Earth And Its People | April 23, 2012 Issue - Vol. 90 Issue 17 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 90 Issue 17 | p. 3 | Editor's Page
Issue Date: April 23, 2012

Earth And Its People

Department: Editor's Page
Keywords: scuba diving, American Chemical Society, ACS mission statement, sustainability
Hawksbill turtle
Credit: Rudy Baum/C&EN
This is a hawksbill turtle in water near Grand Cayman island.
Hawksbill turtle
Credit: Rudy Baum/C&EN

My father, who passed away at age 94 in January, was a quirky fellow. I loved him dearly, but he was a complex individual who was difficult to know and understand.

He and my mother lived for more than 50 years on a 28-acre farm in southern New Jersey about 15 miles from downtown Philadelphia. To me, southern New Jersey is a rather featureless, unlovely region of the country, but my father loved that patch of land and knew every square foot of it.

We had neighbors who lived across the road from us, and they took up scuba diving when they were in their 40s. They became avid divers, taking one or two weeklong trips every year. I remember my father saying that he couldn’t understand the attraction our neighbors felt for diving.

“How many times can you go down there, for God’s sake?” he asked, rhetorically. “It’s got to be the same damn thing every time.”

I remember pointing out to him that he never got tired of exploring his farm, which certainly didn’t have much in the way of views or variety.

“I care about the farm because it’s mine,” he said. “You’ll feel differently when you own property.”

Porcupine fish
Credit: Rudy Baum/C&EN
This is a porcupine fish in water near Grand Cayman island.
Porcupine fish
Credit: Rudy Baum/C&EN

I was reminded of my father’s attitude toward scuba diving as my wife, Jan, and I completed a week of diving off the island of Grand Cayman earlier this month. Like my parents’ neighbors, we took up diving somewhat later in life. I completed my 163rd dive on the trip to Grand Cayman, and Jan completed her 130th. That’s nothing for many serious divers, but it is enough for me to know that my father was wrong about diving. It is most definitely not “the same damn thing every time.” I never get tired of diving for the same reason I never get tired of visiting botanical gardens or a single botanical garden multiple times in different seasons. There is always something new to discover.

I also feel differently about owning property than my father. Jan and I have owned two homes in our lives together so far, and I had and have no personal attachment to either of them. They have been comfortable places where we lived our lives and raised our two sons. That’s it.

By contrast, I do feel ownership of the sites I dive at. They are mine. They’re yours, too, of course. They belong to all of humanity and to the creatures that live there.

I am proud to work for an organization that embraces stewardship of Earth. At the recent American Chemical Society meeting in San Diego, ACS President Bassam Shakhashiri introduced his presidential events by citing the ACS vision and mission. He did it at every event that I attended, so I assume he did it at all the events. He read the vision statement, “Improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry,” and the mission statement, “Advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people.” Every time, he repeated the final phrase of the mission statement in his stentorian voice: “… for the benefit of Earth and its people.”

The ACS mission statement could have simply read, “Advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of humanity.” There are people who believe that humans are what humans should focus on. That Earth is simply the backdrop to human existence. But that is not what the mission statement says. It says, “… for the benefit of Earth and its people.” Earth matters, as do the people who live on it. ACS has set for itself a demanding mission, one that is appropriate for a great organization.

Thanks for reading.

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Bob Buntrock (May 2, 2012 2:07 PM)
Rudy, interesting editorial. I have a different viewpoint on "ownership", houses vs. public lands/waters. Granted, there's a collective ownership experienced in public lands, but ownership attachments may have more to do with the surrounding property. You apparently have owned suburban homes in greater DC. Like your father and his land, we owned (for 5 years) a home on 13 acres of Oak Savannah on a pirvate, reed-lined lake in Minnesota. Some trails were already in place and we cut more. I saw something new everytime I hiked the property. The changing seasons, especially the wildlife, were remarkable including the chorus of three different frogs in the Spring, the return of the Red-winged Blackbirds, the migrating trumpeter Swans, the resident Sandhill Cranes, canoeing on the lake with the loons and sanpping turtles, the deer, the turkeys, etc. I felt not only ownership but custodianship for that small patch of heaven.

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