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OPINION | FRAN ALEXANDER: The “whackos” aren’t wrong: Earth is showing us the impacts of harsher conditions

It’s time to listen to the environmentalist ‘whackos’ by Fran Alexander | October 4, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.

Once upon a time a frog sitting on a lily pad noticed it was getting larger, in fact doubling in size each day. His floating platform would cover the pond in 30 days, but on the 29th day the frog still wasn't overly concerned because it could still see open water over half the pond.

For many decades, versions of this parable have been used for different moral or cautionary purposes. At the point we've now reached, it fits well as a simple mental image of mathematical and biological conditions around the globe.

The frog, of course, was oblivious to the math of exponential growth and how fast it can occur. Frogs, however, know their ponds provide food, habitat, mates, etc. and may even realize that smothering all of that might present them with a problem because animals, like humans, have to become refugees when their habitat is destroyed.

Like the frog, we humans have noticed that grim things are seemingly becoming more frequent and severe across the globe, but most of us can still see half our pond, at least for now. Like the frog, we do not really understand the doubling down on us of environmental degradation set into motion because we tend to mentally isolate happenings as individual occurrences (a hurricane, a flood, a wildfire, an extinction, a drought, a pandemic, a war, a famine, a locust plague), but not as connected causes and effects.

Climate scientists warned us of climate change consequences over 50 years ago yet we're still bickering over whether we're red or blue and treating green as if that's the "whacko" color (former governor Mike Huckabee's summation of environmentalists).

The English poet John Donne (1572-1631) put it best saying, "No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. "

Of all the issues proving we are all sitting on the same lily pad, climate change, biological extinction, nuclear radiation, and chemical saturation are surely the biggies. The frog's home may have been fertilized by chemicals, making it grow by leaps and bounds; its pond may have such a messed-up ecosystem that few bugs are caught by old sticky-tongue; acid rain may have changed the water chemistry; toxins may have caused the birth of two-headed tadpoles.

The condition of one pond is indicative of dangers to any pond anywhere because across the globe, humans and animals are experiencing similar exposures, just in differing amounts. That's why none of us are islands. Every storm, fire, flood, and virus impacts us all, and with each wound our risks and losses rise exponentially.

Millions of people worldwide are now refugees, and the International Monetary Fund is warning of the global food insecurity crisis due partly to climate change, broken supply chains, and energy costs. Other headlines report that half of the world's bird species are in decline, some which are part of the 1300 species in the U.S.A threatened or endangered by extinction.

In early coal mining days, miners would take caged canaries into the mines to warn the humans of odorless gases. If the sensitive birds keeled over dead, it was high time to get out of the mines. We need to comprehend what massive bird death means. We also need to realize every forest fire heats the atmosphere, scorches the soil, releases tons of ash, and leads to flooding and erosion. And we need to know that because vast areas of the oceans are warming so much, more intense hurricanes are forming. These are examples of chain events looping one over another.

If money is the only thing that matters, Bloomberg News' article titled "Moody's has a $1.9 trillion warning over biodiversity" might help the scales fall from the eyes of leaders with this: "And the World Economic Forum has estimated that roughly half of global gross domestic product, or about $44 Trillion worth of economic value, depends on the natural world in some way."

For at least five decades we whackos have been trying to tell investors that healthy economies depend on healthy environments. But are they listening yet? No. That lily pad is still doubling.


My Aug. 2 article reviewed "The Possibility of All Things" by Frank Head. He will be at the Fayetteville Public Library, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18, for Author Talk. Don't miss this event or his amazing book!

Print Headline: Doubling our risks


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