Archive for April, 2011

What are You Doing on Earth Day?

Excuse my logic, and also excuse my cliché, but in honor of Earth Day this Friday, April 22,  I’ll ask the question that’s been asked time and time again – “Shouldn’t every day be Earth Day?”  I get very emotional when thinking about our planet because it pains me to see how we have scorched, poisoned, polluted and in general been very poor stewards of  this precious gift that was given us by God, the Creator or whatever higher power you choose to call him. 

My wife on several occasions has put it quite succinctly to me. “The Earth is sick,” she says.  I tip my hat to her for I couldn’t have said it better myself. I also tip my hat to Al Gore for his film “An Inconvenient Truth.”  He is a visionary and more.  After conceding the highly debatable 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush, he could have just sat home and felt sorry for himself, but he went out and became an admirable and indefatigable crusader for protecting our environment.

Some of the occurrences that seem to be happening with more and more frequency should act as wakeup calls to everyone.  I don’t care if you are young or old, single or raising a family, rich or poor, famous or anonymous, legal or the worst terrorist on Earth.  We all have to live here and it’s time we take notice.  Two devastating tsunamis occurred in a five year period.  In this country, we suffered the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  Then there was the Gulf Oil Spill, ironically the anniversary of which is just two days before Earth Day.  We hear reports of chunks of ice the size of  Delaware or Rhode Island breaking off the polar ice caps.  As Al Gore’s film pointed out, a large lake in Africa just drying up. Increasing amounts of acid rain falling.  The list goes on and on.   

We have polluted the ground, the water and the air.  What’s more, we have annihilated the tropical rain forests, a priceless treasure trove of some two thirds of all the living species on the planet.  We need the rainforests as they are the single greatest terrestrial source of air that we breathe according to the website: savetherainforest.org.  This website presents some sobering facts.  I vaguely remember about ten years ago visiting an exhibit called the Biodome inMontreal,Canada.  There was a sign that indicated back then there were about two billion acres of rainforest worldwide and at the rate of destruction occurring back then that number would be halved in twenty years time.  The savetherainforest.org website confirms this foggy memory of mine. They say that by the year 2025 half of our original amount of rainforests will be gone and by the year 2060 if our destructive ways continue, there will be no rainforest at all!

Any parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt should pause and give thought on this incredible projection.  It has implications for all of us. 

I have noticed that more and more the rate of birth defects in newborns has been on the rise. People are getting cancer at younger ages than ever and at an alarming incidence. Is it any wonder, with all the garbage we dump into landfills, thus polluting the land and the surrounding ground water?  It’s not just big business to blame. Every time we throw out a kitchen appliance or television instead of recycling it, we become accomplices to the crime. 

On an individual level, we can heed that slogan, “Reduce, Recycle, Reuse.” Changing your oil?  Don’t throw the filter in the garbage. Bring it to your local recycling center.  Thinking of throwing that aluminum can out your car window while sitting at a red light? Again, recycle.  Thinking of doing a spring cleaning and considering throwing all your unwanted junk in the next day’s garbage?  Hold a garage sale instead.  One man’s junk is another’s treasure. Or just rearrange your basement to accommodate the unwanted junk until it can be picked up by the Salvation Army or some other charitable organization.  Give the Earth a break.

That’s just a sampling of recommendations for individual people but what about the society as a whole?

I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers nor do I think anyone does.  However, a couple of suggestions come to mind.  I remember hearing years ago about one man who spearheaded a campaign to clean up a local river in his state, I believe somewhere in theMidwest.  He successfully restored what had become a cesspool into a river that could be swam in and enjoyed by the people there.  His monetary reward from the government was a paltry $60,000.  Now that might seem like a lot of money to some of my readers but I offer this proposition.  Why don’t we make it more lucrative for developers and construction people worldwide to devote their energies to cleaning up waterways and land masses as opposed to building more and more skyscrapers, which are themselves sources of pollution, not to mention death traps in the event of a major earthquake?  Where’s the incentive for people in real estate development to focus their efforts on cleaning up the environment when they can make hundreds and even thousands of times more money building tall buildings?

My other suggestion concerns the automobile industry, both in this country and abroad. Isn’t it time we rid ourselves of the albatross known as dependence upon Middle Eastern and South American oil?  In the United States alone, many people believe that the several trillion dollars we’ve spent on making war inIraq is all about seizing control of that country’s oil.  For a fraction of that money spent, say $1 trillion, we could disseminate about 40 million electric cars to our people, thereby greatly reducing our contribution to the global warming problem. If we did it in this country, many other countries worldwide, though reluctant to admit they like to emulate us, would soon fall into line and mass produce such vehicles also.  Furthermore, this is not to mention the other option of mass producing solar powered cars.

I recall hearing one talk show in which in an environmental scientist indicated we are now at a critical crossroads in the amount of carbon dioxide or what’s called greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  If within the next ten to twenty years, we don’t severely reduce the amount of CO2 from current rates of approximately 385 parts per million (ppm) to a rate of 350 ppm but instead allow this concentration to increase even higher than 385 ppm, we will experience irreversible climate catastrophe and reach a so called point of no return.

I offer some anecdotes to conclude this piece.  Years ago, mind you in the late 1970s which is an eternity ago, I stopped at a toll booth at exit 13A of the New Jersey Turnpike. The toll collector there was wearing – get this – a gas mask.  I jokingly asked him if he was expecting some kind of chemical warfare attack. He pointed at the smokestacks not far away which were emitting some kind of chemicals into the air with a deafening noise. “That’s why,” he said.

Then another time also in the 1970s, also in the NJ Turnpike corridor, I ventured onto the grounds of some kind of generating plant with thousands of lights and dozens of smoke emitting pips and began snapping pictures. A guard quickly approached me and asked me what I was doing.  Then it became obvious to him.  Quite defensively he commented that the smoke billowing from the various pipes was steam.  Then he ordered me to leave at once.  If it were in fact steam, I always wondered since that night, why was he so frightened of me taking photos?

The Earth is sick.  Maybe it’s time for all of us to take up biking.

Copyright 2011; Greg S.  

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Have You Hugged Your Cyber Bully Today?

Excuse my logic but isn’t it strange how we have all these new technological ways to communicate with each other (text messaging, instant messaging, chat rooms, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and as a result we’ve forgotten how to communicate face to face?  Although this article will examine how this technology can inhibit rather than enhance social interaction, I would first like to address the most serious flaw of the electronic age, that being cyber bullying.

Now I thought the actions of rap star P. Diddy were abhorrent several years back when he allegedly took a punch at an unsuspecting man, and then when that man tried to hit Diddy back, wimpy Diddy hid behind his body guard. But this act of in-person bullying by the pampered star pales in comparison to the types of cyber bullying we have seen recently.

Cyber bullying is a shadowy world and often the victim can’t fight back at all because they may not even know the identity of their tormentor.  In the old days, a kid took a whack at you and you whacked him back.  Someone called you a name and you called him one back.  Even when someone gossiped badly about you, invariably as that gossip spread around the school or playground, there was often a good chance it would make its way back to you and you would find out from someone just who was spreading rumors about you.  Then you could confront that person – face to face. Cyber bullies are often nameless, faceless, and ruthless individuals.

Cyber bullying is the ultimate act of cowardice.  It is a multi-headed monster. I just read of one tactic where someone will flood a victim’s cell phone with hundreds of text messages in order to drive that victim’s cell phone bill up.

I heard of another case in a grammar school where the teacher gave the students an online assignment to complete.  In this assignment the students were to post to the teacher’s email, their answers to the assignment.  Several youths who had it in for this one particular girl, sent the teacher derogatory comments directed at the teacher and signed this unwitting girl’s name to the email.  The next day, the girl was summoned to the principal’s office and nearly expelled until she could convince the teacher that she had nothing to do with the terrible remarks by showing that she had completed the assignment in the proper manner and submitted it by email the day before.

Worse, if some ill-intentioned thug gets hold of your social security number, well all bets are off.  They can fraudulently obtain credit cards and rack up hundreds, thousands and maybe even millions of dollars using your good name, without ever leaving their computer terminal.

Cyber Bullying - a 21st Century Scourge

Of course, the worst case scenarios have played out before us in recent years. These are not matters of money or just joking around, but rather of life and death.  Most recently the case of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi who jumped to his death after a compromising video of him surfaced on Youtube showed us just how much a rogue cyber bully can debase an individual’s reputation and drive them over the edge.

Several years earlier, 2006 to be exact, Megan Meier, a thirteen year old girl hanged herself after Lori Drew, the mother of her former friend in collusion with an 18 year old employee of hers completely smeared Megan’s reputation in the community using a My Space account opened in someone else’s name.

I have heard people say that to a “tween” or early teen, the computer can become an extension of their very soul.  In other words, to a seventeen year old with a new driver’s license, much of their identity becomes wrapped up in what car they are driving.  But tweens and early teens don’t drive yet so the computer becomes the material thing on which they fixate. The very essence of a tween or early teen’s existence is often measured by them based on the computers, cell phones, I-phones and other electronic gadgets they possess and have mastered the use of.  And just like a car has been classified by some as one of the deadliest weapons on this planet when being used by a drunk or deranged driver, the computer is fast becoming a lethal weapon too when in the hands of a mean-spirited or unthinking young person.

Of less import but also worth noting, how many parents have found that their children pay more attention to the I-pod or the internet than they do them?  Is it always the child’s fault?  Not necessarily.  As a parent, if you don’t take the time to show an interest in your child’s activities (school, social, hobbies, etc.) don’t be surprised if they begin to tune you out as well in favor of their electronics.  Your child may be the victim of cyber bullying.  Or your child may be a cyber bully himself.  Either way you need to know.  There is nothing like a good camping trip or even if time is at a premium, just a good family walk in the park to improve communication with your youngster.

A survey was done in the aftermath of the Columbine shootings and teenagers were asked if they object to their parents’ being nosy about their affairs.  An overwhelming majority of the students polled said they actually appreciate it when their parents ask them questions about their life.  “We want our parents to ask us what’s going on,” remarked many of the participants.

So to any parents reading this site, the next time you are cursing the lack of communication between yourself and your offspring and pointing the finger of blame at all your kid’s electronic playthings it may be prudent to reflect upon that old quote from William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar”.  To paraphrase Cassius’s remark to Brutus warning him of whom the scapegoat would be if Caesar became Monarch of Rome, “Our fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

PS.:  Another common mistake young people and even grown ups make with computers is when they post vacation or other travel plans on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.  If your sight is not restricted to friends only, you may come home to a vandalized or burglarized house.

Copyright 2009; Greg S.

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