any desired size. We begin by putting 10 healthy mice of both sexes into the cage, along with plenty of food and water. In just a few days there will of course be 20 mice, and we accordingly increase the amount of food we’re putting in the cage. In a few weeks, as we steadily increase the amount of available food, there will be 40, then 50, then 60, and so on, until one day there is 100. And let’s say that we’ve decided to stop the growth of the colony at 100. I’m sure you realize that we don’t need to pass out little condoms or birth-control pills to achieve this effect. All we have to do is stop increasing the amount of food that goes into the cage. Every day we put in an amount that we know is sufficient to sustain 100 mice — and no more. This is the part that many find hard to believe, but, trust me, it’s the truth: The growth of the community stops dead. Not overnight, of course, but in very short order. Putting in an amount of food sufficient for 100 mice, we will find — every single time — that the population of the cage soon stabilizes at 100. Of course I don’t mean 100 precisely. It will fluctuate between 90 and 110 but never go much beyond those limits. On the average, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, the population inside the cage will be 100.

Now if we should decide to have a population of 200 mice instead of 100, we won’t have to add aphrodisiacs to their diets or play erotic mouse movies for them. We’ll just have to increase the amount of food we put in the cage. If we put in enough food for 200, we’ll soon have 200. If we put in enough for 300, we’ll soon have 300. If we put in enough food for 400, we’ll soon have 400. If we put in enough for 500, we’ll soon have 500. This isn’t a guess, my friends. This isn’t a conjecture. This is a certainty.

So that’s it. We have to come up with a global limit to food supply for the entire human race. With that food supply limit we may not all die of a terrible bubonic plague or a massive nuclear winter, but instead we would taper the population off and, down the road, attempt to decrease it.

It is at this moment in time that I would like to invoke my initial statements of this entry. I’m not supporting this decision because I’m cruel or think humans, especially starving babies, aren’t special and don’t deserve to be fed. I am only supporting this decision because to me, it seems like the least cruel outcome. But let’s face facts here: It’s 11:59 and Thomas Malthus did not send space ships out 1 minute ago to save us with 3 times our current resources. We are on the brink of population collapse, and assuredly extreme disorder – in a world that we have proudly polluted for centuries, especially within the last 10 – 15 decades.

I would also like to add this as well: Don’t have children. If you’re reading this, whatever your age, don’t have children. And if you already have had some children – don’t have anymore. I only beg this of you because I know most will not listen, and they have every right. I would never believe that the government, or any group, should have the right to punish you for baring children. To me that seems as cold as you can come – I cannot support population control with prison and babies thrown out to sea. But please take an active part in our 11:59 attempt at stabilizing and decreasing the population. Dr. Barlett used many amazing quotes with his presentation, this being one of them, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:

Unlike the plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases (which) we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess. What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution, but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and the education of the billions who are its victims.

Food production control and your own personal choice to not have children are not the only two things there are either. Let me make it a point that I’m a teacher of some of the most unloved children in New York State, and yet I still acquire many positive relationships with them. I try hard to make a personal connection and influence on all of my students who look even remotely accepting of any positive and progressive influence. Yet, as much as I love children of all ages, I will never have any of my own. Does this make me sad? Not really, I never let it enter my head as a true option because by the time I was adult-enough to understand the population situation, I had decided that it would be nothing less than selfish for me to be the one to create a child.

With saying that I am about to say some politically controversial things, but I believe given our circumstances, these should be nothing but common sense. First is sex education should be comprehensive and international regardless of religious beliefs due to our 11:59 situation. Within the sex education program abstinence should be promoted, if for no other reason than to stop the spread of disease. Additionally condoms and birth control should be completely free for anybody who wishes to use them – please take full advantage. So Catholics – this means you – as precious as life is, it’s okay that not every load blown is for the sole purpose of impregnation. Our sexual drive is too strong for that at this dire hour.

My other controversial belief is that abortions should be legal without thought of debate. Now I’m not talking about weird-ass late term abortions where a woman decides to kill a fully developed fetus on none-other than a whim (which my parents seem to think are the only kind of abortions going on). I believe early abortions for accidental pregnancies should be legal, not because I don’t think that child isn’t special, but because we really have too much on our plate right now to say, on principle, that a woman MUST bare her child if she becomes impregnated, regardless of rape-cases or accidental preganancies. A late-term abortion should only be allowed if the mother is endangered or a similarly good reason. I’m not promoting a murder-of-fetuses-for-fun-day or anything like that, but the fact that an individual should have the right to choose whether or not she wants to bare the life that is within her should be a non-issue. If it isn’t your body, it isn’t your choice in the matter, please if you are really intent on saving lives, focus on one of the many that are in need of you that currently reside on the planet and not in a womb. That is a serious request.

I would like to complete this entry with another quote used by Dr. Bartlett on his video that I implore you to watch. Also, feel free to comment on this entry below, I’m always happy to hear intelligent and thought-provoking responses. This is a quote from Asimov:

In the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation.

Human dignity cannot survive overpopulation.

Convenience and decency cannot survive overpopulation

As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn’t matter if someone dies, the more people there are, the less one individual matters.

The North Pacific Garbage Patch

Delicious empty plasticUpdate: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

********If you think the North Pacific Garbage Patch is important I strongly suggest you click on this link to my entry on the general state of our oceans. There are more immediate dangers to our ocean other than it being a giant garbage pool (I know! Suck! right?!)*********

********Update: 1/16/10 – Brand new article in Scientific America about the mounting concern about the dangers of BPA – Let’s hope this is the start of the ball we’ve all been waiting for to move on to a biodegradable and safer choice in packaging and containing********

Ecological disasters that affect the Earth on a global scale have been important to me for a long while now. Not because I love to see disasters or that I am a nature freak – but because I see an absolute lack of attention on these issues and I know, being a rational human being, that large ecological disasters need to be addressed – and ecological disasters involving our water is huge. Earlier I wrote an entry on the dilapidated Aral Sea which civilization hides what remains of the skeleton in countries forgotten or mocked. Ecological disasters – total and utter disasters – are a massive blind spot in the vision of civilization.

The North Pacific Garbage Patch is easily one of the top 5 blind spots of civilization. Everyday civilization cheerleads over the material benefits it has provided to humanity. Cars, money, alcohol, drugs, toys, conversation-pieces, an amazing array of food, plumbing, sneakers, clothes, the list is literally endless. From the depths of South America and Mexico immigrants team towards the United States in droves grasping for the coattails of the lifestyle civilization has provided the “Western” world for the last century. In China and other Southeast Asian countries people are willing to work literally for pennies for a chance at the civilized lifestyle – the chance to get material possessions to miraculously appear like those in the western culture.

Yet the Achilles heal of civilization can be summed up in one sentence: There are infinite desires on this finite planet. Yet Civilization is going full-steam ahead at creating a globalized world and economy. The blood of the Civilized Beast? Oil. It courses thick and hot through the veins as it is at the root of our transportation, which we all know, but it is also at the root of something less-thought-about but more prevalent than gas – plastics.

Plastic comes from oil and civilization has found no end for its uses. If we stopped using everything that used plastic today we wouldn’t have computers, cars, medical equipment, cookware, most bottles, most supermarket bags, and so much more. When you have a substance that is so depended on by literally billions of people, but yet is so disposable is the point when you have a problem – that is common sense. We are at that point. We have a problem.

The North Pacific Garbage Patch, the Toxic Soup, Pacific Trash Vortex, Garbage Island, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are just some names that have referred to this problem. And it’s a problem that is still in its infancy to Civilization (which always has something more important to deal with than problems – like profit). The fact that this problem doesn’t even have just one common name shows how unaddressed this problem really is. People can say 9/11 and everybody knows exactly what you’re talking about, but if you start asking people about the North Pacific Garbage Patch many will blankly stare and wait for you to “preach” to them and walk away deeming you as a hippie or environmentalist. Yet 9/11 was two (albeit tall) buildings that only affected people psychologically (outside of those who were actually victims of the attack), but 9/11 did not affect those who watched it on television (over and over and over again) physically – the North Pacific Garbage Patch is affecting us all physically.

The North Pacific Garbage PatchWhat Garbage Patch?

So what is the North Pacific Garbage Patch? Articles found sparsely across the web will all tell you virtually the same thing. Just like a flushing toilet there is a giant rotating vortex in the middle of the substantial Pacific as you can see in the picture. And like massive whirlpools the size of continents will do, they will collect debris from all 4 corners of the ocean and slowly whirl towards the center. This whirlpool is known as the North Pacific Gyre and at the center of it hundreds of thousands of square acres are covered in our plastic. Yes – the plastic you used to cover your leftovers last night, the plastic found around your vitamin water, the plastic bags you brought home from the store, and that plastic trinket you threw away last year and never thought twice about. Slowly it meanders around the gyre toward the center like a black hole.

The comparison to the black hole falls apart when we get to the center. While matter seems to disappear forever once it passes the event-horizon of a black hole, the matter of the North Pacific Gyre simply collects forever. I’m not going to pretend like I’m the expert or that I can tell you more about the garbage patch than others, this entry is more than just simply shouting “Hey – Garbage Patch everyone – big problem!” That job has been done relatively well by few progressive newspapers, but are outshadowed by VBS.TV.

This video by VBS.TV can give you the best information on the North Pacific Garbage Patch to date. In fact I was a little disappointed when I saw the video because I had this entry planned long before the video came out. But obviously everything that is right comes from that video. VBS.TV reports on the things that our multi-billion dollar corporate media empires should be reporting on. They wreak of real people who are simply interested in sharing the world with the world. And it’s all for free.

Bisphenol A, Pesticides, and Other Delicacies Offered on Your Menu This Evening

The source of the problemSince that documentary can show you more than I could ever show you on the North Pacific Garbage Patch I want to take this to the next step. What that documentary shows is frightening to humanity. You hear them speak about the “money shot,” a trail of garbage as far as the eye can see, and how alas, it never was to be. This is because Civilization has stopped giving us a tangible visible enemy, this enemy lurks under the waves and is slowly breaking apart, but not becoming part of the environment, just becoming smaller pieces of plastic.

All of this plastic is floating to an area of the ocean that most of the world has forgotten about – an area twice the size of Texas to an area twice the size of the United States (still no serious studies done on it yet). It may be a large area but very few ocean species live there and humans rarely need to ship or boat through it. So simply because it is owned by no one and isn’t highly traveled, it has become nonexistent to us. Ultimately we have found a garbage dump that costs nothing and is extremely large to fill.

Of course the cost is nothing if you only calculate it in dollars – which is unfortunately still the ignorant way of civilization. Our plastic trash has become an epidemic changing the genetics of animals and humans as well as creating vast stretches of beaches filled with garbage. If I’m going to make the claim that it is indeed changing genetics then I should have to verify this statement. Within that VBS.TV video there is a clip at the end labeled “Extra” in which they ask a Marine Biologist which cites studies done with animals that have been exposed to bisphenol A.

Bisphenol A is a major compound found in plastics. A fact is that bisphenol A mimics estrogen, which is a hormone within our bodies. According to the Marine Biologist in the study, animals exposed to high levels of bisphenol A have had a lower rate in male births because estrogen is primarily a female hormone. In fact a team of government experts on bisphenol A has concluded that the current levels of bisphenol A found within humans today can “impact human health at current levels of exposure.

But – people are going to say what they want to say, right? After all you’ve been drinking from and using plastic your whole life and you aren’t out buying bras or giving birth, are you? The unfortunate reality of this situation is that the negative affects have already began to settle on the human race. Throughout humankind the ratio between males to females have always always always been 1:1. It’s a coin-flip. 50/50. There has been nothing throughout the course of OUR ENTIRE SPECIES that has thrown us off this virtually perfect balance between men and women. Theoretically the idea of a soul-mate exists, the idea that every man could find a woman and every woman could find a man to thrive and prosper happily ever after. But now – that is changing – and of course it would have to begin with those who never accepted plastic into their lives like we do now.

The Inuit now have a birth ratio of 1 boy to every 2 girls. The article vaguely puts “Man-made chemicals” at the root of this issue. However with our brief crash course on bisphenol A and the Pacific Garbage Patch I think we can begin to draw some logical cause-and-effect relationships.

A dead bird with a full belly of plasticsWhy? If you noticed in the VBS.TV documentary they had a researcher on board collecting the plastic in glass jars. Why was he doing this? He was measuring the ratio of zooplankton, the most basic food in the ocean, to plastic. Why is this significant? Because more complex animals like to eat the plankton. The problem is with all animals (humans included) is that we’re lazy and if there is something more convenient to eat then why not eat that instead? Why go home and cook a perfectly done steak when you can stop at McDonalds? Are you trading both taste and quality for convenience? Yes. Animals do the same thing. There is so much plastic in the North Pacific Gyre that there is roughly 10 pounds of plastic for every 1 pound of plankton. In Part 10 of the VBS.TV video he shows a sample of about 1000 to 1 ratio.

Once again, so what? Small fish are as lazy as people and instead of eating McDonalds they choose to eat plastic, what’s the big deal? Aside from plastic having no nutritional value and doesn’t digest (similar to McDonalds again, har har har) plastic also happens to be a convenient spongy absorber of some of the most toxic chemicals on the planet (once again Humanity and Civilization may take a bow for creating these personal Frankensteins). What kind of chemicals? PCBs, DDTs, and many other pesticides and poisonous chemicals created from around the world. Animals consume these.

And again, the ignorant will drum, “So what!? It’s still not us that has the problem!” But that is not true. Now we have plastic and poison sitting inside of billions of species of fish, birds, and mammals because as one consumes the other up the food chain the plastic and poisons remain part of their system. And these are the same animals that we eventually end up eating. So why is it affecting the Inuit first? Because they eat directly from the ocean and their birthrate is telling us that plastic has permeated the ocean so severely that is is affecting land-dwelling animals – us – humans. If this continues we will be forcing ourselves, our children, and their children to eat the poison and plastic created by us and our prior generations for whimsical convenience. Again – there is no rate of slowing down, there is no attempt at removing plastics from our lives. We have wedded to it as Siamese twins are wedded to each other and we will influence each other similarly.

Plastic pellets, which create every plastic thing you know, are created and sold with no worry of regulations, with no worry of shutting down. The picture to the right shows us how novel plastic is – you can even purchase pellets that glow in the dark! Well how cool is that!? Meanwhile it is getting broken down into invisible chunks in the ocean and infecting life as we know it.

A New Way

What I really wanted to focus on though is a new way of thinking that needs to come from you – the individual. Nobody can rid their life completely of plastic, but first things first, people need to know that this is a serious serious serious threat to both humanity and life as we know it. We need to push news organizations to cover the North Pacific Garbage Patch and tell our governments (all our governments) to start doing something to fix it, and we need to openly know all of the problems it is causing us. Nobody within the civilized world is innocent – indeed those who are innocent, like the Inuit, are the first to deserve compensation. We need to know the scale of the problem. We need to know what we can do with it if cleaning it is virtually impossible. We need to become creative in a positive and progressive way.

How do we do that? Not like this. That is a link to a Globe-and-Mail article on the North Pacific Garbage Patch. Do you want to read about it? Do you want to learn more about it? Well too bad because unless you’re going to cough up $5, you’re NOT going to read it. And guess how many people are willing to pay $5 to read an article? None with a life, I’ll answer you that. Topics like the North Pacific Garbage Patch can NOT GET OUT SOON ENOUGH. In fact, the government should be paying people to stand on sidewalks shouting this at people.

Another good idea on what this monstrosity isAnother way to NOT be progressive about this whole thing is to skirt important issues such as this google-advertised website that seems uncharacteristically positive on the absolute permeation of plastic. It links to articles that disseminate concerns as nothing to lose sleep over. Indeed there are videos near the bottom in which they interview a woman from the American Chemistry Council shaming the media for saying anything negative about plastics and claiming the safety for all within them. She claims we must “look at all the facts” and that these products are entirely safe. Of course there is no mention of the Inuit birth ratio, the fact that BPA acts as an estrogen, and that our oceans are literally garbage dumps for plastic. In fact, if you can find out what specific individuals run that site, I’m sure we’ll quickly find connections to the plastic industry. A “factsonplastic.org” is something worthy of checking out (not always true though), a “factsonplastic.com” is something worthy of being suspicious of, profit is still the main motivation. I took the liberty to check it out myself because some of these articles just skirt the issue entirely. Factsonplastic.com seems to cite STATS.org as their “factual” reference. But one look at that site and I got suspicious again (and see? It’s a .org site), but here’s why:

The article that got me suspicious was this article: Why Journalism is Failing the Public on the Risk from Plastic. So why does STATS.org say that journalism is failing the public on the risk from plastic? No – not because it’s not reporting on the giant sewage pit you can spy with a telescope from atop the Golden Gate Bridge (exaggeration guys, I dont know if that’s true), but instead it’s because they are fretting TOO MUCH about plastic. The article comes to sooth you from the aggressive media attacks on the evils of plastic. Wait, what? Since when does the media talk about plastic – the most pervasive and essential item to the entire civilized world? Well actually, Google Trends reveals that the media actually almost never talks about plastic at all, and it’s spoken far less about than Iraq – which only affects the people who are in the country. So how is the media being “highly selective and judgmental”? Well actually they were just simply reporting the findings of the government, such as the scientific study I linked above, and that Canada is considering banning BPAs. But STATS.org takes you down a dark path of twisted words and questionable logic, but that’s okay, you don’t have to waste your time reading that BS – they bold and italicize the only words you need to know: some concern, some concern, negligible concern, negligible concern, minimal concern, possibility but not a certainty, the panel then raised the Tolerable Daily Intake of BPA, not only not to ban BPA but to increase the level permitted. Those are just some of the terms they skew this “scientific” article with. They fill you with doubts and ideas that because plastics are increased somewhere that it still doesn’t have a long-term affect. All of those concerns (which the article is happy to dismiss to focus on the probability they just created using those terms) say nothing about long-term exposure to the environment. NONE of them. They all focus on the fact that if you go and touch BPA right now that you will not be infected and murdered.

So I looked at the Staff of “STATS.org” because there seemed nothing unbias about that article at all. A simple Google search of the President and the #1 result is from a website known as Sourcewatch, with the slogan “Your Guide to Names Behind the News” – interesting. S. Robert Lichter is the president of STATS.org and in the past was strongly affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute which “succeeds in placing its people in influential governmental positions.” Additionally the American Enterprise Institute is a basis for neoconservatives and is extremely pro-business (and pro-plastic! what’s business without plastic?). And still S. Robert Lichter is a paid consultant of Fox News, the right-wing news source in the media. And though STATS.org touts being used by influential news organizations S. Robert Lichter condemns Peter Arnett, who has a solid history of reporting war for what it really is – someone who taught us all what real news reporting is. In this day and age it does not take very many brain cells to connect S. Robert Lichter to the current, lying, economy-ruining, big-business, torture-promoting, checks-and-balances-avoiding neoconservatives. Yet it is his website that is the source for a website called “FACTSONPLASTIC.COM.” It is obvious that he has no desire to see plastics being treated with unbiased factual information, which is why whoever he’s affiliated with created such a deceiving and misleading website. This is what needs to change! It’s sad for humanity to allow people like S. Robert Lichter to have such power even though it is clear he has a heavy, uninformed bias.

It’s sick that we allow humans such as above to determine the life of us and generations to come of all species. This isn’t a forest fire – this is plastic – it doesn’t go away and it’s changing, poisoning, and killing everything. But one way to begin to be progressive about this is to get the word out. In the VBS.TV video the person getting the samples of plankton-to-plastic said that it’s impossible to clean or fix. But I’m going to have a little more faith in humanity than that.

Our Future? Or Our Past?A start is how simply this teenager found a way to make plastic degrade in 3 months time. Instead of never. That’s a good first step. I don’t have the answers, but it’s high time we make plastic the forefront of our attention. Logically, from looking at the pieces of plastic picked up on the VBS.TV documentary and knowing the true scale of plastic-to-plankton, knowing the “concerns” from scientists across the board on plastic, and the result of the Inuit birth rate, there is virtually no doubt in my mind whether plastic is harmful. While factsonplastics.com tries to focus on whether a baby bottle will turn your baby into a disfigured monster, the facts are it is being used as a food source by animals, is absorbing toxins, and is likely the cause behind high female birth rate.

***Update*** I got a couple of comments that seem literally offended by this entry – it’s like the same kind of offense you see when you pick on someone’s mom. Let me clear something up quick – I’m not saying we need to scrap everything we’ve ever progressed with and we should wait for trees to fall down naturally and live under them like cavemen, I’m not being unrealistic here… however I AM making the argument that we can do way way better than this. For example – Coal is a dirty, cancerous, and inefficient, however during the early 20th century it was the staple of industrialization. In England it would coat buildings black with soot and cause major health problems for those living nearby. Now is it WRONG for people to recognize the dangers of coal? And is it WRONG for people to want something more energy efficient and healthy? Is it anti-civilization to want something better for humanity and the world? Plastic is unsustainable, isn’t biodegradable, and has significant dangers if we continue or increase our usage. Additionally oil deposits will not be around forever – why would anyone be upset at a movement for a cleaner, healthier, and sustainable way of living? That is all I’m looking for – it’s for my health as well as yours – I’m just being greedy for all of us.

The Congo

Nothing can go wrong-o, I’m in the Congo.

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

Undoubtedly you’ve heard of the Congo and most likely know that it’s located somewhere in Africa. However for most people- especially in the United States- their knowledge of the Congo is summed up in that single sentence. But… people usually get a feeling when thinking about the Congo, even though they know so little. It’s wild, packed with jungle, untouched by civilized man, enigmatic and dark. Blockbuster hits like Congo and outbreaks in the area of the dreaded Ebola virus – one of the (if not THE) most heinous viruses known to man – continue to portray the image of a surreal enchanted land. It is a region of the earth shrouded in mystery as well as misery. It is as if Heaven and Hell were forced to co-exist in one place with the most extremes of good, beauty, and bounty… as well as the most extreme of evil, death and deprivation. 700 years ago when the Divine Comedy was written, Dante passed a sign before he entered Hell: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” Many could argue the sign might be more appropriate for the entrance to the Congo.

What is it about the Congo that captures imaginations? The Congo is similar to an ancient, decrepit, haunted house. Far away from the rest of humanity, up on a hill, with lightening flashing in the background and a”Beware” sign hanging crooked on the banging iron gate that leads on to the property. Of course there is one difference – the Congo is full of abundant beauty- which makes it all the more surreal.

Well first what exactly is the Congo? It’s actually a river in Southwest Africa. Just as Buzz Aldrin will never have the fame of Neil Armstrong the Congo River is eclipsed by the Nile River for the longest river in Africa. After the Nile though, no river in Africa comes close. And the second longest river in Africa happens to run straight through the second largest rainforest in the world. The River is so popular two countries were named after it – which makes it a little confusing for conversation. The country to the Northwest of the Congo River is known as the “Republic of the Congo,” or simply Congo-Brazzaville as that is their capital city which is perched right on the edge of the mighty Congo River. African colonies and their “owners”This country deserves a story all its own, but this entry is going to focus on the much larger country to the Southeast – the “Democratic Republic of the Congo” or Congo-Kinshasa (the capitals of the two countries sit directly across the Congo River from each other). It is this country that this entry focuses around because its history is unrivaled and it is soaked in blood.

The Congo River got its name from the old Kingdom of Kongo which has its origins as far back as 1400 and lasted up until 1914 – or at least thats what Wikipedia says. I’m admittedly no expert on early Congo history but it does seem the Kingdom was relatively sound until it came in contact with the Europeans who began using them as slaves turning their own kingdom on itself. Considering the resulting temperament of the region hence, it is reasonable to wonder how many innocent lives could’ve been saved if the “civilized” white Europeans and Americans would’ve greeted the natives they met as simply another culture to learn from. What I mean by that is this:

The year is 1885 and European ego has ballooned to epic proportions as whole nations are making claim to owning the entire continent of Africa – absolutely with no regard to natural or native boundaries. This is something important enough to stop and look at real quick – just so we don’t underestimate what a truly global issue this is. This map of Africa is about 30 years too late but this is the same basic idea – it was just a free-for-all land grab with absolutely no consideration towards the native population. This may ring some bells of similarity in America. There was serious cultural damage done from this white European display of prideful ignorance. I’m not pointing any fingers as all the culprits and initial victims are long dead and anyone who still is living in those days is clinging to a dying past. There can be some direct blame laid, as those who initiated the use of such brutal force were directly involved – and in 1885 one of the largest private properties known to man was acquired – and it happens to be the single blue area in the African map – right in the center.

The King

King Leopold the jerkThere once was a King of a small European country who had a terrible problem. As a good King should he wanted his country great, and he racked his brains night and day trying to come up with a way to make his country great. And finally his eureka-moment came and an epiphany had been realized. He thought about it – where could he get more stuff for his country without bothering his immediate neighbors? And then it dawned on him – Colonies! The idea probably made his heart flutter near the ceiling. It made perfect sense – the King probably hit his palm to his forehead asking why he didn’t think of it sooner but there was still another problem that he didn’t anticipate. When he proposed his idea to Congress and his subjects there was virtually no interest. You see – this small European Country was Belgium and the King was none-other than King Leopold II. The people and government of Belgium wanted nothing to do with colonies in an age where democracy was beginning to flourish and the importance of the King was slowly eroding away. But King Leopold II was not deterred, he made a private company, had the area around the Congo River surveyed, and in 1885 all the other greedy countries recognized the Congo Free State as owned by only King Leopold II and nobody else – it is why the Congo is split in half at the river, he ‘gave‘ the northern half to the French for sovereignty of the much larger south. You see – he tricked his own subjects in to thinking he was just going to survey the land when in reality he was simply trying to grab an entire country as his sole property – and he succeeded with bribes.

As a private block of land 1/4 the size of the United States the King went straight away to using it to create a profit. Seeing as no Europeans were living in the Congo Free State King Leopold II absentmindedly declared the entire land as “vacant.” And thus the arduous anguish-ridden history of the people of the Congo began. The cruelty of the first European colonists in the Congo Free State is noteworthy. King Leopold II was serious about making sure the “vacant” land turned him a profit – in any form necessary. If natives were encountered it was essential to use them for forced labor – slavery. Ivory which cost innocent animal life and rubber which was collected via slavery were the two main exports of King Leopold’s II new land. King Leopold II even allowed rival slave traders run parts of the Congo Free State.

Back in Belgium the King kept a tight lid on things – but not tight enough. His people were mad at the debt he had created by investing so deeply into this African colony he tricked everyone about acquiring in the first place. On top of that rumors were being spread about the brutal rule he had over the colony. After all – very few people who went there rarely came back, most were not allowed to leave the country. But politics crept up on Leopold and he was forced to let an independent group assess how he ran the country. And in 1908 there was international outrage towards the King and his forced labor – even the United States condemned it- slavery was apparently last century news (at this point it was only acceptable to restrict equal rights). Thusly the Western World virtually appointed the country of Belgium the new ruler of the Congo Free State to tone down the massive human rights abuses – and thus the Belgian Congo was born (which is why that is the name on the above map).

The Belgian people were not happy with their King during his reign and in 1902 he was almost assassinated. When he died in 1909 he was booed during his burial parade. I do not know the extent of the cruelty the King was responsible for and I don’t think anybody will ever know for sure (one of those eerie sayings people always say when countless have been murdered). I’ve read figures as high as 10 million innocent lives were taken under the brutal dictatorship that surpassed the brutality that even “regular colonies” employed. In 2005 a statue of King Leopold II was erected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the capital of Kinshasa (formerly Leopoldville) for historical purposes, by the time the sun rose the next morning it had been removed.

For more information on Leopold’s rule check out the book Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad as this seems to be the authority everybody points to (though fiction the book is largely based on what the author saw while in the Congo). But believe it or not King Leopold II and his creation of the Congo Free State is only the background of the tale I want to tell.

Katanga moneyKatanga

I find it hard to convey the complexity surrounding the Congo’s situation without mentioning the province of Katanga. During Leopold’s rule they were a modern African Kingdom that held their own against both Leopold’s men to the north as well as the encroaching British from the south. A Kingdom had arisen around the same time as Leopold’s men were entering the Congo from the West. It was known as the Yeke Kingdom and its leader was known as Msiri. Msiri was not a particularly benevolent leader but I can’t help but be impressed with the native attempt at demanding independence in a way that was every bit as economically brutal as Leopold. Being at the heart of the African continent they were an ideal trading post which produced slaves and copper. Their regional influence grew so large that the Kingdom quickly shared a sense of independence from the European encroachers. Despite the sense of unity Leopold’s men killed Msiri and took Katanga for their own profit – classic Leopold style. However this Kingdom seemed to have infused the area with a sense of brutal independence that ran through the decades.

Independence and the Rise and Fall of Patrice Lumumba

The Belgian Congo, ruled by the country of Belgium, did not carry on the brutal rule of their King but instead the more socially acceptable forms of discrimination rife with colonies those days. Katanga proved to be a mineral rich area of the Congo and the Belgian’s profited nicely from Leopold’s greed. While primary schools apparently were built in abundance a stark absence of secondary or higher education was found. And still, even though no longer run by Leopold, the country kept its borders as closed as possible to retain ignorance and protect from independent influence. The Africans were encouraged to get service jobs they weren’t allowed to have the higher paying jobs that would support a country. All of this kept the unwanted, bastardized, adopted Congo child in a non-threatening and profit-producing state (much like todays genetically modified pigs – helpless independently, bountiful for the ones who made it that way).

But by the time the late 1950’s occurred the natives of the Congo became increasingly more demanding about Independence as word leaked of other African countries becoming independent. The logistics of Independence had become nightmarishly large in size. The complete lack of higher education would leave a country helpless to care for themselves in a modern world now broadcasting information across oceans and flying fighter jets. Yet the native Congolese were becoming violent and the Belgian government had lost almost all favor – faced with no other option in January of 1960 Belgium promised independence in June of the same year. The total number of university graduates was 30, only 136 completed secondary education, and the country only had 600 priests to help tend to the countries needs – no doctors, no secondary school teachers, no army officers. With Congo’s native culture ravaged by Belgium and its leaders during the last 70+ years of occupation and forced to live under “civilized” order the Congolese sat at the eve of their Independence in complete ignorance on what it takes to run a “civilized” nation. The only history they had really known of a “civilized” nation was that of a very pushy and unpleasant country – which they were about to get rid of (or so they thought – there is little civilized action in a civilized world).

Five days before independence a non-executive president and Prime Minister were elected – Joseph Kasa-Vubu and Patrice Lumumba respectively. Both were leaders in the Congolese demand for independence. While the new King of Belgium – King Baudouin – came expecting to hear praise for his great Uncle – King Leopold II – he was greeted by Patrice Lumumbaa blasé president and a vehement prime minister. Lumumba chose his words with justifiable passion:

“We have known sarcasm and insults, endured blows morning, noon and night because we were ‘niggers’… We have seen our lands despoiled under the terms of what was supposedly the law of the land but which only recognised the right of the strongest. We have seen that this law was quite different for a white than for a black: accommodating for the former, cruel and inhuman for the latter. We have seen the terrible suffering of those banished to remote regions because of their political opinions or religious beliefs; exiled within their own country, their fate was truly worse than death itself… And finally, who can forget the volleys of gunfire in which so many of our brothers perished, the cells where the authorities threw those who would not submit to a rule where justice meant oppression and exploitation”

Each word was undoubtedly justifiable and thus the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was born, independent from imperial rule, and alienated by their lofty oppressors. Immediately there were problems. The army started to get vocal about their low wages and began to riot, Lumumba immediately blamed the Belgian’s accusing them of inciting rebellion doing little to address the actual problem at hand. While the Belgian’s did keep the overhead jobs from the Congolese it was Lumumba himself who demanded the 6th month plan to independence instead of the Belgian’s proposed 4 year plan. Mutiny quickly became rampant and whites were beaten, raped, and insulted. A mass exodus of the white population quickly fled in the thousands and many of the Congolese feasted on their first taste of lustful bigotry and oppression – it was their turn to inflict the harm on the whites. During this time many of the Congolese quickly converted to everything they’ve ever hated about the Belgian rule. Of course the Belgian’s have left no other model of rule around leaving disaster inevitable.

As Lumumba rushed about his new duties taking care of this national crisis while refusing any aid from the Belgians, a sly politician named Moise Tshombe declared the mineral rich Katanga (remember Katanga?) an independent state, adding one more thing for Lumumba to handle. Katanga quickly became a unified unit at the earliest of the DRC’s independence. Lumumba, having nowhere to turn, looked towards the United Nations (UN) to help and within days foreign troops were maintaining public safety and civilian task forces were created to run public services. Of course at this point Belgian troops had also intervened to ensure the safety of their ex-patriots and this in no way pleased Lumumba.

Lumumba insisted that the UN expel the Belgian troops and the UN refused to intervene figuring the Congo needed all the help it could get. Infuriated Lumumba demanded the UN remove Belgian troops or he would invite the Soviet’s to intervene. It’s 1960. Lumumba happened to press the one button that would possibly get the United States even marginally interested in a remote African backwater – they called Commie! And the United States saw this as a very serious threat because a year previously a revolution had just taken place off the tip of Florida and a young Fidel Castro began his rule of the small country of Cuba. The DRC could be another country that could fall to the dreaded rule of communism and so Lumumba was rushed to Washington where the CIA attempted to persuade him not to make such a rash decision. By August the United States was calling Lumumba “a Castro or worse,” “irrational,” a “mad dog” and “psychotic.” The UN called Lumumba crazy, threatening, demanding, irrational and claimed he acted like a child. Within two months of independence the United States and UN were completely fed up with Lumumba’s rule and seemed more than happy to let the communists deal with him.

In fact we get a rare glimpse into how powerful politics really can get. President Eisenhower authorized the CIA to “eliminate” Lumumba. I’m not joking. “There was a stunned silence for about 15 seconds and the meeting continued,” Johnson recalled. Belgian leaders rife with embarrassment came to similar conclusions: “The main aim to pursue in the interests of the Congo, Katanga, and Belgium, is clearly Lumumba’s elimination definitive.” With the Western World attempting to manipulate the potentially malignant Soviet country and Katanga attempting to secede using military might and an army that has mutinied Lumumba’s options were thin but he continued to attempt to manage the country showing no signs of letting go. To add to Lumumba’s poor image a recent military expedition to Kasai ended with hundreds of Baluba tribesmen murdered and 250,000 displaced refugees. UN Soldiers looked on with strict orders not to use weapons aside for self defense.

Young MobutuWhat about Kasa-Vubu – the non-executive President? What was he doing during all this time? Kasa-Vubu had quickly grown accustomed and comfortable with his new life of luxury and was not in any hurry to stir any political trouble. But when approached by the U.S., the Belgians, and fellow Congolese Kasa-Vubu was virtually forced to act – but not before Lumumba did – and he quickly accused Kasa-Vubu of treason and dismissed him as president.

Lumumba’s end came from an unlikely source – from a trusted personal aide that Lumumba promoted to army commander – his name was Joseph Mobutu (left). Supported by the CIA, UN, and many frustrated Congolese citizens the 29 year old Joseph Mobutu declared that he was neutralizing all politicians and assuming power until the end of the year. The 35 year old Lumumba quickly disappeared in to hiding.

On December 1st, 1960- 6 months after he became the first acting Prime Minister of the DRC- Lumumba was found crouching in the back of a pickup and arrested. After he was thoroughly beaten he was sent straight to Leopoldville (the capital later renamed Kinshasa) where Joseph Mobutu ruled with UN and U.S. support. And in that tropical December of 1960 along the muddy banks of the Congo River somewhere in Leopoldville Patrice Lumumba lay at the mercy of Joseph Mobutu. A former minister claimed to have seen Mobutu spit in Lumumba’s face and declare: “Well! You swore to have my skin, now it is I who have yours.”

The Death of Patrice Lumumba

You did know he was going to die, didn’t you? It’s common knowledge to not expect a happy ending in Africa and Lumumba’s death, unfortunately, is not exceptional compared to the ends of many African’s that dare to toil in African politics. In fact it might not even be worth talking about if it wasn’t so scandalous and if the resulting aftermath wasn’t so powerful –

Earlier I spoke of Lumumba killing hundreds of Baluba tribesmen as well as displacing 250,000 refugees. Well after a month of being detained it was decided that Lumumba and two of his colleagues be transported to a different city – Elizabethville. The guards picked for this transportation were Baluba – Baluba that were ready for revenge. The entire 6 hour flight was filled with unimaginable beatings and when the plane landed and the torture should have ended (should it have started?) there were Katangese soldiers and Belgian officers waiting for him. They took up the beatings where the Baluba soldiers left off and transported them to an empty house. You see – Elizabethville is located deep in the Southern Congo – in Katanga (remember Katanga?). Tshombe, the man who declared independence while Lumumba was in charge, still kept Katanga in an autonomous rule from the rest of the Congo and was supported by the Belgians. Tshombe and Belgian police commissioner Frans Verscheure were in charge of the detention of Lumumba and his colleagues and spent the afternoon taunting and beating Lumumba further.

Tshombe and Verscheure eventually got tired of torturing Lumumba and went home to get drunk. Tshombe’s butler noticed that his employer came home that evening covered in blood. By 10 P.M. many were drunk enough to have murder on there minds. Lumumba and his colleagues were never to see another sunrise – and they probably didn’t want to. Hauled 30 miles out of town the three men were ripped out of the pickup truck to face open graves in front of them.

Last pictures of Lumumba before he was dragged off and murdered“You’re going to kill us, aren’t you?” Lumumba asked.

“Yes,” Verscheure replied. And that night – January 17, 1961 – a group of drunken Katangese soldiers and Belgian officers murdered 3 men (Lumumba being the last) who spent the day being tortured. Then they were buried. As sobriety started to settle in panic began to engulf the group and cover stories started to be spun. It was the Belgians that worried particularly as what had just occurred would be found entirely unacceptable to the Western culture in which they so belonged. A political prisoner was in their hands the previous day and now they had no way of accounting for him. The following night after the diabolical deed had occurred some Belgians dug the cadavers back up, took them 120 miles away, hacked them up, and dissolved them in a vat of sulphuric acid. Then their bones were ground up and scattered on the return trip to Elizabethville so as to lose all connections with their cold blooded murder.

Nevertheless, this event was witnessed by too many people and the secret was not kept. The murder of Patrice Lumumba made him into one of the most famous political martyrs of modern times. The Congolese were vehement towards the Belgian’s for continuing to meddle with their independence and murdering their first leader. In addition this news was one of the few maniacal secrets the Congo had released to the world and staged protests occurred across the globe in over 30 cities. The support behind Lumumba came from the concept that he was just a poor guy trying to free his country from colonialism and for that simple reason – murdered – and the country that just “gave” them independence was responsible. Belgium was globally chastised – which I imagine, in some way, is exactly what Lumumba would want his death to do – hurt the image of those who had put him and his people in such a fetal state. Now we know Lumumba could not blame all of the misfortunes on Belgium, for he definitely created his fair share of oppression and impossible demands… but I can’t help but wonder – with the way Belgium treated the Congolese, no matter how the transition phase occurred (6 months OR 4 years), and no matter WHO was put in position of power – whether the Democratic Republic of the Congo was just set up to fail.

Civil Strife

Congo CrisisMobutu assumed power of Leopoldville with the avid support of the U.S. and UN but was not the favored leader in the country. The Soviet Union was aiding a Northeastern uprising (red), Tshombe still was attempting succession of Katanga in the Southeast aided by the Belgians still (green), and in the Southwest diamonds had been found in the area of Kasai and the locals began to guard the area from the rest of the country – the Belgians also meddled here (blue). Mobutu, in short, was only in charge of the Western portion of the country and the capital (yellow). Most of the rest of the country started to divide itself.

By 1964 Katanga had failed to become an independent state and Tshombe became acting Prime Minister of the entire DRC. That same year a revolt occurred in the Eastern (red) portion of the map and Tshombe had to recover half the land of the country he had previously tried to secede from. Mass executions began of the Congolese people who were deemed “intellectuals” or “counter-revolutionaries.” It was this section of the country that supported Lumumba the strongest and they began executing the “counter-revolutionaries” at the foot of Lumumba statues. The United States and Belgium were in panic, if the revolution succeeded communist Lumumba supporters would cover the country leaving only what is vile and distrustful to U.S. and Belgian interest. The two countries supplied the Western half of the country with combat aircrafts, transport planes, counter-insurgency experts and technicians. The DRC was undoubtedly a pawn in the global chess game of Democracy vs. Socialism (leaving only despotism in the wake). More confusion, killing, torture, and power struggles occurred in the decimated country until the Eastern Soviet rebellion was managable. All in all an estimated one million people had died during the rebellion.

By 1965 Mobutu had officially declared himself president (a popular thing military heads were doing all over Africa at this time). Personally I don’t understand how any man could take the position Mobutu did but he seemed to become severely hardened after the chaos of the previous 5 years. Dissidents were quickly eliminated. Mobutu instilled public hangings and brutal treatment of those who did not completely support him which quickly stabilized the country. One must truly look at the situation and legitimately ask whether if Mobutu did not take these actions if another million would’ve died. Of course it’s rhetorical as we’ll never know, but what we do know is a little more on how the United States played a role in this very real and nightmarish mess:

The United States and its Relationship with the Congo

“General, if it hadn’t been for you the whole thing would have collapsed and the Communists would have taken over,” President Kennedy was quoted as saying to Mobutu in 1963 about his initial assertion of power.

“I do what I am able to do,” Mobutu responded while asking for military equipment, training, and parachute training for himself. The President granted his request and gave him a command aircraft for his personal use and a permanent US Air Force crew to go with it to boot. Also he was kept on the CIA payroll and was paraded around as an exotic and powerful leader by those in the United States government.

In 1970 Nixon praised Mobutu and told him “there are things we can learn from you.” On top of that Nixon pushed for more investment in the country. By 1974 the U.S. and Europe had over $2 billion (2,000,000,000) invested in the country celebrating Mobutu – a dictator the likes of which the world has only rarely seen – as the appropriate leader to manage the country of their “investment.”

Mobutu and NixonI hate to bring U.S. involvement in on the history of an African country but it is obvious from the above facts that the United States government were far more involved with the politics of the DRC than they probably should have been or care to openly admit. The people of the United States were ignorantly unaware that the leader of a remote African country was zipping around in a tax-paid jet with a tax-paid crew and a tax-paid staff and was being injected with tax-paid cash. Morally the concept of a leader of a country being on another country’s payroll is just another Westernized form of stunting a culture and country of people. While the United States certainly did not acknowledge the intricate details of the situation in the Congo they blanketly placed them in a category of “Potential Soviet ally” and insisted on menacing in the countries very internal and bloody business. Of course the Soviets were no better grubbying their fingers in the Congo pot as well aiding the stir of an uprise that cost one million lives.

The United States brought shame upon themselves as a country becoming so worked up at Lumumba calling for Soviet help. If you remember country’s total graduates of both higher education and secondary education totaled less than 200 in 1960. What honest threat would a jungle nation with a handful of people educated on the “civilized” world that was ripe for civil war cause if they had become communist? Logic says none at all. And if democracy was really their goal why did they support a military dictator which was neither socialist nor democratic? He was despotic!

In an age where the prevailing argument of American policy is “We were noble enough to free the Iraqi people from a terrible dictator,” it goes completely ignored that the United States had supported harsh military dictators for decades (including Saddam originally). As I argued in my entry on The Bush Administration with another harsh military dictator – Samuel Doe – the United States has never been interested in “freeing people” or “democracy” so much as it has been interested in strict obedience. And Mobutu provided just that.

Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga

Just as we’ll never know what Michael Jackson would be like without gross amounts of fame we will never know what Joseph Mobutu would’ve been like without gross amounts of power. As the economy started to tentatively increase in the 1970’s Mobutu started to let his ego expand. After all the previous ruler couldn’t even rule for 6 months and he had ruled it for almost a decade with progress. He often began to be seen wearing a leopard-skin hat. On top of that he had decided to change his name in 1971 from Joseph Mobutu to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (the title of this section) which meant something along the lines of “the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake.” Not exactly modest nor really encouraging. It was also during this time Leopoldville (the capital) became Kinshasa, Elisabethville (where Lumumba met his torturous end) Lubumbashi, and Stanleyville (where the 1964 rebel revolt took place) became Kisangani. Lastly Mobutu decided that the name Democratic Republic of the Congo was outdated and changed the name to Zaire. Today many of your decade-old maps still have the Democratic Republic of the Congo labeled as Zaire as it continued to be named such until 1997.

Another dicatatorial action Mobutu took was creating a single party to eliminate political opposition. In case you were ever interested in what the trademarked official way of removing all political rights from the masses – it is the creation of a single party. This way things are simple – they become your way… or the rape, torture, abusive, deprivation, prison way. And the opposition party is usually preoccupied with one of the listed things if you know what I’m saying. So he started a single party and, of course, it was the duty of the party to follow, as he deemed it, “Mobutuism.” The concept behind it was basically that the belief of sharing power is absurd and having only one leader is the most important thing – and what that leader says goes or else punishment will ensue. Mobutu had become as oppressive as the Beglian colony was by taking on this paternal position for his people.

Actual Zairian money - seriously.Also this is known as something – Mobutu was creating a cult of personality. The name changes to himself and the country, the creation of a single party, naming things after himself – all of these things are signs of when your ego can no longer bathe in the Pacific Ocean anymore. From this point on nobody was allowed to have a European name in the country and priests baptizing anyone with a European name will receive a 5 year jail sentence. European suits were banned and fawning over the “Saviour of the People” (his title, not mine) was encouraged. In fact songs and dances were constantly being put on for him. Places where he lived and grew up became national pilgrimage places or places of “high meditation.” His staff began calling him a prophet. A former prime minister – Nguzu Karl-i-Bond – later wrote in his memoirs the following about Mobutu:

“Nothing is possible in Zaire without Mobutu. He created Zaire. He fathered the Zairian people. He grew the trees and the plants. He brings rain and good weather. You don’t go to the toilet without the authorisation of Le Guide. Zairians would be nothing without him. Mobutu has obligations to nobody, but everybody has obligation to him. As he said to me on August 13, 1977, in front of three witnesses: ‘Nguz’, there’s nothing I have to do for you; on the contrary, I have made you whatever you are.'”

And the American government still supported him.

Having satiated himself with fame Mobutu turned his head toward fortune to devour. With the simple ease of just vocalizing it Mobutu seized a massive amount of foreign businesses. In a simple decree he acquired 2,000 businesses and redistributed them to friends and family. Mobutu himself was the boss of plantation conglomerate with over 25,000 employees. Mobutu virtually owned the country – not dissimilar to his Belgian predecessor. During the 1970’s it was estimated that one-third of total national revenues was in one way or another at his disposal. Mobutu immersed himself in all aspects of business in his country bloating himself with wealth while his country slowly slipped back in decline. Whether it was copper, cobalt, diamonds, banking, stocks, business ownership, and surely much more Mobutu siphoned the profit guiltlessly for his arbitrary whims. In the 1980’s the average individual on the Forbes 500 list made about $400 million a year. Mobutu was estimated to be making $5 billion making him one of the richest men in the world at the time.

And the American government still supported him.

The consequence? National disaster. Mobutu could not handle all of the capital he had acquired making himself rich making Zaire’s budding economy begin to slowly rot. As poverty spread from the mismanaged businesses greed enveloped anyone with any power. Teachers and hospital staff went unpaid for months. It was Mobutu who helped coin a new form of government in which Zaire was a leading example – the term was a kleptocracy – klepto commonly know as someone who commonly steals – so a kleptocracy is a form of government that commonly steals. People with all levels of power took more than their fair share leaving the masses with little else but poverty. It came to a point where nothing could be accomplished without a bribe. It is at this time that we can see the Congolese people have become indistinguishable with their oppressors as corruption permeated the country turning neighbor on neighbor for a petty level of power.

“If you steal, do not steal too much at a time. You may be arrested, Yibana mayele – Steal cleverly, little by little.”

This is a documented quote directly from Mobutu himself. While corruption was on the minds of the leaders the country was impoverished. Medical staff, teachers, and other workers stopped working because they were receiving no wages. Those who did receive wages were getting little more than 10% of their value in 1960 (their independence). Hunger, disease, and malnutrition were the product of the greed. Mobutu modeled the practice of many ruthless African dictators. The first step is to gorge on as much profit from your country in any way you please. The second step is to invite foreign investors to gorge on the money they bring as well. The third step is to comply with foreign inquiry to missing funds until they try to get you to stop gorging, then ignore them and wait to see what they do. And this is exactly what Mobutu did, threatening the lives of those who came to his country to monitor fair business practices. Mobutu constantly was shifting his friends and enemies to make sure nobody ever got too close.

BFFsAnd the American government still supported him.

I stress this so many times because this is a clear cut case where the United State blatantly and flagrantly ignored the concept of democracy and freedom for the sake of convenience. The United States only saw the Congo one-dimensionally. The Congo was a block of land in Africa that was not allowed to supply its wealth to the Soviet Union – and that’s it. If the nation dove in to despotism, debt, greed, despair, torture, wars, and suffering that was acceptable so long as they were not supplying their wealth to the Soviet Union. In this regard the political term for him was a “friendly tyrant.” In case that doesn’t make sense I’ll gladly break it down for you. Mobutu is still a tyrant and does all the terrible, horrible, awful things a tyrant does to his own people – however – he is friendly towards us, which makes us feel safe, so we give him money for doing that to keep him that way. That is what the term “friendly tyrant” means. How much money did the United States give to Mobutu? Between 1965 and 1988 the United States gave Mobutu $860 million of taxpayer money. Mobutu maintained friendship with the United States administration after administration. Into the Reagan and Bush Administration Mobutu was still solidly not helping the Soviet Union in a Cold War gone lukewarm. The suffering was obvious, the only unity maintained was through Mobutu’s iron fist of greed, and keeping him in power curdled the tense situations as they began to root.

I bring all this up to ask the philosophical question – is it right for one nation-state to put a leader of another nation-state on their payroll? Does this not undermine the very responsibility of a leader? Where is this leader’s loyalty when he is being paid by another country? Who could possibly argue that a leader can stay loyal to his country while on the payroll of another? The United States and the Soviet Union created so much global tension out of an ego issue it reverberated negatively around the world – the Congo being one of the worst affected. Taxpayer money went for decades to a man whose only job was to suppress, and he was praised for it:

“I have come to appreciate the dynamism that is so characteristic of Zaire and Zairians and to respect your dedication to fairness and reason. I have come to admire, Mr. President, your personal courage and leadership in Africa.”

“Zaire is among America’s oldest friends, and its president – President Mobutu – one of our most valued friends. And we are proud and very, very pleased to have you with us today.”

Both of the above are direct quotes from President George Bush I (There is something eerily familiar about having to use Roman Numerals for identification of a specific leader and its correlation with oppression). The history of the United States and Mobutu is simply unacceptable behavior if it were happening in America, and there is absolutely no legitimate reason (so this excludes discrimination and hate-mongering) why this should be happening because of Americans elsewhere. It would be as if one high school superintendent paid off another high school superintendent to make all their students and staff submissive to him, which may include robbing them, not paying them, refusing them any decent medical attention, refusing to have any autonomy whatsoever… all so the original superintendent can feel like he’s doing a good job eliminating potential (not actual even yet!) competition. From Dwight Eisenhower to George Bush I all the presidents supported Mobutu and supplied him with cash to continue his plundering and oppression – it was little other than that by any standards at all – and Bush says those complete false positive things about him. The feeling was mutual however with Mobutu sharing positive feelings on George Bush I himself:

“As regards George Bush I’ve met him thirteen times. We know each other from way back. He was in charge of the CIA and knew Zaire’s problems backwards. He received me at his home in Maine with his mother, wife, and children and grandchildren. I met him again recently at the funeral of Emperor Hirohito. He is an intelligent, open and sensitive man, with strong convictions.”

I find these quotes so essential because they are documented facts. There was absolute friendship between a dictator who many would largely agree was worse than Saddam Hussein, yet even at this time Bush was fighting that very man for being a ruthless dictator. The hypocrisy is blatant and the fact that this is not acknowledged as a historical lesson goes to show that there is a strong level of national oppression within the United States let alone what type of oppression the government encourages outside of the country.

When the Soviet Union fell there was little reason to keep Mobutu on the United States payroll and his reputation was catching up with him. The United States began to distance herself from Mobutu until eventually the government denied Mobutu a visa into the United States. No longer was he welcome less than a decade after the breakup, one of the United States “oldest friends,” perhaps Bush meant “oldest tools.” In fact – the only one to speak up for Mobutu anymore in America happened to be Pat Robertson, the famous televangelist (of all people), giving an argument for Mobutu to visit the United States. Though Pat Robertson has done a good job covering his tracks there have been quite a few accounts claiming that Mobutu allowed him to mine diamonds in his country, which is probably the reason for their forged relationship. Robertson seems a man willing to profit from anything – religion to an oppressed nation – regardless of moral character.

France and the Rwandan Genocide

The Congo and RwandaIn a small country a fraction of the size of Zaire along its exotic Eastern border a conflict was occurring. A group known as the Tutsi were about to be murdered in such large amounts the word genocide had to be pulled out of the closet before anything was seriously done about it. The Tutsi, though a minority group, tended to be wealthy and hold positions of power. The Tutsis had an aristocracy and enjoyed a higher style of living than their Hutu counterparts. The Hutu were the majority in this country known as Rwanda and some Hutus felt indignant over this Tutsi rule. Rwanda and Burundi have had ethnic tensions between the Hutu and the Tutsi stemming back to the 1960s. Political leaders have been assassinated, executed, and murdered by Hutu and Tutsi alike. The Tutsi people were exiled for over 30 years creating one of the largest refugee communities in Africa. The Tutsis who remained in Rwanda (while the exiles planned for their return) were forced to carry an ethnicity card, given quotas determined by the Hutu government, Tutsi women were not allowed to be married to Hutu men, and the leader of it all – Juvenal Habyarimana – kept a photograph of a Tutsi hut in flames in his presidential mansion.

But now it is the early 1990’s and the Tutsi had earned their way back in to Rwanda but not without continued ethnic tension. Habyarimana was not willing to share the power with the returning Tutsi and began to stir up dehumanizing hate in which only the most desperate and lowly of people do. Hutu supremacists began organizing death squads and murdering the Tutsi in cold blood.

As all this was going on next door Mobutu was immersed in troubles of his own. After 30 years of rule Mobutu had little to show for it. Since 1988 the economy had shrunk by 40% and his money was worthless. Per capital gross domestic product in 1993 was $117, about 65% lower than in 1958 – before independence. Mobutu’s old stealing grounds were in decline and people across the world had begun to wise up to Mobutu’s destructive, deceitful, ignorant ways. Copper, cobalt, diamonds and gold all were mismanaged, not being produced, or being smuggled. Mobutu had reaped what he had sewn. Distrust permeated through every level of government and when cohesion looked possible Mobutu incited ethnic tensions just like his neighbor, Habyarimana, to the East. But the worst of it all was that he had virtually no foreign friends that could provide him with his insatiable desire for wealth and global leverage. The United States wouldn’t talk to him anymore, the World Bank stopped funding him as they saw $9 billion sink into the murky depths of the Congo never to reappear, it really looked as if it were only a matter of time before Mobutu met the fate of his predecessor – Lumumba.

Francophone AfricaEnter France. First it was Belgium who could not help but get their fingers dirty in Africa, followed by the Americans, and now the French saw the Congo as a part of their imperialist vision. If one country asserted more dominance on the continent of Africa than any others – it would be France. France was very diligent in not only maintaining but spreading the Francophone culture. To France Africa was divided into two sections – Francophone Africa (map on left) – and then everybody else. France didn’t really regard Africa as a totally separate culture or continent from their own – they regarded Africa, literally, as their own backyard. To them defending Francophone Africa was defending France – it was defending France’s backyard. And what was France defending Francophone Africa from? Why Anglophone Africa of course – the British influence could not encroach.

Treating a continent of people like a backyard once again shows the immaturity Africans had to deal with when encountering their European counterparts. Everything from the French language to French influence were of the highest priority in Francophone Africa- everything else coming second – and I mean everything. Jaques Foccart, the leader authority of French policy on Africa for 40 years and met Mobutu personally, had explained France’s interest on the topic of Zaire:

“[Zaire] is the largest country on francophone Africa. It has considerable natural resources. It has the means of being a regional power. The long-term interest of France and its African allies is evident.”

No longer was Zaire considered a country with desperate people and a flat-lined economy in dire need of compassion and stability with a ruthless leader. It was viewed simply as a potential area of profit and if France continued to support its leadership – whoever it was – they can benefit from any economic or regional power gained from it. However unfortunate for the French what was brewing in the region was not potential profit but genocide. In fact France supplied Habyarimana with troops which he used to repress his opponents (Mobutu also had supplied Habyarimana in the past with troops and weapons). Rwanda was also part of the precious francophone empire and acknowledging the genocide that Rwandan Hutus were facilitating would not look good for France. But the crisis continued to grow, Tutsis continued to be slaughtered and the West, especially France, was slow to react. When Habyarimana was assassinated in April of 1994 the genocide took full effect.

Rwandan refugee camp in ZaireFor Mobutu though he had found a new purpose – a new way to manipulate power again. The Rwandan crisis was getting out of hand and Mobutu gladly opened the border to his country for refugees to come spilling in. However, this time, the refugees were not Tutsi – they were Hutu. The whole reason the crisis began in Rwanda was because Tutsis were demanding to return to the government that exiled them 30 years prior. The Hutu elite used dehumanization, discrimination, and then outright murder to refuse the Tutsi entrance back in to their original country of residence. So while the Tutsi continued to push southward militarily – triumphantly taking back the country in which they originally belonged – while Hutus cowardly murdered civilian Tutsis and fled the country claiming Tutsi created genocide- not the actual Hutu created genocide that was occurring.

As the Hutus poured in to all of Rwanda’s bordering nations international outcry reached a new level. Images of Hutus exiling themselves from the country turned in to the images of the holocaust. Indeed hidden within this traveling band of refugees were the actual people directly responsible for the blood-lust atrocities. As CNN streamed the images of the Hutu refugees the hearts of people across the world went out to them even though some were facilitating the genocide.

When Belgium wanted to send in troops to stabilize the situation it was France who refused it. When a regional meeting set up to discuss Rwanda was going to be in “anglophone” Tanzania both Mobutu and France blocked the move. Meanwhile innocent civilians were being murdered and raped in the street. Both Mobutu and France held out their power in an orgy of greed for power and wealth. It was from the Hutu refugee camps inside Zaire that facilitators of the genocide safely plotted their next blood-spilling scheme.

The Congolese Wars

With all the political greed in the region the locals were getting overwhelmed with the refugees and ethnic tensions began to flare between the locals and the refugees. Due to Mobutu helping out the Hutu genocidaires the new Tutsi-instated government decided to attack the genocidaires and march all the way west to the capital of Zaire – Kinshasa – and remove Mobutu from power. At this time in 1996 Mobutu was in ill health, had no money, and could not afford a military to defend himself. The rebellion started in the Second Congolese War linesEast at the Rwandan border and then spread West slowly. Mobutu watched as his country began to dissolve in front of hi eyes. Province after province joined in on the rebellion with Mobutu virtually powerless to stop it – even Katanga joined in. This was known as the First Congolese War.

The last time the East Congo started rebelling it was 1965 and the United States was supplying Mobutu with all he needed to suppress the uprising. In fact, I did not mention this earlier, Fidel Castro and Cuba even got involved. Having personal vendettas against American imperialism in Cuba, Castro sent Che Guevara to the Eastern Congo to meet a man named Laurent-Désiré Kabila who claimed he had an army to Che to train. Che was a professional guerrilla soldier ready to train an uprising for the good of the people. Che was disgusted to meet an unmotivated army with an unmotivated leader that demanded money and put in little effort. The revolution Che had planned was a disaster and Che headed straight back to Cuba. About 30 years later it was again, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who the Tutsis trusted to take over the Congo. It was this man, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who Che said on his return to Cuba:

“He let the days pass without concerning himself with anything other than political squabbles, and all the signs are that he is too addicted to drink and women”

Che also claimed Kabila lacked any “revolutionary seriousness. So what a surprise it might have been to Che (had he not been murdered himself later on in life) to see that it was indeed Kabila (with major help from Tutsi Rwanda) that ran Mobutu out of the country. Mobutu escaped with little more than his frail life. After 32 years of playing ruthless dictator of possibly the most saddest country on Earth Mobutu fled on a plane that being riddled with bullets – never to Current Congo - Joseph Kabilareturn. As the remainder of Mobutu’s army made it across the Congo River to Congo-Brazzaville in 1997 the leader of the months-long assault, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, assumed leadership and returned the name back to the original (though confusing) name of independence: the Democratic Republic of Congo.

If genocide and a war wasn’t enough to deal with in a single decade a second war was quickly ready to break out. The Second Congolese War has been the largest conflict since World War II and also Africa’s largest war involving 8 nations. Though Kabila could have never taken over Kinshasa without the help of the new Tutsi Rwandan government Kabila was short in patience when Rwanda tried to control the Congo. Kabila made sure to thank them and then curtly made them leave. Shortly thereafter fighting flared up and the Rwandan and Ugandan government started to feed off the Northeast parts of the Congo plundering their wealth. Other nations got involved on both sides and things did not significantly change until 2001 when Kabila was assassinated. Immediately his son – Joseph Kabila was instated. By 2003 Uganda and Rwanda withdrew and the war was officially over.

Of course Rwanda is still bitter and continues to support rebel action within the borders of the Congo. And these shallow actions continue to perpetuate the corrosive and rotting culture of violence the citizens of the Congolese have been forced to endure since its inception and almost completely due to international stimulation. Joseph Kabila’s leadership is still in its infancy. Certainly his task is daunting and unlike his father or any of his predecessors Joseph Kabila is described as a shy man. Perhaps a leader without an ego can help unite the country and it is true that he is attempting peace talks with the Rwandan Tutsi rebels. Unfortunately it was only August 2007 when rebel and government forces fought in the province of Kivu displacing almost a million people. Is it possible that Joseph Kabila will be able to restore even the most basic safeties to the country without keeping the citizens in a fetal state? I certainly don’t know but I hope the best of intentions and the wisest of choices are guiding him.

Conclusion

So why did I bring up this long disastrous history of a nation nobody cares about unless they live in it? For a few reasons:

  1. Current CongoSome people attribute Africa’s problems to race. Many people seriously believe that skin color affects intelligence even in the slightest. I found the history of the Congo to be typical to the history of many African colonial nations. Unprepared for independence and mettlesome once independence is achieved African leaders, especially in the case of the Congo, have a hard time not being used like a pawn. In this case we saw the first serious mistreatment of people occur by a white European leader. The history of the Congo is one of the infinite amount of testimonies that no one race is superior to any other.
  2. Many of the people and countries involved with the Congo were bolded upon their first mention in this entry. This is to show how Congo’s strife-ridden history has little to do with internal affairs, though there can be improvement on all ends. The Congo’s story is a testament to the theory that Western powers have direct influence with the most poverty-stricken and strife-ridden areas on the planet.
  3. Specifically the United States befriending this ruthless tyrant, Mobutu, for decades because of his obedience and yet in the same breath call Saddam out as being a ruthless dictator. The United States has a hard time recognizing its mistakes and befriending and paying Mobutu was one of them. The Congo’s story is a testament to the idea that the United States only looks for obedience in a foreign leader as opposed to serving “freedom” to the citizens – and to use that as an excuse to be extra dubious.
  4. To bring attention to a region of the world that is constantly ignored by telling its fascinating, if not gory, history.

Normally I link more references than I did in this entry and a lot you must take my word on to believe. Why should you take my word for it? Because virtually everything I’ve written was paraphrased from the book listed below, The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith which is probably one of the most comprehensive looks at Africa and its history since independence. I strongly urge anyone to read it who wants to know why civilization has not been as kind to all parts of the world as it has been to the West. I would love any more information that is insightful to read on the Congo and I encourage comments on this entry

The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith

The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith – excellent book.

The Aral Sea

 

 

 

***Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!***

Update August 2009*** Newest Photo of Aral Sea by NASA – The sea has become virtually a desert.

***If you enjoyed this entry, you might also be interested in my entry on the North Pacific Garbage Patch or Our Oceans***

Yes. The Aral Sea. The name either stirs up complex emotions of urgency, desperation, hopelessness, and shame or – nothing at all. For too many people on this planet the latter response is all too common, the Aral Sea might as well be a massive depression on the moon or Mars because they could not locate it on a map of the world despite its huge size and complex issues surrounding it. The story of the Aral Sea is epic. It marks a beginning as well as an end on this planet, it is a watershed. It’s an indicator of the progress of civilization and it is a marker of human power. It is also infinitely buried behind stories of Hollywood drama, iEverything, and sports scandals. It is the story of the Aral Sea that future generations will look back upon and clearly understand where humans went wrong but are left empty with the reasons why. Parched, starving, and disease-ridden they will look back at their species impact on the planet and feel abysmal shame. But for now we live pridefully in ignorance, playing a game of economics, gratuitously feeding the infinite desires in our finite world, laughing or scoffing at those who do not win or play the game.

The Aral Sea from SpaceSo what is the story of the Aral Sea? When I said it was epic, I wasn’t kidding. It’s a story that J. R. R. Tolkien could be impressed with, and it’s real too. It’s a story involving extreme landscapes, powerful leaders, deadly weapons the likes of which this Earth has never seen, projects never before attempted. It is about a struggle for humanity to become God. To the right we see the Aral Sea and its serene beauty from space. The reason why we can see it from space is because the Aral Sea was once the fourth largest lake in the world. That’s right – a lake. A lake that supported all forms of life – including humans – for centuries.

The difference between a lake and a sea is salinity, or salt – the more salinity the more likely the body of water will be called a sea. The Aral Sea lay around some of the flattest and driest land on the planet. An area naturally high in salt the Aral Sea seemed destined to become a salty sea. But over 1,500 miles away in the remote mountains of a forgotten country that is known today as Tajikistan – something was happening that greatly affected the Aral Sea. The Pamir Mountains are some of the highest mountains in the world and still covered in glaciers. Being one of the few unthawed regions left on the planet glacial waters poured in abundance from the mountains dropping to much lower land in the West. Fresh and clean, two of the largest rivers in Central Asia headed West and drained into the Aral Sea. This freshwater runoff allowed the Aral Sea to lose salinity and become the fourth largest lake in the world. Fish prospered, animals prospered, people prospered. Centuries went by and the Aral Sea continued to provide. Strong coastal communities formed where fishing and fresh water dominated the otherwise dry and empty plains. The story of the Aral Sea up to this point could be one akin to a fairy-tale, a massive source of water in one of the driest and hottest places on the planet, a much needed source of fresh water and food, like a mother she nurtured those who trusted her with their lives.

As the centuries passed nothing remarkable changed. The freshwater from the mountains were plentiful as was the diverse ecosystem of the Aral Sea. Even when the Great Russian Famine struck in the early 1920’s the Aral Sea helped provide for a growing nation. The Aral Sea could not have known what the people it had helped try to feed during the famine were going to do to it a couple decades later – nobody could’ve known.

The Karakum and the Nurek:

A Darvasa Gas Crater in the Karakum desertThe Karakum desert is one of the largest deserts in the world and lies mostly Southeast of the Aral Sea. The hottest temperature ever recorded on the planet was 136 degrees Fahrenheit in Libya… the Karakum desert has been known to reach over 122 degrees. Translated the name does little to help the image of the Karakum, or Kara – kum, or “Black Sand.” The desert of black sand sounds like the kind of place where Satan himself seems like he’d reside, and he just might. Overshadowed by the boundless Sahara or the enchanted Gobi little is known or documented about this desert which resides in a country almost entirely sheltered from the outside world (Turkmenistan). Closed to the public the Karakum desert has a mystical allure to it which the Darvasa Gas Craters exacerbate (right).

In 1954 the United States and the Soviet Union were beginning their long descent in to the Cold War. While the United States was condemning the actions of Joseph McCarthy and his red scare, the Soviet Union was very interested in this desert Hell. They had grand schemes to transform a desert, that’s right – a desert, into prosperous agricultural land. The Soviets had visions of cotton and rice supplying their socialist empire from one of the most forsaken deserts on the planet.

The Karakum Canal - good luck finding better pictures of itHow do you pull off making a desert a haven for life? It is a contradiction in terms to have an abundance of life with a desert. Deserts are meant to be void of life, empty of the necessities of survival for most species regardless of what kingdom they belong, yet this was the plan of the Soviets. A year earlier in 1953 one of the most notorious leaders in the recorded history of the planet had finally died due to a stroke – Joseph Stalin. There was then a struggle for power in the Soviet Empire in which Nikita Kruschev came out on top. It was in the infancy of his leadership that the plan to turn a desert in to an ecosystem began. And the plan was this: To build the largest irrigation canal that this Earth has ever seen. And in 1954 the Karakum Canal was being built. When finished it was going to be 500 miles of pure irrigation madness. There was just one little problem – where would they get all that water from in a desert? The answer lay in the foot of the impressive Pamir Mountains in which the longest river in Central Asia flowed out of – known as the Amu Darya.

The Amu Darya, such a large river the name actually translates into “sea” or “big river,” had enough water to provide the Karakum Canal with the water it needed for irrigation. It would take over 3 decades to complete the canal but it was completed, not only that but the Karakum Canal was a success! Canals started springing up all along the Amu Darya and her sister to the North, Syr Darya, mainly growing cotton and rice. It quickly became the staple in these Middle Earth countries. Even today the Karakum Canal still reigns as the largest irrigation canal in the world. The long flowing arms of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya became economic goldmines. The Syr Darya’s name means “Great Pearl” because of the fresh glacial sediment pouring off the mountains giving the color of wet cement. The sources of these rivers were useful to the Soviet agenda as well. Deep in the vast Pamirs the Soviets were brewing another plan to harness the powers of these glacial rivers.

Secret Picture of the Nurek DamTucked in the Pamir Mountains, in the quiet country of Tajikistan, a town was created that never existed before. The town of Nurek was built out of necessity and still exists. Like a relic from a long forgotten past a statue of Lenin, the godfather of the Soviet Union, adorns the town even today. The town was created for one job – to build the tallest dam in the world and then staff it and run it. The Nurek Dam was born. The Nurek Dam provides electricity for 98% of the country in the past and currently. It is still an essential part of the Tajik lifestyle. Families take vacations to the Dam’s reservoir and swim in the pristine blue glacial waters. The government is so concerned about security with it that they allow almost no pictures of it – you are lucky to find 4 on the internet. The river the Nurek Dam sits on – the Vakhsh River – used to flow into the pearly Syr Darya but it is now used to power an entire country. The Soviet Union only saw success in their eyes: the longest canal, the tallest dam. Surely they questioned what it is they couldn’t do. Their legacy carries on today as a heavy portion of the world market of cotton comes from this area of the world because of the irrigation canals these two rivers fed, and the Nurek Dam is still the tallest fully functioning dam in the world.

The Death of the Amu and Syr Darya:

Now, while all this was happening the Aral Sea was creating a local mystery. The shoreline of the Aral Sea was receding. The waters edge was quickly becoming more distant. Interestingly enough it was originally branded as a temporary problem. The solution was simple – get some boats, bring them upstream, dredge the nearest canal and pull that water back to the Aral Sea so boats could still go about their business. The water the dredgers brought back were toxic with pesticides and high concentrations of salt. To the fish it was a chemical bath that most did not survive and the result was a plummeting fishing industry in a lake with a still receding shore. In the early 60s the Aral Sea employed 60,000 people in the fishing industry, by the 70’s the industry had dropped 75%. The Aral Sea was in a crisis and the reality of it soon sunk in. The irrigation canals and the dams all diverted the arteries of the Aral Sea across Central Asian desert. Naturally the answer would be to close down the irrigation canals and allow the water to continue to flow in the sea, but too late, these canals help aid a global need for cotton as well as employs thousands. Nobody was in a rush to shut all this down to feed a dying Sea – that, in the rest of the world’s eyes, was a local problem.

By 2000, less than a half century after the last time the Aral Sea was seen at normal levels, the Aral Sea is a wasteland. Piles of salt encrust the sand that used to be full of thriving life and all underwater. When the wind picks up it blows fine pieces of sand, salt, and chemicals across theA dry Amu Darya now barren desert. If Rip Van Winkle himself went to sleep under a tree in front of the Aral Sea Coastline he would wake up aghast at the desert that surrounded him. He would hop on the parched landscape breathing in the sandy heat. Surely it would feel post-apocalyptic. At one point Rip Van Winkle could stop and look up and say “The water should be 30 feet over my head,” because it had been only 50 years earlier. Eventually Rip Van Winkle would find the shoreline – far off in the distance from the original. Once the 4th largest lake in the world it’s now between the 10th and 15th largest… and dropping rapidly. On top of creating the salty, sandy, pesticide-ridden desert the Soviets had one more thing to contribute to the area.

Renaissance Island:

Picture a James Bond movie: James Bond: Renaissance Island. This mission for Bond isn’t easy, he has to infiltrate a forgotten Asian country and reach an island in the middle of a sea undetected. On this island lies one of the most top-secret, deadly, bioweapons facilities on the face of this planet. This is Renaissance Island – a name only a cliche Bond movie could’ve come up with. Once he passes through the test chambers and secretly strangles a few guards Bond finds himself in a clean, white laboratory with the most hazardous materials on the planet: anthrax, bubonic plague, small pox, tularemia. “You’re too late Bond,” the Soviet supervillian appears from behind a secret door blocking his exit in his pressed and decorated uniform, “I’m just about to release these toxins into the world, and you’re too late to stop me.” Normally this is where Bond does something really creative, but in real life Bond never stood a chance. This time the supervillian wins.

Welcome to Vozrozhdeniya Island. Yes, the name really does mean Renaissance. The word renaissance means “rebirth,” so it is interesting that only death was on the mind of so many of the inhabitants. Indeed it is true Vozrozhdeniya Island was host to one of the most top secret, deadly, bioweapons facilities in the world. However, it didn’t always used to be like that. Vozrozhdeniya is the southwestern of the two islands in the Aral Sea. In the 1930’s it was briefly used as a bioweapons testing range but was not considered for some of mankind’s most dastardly work again until the 1950s. Enter Kantubek, the town created for the scientists to live and play in when not working in a top secret bioweapons facility.

Vozrozhdeniya Island is dubbed “the world’s largest biological warfare testing ground.” This facility really did carry those germs mentioned above: anthrax, bubonic plague, small pox, tularemia. Out of Kantubek the men would come to work to create some of the world’s most powerful superstrains. This meant that they would take something like smallpox and make it super resistant to antibiotics making it more easily communicable. But how do we know for sure what was going on in that facility? While many scientists have worked there I have only found two that have spoken about their time there.

Seriously the only picture of the Vozrozhdeniya lab complex not from space on the internet - seriously.In 1992 a man named Ken Alibek defected from Russia to the United States. Alibek and Vozrozhdeniya Island had a special history together. You see, Alibek used to be the former head of the Soviet germ warfare program and just so happened to have worked on Vozrozhdeniya himself. He openly admits to the atrocious strains they worked on. He claims to have been ordered to prepare a strain of anthrax, small-pox, and bubonic plague to be put in a warhead aimed at the United States – New York, Boston, Chicago. Openly Alibek admits that in a certain scenario the devastation would be catastrophic. Animal testing was common on the Island; guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, cows, horses, donkeys and even monkeys were all animal victims of the facility. Like a funhouse from Hell the animals would be pulled through unknown corridors and led to dead ends where agonizing and terrible Death lay waiting to be fed Life sautéed in disease.

They tested at night, hidden from the secret eye of satellites, it was when the sun set that the animals must’ve backed in to a corner of their cage fearing their “turn.” Open air testing with biological weapons is universally agreed as a bad idea, yet on Vozrozhdeniya it was common practice. The Soviets, however, did attempt some level of containment. They figured insects or birds could be nearby during the open-air testing thusly transferring some superstrain to the mainland. To solve this little problem the Soviets poisoned the whole testing area to kill off anything around that happened to be alive. This is to ensure those insects are dead before any serious biological weapons are tested, some have taken issue with this practice claiming that it guarantees nothing, but the Soviets took no mind. After the open-air testing facility is freshly poisoned it is time to bring the animal(s) out to be subjected to some of the most wretched diseases on the planet. Alibek describes one night: “The cloud would start moving towards the monkeys. They were crying because they knew they would die.” Afterwards they’d be studied until they languishingly succumbed to death – Alibek claims thousands of animals died through this method.

The other man I found was named Gennadi Lepyoshkin who was a supervisor of scientific teams on Vozrozhdeniya Island in the 1970’s. He recalls the still fresh and deep Aral in which they swam during their off time. The island was “beautiful.” From Lepyoshkin we gather a more relaxed atmosphere even claiming one woman who dropped a petri dish of anthrax and tried to cover it up was not even punished for her action, “Nobody got sick” he says. Plus not all work Lepyoshkin worked on was negative: “We discovered new methods to improve the immune system. We developed an anthrax vaccine that was given to the whole army, and it’s considered to be the best in the world. Same with our plague vaccine; it’s been used more than 40 years.” Yet I wonder if he really believed the benefits outweighed the drawbacks. Lepyoshkin on his feelings for testing biological weapons of horror:

I knew the weapons would never be used. When nuclear weapons were made, no one thought they would be used. You’d have to be mad to use them. But now that there’s terrorism, it’s more scary. You know biological weapons are cheap. We calculated that to achieve an effect on one square kilometer (and by ”effect,” he explains, he means killing about half of the population) it costs $2,000 with conventional weapons, $800 with a nuclear weapon, $600 with a chemical weapon and $1 with a bioweapon. One dollar.

Unfortunately the story of Vozrozhdeniya Island gets worse. One dark night in 1988 a train was heading towards the Aral Sea carrying 100 tons of anthrax. There were orders straight from Moscow to bury the anthrax on Vozrozhdeniya and to never speak of it again. Covered in bleach they were shipped to the island in steel barrels. Officials decided instead of burying them in the barrels they would just dump them in pits and pour a little more bleach on it just to be sure. In 1991 the island was abandoned altogether becoming one of the most hazardous places on the planet.

The Aral Sea Disaster:

The Aral Seashore todayMan. The Aral Sea sure has its fair share of stories. And they come together in a putrid parade of human ignorance. The dreams that the irrigation canals and the dams were supposed to fulfill gave birth to nightmares that thrived the further down the rivers you traveled. The irrigation canals did do their job – they created plenty of arable land to make cotton. In fact today in Uzbekistan an ancient communist dictator is still in charge of the country which he uses as his own personal cotton-picking slave business. In this video they ask a child how long shes been picking cotton and she responds “for a long time.” This is what she is forced to do for “school.” When picked the workers (slaves) are forced to sell it to the government for below market price so the corrupt leadership can make a profit. The region using these canals sell a serious portion of global cotton to the world, so it makes one wonder what one could be inadvertently contributing to when they simply buy clothes. Cotton is known as “white gold” for a reason. And on top of that they load the cotton with pesticides poisoning the canals and the river water that did make it to the Aral Sea.

In fact it was the pesticides flowing into the Aral, the heavily increased salinity in the area, and the unique batch of poison and diseases of Renaissance Island that left the sea null of life by the 1980s. It took a matter of about two decades to eliminate all life from the Aral. The water has decreased at an unparalleled rate. Reports currently fear the Sea’s disappearance in under a decade – and any satellite picture shows it too. It was as if the Vozrozhdeniya bioweapons facility manufactured a disease that could cause terrible cancer – not to humans – but bodies of water. From space one would watch the Aral Sea slowly look more ill up until the present where the Aral looks sickeningly like a skeleton of her former self. She is not being fed and she has become emaciated.

A good idea at the rate the 4th largest lake disappearedWhat is the Aral Sea like today on the ground? Put simply – awful. It’s even worse than in 2000, the Aral Sea was everything to the locals, it even gave them milder summers and winters in a land that was already known for extremes. The Aral Sea is now a dry, salty, desert. When the wind picks up here the fine particles of sand, pesticides, and poison make a “chemical cocktail,” a term I’ve only heard used describing the air of the Aral Sea. And when this wind picks up, some of it doesn’t land until it’s as far as the Antarctic, or even further. Lime disease, all sorts of cancer, anemia and tuberculosis are all running rampant in the Aral Sea region. The infant mortality rate has risen in the area as well. Doctors without Borders, something that has previously been chiefly used in war-zones, have committed themselves to aiding the Aral Sea problem as their first environmental cause. Yes, it is that bad. Abandoned boats are strewn across this desert leaving the eerie feeling of death. Maybe it’s because the Aral Sea is literally now a desert, void of life – or maybe it’s because you are standing around ships in that desert – the only desert on Earth covered in ships.

If you pass the barren coastal towns, pass the abandoned desert ships, hike through the searing desert with snowpiles of salt as wind pummels your pores with fine toxic particles, you will come to the sea’s edge. It’s still there for the time being. The salinity is so high it is now compared to the Dead Sea – the lowest point on mainland Earth. Walk along the edge of the water pondering humanity for a while and come to the newly formed land-bridge that now connects you to the Renaissance Peninsula. In 2001, the 10 year anniversary of the Soviets abandoning one of the most toxic islands on the planet, Vozrozhdeniya, she shed her Island title in place for the fancier “Peninsula.” Vozrozhdeniya rejoined the mainland as waters decreased to its consistent record low. Rodents and other animals now have open access to one of the most lethal areas on the planet.

One of the many abandoned ships in the Aral DesertIn 1995 a U.S. Department of Defense mission found its way to Vozrozhdeniya shortly before it turned into a peninsula. What drove them to this wretched corner of the Earth was again Ken Alibek, the defector from Russia:

It is clear, when you destroy tons and tons of their weapons, it wouldn’t be possible to kill everything. And now, what we know, is this island is contaminated.

And he was right. They found the anthrax pits, took some samples back, and found that they were still alive and could even be used for a potential terrorist plot. In 2002 the U.S. returned, this time with the intent of destruction. 8 warehouses were burned on the freshly created peninsula. Just because the island is one of the most noxious places on the Earth, it does not necessarily keep people away. Chris Pada is the only reporter I’ve found to have visited the island (he also interviewed Lepyoshkin). He did this by meeting up with a group of locals about to head to the abandoned peninsula. He called these people “scavengers” because they have been stripping apart the facility and the town since 1996 to sell or use the parts. While Pada notes the respectful silence the scavengers give to this infamous town the general attitude is unworried (“I don’t see any microbes”). Pada also noticed the 8 burned warehouses that the U.S. government destroyed earlier in the year. An unnerving fact is that Pada found many things the warehouses held still intact, but a U.S. Defense Department Official still claims all the anthrax is destroyed from the bleach pits they were buried in a decade earlier.

Whatever has claimed to have been done to neutralize the island does not compensate for some strange diseases occurring around the dying watermass. Even during the Soviet time, in 1971, a superstrain of smallpox had reached mainland from a scientist on a boat in the Aral Sea. In 1999 a 9-year old boy who lived near the shores of the Aral Sea died of the plague. Also in 1999 there were two cases of anthrax infecting people in Kazakhstan near the sea.

The Aral Sea seemed to hit rock-bottom with experts agreeing on no hope of a complete recovery. What was once the fourth largest lake in the world turned in to a massive dustbowl covered in salt plains. The rain is less frequent, the air more deadly, the temperatures more extreme, the wind more harsh. However in the Aral’s darkest hour some hope still lies yet for this doomed sea.

A New Hope – The North Aral Sea:

While the Amu Darya fed the Aral Sea from the south, the Syr Darya fed the Aral Sea from the North seemingly splitting the lake in half. The Syr Darya created the smaller northern region in Kazakhstan connecting through a small 8 mile gap to the larger southern portion mainly in Uzbekistan. It is in the much smaller northern region where progress is being seen today, no matter how small. The Kazakhstan government couldn’t save the whole sea but they realized that the 8 mile dam could amputate the dead and decaying southern portion from the much healthier northern portion. The Kazakhstan government, whose maximum spending ability is less than half of Wal-mart’s profit for 2006, put together $68 million to build a dam known as the Kok-Aral. The Kok-Aral has become the center of attention for those who still live by the Aral, it has helped regain 40% of its surface area since the dam was built and the water raised over 9 feet using just the Syr Darya.

The Aralsk harbor - the sea hasn’t returned yetAn issue with the dam is that it is low, which will not allow the North Aral Sea to reach previous levels, and so with a $126 million loan from the World Bank, a second dam is going to be attempted. Those who live by the northern section of the Aral Sea are ecstatic. Everything from better weather to a renewed fishing industry is giving everybody a positive attitude. The dam is a local attraction and people like to hang about it fishing. An ecosystem is being restored here. A sign in Aralsk, once the greatest fishing port on the sea, is patiently waiting for its return. A sign in the town reads “The sea has left our harbor, but it hasn’t left our hearts.

Ultimately though, the northern part of the Aral Sea is just a fraction of the entire thing. The feeling of hope quickly dissipates the farther south one goes past the Kok-Aral dam. There are no easy solutions to this problem. Uzbekistan has an archaic self-absorbed government that shows no signs of saving its portion of the sea. The profit from the cotton slave business is good enough for now, even as the salt from the receding sea and excessive pesticides kills arable land daily.

How to make a sea disappear in just 5 decadesThe story of the Aral Sea is a sad one. Even if the northern part returns to previous levels it will no longer be considered anywhere near the 4th largest lake in the world. It will have rejoined a class of mediocre lakes all around the world. But what’s the point of this Aral Sea story, why did I go so in depth into it? Well the question I ask myself, and I ask all of you, is this a trend that will be repeated in the future? The Aral Sea is not the only ecological disaster and they are not shrinking in numbers. There are trails of garbage miles long in the most remote parts of the Pacific. There is a radioactive town and forest in Ukraine. In China one of the world’s longest rivers is almost void of life because of pollution. At first these things seem to start small, for convenience. Is the Aral Sea a manifestation of future events or is it a freak accident?

The evidence points to the former. The reason why the Aral Sea began to shrink and die was not because of a natural climate shift, it was first and foremost a man-made disaster. But the irrigation canals were not made for pure evil purposes, they were simply made to ultimately create a profit. While there are plenty of benefits and positive aspects to capitalism, with the human population growing at an exponential rate, there are only more unlimited wants in an otherwise limited planet, so a greater need for resources is a natural reaction. Fresh water seems to be resource of the future and we can see how quickly it can disappear. The Aral Sea is disappearing in less than a half-century. That is less than one lifetime. I am here to suggest some humble wisdom for the human race that is likely on the minds of anybody who ever thinks of these things – not everything can be a game. In physics we’ve learned how relative everything can be, but even in physics there are admittedly some things that are not relative. This is also true for life. The need for freshwater for plants, animals, and humans is something that needs to be heavily invested in without profit or even an attempt at profit. If one is greedy with water and attempts to profit off of it then one is most likely guilty of some of the most awful crimes of life. Water was not made for Company/Government/Person A to pollute and Company/Government/Person B to profit and yet this is exactly the direction our planet is heading in without a bit more sincerity to our home. The Earth is our home and it is the only thing that provides for us – nothing else does. As I will explain in a different entry those who sniff future profits are attempting to monopolize the water “business.” But if you are still certain that disasters like Aral only come from incompetent archaic rulers, it just might be time to reconsider.

 

Is this our future?

I encourage discussion, comments, and clicking on the links. I really looked hard for them and it is where most of my information came from. The videos are amazing and the articles are thought-provoking. For such a terrible disaster it is almost not spoken about. Some of the articles I had to use were years old just because of the lack of reporting from the region. Any other things on the Aral Sea, feel free to share.

Civilization

TaipeiUpdate: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

So here’s your situation: You are a man about 10,000 years ago. You head off into the eternal forest to forage for some plants or perhaps kill a deer or something. As you are going along your way you happen to run in to another man and luckily he is able to communicate in exactly the same way you communicate with your family and tribe. He speaks to you. If Christianity existed back then you’d be able to recognize the scenario instantly, but alas it would not come in to existence for still 8,000 more years. It just so happens that on this particular day you are feeling a little sick and it is one of the more meager times of year for food so you’re feeling a little annoyed at the lack of success and energy lately.

The man tells you he wants to show you something. You swear you see his eyes turn red for a moment but then you think better of yourself, you still know people’s eyes just don’t turn red. And from behind a tree he grabs a giant ball that looks like its made of ice. Today we might call it a crystal ball. He holds it up with majesty and tells you to look inside of it. When you approach it you realize you actually see images within the ball. A potential image that flashes across the clear ball might be of the impressive city of Taipei (above). Not just cities flash across the ball, no. People do, their clothes do, lights, vehicles, airplanes do. Everything of our modern world flashes briefly before your eyes while you stand in the middle of the only thing you’ve ever known – forest. All of the different types of widely accessible food flash across the ball, clubs, movies, parties, sports all flash silently across the ball. You don’t know what to make of half of it, but you do know that you are in absolute awe of the powers of the people within the ball.

You look up and the man winks reassuringly at you. You don’t know what to say to the incessant images of indulgences and convenience. Who are they? How do they do it? How have they conquered nature? You’re hooked, you want to know more. The man looks intensely at you seeing you are ready to hear more, “These people have powers you can’t even dream of,” he tells you. You nod slowly in agreement as you look back down at the ball seeing what looked like people dressed up in complete body costumes floating with no ground beneath them in a black void. Then the man’s voice tenses, almost snakelike he hisses, “I can give you these powers.” The intenseness of the way he said it and what he says makes you snap up and stare at him. But the man smiles idly and waits for a response from you. You want to ask how but everything is so overwhelming you can do nothing but start to return your gaze to the mysterious ball of powers. The man continues again, calmly, “I can give you these powers and much more. Not just you, but your family. I can give these powers to your family and even your tribe. To anyone you want.” The desire for it starts to overwhelm you and make you lose composure but you are a dignified person and understand there must be something he wishes for in return. The man continues, “I can even give these powers to your children, and your children’s children… and yes to even their children and their children. You don’t have to hunt tirelessly and starving through the woods anymore. You can have all the material wealth in the world you want. There are ways to heal the sick, there are ways to live longer, there are ways to travel without a step. What would you do for such powers?”

“Many things,” you reply honestly.

“Then there is but one measly thing I ask for in return,” he says offhandedly, “I just ask for your soul.”

The dawn of civilization

And that’s where our scenario ends. A deal with the devil! One of the oldest and most commonly told stories of humanity. Would you agree to it? Or would you disagree to it? Many of us who live with principles would claim to disagree to it. But let’s take a step back and look at our situation for a moment. Most people who use the internet are fully integrated within civilization. Chances are you woke up in your bed which was manufactured for you, and step on to the rug of your house and then go to the fridge to get something to eat which was already prepared for you by someone else somewhere else, then you use the toilet and step into the shower, then you get in your car and on to a road to go to a job which uses various technologies to service other people. You deal more with money than with all of nature in its natural form. Almost everything you touch from morning til night is an unnatural, man-made creation. We have officially created our own world within a world. Too cold? Turn up the heat? Too warm? Turn up the AC. Raining? Go inside, use an umbrella. We have a man-made solution for even the most whimsical problems.

BUT… is this at the cost of our very own soul?! Certainly that answer can not be positive as there are many different interpretations of what a soul is, whether it even exists, and whether it even has to do with religion or just spirituality. We can’t possibly prove that it’s at the cost of our very own soul simply for all the differences. It can be undoubtedly and unendingly argued on how beneficial civilization has been for the human race and perhaps even the world. And why shouldn’t it be? Can you imagine waking up tomorrow, flipping on the morning news to find the major headlines on all news stations: “ALL CIVILIZATION HAS BEEN COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY PROVEN WRONG”? What would happen? Would they expect us to give up our beds we just comfortably awoke from? Our houses? Our appliances? Our toilets? Our money?! Our roads? Our cars? Our governments?! Civilization is constantly unquestioned and pushed by humans for about the last 10,000 years, since the concept became notable along the ancient banks of the Tigres and Euphrates rivers. Basically civilization is popular. At the mention of dismantling it the fear of absolute chaos, loss of medical experts, thoughts of being starving and lonely out in the wilderness fill a civilized persons mind.

This is because civilization is the action of humans domesticating themselves. Why doesn’t the dog run off in to the woods to become wild? Because the owner has trained the dog since birth that to expect food, water, attention and meaning all to come specifically from obeying the owner. Surely if the dog was lost in the woods it would begin to feel desperate and worry about food when it missed his regular meal time. Dogs, too, feel the fear of becoming undomesticated when they spent their entire lives domesticated and following the simple rules of domestication.

And we still have humans on this Earth who are undomesticated. After the irritating 2004 Tsunami in which nature demanded to show off her power (which people constantly minimize) articles began appearing about how some of the tribes in South East Asia handled the attack. One of these articles focused on the Sentinelese. The Sentinelese are a fiercely independent people on an island in the Adaman Islands. Anytime their island is approached by a boat a rainfall of arrows descend upon the boat. They disdain contact from any other people or group and because of their aggressively defensive nature they have one of the most naturally preserved undomesticated cultures in the world.

This person is not shamed by her body… there was never a reason to be

This does not mean, however, that undomesticated people are bloodthirsty and aggressive people. All throughout civilized history the domesticated have come in contact with the undomesticated and many were kind, helpful, and generous. Some were not. Some complained about problems that civilized people just couldn’t understand. Instead of attempting to understand them civilized people dehumanized them, we decided to not look at tribal people as other humans, but as savage beasts, no different than the rest of the animal kingdom. Stories of cannibalism, unwarranted murder, dark magic, paganism, and insanity allowed the civilized people to either remain inactive on injustices to undomesticated people, and in fact become aggressive towards them. “Uncivilized” people like the tribal woman on the right (also from the same stretch of islands as the Sentinelese) have no problem walking around in the nude. Is it because she’s dumb? Is it because she’s savage? Or is it because she, like all the rest of the animals on the planet, have no shame about the body she was given and see it as a free liberty that she was naturally given to expose it as much or as little as she chooses? It is most likely the latter reason, the former reasons are just rationalizations for the civilized people who refuse to treat undomesticated people like people. In fact domesticated (or civilized) people are taught that naked is only meant to be thought of sexually and no other way is socially acceptable. This is such an odd concept. In fact if an alien were to visit Earth civilized people would have a lot of explaining to do on why they are so ashamed to reveal their bodies.

And this is the point – with all the good that comes with civilization, we must be prepared to recognize the bad. This is the soul that the devil asks for when mankind decided to pursue civilization. First of all civilization is invasive. Like locusts or cancer civilization is based off of exploitation which is naturally selfish. If we look at how the world is run without civilized humans but including undomesticated humans we notice that there is no one overarching dominant species. In fact with all the science we use to look at the history of the planet there has never been a single overarching species that permeated all other living beings lives… not even humans… until civilized humans came along. Undomesticated people tend to view the world very different from civilized people and they don’t feel comfortable exploiting. The definition of exploitation is two-fold. It’s “to make productive use of” and “to make use of meanly and unfairly for ones own advantage.” Now “productive” is an opinionated word. What is productive for one has the ability to be unproductive or in fact a hindrance for another. And in the case of civilization, civilization has been productive for people who are obedient and domesticated. It is unproductive and constraining for undomesticated people and animals. Many of these tribes have fallen innocently victim to the wrath of civilization.

When the “New World” was “discovered” by the West, those civilized in Europe were not interested in making a cultural connection with the Native Americans so much as they were interested in what spoils the New World had to offer for European profit. What drives civilized people to become invasive and exploitative is approval from civilized authority figures which will grant them more power within civilization. This power can come in any form that civilization offers it but is all surrounded by money. Does anyone else ever find it interesting that we fight, kill, steal, and work for something that is completely made up and has no useful value other than to give it to other people? Money does not directly feed us, wash us, shelter us, or satisfy us with any specific properties of its own. It is a product of an obedient group of people who call themselves civilized.

One of the many slums of the world - all products of civilization

Civilization breeds dependence. What people were asked to give up for the riches of civilization – the science, the medicine, the material luxury – was their ability to take care of themselves. Slums like the one on the left just did not exist when people were undomesticated. And this wasn’t because they were anymore brutal than civilized people. Civilized people have created the largest wars in the world, have amassed more human and non-human deaths than uncivilized people, civilized people systematically kill their food with no great care given to anything but the sanitation of it (which is forgone in many parts of the civilized world), civilization has tortured more people and forced more people in to slums than uncivilized people. The reason I know this with absolutely no references is because slums, wars, systematic oppression, and dependence can only be overtly found in civilized culture. While undomesticated people fight they do not generate wars or oppression anywhere near on the scale civilization has done in its past and continues to do as a whole. If civilization were a human concept that humans were trying to “sell” to alien worlds it would probably be one of the most scorned proposals ever because of the poor track record we have.

Many will argue that areas such as slums are “uncivilized” but the fact is these areas wouldn’t exist if civilization was not around. Civilization is created by governments and leaders that demand payment, regulations, or relocations which is where slums come from. It’s created when a person or a group of people demand dependence on people rather than the land. The country tends to think it can fit in to the civilized world, and while those who caught on to the game quick all of their troubles became other people’s troubles… magnified. In fact even in the most civilized cities in the world, even in the United States, there are sections of which that reveal the victims and losers of civilization’s rules. Would these type of people not exist before civilization? They probably existed but the family members and tribe were forced to address the issue as opposed to avoiding it completely or putting it in to the hands of a system which does not handle them as individuals.

Undomesticated (uncivilized) people have a connection to the world that very few civilized people can understand. It’s the same connection the animals have to the Earth. Most civilized people will look at animals and tribal people shaking our heads in confusion and continue on with what makes sense to us… which makes very little sense to the rest of the world. To balk at this is to deny the fact that both humans and animals have survived… and survived well for millions of years without a single “convenience” of civilization.

Exponential Growth - thanks to civilization

Civilization also carries another curse, the darkest curse of them all. It will end. While there are probably thousands of analysts attempting to predict the 3rd quarter income of Exxon-Mobil there are comparatively few who are assessing the future for viability of civilization. In fact all the long run predictions for civilization are negative. It took mankind (and civilization) all the way up until the 1800s to reach a population of 1 billion people. By the 1960s it was 3 billion, and only 40 years later it was 6 billion. This is what is known as exponential growth. When does exponential growth become not viable? As the graph to the right shows – very quickly. Civilization has allowed people to continue to survive who naturally would be deselected to survive from nature. And this is why civilization considers nature its arch-nemesis. Who am I to say you don’t deserve your cancer treatment because nature would have intended you to die? Myself included, many of the people I love have survived due to the fruits of civilization. However that does not mean we are allowed to ignore the problem it poses. Certainly I’d be a fool to ask for you to give up any beneficial thing civilization has given you. “Nice try,” you might say, “but this is still the reality that I live in, and whatever the animals and uncivilized people do to survive, I do something different.” But one day the Earth just will not be able to support our man-made empire designed to forgo nature.

Some claim this is the point where mankind goes off to live in space. Hunting for another world to populate and live on forever… or something. This needs to be addressed: the human race is going to have an end eventually. Everything will have an end – you, me, the human race, life on Earth, the planet, the sun, even the Milky Way. Even if humans could get along long enough to lift off in to space being able to travel to another planet that might support not only life, but our life, will be quite a distance to travel. We will have left behind every thing that we have ever known – from the seasons, to how long a day is, to deer, Africa, even what our weight is. Everything would be left behind and we would have to survive first in a dark, cold, non-producing environment surviving on whatever meager meals could be prepared for uncountable years on a space ship. Others claim that religion will come rescue all the faithful and finally teach all those people who believed in other religions because they had family members and cultures that believed just as strongly in their religion as you did in yours a solid lesson in eternal punishment. But this situation is also unlikely due to the lack of proof that any divine being has ever handled this Earth.

Civilization isnt always noble

The truth is even civilized people are very connected to this planet. We still relax from a cool breeze, we enjoy parks, many people have a favorite animal or pet. We belong to this planet and this planet belongs to us. Unfortunately civilized people have a hard time understanding that this planet is a planet that needs to be shared in order to not be cruel and everything against good human nature.

So what is this post about? It’s not about throwing everything away and going tribal. We’ve reached a point where that would not be a workable thing as civilized methods are so prevalent it’d be easy to manipulate people again quickly. As being products of civilization we have an honorary duty to make sure we don’t abuse our powers just because we won’t be punished by a man-made authority figure. Perhaps another sprawling suburb will ruin that much more habitable land for nature as well as suck more power and water. Maybe we can put all our differences aside as a global civilization and agree not to have anymore than 2 kids (preferably less). It’s important to focus on the positive aspects of civilization – literacy, knowledge, health, compassion, liberty, the ability to work as a team… but not use them for the bad parts of civilization – relocation, genocide, control, power, oppression, disease, destruction.

Sometimes the line is blurred and hard to see. But when you focus honestly about it and truly listen to opponents perhaps a decision can be made that is agreed upon by all while it may not be the cheapest and most convenient for any one person. This site will have many examples in the future on aspects of civilization that we should be focusing on making more acceptable to the planet, and perhaps regaining some of our communication which we have since lost with the planet. We had ancestors just like the Sentinelese with the ability to understandThe dusk of civilization the Earth on a level we rarely bother to attempt within civilization. This leads us to disassociate ourselves from the Earth and make up things such as imaginary Gods that have given us the power to manipulate things with the ability that only nature has been able to before. The truth is however we do not carry the wisdom to create like nature creates. The sun, water, plants and the atmosphere all do their part, because of the properties of the Universe, to keep us surviving because we are products of these things. There is no mystery about that and since we already have the proof that these things exist, perhaps these specific things that give us life and allow all of us to experience this planet should be appreciated more, because even if you are religious every last thing on this planet was created by your ruler, so maybe these things aren’t as worthless as many people assume.

Civilization and its obsession with material wealth, its ability to put diversity, nature, and uncivilized people second, as well as its upshooting population it is unable to sustain is a deadly mix when it becomes too powerful. Do you think we have the ability to pull back away from war, oppression, unsustainable actions, in return for more understanding of the planet that created us… or not?