Sunday, October 28, 2007


We have all heard of the problems relating to the sub-prime mortgage. What may not be readily understood is that events surrounding this economic issue can serve as an example and model for debates over environmental issues. The universe is all about relationships, many of which we do not understand or even recognize.

The events surrounding the sub-prime mortgage have been on all of the news outlets. In an oversimplified summary, people who were at the economic margin borrowed money for homes at very low interest rates. The only way they could even afford the mortgages is because of those low rates. Keep in mind that many lenders enticed people into these markets with a constant barrage of advertising. The problem arose because these very low-interest rate mortgages were variable and not fixed. When interest rates doubled and tripled, the homeowner could not afford the new payments, hence, foreclosure.

What people did not understand was the extent that this phenomenon would impact the world. No one really knew, or let it be known, that many of these mortgages were in the hands of foreign investors. The result? The closure of many foreign banks, many job losses, a downturn in the economy, an increase in bankruptcies, loss of local government tax revenues, lives destroyed, credit crunches, a stalled housing market and the effects are still unfolding.

What does this have to do with the environment and CNN’s show, “Planet in Peril?” Perhaps humanity’s greatest failing is that it fails to learn from its mistakes and its actions. Biologists talk of the ‘web of life.’ It is about the inter-connectedness of all things. In CNN’s “Planet in Peril” numerous examples were given of how one event can trigger many events. The re-introduction of the grey wolf into Yellowstone Park was but one example. From the tiniest insect to the largest mammal, the presence had a profound impact upon the ecosystem. Just as in the sub-prime market, the decision to raise interest rates affected not only the borrower, but its impact was felt globally and throughout the economy. Few of the effects were anticipated. Just as with climate change, few of the effects of our action and ignorance are anticipated. The CNN show, backed by recent UN reports, indicates that basically, we do not know what we are doing. Even our most sophisticated computer models have been in error. Impacts of climate change that were forecast to occur in 2050 are happening now. We seem to have no clue as to what is really happening to the environment, just as lenders had no clue as to the impact of raising interest rates.

The most recent UN report on the environment indicates that despite warnings, there has been no reduction in climate changing emissions in the past 20 years. Having ears, we have not heard the warnings. Having eyes we have not seen the damaging affects of our actions. A recent AP report said that a third of the world’s primates are in danger of extinction. CNN, backed by other reports, said that humanity is causing the 6th major worldwide extinction of animals and plants with the rate of loss 1,000 times the normal rate. Now we see reports of drugs and chemicals that are consumed by humans finding there way into water supplies as we urinate these wastes from our body and flush them into the environment. Effects are now being observed in fish and other wildlife.

Regardless of your political persuasion, the handwriting is on the wall. From the economy to the loss of primates and the chemicalization of the environment, we have set in motion a chain of event that is spinning out of our control. The impact of our actions will be felt regardless of what we do. Of course, we are still doing nothing. Perhaps we should all change our name to Nero since we seem to be fiddling while Rome, or rather civilization as we know, burns.

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