Medicine For People!

September 2014

The Earth from Space

The Blue Marble and You

  • The Environment will do Fine
  • You Have the Power
  • Simple Steps
  • Reasons to Do Nothing
  • For our Children and Each Other

For the past few decades it's been clear that we share with each other the only blue marble in our solar system. Like it or not, its health affects ours. Not only does our care for our planet affect our health, but it affects the health of our children and grandchildren.

So this month we will not be talking about antibiotics or physiologic systems but we will still be talking about health. The issue of too much carbon will affect your physical well-being just as surely as your understanding of medical matters.

My concern is not about the environment per se. Let me claim authority as one who averages some twenty nights a year sleeping out under the stars, as one who has close contact with the environment by scrambling over roots and rocks to climb various Olympic mountains. I am not worried about the environment. It can change and adapt. It's been here for some five billion years and will be here for five billion more. What I am worried about is us humans. We are the endangered ones.

You Have the Power

Decades ago every road and highway was lined with litter. People then would think "we've always thrown bottles out the window. And what difference can a single person make, anyway?" As it turned out, a great deal, yes?

So in the case of our Blue Marble: our local action not only can make a difference -- it is essential.

Simple Steps

We don't need to wait for congressional gridlock to end. We can do exactly what is appropriate for our own neighborhood, just as are people and organizations in other regions of our country. When Washington takes action, the following will be the actions it must mandate in one way or another. So let's get started. Here's what we can do.

  • Drink water out of the tap. Our water comes from nearby mountains. The water you buy in a bottle does not come even close in purity and freshness. If the chlorine in water concerns you, use the "two pitcher" method. The pitcher on the table contains water that's been sitting and has de-chlorinated, while the second pitcher is in the kitchen off-gassing chlorine. When one pitcher is empty, replace it with the other. Imagine all the plastic bottles you won't need to discard!
  • Look at true costs. Cost-cutting for the mass consumer market prevents environmentally friendly consumer products. The trash bags at the Port Townsend Food Co-op cost more because they are made from recycled plastic; the soap more because it pollutes the environment less. Be mindful.
  • Mind as well your use of consumables. Taking containers and bags shopping with you will reduce waste. A few extra moments drying your hands will allow you to use a single paper towel in the public restroom.
  • Calculate your carbon footprint. There are numerous websites; you should find this one useful. Once you do this, you can look for ways to reduce that carbon footprint. Some that I have adopted include
    • Enjoy my bicycle
    • Use a high-mileage car
    • Shorter showers
    • Use a solar clothes dryer (clothes line)
    • More sweaters, lower heater setting
  • Consider offsetting your carbon footprint by an appropriate donation to an organization which will use your money to reduce carbon emissions and/or preserve carbon-absorbing forest land. For example, the Nature Conservancy has earned a reputation for responsibility and competence. Not only will your review of your annual energy usage and the carbon costs of the same help you live more responsibly, but it should help you understand how your lifestyle choices affect our environment.

Reasons NOT to take action

No One Else Is

You've heard this argument: "Why should I alone spend money on this? Other people are part of the problem, too. In China, they just pour carbon into the air. Some day our politicians will impose a tax, and then the situation will begin to improve." Consider this, though - why do we give away all this power? Waiting for someone else to do something first? After all, absolutely nothing prevents us from starting to pay our own carbon tax today. Then, when some rational national policy comes into effect, we can divert our funds from the Nature Conservancy (or whomever else we have chosen) to the taxing authority. In fact, isn't it better that we can decide how our "tax payment" is disbursed?

Maybe the Carbon isn't causing the Droughts and Extreme Weather

Even apart from climate change, there are reasons to be concerned about carbon. Together, each adding our bit, we have increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. When this carbon diffuses into the water, the water becomes more acid. Just here at home on the Olympic Peninsula, our neighbors who raise our oysters find that this interferes with oyster reproduction. As well, we are losing coral reefs and may lose all or part of our Bering Sea crab fishery, not because of warming, but because of carbon-caused ocean acidification.

For our Children and Each Other

What seems impossible sometimes becomes inevitable. Action to mitigate our carbon emissions appears almost certain to follow that pattern.

So, take action. Rediscover the nature of your own body, the nature within you that yearns to move, to walk under the great blue sky, to soak in the soothing comfort of the forest and the garden, to run and play and discover more life-affirming methods of travel such as foot and bicycle. Remember why we care about carbon: not for the environment, but for our children and for each other.

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Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.