Many of us, either in our high school or early college careers, have had some basic chemistry. One of the most common experiments I remember doing is called a titration.
In a titration, for example, you slowly add from a burette – drop by drop – an acid to a base solution (or vice versa). When the point of neutralization is reached, the color of the solution changes, depending on the indicator used. If you use litmus as your indicator, then the color of the solution would change from blue to red. This color change happens with the addition of only one drop.
What might a simple chemistry experiment show about what is happening to our environment?
For many centuries, humans have been adding substances to our planet’s air and water. Currently we’re adding massive amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which is causing overall temperatures to rise. There have been large chemical spills in rivers around the world that have contaminated drinking water supplies and killed wildlife. A recent leak in a pipeline in Alabama spilled over a quarter million gallons of gasoline in an environmentally sensitive area.
From the 2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill in Colorado’s Animus River, to the ship breaking-beaches of Pakistan and Bangladesh, to the pumping of millions and millions of gallons of contaminated fracking and other fluids into the ground here in the United States, we are constantly adding toxic materials to our environment. Look at all the poisons you can buy to spread around homes and yards. Applying chemicals according to the label does not make them safe. More folks are using spray systems in their yards to combat mosquitoes, but you will also be killing beneficial insects, including bees.
We face some serious problems, yet many of our elected leaders are sitting on their hands. I see two main reasons.
There are people who believe that if a chemical doesn’t kill you immediately, then it must be safe. What they do not understand is that exposure over long periods of time may very well end up killing you sooner than you think. Cancer now kills more people than heart disease. We all have different levels of genetic resistance to toxic substances. If you are lucky enough to have the genetic resistance of a wharf rat, then you may live to a ripe old age. Do you know how genetically resistant you might be? Do you want to take that chance?
The other reason is religious in nature. There are those folks who believe that the environmental problems we face are God’s punishment for behaving in ways of which he disapproves. So, these people think they get a free pass by doing nothing. I believe and have faith that these problems are not God’s doing. God gave us intelligence and free will, and any environmental problems we face have been created by our own hands. If you feel strongly about respect for life, it has to be all of life, not just human life.
What we humans are doing is conducting a titration experiment on a massive, worldwide scale. When will we add that final, one drop too many? Will the oceans change color due to a change in chemistry? Will the warming of the planet reach a point of no return causing the remaining ice to melt and flood cities around the world? Will the air become unbreathable?
Drop … drop … drop …
Look at your children and grandchildren. Do you really want to experiment with their health, their safety – their future?
Robert Mulder is past chairman of the Raleigh Planning Commission.