Sydney Ross Singer
Director, Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease
P.O. Box 1880, Pahoa, Hawaii 96778
One of the nicest things about living in Hawaii is that whenever you travel, you end your trip by going home to Hawaii. Now how great is that!
I was returning from the 2012 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, held in Eugene, Oregon. I was a speaker on a panel about invasive species. “Weeding the World: The destructive war on invasive species”, was the title. It was the second year I was speaking about the war on invasive species. But I nevertheless approached the date of my talk with some anxiety, since my position is politically incorrect. And pissing people off about environmental issues is akin to cursing their god.
I always try to approach life as an anthropologist. I try to understand the assumptions and biases that guide people and mass movements. Humans, after all, are extremely capable of altering the environment. It is essential to understand humans and their cultures if you want to deal with environmentalism.
By the term environmentalism, I mean a philosophy that guides how we conceptualize and interact with our environment. It is the theory and practice of environmental management. And it is completely based on human values, which are defined and refined by the culture.
I entered in to the world of environmentalism quite by surprise and out of necessity. It has become a major focus of my life. And as I anticipated my presentation for the PIELC panel, I searched my mind for an answer to the conundrum of invasive species control.
At one time in my life, about 20 years ago, I would have probably supported much of the invasion biology dogma. It's easy to see immigrant species that move into familiar environments as “invading” the landscape or garden. Weeds are not new, and humankind's predilection to compare things and value one over the other naturally leads to weeding behavior. We humans are also control freaks, and like other territorial animals we like to define and control our space as much as possible. Of course, unlike other animals, humans consider their territory to be infinite, (which, by the way, is a characteristic of cancer cells. But more about that later.)
Speaking of cancer, actually I am a medical anthropologist. More precisely, an applied medical anthropologist. What I do is observe the attitudes and behaviors of people and try to connect them to certain health problems. I also try to discover culturally programmed behaviors and attitudes that cause disease. These diseases are referred to as culturogenic, or culture-caused, diseases.
One example of a culturogenic disease is the link between breast cancer and bras. Corsets disabled and killed women by compression of internal organs and the resulting dysfunctions that that causes. Bras, which are essentially breast corsets, are doing the same damage as they alter breast shape by applying constant pressure to the breast tissue. This pressure constricts easily compressed lymphatic vessels which are designed to drain fluid and toxins from the breast tissue. The fluid builds up into cysts, toxins accumulate, breasts become sore and painful, and ultimately cancer may develop.
I know about the bra/cancer issue intimately, since it was my research, conducted with my wife and co-researcher, Soma Grismaijer, that brought attention to the issue, which we describe in our book, Dressed To Kill: the Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras. And while you would expect that such vital information about the cause, and prevention, of breast cancer would be quickly accepted by the public and medical community eager to end this scourge, we discovered the opposite. We found that there is an industry that surrounds and feeds off of breast cancer. Cancer is a tragic bust to some, but a tremendous boon to many.
This is why breast cancer is a culturogenic disease. It is embedded in the culture. It relates to fashions and the selling of lingerie. The bra industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. So is the industry that treats, and profits from, breast cancer. Even the prevention of this disease is used as an excuse to sell drugs, which is the way a treatment-focused and profit-oriented medical industry deals with disease prevention. And women have been programmed in the Barbie fashion genre since childhood, so their body image is at the mercy of lingerie advertisers, movie costume designers, fashion moguls, and plastic surgeons.
Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with environmentalism. Actually, it has a great deal to do with it.
The bra is like a dam, shutting off drainage of the breast tissue watershed. The backed-up lymphatic waters flood nearby spaces, leading to oxygen-depleted, stagnant, fluid-filled cysts. But the dam is owned by a powerful hydroelectric company, and the public thirsts for electric power. Meanwhile, environmental managers are busy constructing mitigation measures to deal with the harm caused by the dam. Electricity is generated making consumers happy. Jobs are created to deal with the environmental harm. In the balance, people are willing to tolerate some environmental destruction if it means jobs and power, just as women are willing to tolerate breast disease if it means social acceptance and power over men.
One lesson from this is that solutions to culturogenic problems, be they environmental or medical, are not easy to execute. We may know what the cause of a problem is, but we may be confounded by other cultural factors in trying to solve that problem. This means the problem is deeper than the surface issue. You need a holistic view of the culture and human nature to understand how any piece of the cultural puzzle fits with all the rest.
Another lesson from this is that our bodies are an environment. Each one of us is a world, composed of various ecosystems analogous to forests, deserts, wetlands and caves. Our bodies are inhabited by hordes of bacteria fighting for survival on our human planet, living among fungi forests and yeast gardens grazed by mites and lice and uncountable microscopic critters.
So in a sense, health care is about managing your body's environment. Likewise, environmental healthcare is analogous to human healthcare.
These thoughts rolled in my mind as I tried to distract myself from the smells of the hotel room where I waited for my panel to start. I am used to the moist tropics, and showering with rainwater. Now, my skin and nose and eyes were dry. The chlorine water of the shower stripped my skin of oils. To my body's ecosystems it must have felt like the planet had been moved to another part of the solar system.
But a seed had been planted in my mind about the analogy between medicine and environmentalism. Perhaps this is the key to solving the invasive species problem. A weed, by definition, is an undesirable species for a given area. It is purely a human valuation. As far as nature is concerned, all things wild are its children. They could have thorns, be poisonous to some creatures, and grow in dense, impenetrable thickets, and still be part of the environment. It could even be a newcomer to the ecosystem, adapting to the conditions even better than old-timer species to the point of changing the landscape. Whatever is happening between the members of an ecosystem is fine with nature. Nature has no values and make no value judgments on the species that live in an ecosystem.
Humans do. We see the world around us according to our own values. We hate thorns because they poke and hurt. We despise poisonous plants and animals because they make us ill. And we don't appreciate when a shrub or bush or tree fences us humans out of an area.
To us humans, species which do these things are all bad. Of course, for the birds and insects and other creatures that seek refuge from predators in the thorns and shrubs and that eat fat on plants too poisonous for other species, it's all good.
This means our view of the environment is anthropocentric. The universe revolves around mankind. We decide what is good and bad in terms of our needs. And if it doesn't suit our needs it is called a weed.
Over the years, people have traveled around the planet by land, sea, and air, and have brought with them their pet and food species. Just as travel and migration has brought together cultures with various values and lifestyles, it has brought together species with various qualities and functions. The melting pot of various peoples is seasoned with species from around the world.
All this moving around creates a sense of alienation from one's place on the planet. We are a migrating species, and the faster we migrate the more we feel out of place. Meanwhile, we bring along in tow various species of plants and animals, some hitchhikers and others paying their way with beneficial services. As we settle in a new part of the world, so do they. Human cultures either assimilate or reject the new immigrant. Likewise, the environment which receives the immigrant species either assimilates into a new ecosystem, or rejects it.
This is how things have gone for as long as humans have been around. But every once in a while, people decide that their environment, social and biological, is not the way it was in the past and is not really the way they want it at all. The pendulum between acceptance and rejection swings eternally, with people welcoming immigrant people and species at some times and rejecting them at others.
Usually, people value immigrants when there are no limits to resources. It's okay to share and be open to strangers when you have all you need and can spare even more. But during times of scarcity, people begin to worry about themselves. Survival concerns shut people and cultures down. It becomes an us and them mentality. Strangers and foreigners are regarded as a threat, an unnecessary drain of limited resources, and are expelled.
So society fluctuates between melting pot and smelting pot, between inclusion and extraction. And as we treat people of different cultures, so do we treat the species which they have brought.
It all has to do with one's sense of connection. People want to feel connected with one another and with the environment in which they live. But the farther and faster people travel and move around the planet, the less they feel connected to any one place or people. They become nomads. And the species they have brought with them become invasive.
Essentially this is an immigration issue. There are times of openness towards other cultures immigrating and times of anti-immigrant hatred and fear, a xenophobia. There are times when we introduce species into the environment, and there are times when we attack those species as destructive aliens, a bioxenophobia.
At this time in history, economic and other political challenges are resulting in antiimmigrant sentiment. Nationalism is on the rise, and this strengthens the us versus them mentality of xenophobia. It is natural that the dominant environmental philosophy of a xenophobia culture would be invasion biology. A culture that sees alien people as invaders of its native cultural landscape will see alien species as invaders of its native environment.
The essence of invasion biology is the belief that native species are being attacked by a silent invasion of alien species. The term “native” means a species is historically associated with an area, although the cut-off time in history for the “native” label is arbitrary and political. “Alien” means a species that was moved to an area through the agency of mankind. The assumption is that if man moved it, then it doesn't “belong” in the new environment.
For most invasion biologists, the time frame for calling something native is pre-European contact. In a way, invasion biology is a product of colonialism of the past several centuries. It was politically correct in the past to displace native peoples and the environment in which they lived with European culture and species from around the world. In reaction there has developed a nativist movement to reverse colonial usurpation of the land and environment.
Essentially, native peoples today want their lands back, including the species of trees and animals that were part of those lands. Add to this liberal minded people from the colonizing culture who want to support nativism as the way to correct trespass of the past.
This is one of the factors supporting the philosophy of invasion biology. It serves the political goals of nativism. Get rid of the aliens. They don't belong here.
Further supporting this invasion biology agenda is a military-industial complex that includes giant and powerful chemical companies. If you are going to wage war on the environment, then you need ammunition. And for most invasive species eradication and control projects, the ammunition of choice are herbicides and pesticides.
The military-industrial connection to environmental management should be apparent from the language of invasion biology. According to its dogma, alien species are invading the environment and are taking over. They must be eradicated or they will destroy the environment. Indeed, there is a declared war on invasive species, with billions of dollars annually spent on chemical, biological, and mechanical warfare techniques. This means the government is at war with the environment, seeking out the alien and saving the natives.
Naturally, Monsanto, BASF, and other big poison manufacturers are keen about this plan, since they are the profiteers of this war. Millions of gallons of poisons are dumped on our forests, grasslands, rivers, lakes, and oceans to kill alien species. Preservationists and restorationists want to turn the biological clock back hundreds of years to erase Western culture's colonial impact on flora and fauna. Of course, there has been significantly less progress made against the material impacts of colonialism, with skyscrapers, highways, chemical agriculture, and other cultural impositions being exempted from the restoration. Clearly, it's easier to cut down or poison introduced trees than to dismantle a city and relocate its human inhabitants.
The dominant environmental paradigm, then, is military industrial environmentalism. The objective is the eradication of invading species that are taking over and destroying native species and ecosystems. The method consists of chemical, biological, and mechanical warfare. It's like an endless war on biological terrorists.
Another aspect of war that permeates the rhetoric about so-called invasive species is the role of propaganda and exaggeration. War propaganda is designed to portray the enemy in the most negative of terms. Nothing good can be said about the enemy. They are vile, terrible, and must be destroyed. Such propaganda is necessary to unite the masses in the war effort and obtain public willingness to accept the collateral damage that results from war.
It was when I read some of this propaganda against the coqui frog that I became involved in environmentalism as a medical anthropologist. This tree frog is the darling of Puerto Rico, cherished for its soothing nocturnal chirp. In fact, this animal is so loved in Puerto Rico that it is the national animal and a subject of much folklore. Many Puerto Ricans travel with recordings of coquis to help them sleep. Unfortunately for the frogs, they were accidentally shipped with some plants to Hawaii.
Initially, since frogs were considered beneficial to agriculture, the Hawaii government ignored their presence. But then, in 1999, President Clinton signed an Executive Order 13112 that gave billions of dollars in funding to stopping invasive species and restoring ecosystems to past native glory.
There is nothing like grant money to create a problem. It's the law of supply and demand. If there is more money supplied, then there will be more people demanding it. Suddenly, Hawaii claimed it had a frog problem. And the propaganda campaign waged against these harmless creatures was unrelenting and unreal. Their chirping was constantly characterized as a “shrill shriek” comparable to a lawnmower, table saw, or jet airplane, certain to keep everyone awake at nights and run down property values and chase away tourists. Despite lacking objective research, it was nonetheless feared by scientists that the frogs would eat all of Hawaii's insects, destroying agriculture and starving native insect-eating birds.
I discuss all this in my book, Panic in Paradise: Invasive Species Hysteria and the Hawaiian Coqui Frog War. It is a study in how a crisis can be created out of lies, and the corruption and motives behind those lies. It led the laid-back people of Hawaii to do terrible and destructive things to the environment and one another in the name of frog eradication. It wasn't the frogs that were causing a problem in Hawaii. We had no real frog problem. We had an attitude problem. And it was making people and the environment sick. “They don't belong in Hawaii” was the war chant as residents gathered in vigilante mobs to spray acid into the forests to burn frogs to death, even rewarding children in schools for killing as many frogs as possible.
It was clear to me that this was a culturogenic disease in the making. Turning people on their environment with caustic and poisonous chemicals to kill non-native species because they “don't belong here” harms not only the environment, but the people attacking it. Not only are the chemicals used often harmful to human and environmental health. It creates a mindset of alienation from nature, at least from the nature that exists. It is not the nature that one wants.
To a culture that feels increasingly disconnected and alienated from nature, it may seem natural to attack one's environment to eliminate species that are alien. It is a projection of one's own alienation onto nature. And since most people these days in the West live in urban settings with little or no real contact with the environment, there is no intuitive brake to slow down the attack on nature.
Intolerance and hatred are the products of nationalism and war. War on the environment for harboring alien species creates hate towards species, many of which are beneficial in any other context. Their crime is one of location, loitering in a foreign environment without a license.
Most upsetting was the way people were so easily roused into hatred against the frogs. Even though they did not prove to be weapons of mass environmental destruction as claimed by officials, it didn't stop the declaration of a state of emergency by the Mayor of Hawaii Island and emergency funding of coqui frog eradication efforts.
But it wasn't until mangrove trees were attacked that it became clearer to me who was really behind the invasion biology agenda. The attack on the trees was stealthy, with no public review or environmental assessment. Over 35 acres of mangroves were poisoned and left to rot along the shoreline on Hawaii Island. The poison was donated by Monsanto and BASF. Monsanto also donated $5,000 to the environmental group doing the poisoning.
While acres of sensitive, conservation lands along the shoreline are now marred with the carcasses of dead mangroves waiting to fall further into the surf, those committing this act of war boasted that the enemy has been killed. To them, the dead trees were not an eyesore or environmental hazard. They were a monument to the destruction of an invasive species.
For those who don't know what a mangrove tree is, it is a protected species around the world, except in Hawaii. It grows along the shore, usually along mudflat areas, and with its leg-like trunk appendages it creates an ecosystem that serves as a nursery for a large percentage of the world's fish population. The mangroves provide a barrier to storms and tsunamis, and filter out silt from run-off to keep coral reefs clear of sediment. They also absorb toxins from the water and clean up the environment.
Because of their beneficial qualities, mangroves were introduced to the island of Molokai about 100 years ago. The seeds of the mangrove develop on the tree and drop into the water as small plants that float around in search of suitable habitat to anchor their roots. And over the years, they have spread throughout the Hawaiian islands, with less than 100 acres of mangroves coming to line a small part of the Big Island's lava dominated shoreline.
While mangroves are beneficial to the environment, there is no doubt that they are altering the character of areas where they grow. This means change and preservationists and restorers don't like change, unless it is changing back to the past. So with wetland restoration funds, an environmental group set out to kill the mangroves as cheaply as possible. Instead of the expense of carefully cutting and removing the cut trees, sometimes using helicopters, trying not to disturb the sensitive coastline, this group decided to experiment with using herbicides to kill the trees and leaving them in place.
Now, residents and tourists must look at dead mangroves at favorite beaches and recreation areas. It may feel like a victory to the alien busters, but it feels a lot like environmental damage to everyone else. Most appalling was that there was no environmental review or public comment for this act of war against the mangroves. It was collateral damage that the invasive species warriors assumed the public would willingly accept.
About the same time as the mangroves were being attacked, the county government was planning to cut down banyan trees along Banyan Drive, in Hilo. According to invasion biologists, banyan trees are invasive and do not belong in Hawaii. It took a public outcry to stop the chainsaws from destroying these majestic trees. In the past, banyans were valued trees, and many were planted along Banyan Drive decades ago in honor of celebrities. Some celebrities actually planted the trees. But that was during a time when diversity was valued more than nativity.
There was also a time when agriculture was valued more than habitat preservation. Over the past two centuries various people, and the government, introduced species into the environment to control weeds and to provide food. Sheep and goats were used to clear areas of weedy vines and shrubs. They were a type of biological control, or biocontrol. Instead of using herbicide, use a goat or sheep, which can then be used as food. This augmented the hunting and gathering lifestyle of many “local” residents who also hunt pigs as a main part of their culture.
Of course, Hawaii is an island, and if you introduce sheep and goats you need to also introduce predators to keep their numbers in balance. Hunters are the predators.
But that paradigm has changed in Hawaii. Now, the emphasis is not on using the environment as a food resource, but on eradicating invasive species and restoring native habitats. Unfortunately, Hawaiian native habitats and species do not feed people. Sheep and goats have now been eradicated from much of the island's wild places. But pigs are still considered a problem. So the government devised a plan to reduce the food supply for these wild animals. The top species on their hit list was strawberry guava, a tree introduced in the 1820's as a food resource. Over the years the government encouraged growth of these beautiful and useful trees. Now they are labeled invasive pests.
Of course, after nearly 200 years of being in the environment, strawberry guava has become naturalized, and many species, including native species, use them. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of strawberry guava in the forests, and many residential areas and roadways are lined with thick growths of this tree. People use the fruit for eating, jams, juices, wines,etc, and it feeds birds and pigs. The wood is hard and grows in long poles that are useful. And the shiny, tan bark makes this a favorite ornamental. It also makes a great windbreak and barrier, and is often found along ravines and valleys stabilizing the steep walls.
But to the invasion biology community, it is a scourge that is taking over the forests and feeding environmental enemy number one – pigs.
The plan of action for this attack was to use germ warfare. First, fungus was introduced as a biocontrol to weaken the plant. Next, a scale insect from Brazil (where strawberry guava is considered native) was going to be introduced to weaken the tree by galling the leaves, reducing vitality and fruit yield. Up to 90% reduced fruit was expected as a result of infesting the trees with these insects. The ultimate goal of the attack was to slow the tree's spread into native forest areas by reducing the seed bank.
Unfortunately, the insect would attack all strawberry guava, everywhere. The insect spreads with the wind, and the wind blows onto private property. This means that privately owned strawberry guava trees would be damaged and destroyed by this insect invasion unleashed by invasive species eradicators.
As of this writing, the insect release has been postponed due to property rights concerns. People who own, use and value these ornamental and fruit bearing trees should be compensated for damages as a taking, according to the Hawaii State Constitution. Many people claimed they would want compensation for damage to their trees. The government response was to deny that these trees have any value, and that they were doing everyone a favor by infesting these invasive trees.
Ultimately, it becomes a propaganda war, as the government does its best to constantly characterize the strawberry guava as a useless, harmful weed that needs eradication. It's all about perception. But turning a beautiful fruit tree that is now part of Hawaiian culture (it is called “waiawi” in Hawaiian) is a hard sell. So far, reason is winning out over propaganda. But time will tell.
Meanwhile, other food plants have been targeted by biocontrol. Banana poka is a variety of passionfruit grown commercially in some places of the world. In Hawaii, it escaped cultivation and has created a nuisance in some forest areas where it grows on trees and smothers them. While goats and sheep would easily and enjoyably control this vine, and while native and nonnative birds enjoy and benefit from its nectar, the biocontrol unit of the invasive species army released a fungus to attack the banana poka. Unfortunately, the fungus has been shown to also attack commercial varieties of passionfruit in people's back yards.
Rose apple is another fruit tree vilified by invasive species eradicators. A fungus has destroyed most of these fruit trees, and is also attacking other fruit trees and the native o'hia tree, a type of oak. While the government does not want to take the blame for this fungus release, the fact is that this fungus is used as a biocontrol against the paperbark tree, or maleleuca, in Florida. The paperbark tree is also considered invasive in Hawaii.
Further threatening the wild food supply is the recent introduction of varroa mites and the small hive beetle that both attack honeybees. Hawaii has been free of these honeybee pests until recently. Unfortunately, the Hawaii government is ambivalent about the honeybees. According to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, while honeybees are recognized as important for agriculture, they also consider them invasive species.
Honeybees invasive? Apparently, they compete with native bees and also pollinate nonnative fruit trees, such as strawberry guava. In other words, agricultural species are invasive, and bees aid the enemy. Interestingly, varroa mites have been considered a potential biocontrol for feral honeybees.
As a result of these intentional and unintentional introductions, free, wild food has become scarce in Hawaii. But when food species are deemed invasive and are destroyed, it impacts on more than the environment. It harms the hunting and gathering culture that lives off of these species.
If pigs are public enemy number one, then the culture that uses and defends pigs, the pigs hunters, are public enemy number two. Indeed, the local culture of Hawaii is a product of the same colonialism that created our mixed nativity ecosystems. They are Hawaiian, Portuguese, Filipino, Japenese, Caucasian, Chinese, and more, and they have created a culture that uses the species brought to Hawaii by these immigrant groups.
Do locals belong in Hawaii? That depends on who you ask. But to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, the cultural practices that must be protected in Hawaii do not include cultures other than ancient native Hawaiians. The DLNR claims that ancient Hawaiians did not hunt pigs, but raised them in pens, so hunting, they say, is not a cultural practice that needs legal protection, even if modern Hawaiians hunt pigs, which they do.
For many in the environmental world, the biggest invasive species of them all is humans. Tears will not be shed for the hunters and gatherers who find it increasingly difficult to hunt and forage in the wild. The government is fencing, weeding and eradicating all non-native life in more and more places. The culture that lives off these species is being treated as the enemy, as well.
In fact, there is an ethnic cleansing that is going on in Hawaii. The poor people in Hawaii who live off the land and hunt pigs are an anachronism. They are the product of colonialism, and to restore past ecosystems we must also undo the hunting and gathering culture that uses nonnative species.
Interestingly, the island of Hawaii is home to most of the locals in the state. Where are they to go if they are too poor to live in Paradise anymore and there is no food available in the wild for them to eat? They can go to the ocean.
Unfortunately, the ocean may soon be off limits for fishing and other public uses. Monk seals are endangered, and the US Fish and Wildlife is considering making the waters around the main Hawaiian islands critical habitat for the seals. This would give the seals priority over humans. Beaches would need to be closed if a seal was nearby. Fishing would be prohibited as well.
Ironically, the conflict between Monk seals and subsistence fishermen has lead to the death of some seals. Fishermen wary of losing fishing grounds to the seals see the seals as the source of the problem. No seals, no critical habitat limitations on fishing. The greatest irony of all is that the fishermen killed the Monk seals with the justification that they are not native. The government is trying to convince the people that the seals are native. Apparently, if they were not native then it would be okay to kill them.
So here is an island, billed as a Paradise to nature hungry tourists, but actively involved in eliminating wild foods making the local culture hungry. In fact, the County of Hawaii is currently declaring a food shortage emergency and is proposing granting hundreds of thousands of dollars to a local food bank to provide our hungry poor with canned foods.
If you are hungry, and I give you a fish, you will eat one meal. If I teach you to fish you will eat many meals. But if the fish is nonnative, then it is not food but invasive.
What is the local culture to do? It is now effectively on the invasive species list. Hawaii's solution is to send the people off the island. And the place they usually go is Las Vegas.
There are a few newspapers that serve the various parts of the island, and all are owned by Stephens Media. Even the one weekly paper is owned by them. Stephens Media is headquartered in Las Vegas. And the local telephone book has a thick section promoting Las Vegas. Radio stations give away free trips to Las Vegas. One way fares are cheap.
Ethnic cleansing is not necessarily genocide. It is also forced migration. If you can't afford to eat and you can't find food to hunt and gather, then you need to move. Viva Las Vegas!
Forced migration is a common outcome of war. The loss of wild food supplies will force migrations of hunter and gathering cultures.
Should food be considered invasive? To anyone who values human life, the answer is obvious. Why, then, are the environmentalists ignoring this problem? Where are the liberals to challenge this war on the environment?
Actually, to most environmentalists, humans are a scourge on nature. We are a cancer, consuming resources and destroying ecosystems as we move around the planet.
Indeed, environmentalism is highly misanthropic. Even the concept of invasive species is defined as a species introduced by humans. The more educated and liberal you are, the more likely you would see people as the cause of species decline and environmental destruction. The invasion biology goal of eliminating human introduced species from native ecosystems appeals to misanthropic environmentalists who would like nothing more than to see humans become extinct.
This is why there has been little resistance to the war on the environment. Those who normally resist war are invested in removing the human footprint from nature. It is a desire to return to some sort of Eden, where man and woman were like the other animals.
So even the pacifists are rooting against humans. And they seem willing to accept the methods of attack, or at least to look the other way, in the hope that mankind will be erased from nature.
In essence, the is a human/nature dichotomy that keeps environmentalists from regarding humans as part of nature. If you read a book on environmental management, you will never find a description of the biological function of humans in the environment. It will explain how fungi and mosses and bacteria and insects, and all other creatures and plants serve some purpose within the whole of the environment. But there is no sense of where humans belong. We may as well be aliens from another planet. We humans just don't seem to “belong”.
This is not a surprising conclusion coming from a culture of people living in artificial urban settings, eating genetically modified and processed foods. The culture has lost its connection with nature. We project our own alienation from nature into a fear of aliens invading nature.
Across the country there are outrageous attacks on beneficial species for the sole reason that they don't “belong”. This is coming from people who have no idea of where they as a species “belong”.
Is there a way out of this war on nature? Our culture is not about to limit transportation around the globe, so the problem will continue. And people will do what they need to to survive, even if that includes illegal acts to protect their food supply. Are we doomed to endless environmental war, polluting our forests, wild places, and watersheds with poisons and infesting them with pestilence?
Perhaps we need to change the paradigm and metaphor from war to something else. After all, how we define a problem determines the solutions we will seek. Maybe there is a better way to conceptualize environmental issues.
Instead of metaphorizing environmentalism in terms of war, perhaps a better paradigm is to see environmentalism in terms of healthcare.
Changing to a health metaphor would change the goal of environmental management from nativism and restoration to an emphasis on the health of the environment. It would also imply that the environment is an organism that can be healthy or ill. A healthy ecosystem must be able to fulfill all the functions necessary for all living systems. It sustains itself, reproduces, and evolves. It can be borne out of rubble, and it can die and turn to dust.
To start exploring this model, it is easiest to start with the most intimate environment with which we live – our bodies. What would an invasive species be in terms of our bodies?
Actually, we already have a model for that. It's called the germ theory. According to this theory, our personal micro-flora of bacteria, yeast, and so forth co-exist as an ecosystem. Each area of your body has an integrated and functioning ecosystem.
Is there a “native” personal ecosystem? We are born into a bacterial world. The first ones to colonize your body might be called the “native” bacteria. But that's really a matter of chance. The important point would be whether or not these are beneficial bacteria.
In essence, the germ theory is the same as the invasion biology theory. According to the germ theory, our ecosystems are under constant attack by invading microorganisms. These invasive species, which we call pathogens, can sometimes get a foothold and begin taking over your body. Given this model, we would sterilize our hands frequently and use antibiotics to prevent and treat infections.
Antibiotics are the same as herbicides and pesticides. In fact, the word antibiotic means anti-life. All are poisons of living things.
The same military-industrial complex that controls environmental health also controls human health. It's the chemical industry. The germ theory dominates medicine as the invasion biology theory dominates environmentalism.
So we are back where we started. Back to war and the methods of war for the healthcare of ourselves and our world.
On the other hand, there is alternative medicine which emphasizes encouraging health over treating disease.
According to this model, a healthy body can withstand germs, which are only a problem when the body is weakened. In fact, exposure to germs makes the immune system even stronger. So to fight and prevent disease, strengthen the body.
Applied to the environment, we would not worry about introduced species potentially becoming invasive, but would instead make sure the environment is healthy so there is no place for harmful species to move in. In reality this works, especially in the garden. Gardeners know that a healthy garden is a living system that can keep out pests. This alternative approach would also decry the use of antibiotics. It's like spraying herbicide on everything in the garden. What usually follows are worse weeds than before, requiring even stronger poisons. Each application further damages the ecosystem, until someone decides it's time to bulldoze and start all over.
Conversely, this alternative approach would encourage the introduction of beneficial species to enhance and assist healthy functioning of the body. Probiotics in healthcare include bacteria, such as L. acidophilus in yogurt which people consume to augment their bacterial flora in their gut to aid in digestion. In environmental healthcare, it might include mangrove trees to clear the water, or a flowering ornamental plant that feeds honeybees when other flowers are not in bloom, or frogs to eat insect pests, or fruit trees that provide food for wildlife, or sheep to eat vines and weeds and provide meat for predators, hunters and their families.
We would be looking for ways to improve and protect environmental function. We would allow change to occur, as it will do so without our approval anyway. In fact, climate change means that preservation and restoration of native ecosystems of the past may not be fit for survival into the future.
A healthy environment needs to adapt and adopt if it is to survive.
A healthy environment, like a healthy body, is usable. Life is meant to be lived, and the environment is meant to be used.
This approach would also hold that humans are part of the environment. That's necessary for a holistic understanding, since we humans certainly have an impact and cannot be ignored. However, we can't be managed quite like other animals. The problem is that we need to manage ourselves.
There would also be less emphasis on native ecosystem restoration, except in the context of a living museum of sorts. Restorations are really attempts to reverse time. Those fearing the future and longing for a nostalgic pastime paradise see restoration as their personal salvation. It will require constant upkeep and maintenance, like a pair of breast implants or a facelift. While plastic surgeons and landscape architects may sell their esthetic services, it's all facade. And surgery, like bulldozing, is invasive and can cause permanent ecosystem harm.
Of course, there will be times when you need an antibiotic to get through a nasty infection, or when you may need to use herbicide or pesticide to kill a noxious plant or animal. There are times for war. But this should be the last resort. Living systems have defense mechanisms to maintain their integrity. We need to respect that power and not be quick to declare war and unleash its deadly methods. Most of the time it is our culture that makes us sick. It is our lifestyles and its attitudes and behaviors that defy the natural requirements of healthy living that is our undoing. Living a healthy lifestyle is the best way to live. It is an emphasis on the positive, not a focus on the negative. It is probiotic, not antibiotic.
This means that we need to examine what we are doing to our bodies under the subconscious and conscious direction of the culture. Likewise, we need to examine what we are doing to our environments.
Germ phobia has created a huge industry of sterilization and cleansing products. Or I should say the huge industry created the germ phobia. Both go hand in hand, and the hands are pre-wiped with hand sanitizer. Invasive species phobia is the product of the poisonous chemical industry. Both have turned our culture into a bunch of alienated, isolated, sterilized people living in sterile, polluted worlds.
I moved to Hawaii because I study culturogenic disease and wanted to live a healthy lifestyle. To me, that meant living with nature – animals, fruit trees, fresh air, off the grid, catching rainwater, milking the goats, foraging the guavas and strawberry guavas and thimble berries and other wild foods.
The agricultural history of Hawaii created an environment with fruit trees growing like weeds. But all the wild food is now considered invasive. And once you are given that label, you have no redeeming qualities and should be destroyed.
To me, and to the thousands of residents on the Big Island who hunt and gather, we are living a threatened lifestyle. In a world where food is patented, free wild food will be destroyed. It's a sign of the times. Self-sufficiency does not pay taxes or add to the economy. Our food is to come from supermarkets and, if necessary, from food banks. Being fed free by mother nature is not consistent with a capitalist, consumerist culture.
After my presentation at the PIELC conference I was invited to attend a dinner at the Native American Lodge. An American Indian opened the meeting and told a story about the river which he and his people have used for centuries, but which is being slowly taken away from them by private interests. What struck me most was his sense of personal connection with that river. It was part of him. I've seen the same connection in hunters opposing the eradication of their food here in Hawaii. It is a connection I have come to feel for my home, where the land feeds me and my family.
These people live as part of the environment. To them, the culture seeking and destroying nonnative species is the invader. They have made peace with the natural world as it exists, and have adapted to changes in that world, as they must. Other species that have existed in an ecosystem for many years must also adapt and change, and often do. Change is not the enemy. Change is the future.
So what we need is a new paradigm with which to shape our lives and our world. We need to stop waging war, despite the pressure of the profiteers to proceed. We need to treat our bodies and world well so we don't have to treat it for disease. We need to respect the inherent wisdom of our bodies and of the environment to heal, even if we humans cannot fully understand the process.
We need to reconnect with nature and realize that we are a part of the whole process.
And we need to forgive our species for its follies. Misanthropy has no place in a healthy person and is a bad foundation on which to build an environmental policy.
The day I returned to Hawaii it just so happened that there was a huge solar flare that had escaped the sun a few days prior to my flight day, but which peaked in intensity during the exact time that I was in the atmosphere at about 38,000 feet. I had once taken a Geiger counter into a jet to see how much radiation was hitting me at that altitude. It was frightening. I imagined what I was doing to myself, flying during a solar storm bombardment of the Earth.
While I couldn't feel the radiation, I couldn't help but feel the irony. Here I was returning from a trip to preach environmental and human health, and I get ultra-radiated by the sun at 38,000 feet.
When I got home my dogs couldn't at first recognize me because of the Mainland smells. But the lambs we nursed from a bottle recognized me by sight. I sat on the grass to hug my animal family and soiled my pants on some chicken shit.
It was great to be home.