Our Shaky Tower of Environmental Sustainability

With one eye focused on the tragedy in Ukraine and the other on the rising price at the gas pump, we run the risk of missing an even greater crisis quietly bearing down on us. The stability of our lives depends on a bewildering multitude of interdependent elements, something like a complex Jenga Tower. Keep all the blocks in place and the tower stands solid enough to plan our futures upon. Start pulling out the supporting blocks and things get wobbly. Pull out enough blocks and everything collapses. Of course, I am talking about the environmental sustainability of life on our little planet – taking good care of mother earth, what we often call the web of life.

One of the critical blocks of our sustainability tower is good, clean water. Finding uncomfortably high levels of PFAS family chemicals in Wausau’s water clearly illustrates what happens when we employ the “miracle of modern chemistry” without first keeping an eye on its dangers.  Don’t just think of the PFAS in firefighting foam, look at the Teflon coating on our pots and pans, chemicals like Scotchgard and GORE-TEX, and the coated paper wrappers and cartons we get our food in at our favorite fast-food joint.  Every Wausau resident now knows why we need to care for the purity of our water. And this is why environmental sustainability must now also become our highest priority.

Wheat, the principal grain from which we make our bread – the staff of life – is a favorite food, another of those strands that holds the web of our lives together. Wheat is in short supply here this year because of drought in our American west and in China.  As our climate heats up and the weather gets more and more extreme food is becoming more difficult to grow.  This same climate crisis induced trend toward drought is also responsible for what has lately become a worldwide onslaught of deadly forest fires. More heat and drought also leads to serious and intensifying water supply shortages in our southwest and many other places around the globe – more Jenga tower sustainability issues for sure.

Even things that seem harmless, like going to the garden center to pick up some beautiful plants and shrubs to spruce up our yards, can play a huge role in endangering the lives of our insects and birds. Plants and insects evolve together, and the plants at the store are usually not native to our area and for that very reason are not fed on by our insects. Nor are they the specific plants our insects raise their young on. Without their native host plants not only do insect numbers decline but so does the availability of food for our beloved birds.  Check out Audubon Society statistics to find out what is happening to many of our favorite birds.  Add in the impact of our use of pesticides and you find our pollinators like butterflies and bees are also in decline, further threatening our supply of food. We can no longer ignore sustainability if we want to pass a livable planet on to our children.

To feed our appetite for more beef we cut down the Amazon rain forest. To feed our appetite for palm oil we convert the rain forests of Southeast Asia into palm plantations. Our chainsaws bite deep into the trunks of the trees that inhale the carbon dioxide we so need them to sequester and cut off the flow of life-giving oxygen they exhale.

From climate change to plastic pollution and their related effects, and from manufacturing toxins to the myriad of other sustainability challenges we face, the list of real threats to the future of life – our lives – goes on and on.

The good news is there are also real solutions, if we only choose to adopt them.  Of these, the most vital is the recognition that we must take responsibility for the wellbeing of the environment we depend on in everything we do, make, and buy. We certainly have a long way to go. The war in Ukraine and its contribution to the high price of oil provides an excellent illustration of this.

Many of us in America look for even more oil to drive down the price of gasoline, urging on the politics of “drill, baby, drill.” The European Union, on the other hand, already well ahead of us in renewable energy, heat pumps and electric vehicles, is doubling down on their adoption.  We in America can make environmental sustainability our highest priority too, in fact we must.

All of us, however, have a lot to learn.

At our core we are all pro-life. But to truly be pro-life we will all need to live sustainably.  To help us flesh out the details of what that means as we make our daily choices don’t, we need a Department of Sustainability at all levels of government?  Don’t we need sustainable living skills taught to our children at school from the very beginning, and sustainability schools researching and teaching in our Universities so we can incorporate concern for our environmental wellbeing into our natural thought process?

If so, our leaders – again at all levels – need to hear from us. When it comes to truly being pro-life, we are all responsible for our destiny. Hopefully, we will all actively choose life and the value of a healthy environment to sustain it.

Note: Shortly after completing this article The Guardian ran a story about new research revealing dangerous amounts of benzene in a wide variety of popular products like deodorants, hand sanitizers, sunscreens and more. Here is a link to the article: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/mar/18/benzene-    Another block out of the tower.