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Seeking Sustainable Solutions

July 27, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 30

In his letter “Déjà Vu All Over Again!” Dave McCall seems to imply that human beings are doing just fine, and good old science will get us out of every pickle (C&EN, April 27, page 4). That’s probably what the bacteria were thinking near the end of their exponential growth phase, right before the inconvenient stationary and death phases came along and ruined that beautiful growth-to-infinity scenario.

There’s no doubt human ingenuity has solved a lot of problems. Look how much more efficient we are at catching fish from the oceans. However, our improved efficiency depletes fish breeding stocks, leading to a collapse of fish populations. Large nets indiscriminately catch anything in their paths and destroy bottom habitats. People’s obsessions with ivory or shark fins lead to the slaughter of elephants and sharks. Apex predators are nearing extinction; coral reefs are dying in acidified oceans; glacial water supplies are melting, raising sea levels; land is being deforested and desertified at incredible rates; and yes, we are dumping too much carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere, changing our world.

Humanity’s response to these problems so far has been increased population. People subsisting on the edge are not going to solve these problems. They are doing anything they can to survive. It will be up to the educated populace, who have the leisure and means to face up to these problems, to search for sustainable solutions.

The world is not infinite. The solutions are almost always inconvenient in the short term. However, if the problems are not addressed, there will be no future for our children and their children.

Are we merely a bacterial petri dish? Earth is a dispassionate observer. If we fail, she will reclaim what is rightfully hers and start over again with a different experiment.

Phil Beauchamp
Chino Hills, Calif.



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