Tag Archives: ecology

30 Cubed – The Chemist

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A dog lay on the porch just out of the hot, afternoon sun. The casual observer would think that he was sound asleep. Odd, on a sunny afternoon like today. Must be an old dog, too tired to investigate the summer meadow that surrounded the old cabin. The dog, however, was not asleep. On close inspection the ears were cocked; on occasion rotating like radio telescopes, listening, while the dog barely breathed. Without warning he sprung up, fully alert, watching the path to the creek bed.

Jake came sauntering up the pathway, wet to his thighs. Even in the warm sun he was shivering from the chill water. He carried a satchel, one he had carried for many years as he made his daily trek to the creek bed. It wasn’t fish he was after. No. Neither dog nor man could eat the fish in that stream. Long ago the runoff from farms and mines further upstream had tainted his catch. Now he relied on other sources of food. He and his dog.

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Adele sat in front of her screen and tried to make sense of the readings forming on the charts in front of her. She had monitored output from this particular site for over two years and she had never seen this particular combination of chemicals and byproducts. In some ways she hated her job. She was supposed to be a safety inspector. Someone who reported when levels of waste were toxic and should not be released into the river banks below. But those reports never seemed to get to the right desk.

The filtering plant they had constructed a year ago did not follow the design drafted by the engineers. She wasn’t sure if it was time or money or both, but it sure didn’t do the job is was supposed to. She had seen the original plans, it should have worked, but it didn’t. In fact, things seemed to be getting worse. What she could not understand was the change that was occurring. Why were these things combining this way? They should be breaking down in to less hazardous byproducts, not building something new.

The hunt for how life sparks had been going on for decades. Some labs had found ways to combine inorganic chemicals to create amino acids. Even some of the building blocks of RNA had been created in laboratory circumstances. Research had also been conducted on the possible formation of the first cells membranes; something absolutely required in the creation of a living thing. A wall that says, me and not me. Science had failed, however, to find that spark, the leap from inorganic chemistry to organic life. Some, of course, felt the question could not be answered by science alone. Adele was uncommitted.

Throughout her career, Adele had kept an open mind on the origin of life. She knew there were holes in evolutionary theory, but for all intents and purposes, it was a good working model. If only biologists could learn the same sanguine method of addressing questions as physicists had. Most physicists just followed the numbers and didn’t worry too much about the argument. Ask a biologist something that sounded like you were a true believer and more times than not, well, Adele just didn’t have the patience. It was probably the reason she chose inorganic chemistry. It seemed safer. Until today.

Something was happening in the slush pond above the drainage field and Adele was pretty certain she wasn’t going to figure it out sitting behind a computer screen. A field trip was in order. Knowing that people were touchy about samples being taken from the ponds she planned her trip at a time she might not be disturbed. She could work up some preliminary tests in her home lab. If there was something interesting she would figure out what to do next.

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Jake and his dog entered the old cabin and Jake put the hare he had snared on the kitchen counter. He had dressed it in the field to make sure that it was healthy and unharmed. Since his rabbits were kept in a separate pen far from the creek and given filtered water, he really hoped they would be fine. At least for a bit longer. He and dog would be moving soon. Really, couldn’t stay much longer. Nope. Not after what he found in the creek, under the trees, on this sunny afternoon.

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Filed under My Fiction - Very Short Fiction

The Discipline of Choice

Book Review – In Absence of the Sacred, by Jerry Mander, Readily available for $6.00 – $20.00

I acquired this book at one of those delightful moments provided by a friend of mine.  She was attending university at the time and, for my birthday, walked me into the university bookstore and said – pick something, anything.  When these rare moments arrive I like to make sure that my selection is not necessarily something I would purchase browsing the shelves with my own budget.  I will look for something intriguing, new to me, off my usual radar.  I find such treasurers that way!

Written in 1991 the book is an amazing critique of the place technology “owns” in our day to day lives.  Mander discusses just how much it permeates our very existence and homogenizes much of humanity into some large mass of consumerism.  This is not, however, a book about ditching technology.  What Mander does try to do is introduce a bit of thought into the choices we each make whether we, as an individual, are a consumer or a producer of the marvels of our age.

Mander uses the aboriginal societies of a number of continents to show that in the slower paced world, people tend to make decisions based on what the impact will be on future generations.  What will be the cost in resources, sustainability, survival and the opportunity for enjoyment of the world around us?  He does not, to my recollection, try to say we should ditch all technology.  What he does try to say is that more thought should be put into the consequences of our renovations and discoveries before they become common issue and possible problems.

Let’s take a known problem, something that there is not much controversy about: toxic waste.  For decades we have fought in court rooms, on barren fields, hospital rooms and community centers to try to get manufacturing and production companies to take more responsibility for the waste they generate.  The price in human suffering runs deep before someone, somewhere finally decides enough is enough and then the cost of cleanup, litigation, loss of viability and even livelihoods, becomes such a burden that nearly any advantage gained by the original thought process is destroyed.  Yes money is made, perhaps mountains of money.  But money is also lost.  Companies go bankrupt; people lose jobs, health and life.

Mander proposes that we try a different approach.  Instead of dealing with the consequences after that fact; try to anticipate the consequence before hand and weigh the benefits of a particular development or technology against its true costs.  Paper diapers are probably a marvelous convenience, but where do they all go when they are used?  There are some moves to use our volcanoes as rather efficient garbage dumps, but do we know what the impact of that might really be?

Throughout the book Mander addresses some of the beliefs and customs of various aboriginal peoples around the world.  Even pointing out that as efficient and earth friendly as thermal heat may be, in Hawaii it is an offense to the Hawaiian people as an affront to Pele, their main goddess.   The system works well, however, in Iceland.  The point is we should be listening to those who have managed to lead sustainable lifestyles for millennium and combine their wisdom with our ever increasing knowledge.

I did not get the impression that Mander wanted us all to return to loin cloths and some mythological pre-industrial Eden.  Nor did I get the impression that he was recommending that we should shun advances in medicine, science or technology.  What I took away from the book is that as rational beings with the capability of reason, we should take into account the full impact of our activities before we commit to a course of action.  Our point of view should be to treasure our resources, to count our home “sacred” in some form or other and to seek sustainability.   Avoid becoming an automated consumer, buying whatever is the latest and greatest.  Instead, try to build a life around conscientious choices for things which enrich your life; including some of our most advanced technology.  Learn to know the difference and choose.

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