Healing Our World: Weekly Comment

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

Don’t Assume Anything

We the five-fingered beings are related to the four-legged,
the winged beings, the spiritual beings, Father Sky, Mother Earth, and nature.
We are all relatives. We cannot leave our relatives behind.

-- Betty Tso, traditional Navajo

We wait in the darkness!
Come, all ye who listen,
Help in our night journey:
Now no sun is shining;
Now no star is glowing;
Come show us the pathway:
The night is not friendly;
The moon has forgot us,
We wait in the darkness!

-- Iroquois prayer

The number of erroneous assumptions we make every day about how our lives and the world work is truly staggering. We even defend and argue the truth of these false ideas to the point where they take on mythic qualities, forming the foundation of our lives. Is it any wonder that people resist giving up these dearly held beliefs, since they fear that the fabric of their lives could crumble without them?

For example, how many of us go to bed each night and assume that electricity will be available in the morning to power our alarm clock? We also assume that water will be available for washing and cooking, that our cars will have fuel and will start, and that the atmosphere will be breathable. Yet most of the world doesn’t have the luxury of such assumptions.


New homes in San Diego, California (Photo courtesy NREL)
Most people also assume that the generation of power is getting cleaner and cleaner as new technologies are perfected. There may be no more damaging assumption than this, since it lulls people into acquiescence and acceptance of the status quo.

The fact is that the administration of President George W. Bush has given permission to power providers to circumvent the Clean Air Act and not make the previously required upgrades that would have cleaned up the plants. Now, power plants can pollute even more than they could a few years ago, adding a host of toxic substances into the life-giving air we all breath.

We make so many assumptions about the safety of our actions. For example, few people would ever think that using that electric alarm clock, turning on a light, or running the toaster oven could possibly be resulting in harm. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Over 55 percent of the nation's electricity is generated by the burning of coal. This coal burning fills the air with toxic mercury, sulfur dioxide, and many other toxic products. And to make matters worse, few people know that a large percentage of the coal used to generate that electricity comes from strip mines on Indian reservations.

The site of the largest strip coal mine in the United States at Black Mesa, Arizona, home of the Hopi Indian Reservation and a few thousand Navajo, known as Dineh, is a classic example of the abusive ethic that is destroying our world.

Because the company that owns this mine, Peabody Energy, continually wants to expand, the U.S. government has been leading the forced relocation of the Dineh who remain at the site, a place they have inhabited since the U.S. Army tried to wipe them all out in 1863.


Black Mesa mine with active pit and backfilled pit (Photo courtesy USGS)
Nearly 12,000 Dineh have been forcibly moved from their tribal land to a contaminated site in New Mexico, the location of the largest radioactive waste spill in U.S. history. Efforts continue to remove the remaining 3,000 Dineh, mostly elderly women, from Black Mesa.

To facilitate this effort, the U.S. government has made it illegal to rebuild their homes, which are frequently destroyed when the coal mine blasts new tunnels. The government has also restricted the ownership of livestock in an attempt to starve the Dineh out.

Thousands of boaters and other water enthusiasts have been enjoying the unusual sunny weather in the Seattle area this summer - thank you global warming. They assume that it is safe to be out on the waters of Puget Sound and that their maritime fun isn’t hearting anyone. However, over 137 million gallons of oil enters our oceans and other waterways each year from oily bilge water and other ship operations. Only 37 million gallons of oil spills each year from oil tankers and another 15 million gallons spill from off shore oil rig operations.

Each day, millions and millions of boaters spill fuel into our oceans and other waterways when they fill their fuel tanks. Those few drops, few cups or few gallons will be rationalized away as the boater claims, "It’s only a little fuel - how can that hurt anyone?"

Countless animals slowly die from these spills. Fish are unable to breathe or are poisoned. Animals such as the sea otter, which rely on their fur to keep them warm, die from ingesting the oil as they desperately attempt to clean their fur. Millions of oil covered birds die as they lose their ability to fly or to keep warm.

Our groundwater, drinking water and fish resources become contaminated as well. Humans who come into contact with the contaminated water may get skin rashes days later that they don’t even associate with their water play. And untold health problems have been generated by this toxic soup, most of which will never be properly diagnosed. Such is the problem with environmental health issues, since many of these chemicals do not kill or make people sick right away.

Assumptions abound regarding the food we eat. People scoff at the higher cost of organic produce and continue to eat foods with measurable amounts of pesticide residue on them from chemicals that are known to cause deadly effects. The World Health Organization estimates that over 255,000 people worldwide die each year from pesticide exposure from one source or another.

People who hunt or fish are quite content assuming that the government is making sure that our animal resources are protected and managed for the future. I wish it were true, but it isn’t. Recent scientific studies have made it clearer than ever before that the Earth was once filled with balanced ecosystems, teeming with abundant life in numbers that are almost beyond our comprehension. Historical evidence clearly suggests that the oceans were filled with whales, sea turtles, fish, and other forms of life that seem more like a science fiction fantasy than reality.

This new information clearly suggests that today's fishing and hunting quotas may be nearly meaningless. Such quotas are based on estimates of how many animals would be present if not subjected to human pressures of but a few years ago, usually in the 1800s. The historical evidence now available shows that the actual populations - before human predation began - were exponentially greater than they are today.


Humpback whale breaches in Alaskan waters. (Photo by Commander John Bortniak courtesy NOAA )
The implications of this new data are sweeping and should change the way we view our interactions with the natural world. For example, quotas that have been established by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) for the killing of whales must now be recognized as meaningless and be completely revised. Japan is given permission to kill about 400 whales annually. They call it "research," but critics say it is just a front for commercialized whaling, since the meat is sold in Japanese restaurants. IWC rules for research whaling require that the meat be utilized. Norway also continues to hunt whales, and last month Iceland began a whaling program.

Historically, whale populations numbered in the millions, a number that was necessary to insure the health of our oceans. Today, there are a few hundred thousand of these animals left, so to suggest, as Tokyo claims, that it is acceptable to continue to hunt them because there are so many is ludicrous.

In the United States, numbers used to determine when it is OK to remove a species from the endangered list must be considered ridiculously low. For example, in 1994, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the gray whale "recovered" and took the species off the Endangered Species List, declaring arrogantly in the June 16, 1994 edition of the Federal Register that the whale "has recovered to near its estimated original population size. Today there are about 21,000 individuals in the wild.

The estimates used to determine the "original" population numbers are from the 19th century, just before commercial whaling began. The new information in the "Science" study could mean that we shouldn't be content to cease protecting a species until it once again numbers in the millions.

Once again, we are reminded that our perception of the true extent and importance of the web of life is woefully inadequate. We must erase any notions we have of how many individuals of a species are enough and try to remember that the Earth is a complex, living organism where every plant, every animal, every microbe evolved for a reason. The presence of large numbers of an animal should not be considered license to kill it, but rather an indication that we might have a chance to restore health to a threatened ecosystem.

More than ever before in our history, we as individuals must take responsibility for our actions and determine for ourselves what is best for the health of our children and our planet. We must use the native intuition and common sense we all have. We must cast away the assumptions that shroud our lives in false comfort and work to replace them with the harsh, cold, naked truth that we are fouling our homes – and those of our neighbors.


1. Keep track of whaling with the help of Greenpeace at: http://www.greenpeace.org/~oceans/whaling/index.html

2. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species program is at: http://endangered.fws.gov

3. Learn about the gray whale from the Marine Mammal Center at: http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/learning/education/whales/gray.asp

4. Learn about the tragic harassment of the Dineh by reading two "Healing Our World” commentaries at: http://drjackie.freeservers.com/articles/may03-1999g.html

5. See a report on pressures on our coastal resources at: http://www.state_of_coast.noaa.gov/siteindex/html/default.html

6. See a detailed report on the state of the waters of Puget Sound in Washington State at: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/specials/sound/

{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle and the author of "Healing Our World", A Journey from the Darkness Into the Light," available at: http://www.xlibris.com/HealingOurWorld.html and “Of This Earth, Reflections on Connections,” available at: http://ofthisearth.org. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at: jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his website at: http://www.healingourworld.com}