Sunday, December 6, 2009
Bhopal Went Boom With Chemical Fumes 25 Years Ago: The Dharma of Poison
On December 3, 1984, over 4,000 people died horrible and gruesome deaths as 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas spewed into the air in Bhopal from the Union Carbide plant. Around 11,000-25,000 more would die from the residual effects of this toxin, and according to government figures, more than 500,000 others have been aversely affected by this incident, with horrible birth defects and chronic illnesses causing suffering to this day.
With this dreadful anniversary eclipsed in the environmental discourse by the ongoing wranglings regarding global warming, I have to wonder whether a clear and concise vision of global environmental priorities has been considered by policymakers. And this certainly again betrays or reveals my opinion regarding the greenhouse issue: though glad that the global warming issue is raising environmental consciousness generally, and appreciate that replacing coal-fired power plants (which spew mercury and lead and acid-rain causing chemicals as well as CO2) with wind and solar and other less impactive modes of generating electricity generally is a positive result of the discourse about global warming, I am not very concerned about the phenomenon itself. Not that I believe excessive human contribution to the accumulation of greenhouse gasses is cool, just less concerned about CO2--which life has mechanisms to deal with and is not directly toxic--than I am about mountaintop removal and other environmentally destructive modes of mineral extraction, poisons spewed into the air by the irresponsible use of chemical processes, and manmade chemical pollution generally.
As I noted in a previous post, there are historical indications (maps, narratives, etc.) that indicate the earth has been warmer in recent times (i.e., the past thousand years or two, that the ice shelves in Antartica have been ice-free in recent history ("The Truth of Global Warming: Evidences of A Warmer Side to Human History--But Coal is Still Bad to Burn"). More immediately harmful chemical and radioactive pollution, however, poison people and animals and plants, water and earth and air as soon as they are released into the environment.
As an example of the sort of irresponsibility that has been maintained by industry, there are known cancer-causing ingredients in baby shampoo and womens cosmetics, an absurd crime my younger sister Lisa has been fighting as the Breast Cancer Fund's Campaign Coordinator for the Campaign For Safe Cosmetics (http://www.safecosmetics.org/). Indeed, if we are poisoning our children from birth-on, of what consequence is a tad more CO2?!?!
(Johnson's Baby Shampoo is one of many such products shown to contain cancer-causing ingredients)
Yet here is where I must note that poisons are sometimes chosen means of purification, yet with anciently proscribed methods and modes, trial and error and meditation and contemplation brought to bear. Some sadhu and sadhvi (yogis and yoginis) intentionally ingest cyanide and other poisons to reach certain states of transcendence--an extreme "mind over matter" sorta practice that is designed to show the illusory nature of much of what is called common sense. These people intentionally take these poisons and with no intention of suicide. But for the millions and millions (if not billions) poisoned by those practices emblematic of the immature, ill considered and shallowly contemplated approach modern society and science have taken to handling substances which can kill and which poison life generally, a heinous crime cannot be denied.
Still, on a grander scale, the choice to embrace immediate convenience and innovation leading to self-poisoning might be understood as expressing humanity's ambivalence about life. Sadness and horror at suffering generally, leading to a sense of want, a gut feeling that is the disquiet of humanity in an age when solid foundations in family and tribe and nature and eternity are largely absent, and which said sometimes stupid homonids are oft given to believe can be remedied by consumer goods, which then often leads to a further poisoning of human quality of life as many aspects of the production of these goods further degrades our once good and pure relationship with nature, and thus further alienates folk from their roots.
If a person works even just eight hours a day, four or five days a week in factory or office, that is eight hours a day that in traditional society would have been spent in the field singing songs with kin and friends, at home cutting wood for the hearth fire, etc.
In a way, then, we have poisoned not only our bodies with unnatural chemicals, but our spirits with unnatural rhythms and social structures, poisoned by what in shortsighted perspective seem fixes to our problems--more or better stuff--but often turn out to reduce overall quality of life.
With this in mind, it seems at least one place to start in order to heal the relationships between people and our habitat and our spirits--clearly connected factors--is to stop poisoning earth and air and water and our children and ourselves, to take poisons of both chemical and spiritual nature as seriously as some would take "the sacred," and transform our relationships environmentally and societally to promote health and life and not mere placating shortsighted desires and consumer wants.
A recognition of the whole is necessary for a true integration of the individual, and an appropriate valuation of life and death, and those things which promote either, are necessary for health at both the micro- and macro- scale, health of the environment and of the individual. And basically, to ingest cyanide, lead, mercury, PCB or BPA or whatever potentially deadly or life-harming substance ought to be left to yogis and other conscious and willing subjects, and not broadly spread on and in an unwilling or unaware populace and animals and plants, earth, water and air.