THEOSOPHY, Vol. 81, No. 3, January, 1993
(Pages 78-83; Size: 14K)



[Part 2 of a 16-part series]

In 1962 Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a powerful and controversial environmental classic. She raised questions about whether mankind could stem the tide of destruction arising from pesticide pollutants like DDT in the oceans and the steady rain of nuclear fallout from the atmosphere. Dr. Albert Schweitzer was likewise concerned. Unfortunately, other open-minded scientists of that era were not daring enough to express their views and take a similar position based on the same evidence. Since 1962, Miss Carson's worst fears have been amply confirmed.

Environmental Problems

Chemical pollution occurs when rain and irrigation wash pesticides and herbicides, heavily used in agriculture, into streams and rivers that eventually empty into oceans or lakes. Consequently, through the last few decades huge quantities of chemicals, entering the oceans and food chains, were diffused globally by the many ocean currents.

It will be difficult at best, or perhaps impossible, to remove the distributed chemicals from large bodies of water. Meanwhile, fish and other ocean life have concentrated the toxins in their flesh, thereby threatening a vital source of food for many people. The health of the marine life itself has also been seriously affected by chemicals, trash, and other kinds of pollution dumped into the ocean.

Nuclear fallout has resulted mainly from testing atomic bombs and other nuclear devices. Thus, all living creatures have been exposed to radioactivity, as the deadly particles slowly fall on every continent. Like unwanted chemicals in the oceans, radioactive particles will be difficult, if not impossible, to remove, and they will remain hazardous, perhaps for thousands of years. The Karma of this pollution undoubtedly goes back to things man has thoughtlessly done in the past, perhaps as long ago as in the "high-tech" Atlantean civilization. We may consider this with the following words of H.P.B. in mind:

Each particle -- whether you call it organic or inorganic -- is a life. Every atom and molecule in the Universe is both life-giving and death-giving to that form, inasmuch as it builds by aggregation universes and the ephemeral vehicles ready to receive the transmigrating soul, and as eternally destroys and changes the forms and expels those souls from their temporary abodes. (S.D. I, 261.)
Now, as we suffer the consequences of current mistakes, we are beginning to learn from some of them. The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has taken steps to avoid severe environmental contamination. Many of the most hazardous chemicals have been banned or highly restricted by law, and watchdog groups supplement the work of the EPA by alert monitoring. In the air, however, there is now almost universal pollution, which we will examine in greater detail in a later article.

On the "earth" part of our Earth immense amounts of mixed garbage as well as known toxic wastes are dumped daily. Unsorted garbage, containing such toxic material as motor oil and heavy metals, accumulates in dump sites and ends up contaminating water supplies and sometimes building sites.

Unexpected Solutions Begin to Appear

In the last few years some remarkable breakthroughs have occurred that would have pleased even Rachel Carson if she were alive. A technology called "glassification" seals toxic wastes in glass after organic material has been removed ("Entombing Waste in Glass," Los Angeles Times, July 3, 1990). This process breaks down substances like dioxin into harmless ingredients; it can even be used on asbestos and some radioactive wastes. The amazing feature is that contaminated soil does not have to be dug up, a risk in itself; the process works directly in the soil.

At the Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, a different process is being developed ("Seeking a Solution to The Ultimate Pollution," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 2, 1991, Science/Medicine). This reduces the potency and decay time of the large amount of nuclear wastes by what is called "transmutation," a reminder of the work of the old alchemists.

Biological means are now used to aid in cleaning up oil spills ("Oil-Eating Microbes Sprayed on Spill," Los Angeles Times, Aug. 3, 1990) and to remove some indoor air pollution ("Cure for Toxic Indoor Air: Bring in Houseplants," Los Angeles Times, April 29, 1990). The biological use of houseplants came from a NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) research development to clean air in closed ecosystems on spacecraft or space stations, and it is easily applied to domestic needs. NASA discovered common house plants were effective in removing such pollutants as benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and carbon monoxide: pothos, spider plant, English ivy, and Dracena marginata. Indoor pollution arising from paints, household chemicals, smoke, radon, and other substances is often worse than outdoor pollution.

Biological solutions to problems seem to be the most promising, theosophically speaking. To "work with nature" is always better than to impose a contrived solution, where the consequences are not fully known. For example, many farmers have become wary of the effects of heavy chemical use on themselves, their families, and consumers ("Low Chemical Agriculture Gaining Favor in Midwest," Los Angeles Times, May 23, 1990). So there is a definite move toward organic farming and gardening ("The Nature of Organics," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 25, 1990).

Crop yields and the resultant pricing of organic produce can often compete with chemically-produced crops. Organic and biodynamic farmers have also found methods that reduce losses to pests without poisoning the earth. These include the use of predator insects and birds, bug vacuums, micro-organisms, companion plants that repel many insects, crop rotation, and the development of more pest-resistant crops. A good book on the subject is Beatrice T. Hunter's Gardening Without Poisons.

Other Examples of Environmental Concern

ONE: There was an almost universal outcry in Southern California when widespread aerial spraying of the pesticide malathion was done to combat the Mediterranean fruit fly (medfly). Public pressure finally led to a halt in aerial spraying. Adopted instead were local spraying, more careful inspection of incoming fruit, and the use of biological methods: sterile male flies to stop the breeding cycle of the pest. Before the outcry, agriculture was given priority over the health of millions of people, and the state government had imposed its will against the overwhelming wishes of the affected communities. A complete history of the affair was recorded in Southern California newspapers over several years.

TWO: The "Green Consumer" movement has affected the packaging of many products in markets, the use of recycled paper and plastic, healthier packaged foods, as well as the availability of many organic products on the shelves and in produce departments. A book on the subject, The Green Consumer (Penguin Books), was published in 1990 in the U.S., a revision of an earlier British book.

THREE: Oil companies, responding to governmental mandates on clean air, have introduced cleaner-burning fuels in smoggy areas. There is now legislation in California requiring even cleaner fuels in a few years ("ARB Adopts Rule for 30% Cleaner Gasoline," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 23, 1991). Other states usually follow California standards on air pollution.

FOUR: To save energy and further reduce air pollution, Southern California at last has the makings of a good public transportation system -- light rail lines, subways, and possibly monorails. This will lower the severe air pollution that has plagued the area for years. Automotive smog devices have helped, but increased traffic has outpaced the development of new roads and lengthened commuting time.

FIVE: In many areas of California, waste water is now purified and recycled for public use (watering grass in parks, cemeteries, and golf courses), industrial use (cooling in power plants, irrigation, and toilet flushing in office buildings), and limited residential use (vegetation, toilets, etc.). A project in the East San Fernando Valley will soon supply seven percent of the water needs of Los Angeles ("Treated Effluent May Help Fill Drinking-Water Wells," Los Angeles Times, Sept. 29, 1990). More recently the projected amount has been raised from seven to 40 percent by the year 2010 ("The Water Cycle," Los Angeles Times, June 24, 1992).

SIX: The voluntary adoption of energy-saving measures illustrates intelligent cooperation between consumers and water/power companies. In 1990 the excellent Public Broadcasting series, "Race to Save the Planet," showed that in Osage, Iowa, energy use was reduced by about 25 percent with simple measures and no loss of comfort. Children and adults were educated in what measures to take by members of the local power company. This avoided the necessity of building new power-generating facilities, which would have raised the cost of electric power for the community.

Energy: Physical and Cosmic

Several of the above examples illustrate the importance of energy conservation. Matter and energy are equivalent in modern science; thus, saving energy is seen, in science, simply as the means of saving limited material resources (oil, gas, coal, water, timber). But from the Theosophical view, the matter side has its origins in higher aspects of energy. In The Secret Doctrine (I, 582) H.P.B. indicates the nature of those higher aspects:

The atom, as known to modern science, is inseparable from Purusha, which is spirit, but is now called "Energy" in Science. ... Nevertheless ... is never, in fact, and cannot be energy alone; for it is the substance of the world, its soul, the all-permeant "Sarvaga."
Her explanation of the "birth" of atoms (S.D. I, 279-80) seems to indicate that man's self-conscious choices and his responsibility in regard to the use of energy are irrevocably linked with the formative intelligence within nature:
[The Secret Doctrine] admits a Logos or a collective "Creator" of the Universe; ... the aggregate of the Dhyan-Chohans and the other forces. ... They are dual in their character; being composed of (a) The irrational brute energy, inherent in matter, and (b) the intelligent soul or cosmic consciousness which directs and guides that energy, and which is the Dhyan-Chohanic thought reflecting the Ideation of the Universal mind. This results in a perpetual series of physical manifestations and moral effects on Earth, during manvantaric periods, the whole being subservient to Karma.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

Conscience and consciousness, how instructive the overlapping similarity of those two words is. From the new consciousness we are gaining of ourselves as persons perhaps we will yet create a new conscience, one whose ethical sensitivity is at least tuned to a significant good, a significant evil. 

--THEODORE ROSZAK, Person/Planet

Next article:
[Different Forms of Fire.
The Element Air: Fluidic Fire.
The Watery Element: Liquid Fire.
The Element Earth: Solid Fire.]
[Part 3 of a 16-part series]

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