Friday, February 15, 2013

Western Standards

I took one of our department chairman’s classes, the “History of Ecology.” We explored a lot of early ecology that eventually became its own science today. Our term paper assignment was to research our own topics exploring the history of ecology. So, I decided to write a paper on China and how early ecology developed into ecology today. I was surprised how much English and Chinese literature we had in the libraries and how much I did not know. I explored how ancient Chinese a few thousand years ago actually already used ecology even though our national ecological society in China following western standards was formed in the late 1970’s. I stated a number of examples.
     Famous food chain and pyramid theories were summarized by a famous ecologist named Lindemann in the early 1900’s. He studied organisms in a small pond in Minnesota for a few years while collecting lots of data. He tried to make sense of his massive data and was very frustrated. He had a Chinese roommate who had a little book of ancient Chinese proverbs. One day he was bored. He happened to pick it up and read. A “light bulb” went off in his head, “yes, my data was just like that, like, the ‘big fish eat little fish; little fish eat shrimp; and little shrimp eat mud.’” There was a food chain in the pond. Later he found that the food chains overlapped forming a food web. My Chinese ecology book said that Lindemann acknowledged his Chinese roommate in his original thesis but I did not have anyway to check it, so I could not put this in my paper. Also an ancient Chinese proverbs book stated, “A bird was chasing a cricket, but the bird did not know someone else was behind it.” “There was only one tiger that could dominate a mountain” implying the food pyramid. You could have a mountain full of grass, sheep, and other herbivores, but the tiger was at the top as the carnivore. Also, I explained how Chinese farmers used the natural ecosystem to help their farming. For example, raising fish in the rice paddy, fermenting farm waste to produce natural gas for cooking, then reusing the waste as fertilizer in the field to help new crops, adding to the diversity of species to decrease pests and diseases, and mixing plantings to benefit each other.
     I asked my major professor Dan to read my paper first to check my English. He was shocked to find out how much was new to him in my paper. He praised my paper as a very interesting paper and was sure that I would get an “A.” But, different people can have different opinions. Our chairman almost failed me saying what I wrote had nothing to do with ecology in China. I should have instead written about what happened after the 1970’s when the Chinese Ecological Society was founded. My emphasis had been on the time before ecology as a science in China. I defended that we talk about history, not the present just like he had talked about how the science of ecology was formed in Europe and America, not just after the European and American Ecological Societies formed. He did not care; he could talk about prehistory of ecology anywhere. I had to write about China his way. He asked me to rewrite my paper and to delete most of it which made me feel very uneasy. I revised it as much as I could. He gave me a “C+.” That was the lowest grade that I had ever received during my entire studies.
     I strongly disagreed with my chairman’s point-of-view of the “history of ecology in China” which was not consistent with its definition. The definition of ecology is the study of the relationships between organisms and their environment and surroundings. Although the Chinese did not have the words “ecology” or the “Ecological Society of China” until the early 1980’s, it didn’t mean that the Chinese over the last 5000 years did not study or apply their ecological knowledge. They knew of the relationships between living things and their environment—how to live more harmoniously with the maximum diversity of living organisms. We now call this an “ecosystem.” Although, it has been a challenge to balance our ecosystems as long as our existing, Nature tried its best to balance itself and we humans tried to learn our lessons. There are thousands of examples in the ancient Chinese literature. Sometimes I think the ancient people knew more about ecology than modern people. They knew how to keep our natural world in balance and treated the ecosystem as a whole because they respected nature.
     Modern people think “science” gave us a “license to kill” since we do not like the world as it is. We lost the basic value of life. We want more and our desires are endless. When the pursuit started for the maximum of everything we wanted, we put ourselves at the center of the universe. We eliminated all those other life forms, germs, fungi, and bugs that make us uncomfortable or sick. The only thing is that we speed up their adaptations and mutations, and they come back hundreds and thousands generations later to fight our same generation. The longer we live, the less we adapt to change.
     Since the Industrial Revolution and capitalism took over the world, greed and mass production became a way of life. We forgot that we are part of nature, not above nature. We change how the crops grow and how the farm animals are raised for maximum profit, forgetting we are what we eat. We eat fat and weak chicken fast grown in just a few months, and we become fat and weak. Life needs care, love, and freedom. Almost everything we eat has a life of its own; animals usually kill only when they are hungry and they have to work hard to get it.
     Food is the most important factor for all survival after fresh air and water. Throughout Chinese history, 80% of the people were small family farmers and farming was the most important occupation. China had a very strong tradition to put agriculture first. Now, China is following Europe and America with only about 3% of the population as farmers.
Farming has been industrialized like a “biological assembly line,”  without ethics or morals. Commercial fertilizers and pesticides are problematic.  Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) threaten the integrity of the natural ecosystem.  Americans once believed that we had the best, safest, most secure food supply in the world. Industry’s preoccupation with making foods that “taste good” with fats and sugar, and that “look good” by being artificially shaped, colored, or ripened, fails to meet good nutrition and health. Widespread use of agrichemicals, hormones, antibiotics, and artificial food additives are problems for food safety. We bred crops in which no pest was interested or lethal to pests as if we are different than pests. You cheat the food and the food cheats you in return. More and more people became weak and fat; more and more people became allergic to food.
     For a shiny diamond or a lump of gold, we didn’t mind turning a huge mountain upside down. For our endless need of water, we used up most fresh clean water on the earth. For our endless desire for new things and comfort, we create new things everyday. We created so many things that our bodies had a hard time to recognize and adapt. We trashed so much that we ran out of dumping ground.
     We change our surroundings so much that our bodies and minds can not keep up. We used to have more visible dirt but that was part of the natural process, such as soil from rocks, plants, and animal origins. Our body was made to process most of it. Now we create so much human-made material from industrial to household goods and altered the world we live in. Our body genes simply go crazy try to adapt, which may be the reason we have more cancer and other physiological imbalances. Our poor body simply tries to adapt to every change in the world.
     People build large homes with constant temperature and humidity regulation. We drive in air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned shopping malls and so on. Wherever we go or stay, we spray, clean and clean, to make sure there are no germs, bugs, and so on. We do not realize that we are actually taking ourselves out of the natural world originally created for us. We create a whole New World just for our own needs and for what we think we need. We worked very hard to create a differing, distant route from the rest of the living things. We have already changed much of the gene pool leading us into the deep unknown and there seems to be no return. I just hope that we are prudent and wise in our creations even though so far it seems that everything we have created cannot pass the test of time; it keeps going astray or coming back to haunt us later.
     Other life forms are destroyed to satisfy our comfort. By building large houses, shopping malls, and indoor stadiums, etc., natural ecosystems have vanished and have been replaced by big concrete structures nearly entirely sealing the outside away by power, light, temperature, humidity, artificial fibers, and chemicals. We gradually set up our own standard of acceptance and rejection. We can’t even stand our own body odors, although it is crucial for animals. We have to be covered with all kinds of deodorizers and perfume. That is maybe one reason why humans have become so confused about their sex. Even babies have a whole line of products to eliminate their odors. In a word, we are not happy with who we are and we want to change ourselves from head to toe. We do not care about the cost, as long as we get whatever we want. Humans wanted to be “god.”
     We should recall our great-great grandparents sweating more for a lot of things. They were more in control of their own bodies and minds. They got paid for their work, their sweat. Now, it costs us to work out and sweat whether you go to a health club or buy a treadmill or drive somewhere for a walk or run. We have machinery for all kinds of labor. We have computers to do all kinds of thinking for us especially after introducing “artificial intelligence.” Computers could do the job faster and better for us, jobs that would be impossible for us to do. We only needed to sit on the top, figuring out how to control them. So, we have a group of people working day and night to improve this machine to replace themselves. The groups of people already replaced by a machine sit around depressed, or desperately trying to find some way to feel worth living. It has become a vicious cycle that no one could control.
     To solve the problems that we created, there are more antidepressant drugs. A whole institution of scientists either re-educate children or re-educate the losers. Every now and then, some madness came out of nowhere and the madmen basically wanted to destroy the whole world. Revenge has become a classic term because now we have random terrorist acts around and people die for random reasons.
     The most dangerous things are global pursuits of the same thing. Freedom is not free; someone has to pay. We are part of nature, not above it and we are connected with everything around us. Everything we do will affect others (not just another human but everything around us). Everything would still evolve forward or backward, up or down with or without us. Knowing our limits, we could coexist with nature better.
     There was one more class that I took in which I had a serious disagreement with a professor, “Concepts of forest decline.” He was a pathologist. I disagreed with his putting too much emphasis on pathology as if the germ was the root of everything. It seemed that every forest decline could be rooted to disease. He was different from the chairman though and invited me to talk about my opinions with him in his office. We had long discussions and even argued. I put more emphasis on the forest development ‘time factor.’ For example, if there was an old growth forest, the trees were old; of course, it looked like it was declining. Diseases and pests took advantage of the situation and sped up the decline. But this process helped restore the nutrients and energy for the next generations of forests. I told him about observations that I had made when I researched forests in China. We were worried about the bamboo dying because it was flowering in region after region, and the Giant Panda died from lack of food. The whole world was watching. We even tried artificial regeneration by digging out those dead bamboo roots and planting new ones. It was not successful to stop massive death. After about a ten-year break, the new generation of bamboo was shooting up again. Even without our interference, the forest will grow in its own time. With our positive or negative help, it only slowed down or sped up the process. The forest population develops like a spiral spring. It is three-dimensional. From the top, it looks like it is running a circle. Only from the side you could see it was up or down or stayed still. He praised me for our very interesting discussion and gave me an “A” on my term paper after our discussion and my revisions. I liked him because our discussions were what graduate studies were all about.