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Plastic spring

May I respectfully ask the Society to think twice about its Amended Climate Change Statement? asks Chris Mackenzie

fxzdgharCall me a ‘denialist’ if you have to, but please let’s have a broader environmental debate.  Carbon dioxide is fine, it occurs in nature, it has been around acting as an agent of evolution far longer than oxygen.  Plants make themselves from it.  Nature deals with it.

But the biosphere is suffering from a huge increase of man-made substances which nature cannot deal with.  Should we not be more concerned about any chemicals that do not occur in nature, and hence have not been “evolved for” by anything in nature?  CFCs (remember them?), PCBs, BPA and a whole host of other catchy acronyms are a case in point.  All plastics and synthetic products, overwhelmingly produced by Big Oil, are a huge environmental catastrophe in the making.  Non-natural radionuclides are another example.  The clamour to demonise CO2 does us a disservice by blinding us to other threats. 

Nothing ever evolved to deal with 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid.  When mixed with 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and dioxins it made an effective herbicide.  Today we know a lot more about ‘Agent Orange’.  The swathes of tropical rainforest against which it was used are still suffering, decades later.  Humans died, nature died, and the poison persists - bio-accumulating, like all these poisons which cannot be metabolised by nature.

Nowadays, neonicotinoids are implicated in the loss of our bee colonies.  While the scientific evidence may not yet be concrete, do we really need more data to realise that the unintended consequences of synthetic chemical usage are huge?

We are all concerned about ‘sustainable development’ and other such Newspeak buzzwords.  But looking back on billions of years of evolution, it is clear that the main issues facing this planet resulted from the transition of one primate from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to that of farmer.  As soon as human populations came to control their food supply, rather than the food supply controlling the size of human population, things began to go seriously awry.

We cannot turn the clocks back. We must minimise our impact, and massively reduce the amount of synthetic, non-natural chemicals in the biosphere.  We must revert to the use of natural materials where possible, rather than plastics and synthetics.  Even as an eternal optimist, I personally hold little hope of progress, given the quality of debate about CO2.  Rachel Carson never saw even the tip of the iceberg.  In one village in Tanzania where I work recent river sediments contain up to 5% plastic debris. 

Silent Spring was written a long time ago, now synthetic chemicals are far more abundant, far more complex and long-lived, and appear to be making significant inroads into the natural environment at a cellular level.  That is a clear and present danger, one about which I hear nothing about from my Society.

  • Chris Mackenzie works in mineral exploration and is based in Windhoek, Namibia.