Can Our Earth Survive?
Is this an idle question? Is it pessimistic? Or is the earth on the brink of destruction? What are the facts?
“WE SAILED through water filled with lumps of oil for 43 out of 57 days. Great whales and many fish which swim with their mouths open, filtering their food, are swallowing this pollution. Some of those fish we shall eat.
“There are people who tell you that . . . the sea can absorb and recycle all this pollution. I call them the Sandmen—they want to put you to sleep with calming words. Don’t listen! Unless you and I—all of us—act now to stop the seas being overloaded with poisonous refuse, they will suffocate and die.”
This is explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s description of his second trip across the Atlantic on a reed boat. To many, it is frightening, and Heyerdahl is not alone in sounding the alarm.
A scientific study published in the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo is not less pointed: “It may be too late to restore what has been destroyed. Of life’s basic components—air, water, land and light—only the latter is not polluted.”
People everywhere complain about the weather. Why are there climatic changes and freak weather world wide?
Climate researcher Dr. Reid A. Bryson calls the overall effect of man’s activities—his smoke, tractor dust, jet exhaust, smog from cities—the “human volcano.” “We are indeed a factor in the climate equation,” he says. “We may be the decisive factor.”
And an article in National Geographic concluded: “A steady buildup of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuel—coal and oil—has occurred since the industrial revolution began. Higher levels of this colorless, odorless gas tend to warm up the planet by the so-called greenhouse effect, holding in the infrared radiation—heat—that would otherwise escape into space.”
Other disturbing factors have been in the news lately. For example, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that pollution of the atmosphere was depleting the earth’s ozone layer, which screens out part of the harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. Meanwhile, increased ultraviolet radiation has already been linked with increased cancer of the skin, according to Rumen Bojkov, director of WMO’s atmospheric science division.
Moreover, pathologist Leon S. Dochinger of the U.S. Department of Agriculture cites “acid rain” as another potential killer. It is a result of burning fossil fuels with high sulfur content, especially coal. Polluting particles and gases are spread by the wind and return to the earth with the rain in the form of sulfuric and nitric acids. These directly endanger the life of fish, animals and vegetation. Besides, in the soil “acid rain” can liberate poisonous metals. These metals may find their way into rivers and lakes and thus become a health hazard.
A medical survey in São Paulo said that, next to smoking, air pollution there is mainly responsible for diseases of the respiratory organs and their being the second cause of death. Additionally, according to a U.N. report, many cancers “relate to the air people breathe or the water they drink, to the environment in which they work or live, to their personal diet or way of life.”
Without water, there is no human life. But how safe is our drinking water? How safe are the rivers and oceans?
On a recent visit to Brazil, Jacques Cousteau found famous Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro more polluted than the Mediterranean around Venice, Cannes and Genoa. He expressed deep concern over the destructive pollution caused by oil spills, chemical and nuclear wastes.
And what about the rivers? Under the headline “Agony of the Waters,” the Brazilian newsmagazine Veja blamed effluents from sugarcane mills and rum manufacturers, soda from cellulose factories, sewage from growing cities and industries and other refuse for killing the Brazilian rivers. A similar condition obtains in other countries.
What is more, an ever-rising demand for water is putting its availability in doubt. Syrian delegate Saub Kaule told experts at the United Nations conference on water at Mar del Plata, Argentina: “A drop of water will cost more than a drop of oil.”
Why? Comments Time: “Between 30% and 40% of the world’s food production is now dependent on irrigation. . . . Industry is also using ever increasing amounts of water—to generate electricity, to cool nuclear reactors and manufacture chemicals and metals. As a result, many lakes and streams have been so badly polluted by agriculture and industry—as well as by the wastes from increasing numbers of humans—that they have become unusable without expensive treatment. Despite purification measures, the need to take drinking water from contaminated sources has caused widespread disease. The World Health Organization estimates that as much as 80% of the world’s cases of disease are traceable to unclean water.”
That is a chilling revelation. But is it all? Not really.
A group of agronomists met in Brasília and condemned the “indiscriminate and growing use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, leading to an ecological plight that will soon put agricultural production itself in jeopardy.” And why the excessive use? Only “to obtain monetary and immediate advantages from the land,” say the specialists.
Another stealthy enemy was revealed at a conference in Nairobi, Africa. It was noted that deserts are spreading in many parts of the earth. Said Time: “Thanks largely to man’s own folly, desertification now threatens the fragile existence of about 630 million people who dwell in these regions.”
No wonder U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim was prompted to make the ominous observation that “countries could disappear from the face of the map.”
And what may be the causes? Environmentalists assembled in Mexico concluded: “Primitive deforestation, fire, erosion, inadequate agricultural forms and pesticides join the natural causes to accelerate the desertification process.” O Estado de S. Paulo noted that Brazil has “everything to form one of the largest deserts in the world within the next 25 to 30 years if it continues to occupy the Amazon area in a disorganized way.”
As a matter of fact, Brazilian ecologist Jose Lutzenberger told a group of specialists: “The models of development of the present consumer society . . . rest on orgiastic wasting of limited and irreplaceable resources. They mean the destruction of all systems for the maintenance of life on Earth.”
This ecologist added: “We have unbalanced all the large and small water systems, giving rise to destructive droughts and catastrophic floods; through unchecked pollution, we will soon lose the usability of the last water source and precipitate the elimination of all forms of life in the water, including the oceans.”
This is a gloomy picture. But have no efforts been made to stem the tide? Fortunately, they have. Consider some of these.
Scientists and others raise ever louder clamors for drastic measures to be taken in order to preserve the earth. Are their plans yielding positive results? Some are.
Veja magazine interviewed Hideo Oguri, who is in charge of the fight against pollution in Tokyo’s rivers. He said: “Tougher legislation and even the closing down of industries has produced some results. But what is bringing better results is the constant action of hundreds of ecological groups who defend the protection of the environment.”
Luiz Roberto Tommasi of São Paulo University’s Oceanographic Institute, in Brazil, believes that the rivers can be saved if the present polluting factors are eliminated or at least reduced to a level that allows for self-purification. But he also said: “There is no time to lose. . . . In England the authorities began to show concern over the Thames fifty years ago and only now salmon has returned to the river.”
Speaking in Curitiba, Brazil, Jacques Cousteau said that he was going to suggest to the United Nations “a world ocean use policy established by international agreements so as to slow down the destruction of marine life.” But he added that “even the most developed countries lacked any policy aimed at the preservation of marine ecology.”
Similarly, Thor Heyerdahl wrote: “For a start, we should create protected areas, natural reserves where the local ecosystem could reconstruct and maintain itself. As important as this, however, is the formation and enforcement of laws in areas outside the natural reserves where the ecological balance is already affected.”
Obviously, the answer to air pollution does not lie simply in higher chimneys. Take, for example, the presence of dangerous acid in the lakes of Adirondack National Park, in New York State. The fish were dying. Eventually, the source was traced to the metallurgical district in Sudbury, Canada, hundreds of miles away. The winds carried the pollution to New York.
In Scandinavia, where ecological problems are given much attention, the mountain soil was found polluted. “Acid rain” was directly connected with Great Britain’s antipollution drive. Tall factory chimneys thrust polluting agents high into the atmosphere and the winds carried them all the way to Scandinavia.
The Agriculture Department of the United States has been coordinating data from a national network of stations in the U.S. and research stations in Canada, Scandinavia and other European countries. The urgent thought behind it is a world campaign to alert everyone to the problem, as an initial step toward its eventual solution. The problem being world wide, it has to be handled on a global scale.
Praiseworthy efforts are under way. Already, the U.S. and other countries have either prohibited the use of poisonous substances such as DDT, fluorocarbons, and others, or are discouraging their use.
Pakistan introduced a reforestation program to fight soil erosion in that country. Saudi Arabia has planted 10 million acacia, eucalyptus and tamarisk trees to keep the sand dunes near al-Hasa oasis in check. Brazil is planting eucalyptus and pine trees in various areas. Similar efforts to hold off or recover wastelands have been made in Mongolia’s Gobi desert.
But are homogenous tree plantations, that is, forests of only one kind of trees, the answer? Professor Celio Vale of Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, is against substituting natural forests by homogenous plantations. He says that the consequences are, “first, the destruction of the soil through erosion. Then the [destruction of] typical wildlife of the forests, as the animals are unable to survive in a homogenous forest. Finally, drastic changes in the microclimate of the deforested region will occur, as the solar radiation will increase considerably due to lack of environmental protection.”
What conclusions can we draw from our consideration of recommended international legislation and efforts made so far? Efficient or weak, most attempts are still only local. According to Time, the U.N. “warns that these unilateral moves are not enough to remove the threats to man’s well-being and calls for international collaboration ‘on a scale not seen so far in the history of mankind’ to save the environment from irreparable damage.”
However, there are almost insurmountable obstacles to success. Admits Time: “Still, there are many obstacles to overcome. To begin with, traditional life-styles will have to change. . . . Perhaps the greatest obstacle of all is the political question that continues to divide the world’s rich and poor nations.”
Admittedly, then, national and racial pride and prejudices, open hostilities, social injustices, clearly stand in the way to unification. Man’s greed and often ignorance, his shortsightedness and often outright malice, oppose his making headway. Said Jacques Cousteau: “It is true that reducing all values to a common denominator—money—does not work. It is exactly that which has led our civilization to the present-day problems.”
Man himself has created the situation. He has been unable to undo it. Disaster is looming ahead. Where should we turn for a way out? We invite you to consider an interesting answer.
The Bible counsels: “Don’t put your trust in human leaders; no human being can save you. Happy is the man who . . . depends on the LORD his God, the Creator of heaven, earth, and sea, and all that is in them. He always keeps his promises; he judges in favor of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.”—Ps. 146:3, 5-7, Today’s English Version.
This is really an exciting way of looking at today’s problems and their solution. In fact, is it not reasonable to look to the One who made our earth and mankind for the way out?
Jehovah God is the Creator-Owner of the earth. The multiple provisions for sustaining life on it are amazing. Only a loving Father-Provider would shower such blessings on his children. Plant and animal life, the rivers, lakes and seas add so much to life’s enjoyment. No wonder the first model of what God purposed for earth came to be known as a paradise of Eden, or a “park of delights.”
By showing loving obedience to the Creator’s universal rules of conduct, man would always enjoy the earth’s yield. “If you live according to my laws and obey my commands,” said the Creator to his ancient people, “I will send you rain at the right time, so that the land will produce crops and the trees will bear fruit. Your crops will be so plentiful that you will still be harvesting grain when it is time to pick grapes, and you will still be picking grapes when it is time to plant grain. You will have all that you want to eat, and you can live in safety in your land.”—Lev. 26:3-5, TEV.
“Too good to be true,” you say? But why should it be? Stop and think.
Why should there not be plenty of food and resources? God certainly knows what to do and can accomplish it. Does not every inventor know best how his invention should work? So God’s blessing means right distribution of rains, proper climate. And we must remember that he created a perfect ecosystem in the first place.
Do not scientists admit that man’s thoughtlessness and selfish tampering with this delicate system have brought on catastrophic floods and droughts, pollution, untold misery and death? But how do things work out if man cooperates with earth’s natural systems that God has implanted in it?
In ancient Israel earth’s Designer specified rest periods for the land itself. Israel held the land, God’s property, in trust. (Ps. 24:1; 89:11; 115:16) Knowing the need for the land to be revitalized, Israel’s invisible Ruler made provision. Every seventh year the land had complete rest. There was no cultivating, sowing or pruning, under threat of the death penalty for violators.—Ex. 23:11; Lev. 25:4.
“How did the people live?” you ask. Jehovah’s blessing on the sixth year produced bumper crops that lasted right through the “sabbath year” and to the next crop. (Lev. 25:20-22) Besides, what grew of itself could also be consumed, though not stored. So on the Sabbath year the land lay fallow. Rain, natural growth and humus would act as natural fertilizers. The land had an opportunity to become revitalized.
So serious was the requirement of letting the land get its rest that one reason for Israel’s 70-year captivity in Babylon was the violation of God’s Sabbath laws. King Nebuchadnezzar “took all the survivors to Babylonia. . . . And so what the LORD had foretold through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘The land will lie desolate for seventy years, to make up for the Sabbath rest that has not been observed.’” (2 Chron. 36:20, 21, TEV; also Lev. 26:34, 35, 43) For selfish reasons they had been exhausting the land.
But what happened when the Israelites returned to their homeland after 70 years? Jehovah blessed them and the land became fruitful once again, exactly as the prophet Ezekiel had foretold shortly after the Israelites were removed from their land: “There I will bless them with showers of rain when they need it. The trees will bear fruit, the fields will produce crops, and everyone will live in safety on his own land.”—Ezek. 34:26, 27, TEV.
Years before, Isaiah excitedly declared: “The desert will rejoice, and flowers will bloom in the wastelands. . . . Streams of water will flow through the desert; the burning sand will become a lake, and dry land will be filled with springs.”—Isa. 35:1, 6, 7, TEV.
Did this come about? Indeed it did. The returning Israelites experienced this very thing and were still a thriving nation when the Romans occupied the land hundreds of years later.
But do we have modern evidence of the existence of a self-recuperation system in the earth?
An astonishing example of land recuperation has been achieved in modern Israel. Said one report: “The Israelis have restored some of the water-collection systems left by the ancient Nabataeans in the Negev desert, and are using the runoff to nourish flourishing orchards of almond and pistachio trees. Other tactics that make the Negev bloom: drip irrigation systems, which feed small amounts of water directly to the roots of plants with the help of computer monitors; greenhouses for vegetables and flowers in which even the circulation of water is solar-powered; raising protein-rich algae in brackish ponds for animal feed.”
That’s a remarkable revival of once-desolate land. Similar revivals have taken place in other areas, such as in China’s deserts. But what about land destroyed by war action? Can the earth cope with such a heavy load?
During World War II, the harbor of Truk Island became a vast underwater cemetery of Japanese warships. “Studying this sunken fleet more than a quarter of a century later,” says National Geographic, “biologist Sylvia A. Earle and photographer Al Giddings find a unique display of nature’s power to heal.”
Said a local scuba diver who remembers the battle: “For more than two years afterward, oil from ships and planes covered the beaches and reefs. But the sea is healed now.”
Who did the healing? No human hand was necessary. The “healing system” built into the earth and seas by their Creator did it, in just over 30 years. The superabundance of corals, plants and animals covering the sunken wrecks is a wonderful testimony to the Creator’s wisdom and power.
Is this the only example of earth’s own healing capacity? Consider what has happened on the Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. The United States chose that site as a testing ground for nuclear devices. In 1977 the islanders began to return to their former homes. What did they find after 20 years without bombs?
Writes one marine biologist: “Today fish and corals thrive in the [atomic] craters, which attests to the capacity of nature to recover from nearly any kind of disturbance.” The scientists are astonished at the amazing resilience of the land.
This is exciting news! It is evident that the earth contains a remarkable built-in system for recovery. Would the Creator let man ruin his handiwork? Obviously not. Wrote the prophet Isaiah: “Thus says the LORD, the creator of the heavens, who is God, the designer and maker of the earth who established it, not creating it to be a waste, but designing it to be lived in.”—Isa. 45:18, New American Bible.
Of course, it will need a global change of affairs. That will mean the end of the present system with its injustices, ignorance and imperfection. But how will this be brought about?
The simple answer is contained in the Bible book of Revelation: “The kingdom of the world did become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will rule as king forever and ever. . . . your own wrath came, and the appointed time . . . to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.”—Rev. 11:15, 18.
Yes, by means of God’s heavenly Kingdom government under Christ Jesus, a grand transformation will take place soon. God has proved to be a Liberator and Restorer of the land in the past. Examples in our own lifetime prove that he built into the earth a remarkable recuperation system. So we can be confident that the earth will survive. God will accomplish his purpose to make the earth a paradise, a delightful home for man.
[Blurb on page 4]
“Depleting the earth’s ozone layer . . . increased ultraviolet radiation”
[Blurb on page 5]
“‘Acid rain’ . . . another potential killer”
[Blurb on page 5]
“A drop of water will cost more than a drop of oil”
[Blurb on page 6]
“80% of the world’s cases of disease are traceable to unclean water”
[Blurb on page 6]
“Deserts are spreading . . . ‘thanks largely to man’s own folly’”
[Blurb on page 7]
“The problem being world wide, it has to be handled on a global scale”
[Blurb on page 7]
“The land will produce crops and the trees will bear fruit”
[Blurb on page 9]
“Every seventh year the land had complete rest”
[Blurb on page 9]
“The desert will rejoice, and flowers will bloom”
[Blurb on page 10]
Time . . . to bring to ruin those ruining the earth