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Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Unbalance of Nature

Most people, I think, would agree that the effect of people on the Earth is not good for the natural environment.

People are powerful and needy, and so their effects are extreme. But are we affecting the balance of nature? I would say not - I am not a follower of the Gaia Hypothesis, whereby The Earth is a being which regulates itself.

Rather, there is no balance of nature to destabilise. The Earth and all of its interacting mechanisms are an inherent mix of stability and instability all in glorious movement. At any time, we might have the extinction of one life-form and the explosive growth of another, the eruption of a supervolcano or the reversal of magnetic poles. All of these are thought to be governed by Chaos Theory - and this theory gives rise to most of the most beautiful structures on The Earth.

Chaos was, in fact, the first of the greek primeval gods or Protogenoi to emerge at the creation of the universe. She was followed in quick succession by Gaia (Earth), Tartaros (the Underworld) and Eros (Love the life-bringer).

So how do people mend their ways and help improve the natural environment?

I could pick any fundamental goal, but the most important is perhaps the reduction of our use of energy. Use less energy and we pollute less, we live longer, we create less climate change, we damage the environment less etc.

Now how do we reduce our use?
  • Let's use environmentally friendly lightbulbs. Ah, but they depend on a coating containing five rare elements: cerium, europium, lanthanum, terbium and yttrium.The mining of these has caused huge toxic wastes in China.
  • Let's use hybrid and electric cars. Ah, but they depend upon efficient batteries and motors that contain another rare-earth, dysprosium. This element allows electric motors and battery systems in hybrid vehicles to be much lighter and therefore more energy efficient.Once again, mining in China is the environmental cost.
  • Let's generate our power using wind. Ah, but wind turbines need to use neodymium and samarium to be sufficiently light and efficient. The mining and processing of these elements, again in China, causes huge dumps of radioactive waste because the elements are found in conjunction with radioactive thorium, and lakes of toxic chemical sludge from the processing.
  • Let's generate our power from solar cells. Once again, the elements upon which solar cells depend are toxically obtained. Earlier this year an outlet of China's state media even released a map of the so-called 'cancer villages' where spikes of cancer are related to poluution.
  • Let's clean our car exhausts with catalytic convertors. Ah, but they contain cerium, and cerium is another rare earth element that can only be obtained by wrecking the environment.
It is possible to continue.

Each step we take to improve the environment ends up degrading it in some way.


It is because we are trying to reduce energy use while retaining the lifestyle. It is the lifestyle that is at fault.

We need to reduce our requirement for energy not find ways around it.
We need to reuse any technological help that we can, and that means engineering stuff to last.
We need to recycle elements that are difficult to obtain without environmental damage.
We need to restore the damage that we have done.

If we are to balance the unbalance of nature, we have to reduce, reuse and recycle, and I would add restore.

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