THEOSOPHY, Vol. 81, No. 10, August, 1993
(Pages 305-309; Size: 12K)



[Part 9 of a 16-part series]

In the July issue of THEOSOPHY some of the problems contributing to air pollution were considered: acid rain, smog, and asbestos. Other problems were mentioned briefly and suggestions given for reducing pollution. The factual material in both articles will help us better understand the problems and the remedies. This is the practical side of Theosophy, the application of theosophical teachings to everyday life. Theosophists cannot live in a world of pure metaphysics. The problems within society must be understood, and our responsibility in producing and solving these problems is indicated by the principles of the philosophy.

Carbon Monoxide -- a Deadly Common Gas

Carbon monoxide, one part of carbon and one of oxygen as a chemical formula, is a common gaseous component in the burning of carbon-based fuels such as wood, coal, natural gas, and petroleum products (e.g., heating oil, gasoline, kerosene). It forms when not enough oxygen is supplied to form carbon dioxide, which is one part of carbon and two of oxygen, produced by the complete combustion of these fuels and also by the metabolic processes of humans and animals.

Colorless and odorless, therefore not detectable with our senses, carbon monoxide can deprive the body of life-sustaining oxygen. Many symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to those of other illnesses; the condition may not be diagnosed correctly without blood tests showing low levels of available oxygen and high levels of carboxyhemoglobin (in medical terms). It is well to know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning since automotive smog controls do not entirely eliminate carbon monoxide from exhaust fumes. The flu-like symptoms of such poisoning are: dizziness, headache, weakness, and blurred vision; more serious symptoms are chest pains, heart palpitations, and nausea.

Other contributors to carbon monoxide in the air are: the use of tobacco, poorly vented fireplaces, and gas heaters that leak or need cleaning/adjustment. Venting with outside air prevents indoor air from slowly being deprived of oxygen.

A beneficial side of carbon monoxide was recently disclosed. Minute amounts form in the brain, where it is believed to serve as a neural messenger (Science, Jan. 15, 1993, "Carbon Monoxide: Killer to Brain Messenger in One Step").

Depletion of the Ozone Layer

Ozone has three atoms of oxygen to the molecule instead of the usual two. In the upper atmosphere (12 miles or more above the earth), some oxygen is broken down by solar radiation and transformed into ozone. There it serves to filter out ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, too much of which may cause skin cancer. When ozone forms closer to the earth, it contributes to smog and is destructive to living tissue. Thus, like many materials, ozone has a dual nature.

When chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are released into the atmosphere, chlorine is produced at high altitudes, changing ozone molecules back into ordinary oxygen and thinning the UV protective layer of ozone. One molecule of chlorine can break down at least 100,000 ozone molecules (see the article "Naked Planet," Los Angeles Times Magazine for April 5, 1992).

Chlorofluorocarbons are in common use in refrigeration systems, in making plastic foam for food containers and packaging, and as spray can propellants. CFCs have a long life after release to the atmosphere, and therefore represent a long-term threat to the ozone layer. In many countries they have been or are being replaced with less destructive gases.

Automobile air conditioners are a prime source of CFC release, but in many areas new recovery techniques are now required in servicing air conditioners. A less destructive CFC, Freon 22, is now being used in refrigerators and air conditioners instead of the older Freon 12.

Ozone depletion is not confined to the Antarctic nor is it just seasonal, as once thought (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 23, 1991, "Ozone Depletion Is Year-Round, Scientists Find"). A significant cause of ozone depletion, not often publicized, is the use of solid rocket fuel in the Space Shuttle and Titan IV rockets (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 27, 1990, "Rockets Blamed for Ozone Loss"). Since 1967 the ozone layer has decreased by three percent over the equator and ten percent over Europe and North America. The size of the "hole" over the antarctic region increased by a shocking 25 percent just in 1992 (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 31, 1992, "Antarctic Ozone Hole Covers Record Area" [more than 9 million square miles]).

Even more destructive to ozone is the common pesticide, methyl bromide, 40 times as destructive as CFCs. This chemical is used on strawberries, alfalfa, wheat, grapes, and raisins as well as for termite control. It is odorless, highly poisonous, and responsible for an estimated ten percent of ozone depletion (Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1992, "Pesticide Peril to Ozone May Lead to Ban").

International conferences have been held to get nations to agree to cut the production of CFCs by 50 percent by the year 2000. Just last year the United States unilaterally advanced the date for its reduction to 1995 in recognition of the need for faster action. In addition to the destruction of ozone, CFCs are a substantially greater contributor to global warming than the same amount of carbon dioxide.

According to scientists at the December 1991 conference of the American Geophysical Society, there are no simple solutions for atmospheric problems like ozone depletion and global warming (to be discussed in a later article). Efforts at quick fixes will probably lead to more problems since the magnitude of the solutions is too large to "engineer." The planet must heal itself ("Experts Find No 'Quick Fix' for Atmosphere," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 10, 1991). The healing will occur only when human beings understand and cease their destructive practices.

Noise Pollution

The most active sense after seeing is hearing. We perceive the sounds of music and speech as patterns with a meaning. We can even distinguish strange languages from noise, which is a meaningless and generally unpleasant mixture of sounds. Noise has a broad range of tones (frequencies). When loud, it usually disturbs and annoys us, but we can and do adjust to less obtrusive background noises. Sensitivity to noise varies greatly, but it affects everyone whether or not they realize it. Productivity in the workplace, along with physical and mental health, go up when surroundings are pleasant, and vice versa.

Therefore, it is important to minimize noise, and fortunately it is one of the easier forms of pollution to control. Pleasant music is therapeutic and is used to mask low levels of noise. New techniques developed to mask or cancel noise, called "active noise control," ANC ("Sounds of Silence," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 28, 1991), may be used in our lifetime to eliminate objectionable noises from air and road traffic. Miniaturized systems have been developed to accomplish the difficult job of quickly analyzing noise and producing exact "out-of-phase" sounds that cancel the noise.

We offer a word of caution from theosophical sources. Sound is a potent occult force with magical powers, especially when used as a Mantram (see Secret Doctrine I, 307, 464, 534, 555). It may be used to both build and destroy. Used even to cancel noise, sound produced without understanding its hidden power may be hazardous. A great deal of research is needed to study the long-range effects of the new devices.

Suggestions to Further Reduce Air Pollution

To hasten the reduction of air pollution, we must go beyond the simple suggestions made in the last article. Here are five more suggestions that every student of Theosophy can take to heart and encourage others to do likewise.

1. REDUCE MOTOR VEHICLE USE. Even with cleaner burning fuels available, it is important to reduce the overall use of motor vehicles. More walking and cycling for short distances will reduce air pollution and is healthy. Using animal transportation, if available, and work animals on the farm, is ecologically sound. For example, in hauling fallen or cut trees out of a forest, mules are far less destructive than machines (NBC television program, "Earth Journal," Dec. 1991).

2. REDUCE INDUSTRIAL POLLUTION. For too long, many industries have fought pollution controls in order to make short-term profits. The time is long overdue to have and enforce tight controls. Cost savings may result as an unexpected benefit.

3. REDUCE NOISE POLLUTION; INCREASE PRODUCT TESTING. We do not need active noise control (ANC) to design and produce quieter products, especially if they are adequately tested before being released. Long range effects of new products must be meticulously examined, rejecting the cost saving of quick marketing.

4. REDUCE TOBACCO AND DRUG USE. Warnings by the Surgeon General and educational campaigns against smoking have led to a significant reduction in tobacco use in the United States, and consequently to cleaner air and better health. A similar reduction in intoxicants and harmful drugs may be more difficult to achieve but has become a major necessity. This will be discussed in a future article.

5. RAISE POLLUTION STANDARDS. Children are more sensitive to all pollutants than are adults, but standards have been based on adult sensitivities. We must protect the weakest and most helpless members of our society -- children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled.

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