The Curious Case of Modern-Day Consumption

BY: JEFFREY HIBBERT
Colorado School of Mines Grad/Environmentalist/Conservationist/Quality Assurance Specialist/Lover
Instagram: @jeffreymhi

When asked to write a piece on environmental tribulations, sustainability, and general tree hugging, I knew that creating a bulleted list of the times the world has figuratively crossed the “DO NOT CROSS: Nature Preserve” fences would lack any sort of appeal. What I didn’t know was what I could focus on, considering the fact that I’m hypocritical and often judgmental when it comes to environmental stewardship. What I am is an educated first-hand offender who wants to change, and I like to think that offers a sense of awareness.

Finding a root cause to the issues researched by scientists, interpreted by politicians (as laughable as this is), and covered by the media does not offer much assistance regarding where to go from here. But not being a technical expert, I’m still interested in discussing the patterns of behavior that leads to these time bombs of our own creation.

The world is heating due to an atmosphere growing more and more crowded with man-made molecular emissions resulting from even the most mundane activities. Global populations of honey bees and other pollinating insects are collapsing under the weight of pesticides meant to assist in that very mission. Environmental disasters and spills are becoming more and more common due to relaxed policy writing from elected officials funded by private interests. Old-growth forests are being removed at an unprecedented rate to make room for agricultural plots to facilitate a growing global population. One string I’ve found stitching each of these seemingly independent issues together, while growing at a rate proportional to the severity, is consumption.

Rather than discussing global consumption in the rigid, one-dimensional lighting that we, yes ‘we’ in the collective pronoun sense, are used to, we can attempt to approach it from a more abstract manner. Attempt to understand consumption as something that grows with us and adapts to our motive. From this point on, consumption will be referred to as a tool for our own use.

Modern medicine wants to cure ailments that plague individuals, even societies. We’ve moved from symptomatic treatment, to actually addressing the core health-based issues at hand. And being a short skip away from genomic treatment, I know that I’ll want the full force of modern medicine behind me at some point between now and the grave. The mission of medicine is one of the most altruistic efforts still seen in the world. However, somewhere down the road we lost a sense of consequence due to the benefits of our actions. Treating disease, offering therapy – this provides a newfound life in years not yet experienced by human kind. And still, the world supports every breath by every organism to this day. The world is at 7.44 billion people, and increasing by ~250,000 per day.

This loss of consequence, veiled behind good intentions of support, nourishment, and growth, leads to behavior with no retrospect. As humans, we are offered the ability to compute and understand beyond the individual. Yet, with immediate gratification, and the appearance of progress, we consume with a narrow-window of connectedness. To support the new 250,000 lives each day, we as a global population are responsible for feeding each. The demand drives up the price of grain and other agricultural products, which provides incentive for high annual yields. High yields are obtained through the consumption of manufactured insecticides, herbicides, and pesticides. The use of the manufactured chemicals reduces damage to crop yields due to insects, fungi, weeds, and rodents. The use of these often requires higher concentration and bulk application levels to achieve the same level of efficacy in following seasons. The use affects neighboring ecosystems, keystone species, local subsurface water reserves, the health of nearby communities, and organisms responsible for the continued reproductive cycle of agricultural products. The use, the use, the use… get where things are going?

It is important that we understand the specifics of these effects before the mass production of these chemicals go into place. By now, it should be easily understood this is rarely, more likely never, the case. Research into the effects of pesticide use by both private research institutions and academia is rarely funded by government grants. The responsibility for issuing these funds falls on the backs of elected officials in regions where agriculture is a predominant industry. These funds are instead consumed by the ideals and interests of private sector endorsements for said elected officials. Public health is a pillar, or should be a pillar, of these official’s efforts and without understanding there is no forward motion to ensuring this health. The neurologic and hormone system disorders, cancer, and other diseases as a result of use in rural communities require the attention of, yes you guessed it… the medical industry.

The above mentioned circle is one of the links in the chain of consumption that we have found ourselves in with this modern world. Should we (read: could we) change our entire way of life in order to offset the damage already done? Can we as a population even acknowledge that our 3rd grade understanding of and introduction to the way that biology works is consumption, consumption, consumption until it eventually benefits us? Revisit the food chain. Will we ever see that the path that we are heading down is one of consuming the ease of life we built from a future generation that is just now arriving?

I’m not sure.

What I am sure of is the fact that my skin is squishy and soft, my nails may grow long but have no utility value, and I cracked my teeth on a Doritos once so they won’t help either. I can’t run fast, and I hold my breath underwater well below average. Us humans aren’t meant to outlast. We’re capable of remembering things of the distant past, creating new understanding of the world around us, and hopefully finding the irony in the fact that nature will outlast us long after we have pushed our comfort levels to ruin. What we haven’t seemed to figure out is whether we are playing Rollercoaster Tycoon and building a particularly funny coaster where the tracks abruptly end, or if we are one of the automated amusement park attendees, strapped into the ride, with no idea that this thing hasn’t been planned out that far.

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