Artificial Connection to Nature

Many years ago, humans and nature coexisted in a harmony that has been missing in the present day. We did not live in the technical and sophisticated way we do now. We needed to connect to nature on a much more personal level because it was integrated in our very existence. However, it all changed with the invention of technology. Our scientists developed technology that has revolutionized the way human beings interact with the nature and with each other. For good or for bad, technology is present in virtually every activity that we do; from walking to taking a shower, there is always a technological invention present in front of our eyes. Technology is advancing everyday in such a fast speed that no human being could have imagined. Although such advancements are thought to improve human quality of life, it is without a doubt true that some elements of human interaction with nature have been severely affected. No longer are men or women exposed to nature as their ancestors were. As a result, we start to wonder the extent of which this outrageous advance in technology has entailed a loss of connection with nature. Technology is developed with the objective of facilitating life to human beings. The invention of Internet, robots, cars and phones has been technologies developed to help human have a better and easier life, making them happier and more productive. As Schumacher states in his book “Small is Beautiful,” the primary task of technology is to lighten the burden of work man has to carry in order to stay alive and develop his potential” (Schumacher 157). An example of how technology has made human life easier is the invention of emails. No longer does a person have to wait a week or so to get important mail. It can be sent at any time and delivered within seconds in any part of the world. Although this immediate communication is very effective for business, it has also affected the way human being interact with each other, making communication less personal, faster, and sometimes less effective; these technological advances have changed the very natural characteristics of communications. In other words, we have faster communication, but we are starting to forget how to interact with others in the real world.
Although technology has indeed made human life easier in some areas, it has also complicated human life since it “tends to develop by its own laws and principles, and these are very different from those of human nature or living nature in general” (Schumacher 155). In other words, technology’s development is sometimes incompatible with the laws of nature. Technology does not have a self-limiting point, which is something that nature has. One of the most known examples, a major threat to human existence nowadays, are nuclear weapons. These weapons are the most dangerous weapons on earth. One of these weapons is able to destroy a complete town or city, potentially killing millions of civilians, and jeopardizing the natural environment and lives of future generations through its long-term catastrophic effects. The very existence of these weapons is a risk that is already present just by having them. Although nuclear weapons have only been used twice in warfare—in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945—about 22,000 reportedly remain in our world today and there have been over 2,000 nuclear tests conducted to date (UNODA). Human beings have developed a technology that is capable of destroying the earth within seconds, just by the push of a button. It is hard to believe that something that was created to “improve human life” can also be its major threat. In this case, nuclear technology has become more powerful than nature itself, putting in danger its existence.
Technology has helped industries produce objects at speeds never seen before. In order to satisfy the endless wants of human beings who are part of a consumer society, industries have develop technologies to replace human work, making manufacturing processes faster than ever, and therefore, increasing the number of products. This technique, however, is of great benefit only for those who own industries. Workers are severely affected since their work is not valued. As Schumacher believes, “modern technology has deprived man of the kind of work that he enjoys most, creative, useful work with hands and brains, and given him plenty of work of a fragmented kind, most of which he does not enjoy at all( Schumacher 74).” People do jobs that they do not want to do because the work place has been modified in such a way that working has become an unpleasant task. After all, it is not enjoyable to spend eight hours or more in front of a computer, or to look after a machine. In addition, those jobs that involve any kind of physical work are looked down. As a result, farming, a job which promotes direct contact with nature, is no longer appreciated.

It is not surprising to think, as a result of this switch from jobs involving nature to jobs involving computers, that human beings pay more attention to technology than to nature. After all, they spend more time with technological devices than with nature. This is what has lead to what, in my opinion, is a big problem in our society: we are more concerned about how to fix or enhance a device than how to fix environmental problems. Nowadays, people prefer to find ways of getting extra money to buy air conditioners than to find ways of diminishing our impact in the environment and therefore, not contributing to global warming, which is the term used to describe a gradual increase in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere and its oceans, a change that is believed to be permanently changing the Earth’s climate. While many people in the world view the effects of global warming to be more substantial and more rapidly occurring than others do. For example, people in the tropical countries or in the Middle East, the scientific consensus on climatic changes related to global warming is that the average temperature of the Earth has risen between 0.4 and 0.8 °C over the past 100 years (LiveScience). The increased volumes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released by the burning of fossil fuels, land clearing, industrial agriculture, and other human activities related with the use of technology, are believed to be the primary sources of the global warming that has occurred over the past 50 years. Due to this lack of exposure to nature, human beings have come up with the idea that nature is not as important as technological advances are, so people get more excited when a new version of iPhone is released than when some area becomes a protected national park.

As discussed before, advancements of technology in manufacturing industries are related to a larger number of goods produced in a shorter time. That is exactly what most companies are trying to get: more products in a shorter time in order to be able to supply the demand of products. As economy theory dictates, “the plans/desires of consumers are embedded in the concept of demand and the plans/desires of producers in the concept of supply” (“Supply and Demand”). If that company is not able to have enough products, they will lose a considerable amount of customers because there is always another company that will have similar products available. For example, people get really mad when an iPhone is released and Apple does not have enough units available. As a result, they might get an Android device instead of the iPhone just because Apple Inc. was not able to produce as many devices as its costumers demanded. This is a clear example of the importance of fulfilling demand and customer satisfaction for giant companies.
Something that these companies do not take into account is, however, that this overproduction of items leads to several environmental issues. Companies are not concerned about the environment; their objective is not to care about the environment but their profit. As a result, they will produce as many items as they can sell without being concerned about the environmental implications of such actions. One of the most dangerous effects of this economic strategy is the overuse of non-renewable resources such as water, oil and other raw materials necessary for the development and production of technological devices, but also vital for human life. The amount of natural resources extracted for the production of goods and services is steadily increasing at around 60 billion tons each year, humans extract and use about 50% more than only 30 years ago (Friends of the Earth Europe 9). However, it is fundamentally important to understand that none of these materials are going to recover from the exploitation. As a result, we are going to run out of such materials at some point.

As can be inferred from Fig 1, the number of natural resources in the globe has increased dramatically, affecting the earth equilibrium in an unprecedented way. In the same way minerals, metals, and fossil fuels are extracted; the over-exploitation also applies for some live species such as fish. “Up to 32 percent of the world's fish stocks are over-exploited, depleted or recovering, they [researchers] warned. Up to half of the world's mangrove forests and a fifth of coral reefs that are fish spawning grounds have been destroyed” as a result of the exportation that takes place in our oceans in order to over supply food (Zelman). Although big food enterprises are the direct responsible of such destruction in the sea, consumers preferences and attitudes are also part of this problem. As Jacqueline Alder, head of UNEP's marine, coastal and freshwater office, said “People don't want to eat the little anchovies anymore when they can eat a nice snapper or grouper – much nicer fish, shows much more of your wealth” (Zelman). If people did not have this preferences, and did not fish was not demanded in such overwhelming quantities, fishing companies would not be destroying such species.
The widely influential and characteristically modern belief of both the desirability and the possibility of indefinite increase in material production and consumption has been and continues to be a powerful driver of human appropriation of the environment, meaning that human beings believe to own nature instead of being part of it. There is no doubt that technology has made human life easier and more productive. However, Has technology really improved human’s lifestyle? Is it really worth having an easier life knowing that your future generations will have to suffer the consequences of your easy life? If we want to change share our quality of life with our children, we need to change our economic system dramatically. Capitalism and all its implications are not the way to go if we want to inherit a healthy planet to our kids. However, in order to achieve this change, we need to start looking for ways to connect with nature as our ancestors did. We are part of nature; if we fight against nature, we are fighting against ourselves.
Works Cited
"Supply and Demand.", n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.
Friends of the Earth Europe. "Overconsumption - Our Use of the World's Natural Resources." Foeeurope, 1 Sept. 2009. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.
LiveScience. "Global Warming: News, Facts, Causes & Effects." N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.
Schumacher, E. F., and Bill McKibben. Small Is Beautiful: Economics as If People Mattered. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2010. Print.
UNODA. "Nuclear Weapons Home." UN News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.
Zelman, Joanna. "World Fish Stock Being Destroyed By Rising Wealth And Subsidies, UNEP Warns." The Huffington Post., 24 Jan. 2012. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.

Organics No Better Than Chemical/GMO/Sewage Sludge-Soaked “Food”?

Organic or Natural?

Whenever I peruse the grocery store for food, I am often dumbfounded by the robust use of vague terminology by the food industry. Often conflicted to buy natural or organic food, I have alas done my research to see 1) what is the difference and 2) why should I care.

The Difference

Natural foods is assumed to imply foods that are minimally processed and do not contain manufactured ingredients.
Organic food is certified to not involve modern synthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Organic foods are also not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.

Artificial Flavors ?

What are they?
Flavorings are chemical formulations that mimic the flavors and smells of foods
What are some examples?
fruit flavored drinks, teas and yogurts
What are the health risks?

Controversial - A number of studies have shown a relationship between artificial coloring and hyperactivity. On the other hand, some studies do not show any effect of coloring on children's behavior. (National Institute of Health)

Fun Fact
Castoreum (which is extracted from the anal glands of a beaver) is used to make artificial raspberry flavoring. Yummy!

Call me biased (and I am)...but it would seem to be common sense that regular food, real food -- i.e. food not pruned in a lab, or coated with chemicals, or doused in sewage sludge -- as is so-called "conventional" food -- would be cleaner, stronger, healthier. After all, take the food out of conventional food and all you're left with is a pile of chemicals, toxins, pesticides (poisons), sewage. Want some chemicals for breakfast, Billy? But no. A "ground-breaking" UK study just found that...surprise!...chemical-grown GMO-lovin' food shipped 1500 miles to your plate is just as good as local, organic, as-God-intended-it chow.

Here's Whole Foods Market's response, via Facebook.
We are optimistic that improved support of organic nutrition research -- including the increase of organic research funding in the 2008 Farm Bill, and the work of organizations like The Organic Center -- will show that nutritional advantages are another reason that organic agriculture is better than conventional. Our shoppers choose organic food for many reasons -- to avoid synthetic pesticide residue, because it is often fresher and better tasting, and because organic farmers grow in earth-friendly ways that support the environment. Nutritional quality is one of many potential variables related to the advantages of organic food, but for us, there are already plenty of well-documented reasons to choose organic.The authors of this study examine the abstracts of 50 years of nutritional studies, looking for differences in nutrition between organic and non-organic foods, and conclude that there aren't any major differences. They don't rule out the possibility that there could be nutritional advantages, but acknowledge that none has been demonstrated so far. This isn't a surprising finding, since until very recently, there has been very little governmental or non-profit support of academic nutrition research focused directly on organic agriculture. In general, most nutrition research has not differentiated between organic and conventional crops.

Organic vs Conventional

I'm in London and today's tabloid Daily Express has a headline in type two inches high: "ORGANIC FOOD NO HEALTHIER." The article begins, "Eating organic food in the belief that it is good for your health is a waste of money, new research shows." Really? This surprising statement is based on the conclusions of a lengthy report (pdf) just released from the British Food Standards Agency,Comparison of composition (nutrients and other substances) of organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs: a systematic review of the available literature. This report, done by excellent researchers at the prestigious London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, looked at the results of 162 studies comparing organic to conventionally grown foods for their content of nutrients and other substances. Although it found higher amounts of some nutrients in organic crops, it found higher amounts of others in conventional crops, and no difference in others. On this basis, the report concludes:

There is no good evidence that increased dietary intake, of the nutrients identified in this review to be present in larger amounts in organically than in conventionally produced crops and livestock products, would be of benefit to individuals consuming a normal varied diet, and it is therefore unlikely that these differences in nutrient content are relevant to consumer health.

In a statement accompanying release of the report, the Food Standards Agency says:

The Agency supports consumer choice and is neither pro nor anti organic food. We recognise that there are many reasons why people choose to eat organic, such as animal welfare or environmental concerns. The Agency will continue to give consumers accurate information about their food based on the best available scientific evidence.

Fine, but do animal welfare and environmental concerns not matter? The authors of the report summarize their findings in a paper in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The paper concludes:

On the basis of a systematic review of studies of satisfactory quality, there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs. The small differences in nutrient content detected are biologically plausible and mostly relate to differences in production methods.

Oh? I thought that's what organic foods were about -- production methods: no antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, irradiation, genetic modification, or sewage sludge. I thought better production methods were the precise point of organic foods.

Read more here, at The Daily Green. Here's a new one just in, via my friend Steve Hoffman, an organic/natural products expert, at The Organic Center:

Letter from the Director

The Organic Center Challenges New Study Results; Defends the Nutritional Superiority of Organic Foods An advance copy of a study appeared yesterday that will be published in the September edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The published paper, "Nutritional Quality of Organic Foods: A Systematic Review," was written by a team led by Alan Dangour at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The study, commissioned by the U.K. Food Standards Agency (FSA), claims that there are no differences in nutritional quality between conventional and organic foods. The Organic Center's chief scientist, Dr. Chuck Benbrook, has written a strong response questioning the methodology and challenging the findings of this study, and we wanted to let you know where you can access it, as you may be responding to media and other inquiries in this regard. Click here to see Dr. Benbrook's full response to this controversial study. According to Dr. Benbrook, the U.K. research team reported finding statistically significant differences between organically and conventionally grown crops in only three of thirteen categories of nutrients. Significant differences cited by the team included nitrogen, which was higher in conventional crops, and phosphorus and titratable acids, both of which were higher in the organic crops. As most scientists regard elevated levels of nitrogen in food as a potential cancer-causing agent, this finding of higher nitrogen in conventional food favors organic crops, as do the other two differences. Despite the fact that these three categories of nutrients favored organic foods, and none favored conventionally grown foods, the London-based team concluded that there are no nutritional differences between organically and conventionally grown crops. However, a team of scientists convened by The Organic Center (TOC) carried out a similar, but more rigorous, review of the same literature. The TOC team analyzed published research just on plant-based foods. Results differ significantly from the more narrow FSA review and are reported in the study "New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods," which is freely accessible on the TOC website ( The TOC findings are similar for some of the nutrients analyzed by the FSA team, but differ significantly for two critical classes of nutrients of great importance in promoting human health -- total polyphenols, and total antioxidant content. The FSA team did not include total antioxidant capacity among the nutrients studied, and it found no differences in the phenolic content in 80 comparisons across 13 studies. For more information, visit