ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS and NATURAL LAW
Weather patterns in the 1970s suggested to some that Earth was in a cooling trend with the coming of a new ice age. Then in 1985 there arose the ‘crisis’ over the growing ‘hole in the ozone layer’ (which varies annually), suggesting global cooling. The ‘hole’ over Antarctica was growing, thought by some to be exacerbated by man-made chlorofluorocarbons. (But ozone-driven phenols in tree rings date the start of ozone depletion in northern latitudes at the late 1700s, long before air-conditioning–or any man-made chemicals for that matter.) Further global cooling could result in further depletion of the ozone layer! but wait!—currently NASA predicts that the ozone layer will be fully-recovered by 2070 (perhaps as a result of the new threat of ‘global warming’?). And now we are presented with yet another crisis: ”Peak Water Is Here!” Alarmists tell us that water for human use is reaching its limit, that man must ‘sustainably’ manage Earth’s water or we’ll run out. There seems to be no end to our problems.
But not to worry…humanity and the Earth we live on are compatible. That’s what nature is all about. So long as we live responsibly (ethically, in the large sense), it will all work out for us. Just my opinion? Perhaps, but it’s a well-grounded one… Consider EARTH’S ADAPTIVE SYSTEM:
Changes in Earth’s temperatures are unremitting and automatic, part of the planet’s natural ability to sustain itself. Earth has survived glacial ages and periods of ‘excessive’ warmth. Through it all the total amount of water has remained constant while it changes form as necessary. Could this possibly have an effect on global climate? Certainly! It’s part of the system, if not all of it.
Water is so abundant and ubiquitous that we hardly consider it. Not only do oceans cover more than 70% of the earth, but the amount of water in them is unfathomable (pun intended): 312 MILLION CUBIC MILES of it. And water vapor is an integral part of the atmosphere—humidity, clouds, rain, snow make up about 75% of all ‘greenhouse gases’. Even the human body is largely (about 60%) water, as are the bodies of other animals (and plants as well). Water is not merely necessary for living, it is necessary for life to even exist. Water is an integral part of life itself.
The earth’s water is constant—it neither increases nor decreases—remaining balanced between its three phases, transferring easily between the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere so readily that we don’t even notice it. (And we adapt to it without even thinking about it.) What else is so constant? Or mobile? Or reliable?
Water (and only water) exists naturally in all three forms of matter—liquid, solid(ice), and gas(water vapor), and it changes form instantly within a temperature range tolerable by life: solid to liquid (or the reverse) at 32-degreesF, liquid to gas (via evaporation), or vice-versa (via condensation). What else is so adaptable? Or plentiful?
That water reacts to changes in temperature readily, provides a stabilizing influence. For instance, the temperature of ground water (that which is tapped by wells) in the U.S. tends to reflect the average temperature of the system of which it is a part (ground water varies in temperature from about 53-degreesF in the Northeast to perhaps 56-degreesF in the Southwest in keeping with the regional average annual temperature).
Organisms co-evolve with their environment, the biotic system influencing the abiotic system that supports it. The biosphere interacts with the inorganic environment (atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere) to develop a self-regulating system that maintains life-supporting conditions on Earth, improving their environment in order to survive. It’s natural, not planned. The biosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere and hydrosphere combine to maintain the balance necessary for our living Earth. That’s the way the system developed, and that’s the way it continues to operate without our help.
Atmospheric gases are produced by biological reactions of Earth’s soils, rocks and water, and are maintained in spite of changes in earth processes. Atmospheric conditions are kept in a narrow range by the life they support. Air is 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, just under 1% Argon and traces of other gases, and 0.04% Carbon Dioxide. CO2 is critical to maintaining atmospheric temperatures and maintaining the Oxygen level. More carbon dioxide? Nature provides more plants to process it.
The hydrosphere includes all water in all its forms (vapor, liquid and ice) in all its locations. The amount of water in earth’s system remains constant—it does not increase or decrease. Further, the interchange between forms being virtually instantaneous and automatically varying according to temperatures within the system provides the rapid spontaneous balance necessary for earth’s adaptability to changing conditions. There is constant feedback between the oceans (and the rest of the hydrosphere) and the atmosphere.
Oceans cover some 70-percent of Earth (about 130 million of Earth’s area of 197 Million square miles). The average depth of the oceans is about 2.4 MILES; this translates to some 343,548,500,000,000,000,000 gallons of water that are always moving by convection, evaporation, and gravity. This massive heat sink has great stabilizing impact on temperature, the atmosphere and therefore the biosphere as well. There is constant exchange of energy between the oceans (and the rest of the hydrosphere) and the atmosphere, that helps maintain Earth’s life-sustaining balance.
Ocean salinity remains about the 3.4% necessary for life to exist in spite of natural phenomena that would seem to alter this number. This is partly a function of organic processes; remember: organisms naturally improve their environment in order to survive.
THERE’S A SYSTEM AT WORK HERE. It’s worked since its outset and continues to work very well on its own. Call it a complex adaptive system or, if you prefer, spontaneous order. Or simply: Nature. While it may appear from our limited perspective to be a chaos of pressures, tensions and constraints with no hope of resolution, that’s not the case. It’s not the case because Earth is alive and innately ethical. And it’s innately ethical simply because it is the way it is–a given. And the environment as an ethical whole will handle whatever comes its way. Nature always adapts, and it’s always done “on the fly,” and we, individually or collectively, haven’t a clue as to how it really works. But one thing we do know is that it does work in spite of whatever happens to thwart it because the norm is innately ethical. If it weren’t, mankind would have been done for long ago. This, the way it is, is beyond our control. Get used to it…
We are part and parcel of Earth—as it goes, so do we—and in spite of what we currently are led to believe, we are in fact not responsible for it! EARTH IS RESPONSIBLE FOR US! Of course we should treat it with respect as our progenitor and means of life (just as we should our neighbor and the rest of humanity as well, for they are integral to Earth’s environment), but Earth and its inhabitants are evolving constantly (and that evolution includes extinction), just as the Universe has been evolving for nearly 14BILLION years while we weren’t looking. Mankind is not in charge. The whole of nature is, and we’re just a miniscule part of it. And that’s a fact.
Just be ethical and everything will be OK, and you can take that to the bank…
and lots more about both ethics and the environment in the blogs at www.extremeethics.org