Your Child’s Brain on Your Drugs

We are a nation of drug users. Almost every single one of us has taken or will take some sort of drug. Whether it is illegal, coffee, Advil, anesthesia, or antidepressants, there is a drug to cure what ails us or at least improve our mood. Because of the inelegant way that current drugs are designed (this is changing, thankfully), often drugs bring side effects along with their curative, or at least stalling, powers. I’m sure we can all think of a prescription drug commercial where the happy woman with Herpes lists off the possible side effects of her wonder drug – one of them, inevitably, being death.

However, a new study points to a possible side effect of certain antidepressants that most mothers, or women who plan on becoming mothers, should know. Essentially, women who take antidepressants that are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, up to a year before their child is conceived show a two-fold increase in autism in their children. The occurence  is most pronounced if the drug is taken during the first trimester – up to three times as much.

The  author says that the study, which included identical and fraternal twins, shows a greater environmental impact on children in the womb than genetic factors. But he stops short of saying that there is any conclusive evidence that any one chemical is the trigger. But let’s just call a spade a spade.

Most women are taught that alcohol consumption during the first trimester is a no-no, but both the third and first are critical times for brain development. And alcohol is a neurotoxin. It’s simply dangerous for a quickly growing brain. Which is why women are given a long list of nos: too many things can cause problems.

In the first trimester, the brain begins to form. So one might assume that if the mother is taking antidepressants, a brain-altering drug, that it could affect the brain development of that child much in the same way that alcohol can.

The human brain is programmed to develop in a very specific way. It is a bit of a rubix cube that neuroscientists are just starting to figure out, because for years they were stuck on neurons, not focusing on the really important brain players – the glial cells. Glial cells come in many forms, and make up the bulk of the brain. They are really responsible for most of our brain function, while neurons send the messages along. Not to say that neurons are not important, but they are only one part of a very complex system.

Anyway, one type of glial cell, the myelinating glia, is wrapped around every axon – the thin tendrils that extend from each neuron to deliver information across the brain. The myelinating glia serve as a type of insulation, so to speak. The more of it you have, the faster the electrical impulses can travel through your axons. So when you say that someone is “slow”, it could be that they just don’t have that much myelinating glia around their axons, and information does literally travel more slowly through their brain.

Basically, having more glia makes you smarter. In examining Einstein’s brain, a Berkeley neuroscientist found that although he had the same amount of neurons as regular men, he had much more glia. However, there is always too much of a good thing. Scientists (most of the info I am referring to is in The Other Brain, by R. Douglas Fields) have found that children with Autism often have a lot of myelinating glia.

I equate this to an over-insulation. Essentially, their axons are so well covered, that they process much more than other people, and get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data they see. Someone with less myelinating glia can tune out this or that, mostly because their brain can’t process all of this information at once. For a person with Autism, they take it all in, and they can’t shut it out. It’s as if your car is set on driving 100 miles an hour, no matter what. It quickly becomes overwhelming to perform the simplest of tasks.

Now, I’m going to make a hypothesis, so bear with me while I speculate. If there is a genetic predisposition to Autism in a child, and that child’s mother takes antidepressants during the first trimester, perhaps something in those SSRIs triggers the developing brain to produce more myelinating glia. I say that a genetic predisposition has to exist, because the brain is a tightly controlled citadel. So there has to be a way in for things to go wrong. Just as alcohol can destroy neurons, perhaps taking away the ability to absorb serotonin into the fetal brain lets loose some other over-compensation.

serotonin is a neurotransmitter, meaning it is one of the chemicals in the brain used to send messages. If that serotonin isn’t sent, and myelinating glia have to work extra hard to glean what the neurons are sending (one function of myelinating glia is taking and storing information from neuronal transmissions and passing it on to the rest of the brain in a different fashion), then perhaps the brain to create more glia so that the brain functions properly in this serotonin-reduced environment. However, after the child is born, and they are no longer in a serotonin deprived environment, this extra glia is not needed, and in fact, can cause serious problems. This is of course, a very very amateur hypothesis. Either way, it makes sense that a drug targeted to the adult brain would also have an effect on the fetal brain.

Yet, in some women this will not have any impact. I would hope that scientists delve into the drugs we consume that affect the brain, because it is likely that there is more than one that can have a significant impact on fetal brain development. Like alcohol, which can be consumed in moderation with no ill effects, antidepressants are likely safe for most fetuses. But as our drug culture expands, and the incidence of Autism increases, its impossible not to wonder if in trying to cure one epidemic,  we are not simply creating another.

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You’re Not Going to Believe Me

I’m not just saying that to be clever, it’s been scientifically proven.

Essentially, this article came out discussing how humans have a tendency to keep believing what they believe, regardless of facts. And rationalize any “competing information” away.

For instance, take the whole birther movement and the anti-vaccine theorists. Logically, it would make sense that our government has already seen a copy of President Obama’s birth certificate, otherwise he would not be allowed to be president, let alone run for president. You know, something about being born a U.S. Citizen that our constitution mentions. Furthermore, the ONE scientist who supported and pretty much made up the vaccine-autism link has lost his license and has been disgraced for faking his research. Still, on both issues, people continue believe that the president was not born in Hawaii and that vaccines cause autism.

You could call it insanity, but science has come to our defense. You see, we see life through a filter. The filter of our own agenda, way of being, belief system, whatever you would like to call it. As a former journalist, I can tell you that I have seen the filter in action. I would sit in meetings, recording the contents, and over and over again people would “mis-hear” simple sentences. Those “mis-heard” words, however, fit perfectly into the agenda or issue they were trying to push. Because there were typically 30 or more individuals in a room, anyone who asserted their faulty information as true would be shut down. They would be left feeling as if there was some sort of “conspiracy” against them. After all, they’d heard what they heard, right?

Meanwhile, I would be taking notes. The next day, I would sit at my computer, going over the recording to make sure I had my quotes verbatim. I would be surprised how often I was a few words off in my notes. On top of that, even if I heard a quote once, I would have to play it several times to get the word-for-word accuracy down.

The simple fact is, we don’t hear everything that is said. Sure, the sound travels into our ear. But then it gets put through our filter – the brain. Since we all have different brains, and different beliefs, it would stand to reason that information would process differently in each one of us. If the president said, “I like tomatoes,” some people would hear that he’s promoting his irrational eating philosophy on the families in this country, questioning parental judgement, and likes the color red, just like a Commie. Other folks might interpret his statement to mean that he is a healthy eater, supports vegetarianism, and the local food movement.

It’s why parenting is so dang hard – everyone has an opinion about what it means to be a “good parent”, but it’s based on their specific belief system. Which means that they will probably think you are destroying your child’s life. And you will get angry about it, because, dammit, you’re doing the best you can, and they should butt out. It’s probably not terribly comforting to know that according to science, you’re both wrong to some degree.

Compound all of that with buckets and buckets of information we process every day, and it’s no surprise that eventually, we stop fully listening. It’s called cherry picking. We hear what we are waiting to hear, the things that reinforce our beliefs and make us feel like we have made the right choice about a, b, or c.

This is why, when I come on here and write about toxic fertility-hampering products in skin care, hormones in food, and the evils of corn and soy, you just shrug me off. For one, this organic stuff is expensive. Two, it would require thinking and planning and changing habits, and three, these companies wouldn’t do anything to hurt the consumer, right? It’s much easier to just keep on believing what we want to believe.

We know smoking causes lung cancer, but people don’t care. We know alcohol is a neurotoxin and can feed certain cancers, but people don’t care. We know that our personal care products are full of untested and potentially harmful substances, but we keep rubbing them on our kids, and oh look, isn’t my hair so shiny? It’s not fair to say that we don’t really care. We do care. But only about the things we care about, if that makes sense. So if out-gassing, drug resistant bacteria, and gross, nasty chemicals in our water don’t bother you, then that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean those things are not affecting your life, your health and your family.

I get the imagine of an ostrich with its head in the sand (which they don’t actually, do, btw) imagining that it’s at a luau instead of in the middle of a desert. I’m sure the bird is much happier thinking it’s at a luau, but surely there are consequences to ignoring the fact there’s no water around and not trying to find some.

However, the fact is, whether you believe it or not, it is completely natural for us to simply ignore the facts if they doesn’t suit us. So the next time  you’re listening to a politician, your significant other, or you friends, remember – you are filtering what you hear.

The truth is out there. Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily exist in your brain.

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Pilates vs Yoga: Battle Royale

Evil Yoga Inversion

I used to go to Pilates 3 days a week. I was a Pilates madwoman. I had the roll up on lock. I didn’t even mind looking like I was a dog relieving itself on a fire hydrant from time to time during the thigh series. But my back finally gave up.

I’m one of the countless Americans with lower back issues. For me, it’s a bulging disc, and it comes at goes as it pleases. I’ve tried all sorts of remedies, sitting positions, and stretches, and the only thing that I know for sure is that Pilates makes it worse. Yoga, on the other hand, makes it better.

So for the past year, I’ve been slowly getting more and more into yoga. My warrior one pose is fantastic. I can chatturanga like a pro. Yet sometimes I miss Pilates. Especially when it’s time for inversions.  I mean, if it was meant for us to be upside down, we would have been born with tails.

Still, sometimes I miss Pilates. Thus I’ve been thinking about which one is better: if my back wasn’t an issue, would I keep doing Pilates? And here’s how it shakes out.

Yoga is for intense. People “Om” and meditate and your teacher talks about the “deepness” of things and finding meaning at the beginning and end of class. There’s a lot of noise making. People exhale loudly, and groan, and generally lose themselves. You can also lose yourself. And it can be fantastic. But it’s about pushing yourself, no matter if it looks bizarre.

Pilates is Yoga’s snotty little sister. There’s no gratuitous noise making. Every pose is constructed as to look as appealing as possible, and also be as safe as possible. It’s tailor made for image conscious women trying to get back into working out. It also takes lots of Yoga poses and makes them seem banal. There’s very little spiritual connection. There’s muscles to tone, not souls to calm.

Yoga is for the independent thinker. Teachers will let you do what you need to do, at your own pace, when you feel like it. They will stay out of your way, unless you’re really doing something badly, or if they want to deepen your stretch. Sometimes I think people need more guidance, but they don’t get it, because Yoga teachers are more interested in getting their own stretch on rather than watching their students. Or perhaps because it’s such an individualistic practice, they just want to stay out of their way.

Pilates is carefully monitored. Instructions are constantly being repeated, demonstrated, and corrections made. Everything is to be done in synch or the same number of counts, on the same breath. Often, Pilates studios require an intro lesson before they allow you to take a mat class. It is all about precision and safety and pulling your stomach in.  “You will look fantastic when we’re done with you, dammit,” they seem to say, “And we won’t let you mess it up with your terrible form. Navel into your spine!” They will help you deepen a stretch, but they enjoy watching the grimace on your face. This is a work out, not a vacation.

Yoga has the benefit of being around a loooooong time. The poses have been done and redone. There’s method in the madness.

The Hundreds

Some of the Pilates poses seem as if they were dreamed up that day in class by the teacher, and thus the back pain.

There’s no foam roller in Yoga. There’s no “oming” in Pilates. Both of these can be frightening, and somehow relaxing, when done in the right space.

Both give you great posture, long, lean muscles, and increase your flexibility. But Pilates is ever focused on the end goal: the hot bod. Yoga is above that. The workout is the point. The feeling of the sweat, the stretch, the “om” in your throat.

So which is it? Both. I want less “guidance” by women in their late twenties about learning to “take it slow” or some other cliche wisdom. I want more focus on form and protecting the neck and back. Less maniacal obsession on targeting every muscle group in every class. More time spent strengthening ankles and arms. Poga. Yilates. Whatever. I’m starting my own studio. Who’s signing up?

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P90X Review

I’ll cut straight to the chase; P90X is not for me.

I started doing the workout regimen daily at the end of July last year. I was not crazy enough to believe that I would be able to do it every day with my frequent trips out of town. But save for a weekend here and there, I was on it.

Once I learned to switch off Tony’s incessant chatter, the workouts became a matter of routine. I had chosen the Lean series, because I’m not interested in bulk, and it was nice to mix up the weight lifting with cardio and yoga. For the record, I am a 5’5” female, and my weight before P90X was 125.

At first, I was sore a lot, but the energy levels were fantastic. Soon, I had dropped an inch and a half off my waist, and was feeling stronger than ever. But in my progress photos,  I noticed that I was beginning to look slightly bulky. My biceps were growing, and my stomach, although getting toned, was poking out. And yes, I have years of Pilates experience under my belt, so I know how to tighten my abs when doing any workout. Something wasn’t working as I’d hoped.

Finally, at the beginning of week 9, I injured my back. It took me about two weeks two recover, and then I looked in the mirror. I’m sure some folks enjoy bulky broads with large biceps, but that is not what I was going for. Essentially, I looked like a less toned version of Dreya. As lovely as she is, I was hoping not to out-man my fiance.

So I stopped the regimen, focusing rather on eating well, and low-impact cardio. However, the muscle mass I had gained during the time took me up to 129lbs. It was still more or less flush around my body, but as I got away from the regular workouts, some of the muscle turned fluffy.

This is where my issue lies. Sure, you can go through P90X and get strong, toned, whatever. But you will build quite a bit of muscle. And the moment you stop working out on a consistent basis, which is bound to happen after this seriously intense daily regimen, that muscle starts turning to fat. Sure, it’s not over night, and it takes some time, and luckily you’ll have the muscle to burn it back off once you start working out again, but instead of now worrying about a pound or three of extra weight, I’m back to the same inch ratios I was before P90X, and I now have an extra 4 pounds on top the original few I wanted to shed.

If I had had a lot more weight to lose, this might have been a great way to do it. If I had wanted to be really strong, this would have been my answer. If I could, for infinity, dedicate one hour or more a day to intense exercise, I’d be all over this guy. But this is not the case.

My biceps are now finally starting to look less bloated. My stomach, although still strong, is working on shedding the extra muscle/fluff it acquired.

However, I will say that I still do Kenpo on a regular basis. It is a great, easy cardio workout that truly does get your heart rate up and your muscles moving. I’m thinking of getting Cardio X back in the routine as well. Heck, from time to time, any of the regimens, perhaps shortened a bit, are excellent paths to kick it up a notch.

I just don’t believe everyone needs a kick. So if you are a lady, and you’re looking to keep your lady shape, with curves and long lines, I’m not sure sure this is for you. Pilates, Yoga, and cardio are all much better forms of exercise for those aims,  in my opinion.

And, for the kicker, I loved what P90X did to my fiance’s body. So take that for what it’s worth. If you want, you can find me at my local yoga studio, practicing for the cover of Downward Dog Magazine.

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March of the Deathless Disease

Cancer is immortal.

I’m not saying this for dramatic effect. Somewhere in a lab, there is a cluster of cancer cells that has survived decades after its original host has died. They will keep dividing. It might be easier for them to do inside a body, but apparently, location is irrelevant.

This isn’t to say that cancer cannot be destroyed. It can. But it can also return, again and again, each time with a new vengeance. But why?

We all want to know because cancer is one of our greatest medical challenges. It is not a foreign disease, an interloper that stomps around our bodies causing havoc. Cancer is us, broken.

You see, each of us receive 23 chromosomes from each parent, for a total of 46. They hold our genetic code. Our DNA. And they copy themselves, over and over and over again as we grow, age and eventually decline into death. You can probably imagine that copying and recopying the same genetic structure can sometimes go awry. If you had to copy a complicated sentence billions of times, your handwriting would suffer, your spacing might change, or you might miss a letter or write the wrong one. This is what happens to chromosomes. We call these copying mistakes “mutations” because they give rise to new genes that express new traits.

However, mutation is not only caused by random copying errors. It can be instigated by outside factors. The factors we are concerned with are carcinogens, or rather, agents that cause oncogenes (genes that take part in cancer growth) to mutate, creating active cancer cells. Some well-known carcinogens are smoking, HPV, and asbestos.

(Yes, smoking does cause cancer. We’ve known this since the fifties. Anyone who thinks differently is in deep denial.)

Anyway, smoking, HPV and asbestos are carcinogenic for different reasons. Smoking infiltrates your lungs and throat, activating certain genes that can set off all types of cancers. HPV is a virus that mutates healthy cells. While asbestos itself does not induce mutation, it lodges in the lungs, causing chronic inflammation, which is what leads to the mutation of oncogenes.

These are two environmental factors that go about cancer-causing in two ways, and a virus. Scientists have been trying to locate carcinogens and their corresponding oncogenes for decades now, and we’re still hundreds of thousands of chemicals behind. What is known, however, is that several mutations have to build up in order to get cancer moving.

Some people are born with mutations, something that is called genetic predisposition. Other people acquire mutations throughout their lives. The mutations stack up in either case, culminating in cancer. The sad fact is, if you live long enough, you will get cancer. Currently, the rate is at 1 in 4 people, and a large part of those numbers have to do with the prevalence of smoking.

Generally, two types of oncogenes are involved in the proliferation of cancer. The first is like the gas pedal on a car. It signals for cells to divide, and when they are done, it quiets and goes back to sleep. Another is the breaks, it tells cells when it’s time to stop dividing. When mutations occur in the “gas pedal” gene and the “brake” gene is eliminated, cancer has no reason to stop. It will divide into infinity, if it can.

That is the break within ourselves that doctors then try to fix, working to eliminate those rogue cells and genes that live to divide. There are now targeted therapies for certain genes that have allowed some cancers to be kept under control. But there is something about cancer that most people don’t realize.

Cancer is smart. It is adaptable, changeable and merciless. It has serious Darwinian tendencies. If you are lucky enough to get a stupid cancer, you will walk away with your life. However, some cancers mutate and re-mutate in order to escape treatment and continue dividing. Our current knowledge is not great enough to beat them. As Siddhartha Mukherjee explains in “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer”, we are always finding new treatments for cancer’s new tactics. (Btw, a lot of what I am writing here, I learned from that book)

So what can we do to stop cancer? I’m not exactly sure. Of course, you can get your yearly Pap smear, make sure your dentist checks for oral cancer, stay away from anything that is burnt or burning, and limit your intake of alcohol, but even then, there is no guarantee.

You see, because cancer is us, just wild and uncontrolled, it often feeds off the same nutrients we need, others we just enjoy. Some cancers thrive on folic acid. The stuff found in prenatals, avocados, and many other foods. So does that mean that if you eat lots of avocado, you are feeding that particular cancer? Then there’s alcohol. Certain breast cancers LOVE estrogen. It is their food. When you drink alcohol, your body’s ability to metabolize it slows down, and therefore, there is more estrogen in your body for the cancer to feed on.

But how do you know, before you are diagnosed, if you have the breast cancer that loves estrogen or the one that doesn’t care a lick for it? Or if your particular cancer loves folic acid? The fact is, we don’t know. The research done on diet and cancer is paltry. There are millions of untested chemicals in our personal care and cleaning products that could be carcinogens. The plastic we so love to use is literally crawling with things that can potentially cause our chromosomes to mutate. Even if you follow the antioxidant, smoke-free, natural life style, it doesn’t mean you are safe from cancer. Your genes could mutate anyway. Randomly. And then your cancer could be the wily kind, that changes and adapts to spread far and wide. Sure, it could also be timid and easily destroyed, but in the end, it seems to me all like a lot of luck.

Not eating processed food is most likely a safe bet because who knows what those additives do. But it’s also impossible to know if your cancer is not the kind that cares what you eat. You’re better off eating healthy to keep your ticker strong, as heart disease is still the number one killer in America. Eating to stave off cancer may not make any difference at all because it’s the type of cancer that matters, and you won’t know until you have it, and even then, you might not know how to stop it nutritionally.

Unfortunately, with cancer, there are no easy answers. A sort of gamble we all have to take.

Unless you smoke, then cancer is not a chance, but a guarantee if you keep smoking. It depends on your body, your mutations, and the cancer that you ultimately get.

This may all be depressing, but I look at it as a type of liberation. Take the precautions you can, but don’t worry about what you can’t control. Instead of stressing about the cancer you or someone you love will get, or has, or might get again, enjoy the life you have. Because if cancer has it’s way, it will take over that life. Either through death or treatment.

Cancer’s one clear message is that we are not immortal, and fighting the inevitable will eventually lead to failure.

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Eggs All in a Row

Fertility is a funny thing. It seems something akin to watching water boil – the longer you stand there staring in the pot, the more the water refuses to reach boiling point. Of course, there are also people who have no idea there is even water on the stove, and only realize the water is boiling when it’s already roiling hot. It seems hardly fair that those who really, really want a baby should struggle and wait, while those who have literally no interest in a child at that moment end up pregnant. If there is a deity up there somewhere, she certainly has a strange sense of humor.

Then there are the ladies that are told they can never have children who end up sporting a baby bump six months later. The ones who give up completely and achieve the same results. The couples that use fertility treatments to help the process. And those who are forever unsuccessful. Then there are the 25% of women of child-bearing age who don’t care either way. That’s right. They are simply ambivalent to having or not having a baby. I’m not even talking about women who know they don’t want a child. A recent study came out saying that there are women out there, not on birth control, perhaps in a committed relationship, perhaps not, who are fine with either outcome.

Maybe I’m overstating this, but that seems slightly insane. The difference between having a child and not having a child seems to be significant enough that it would elicit more than a “Meh, whatever.” But I guess that’s just another part of fertility: it’s a funny thing.

Kind of like when women get their “tubes tied” and it turns out that they’re pregnant a few years down the line, or women who have no problem getting pregnant, but somehow the baby never makes it out of the first trimester. In fact, a new study shows that women with multiple miscarriages have a much higher risk for heart attack later on. And then there are those who get pregnant and have a baby anytime they want.

So why am I, someone who is clearly trying to not have a kid, interested in fertility? Probably because it seems so random, so fraught with uncertainty, and sometimes, even cruel. Ever since we have been able to control our reproductive capacity effectively with the Pill, I feel like the gains women have made in education, work and all spheres of life have been amazing. Yet to actually, 100% determine whether or not we will have a child still eludes us.

Despite my not being a medical doctor, I have my theories as to why. First, in terms of getting pregnant while not trying to I attribute to human error. The pill was not taken on time, someone forgot to wrap it up, or perhaps the hormones for the new method hadn’t kicked in yet. Then there is biology. We are programmed to make babies. This is why new couples often spend way too much time glued to each other. Our bodies release all those hormones, making us want to get naked at every opportunity, precisely because it wants a pregnancy. Other research shows that it takes 4-5 years for the love high to wear off, right about the time the baby has made its way safely into the world and daddy isn’t necessarily critically needed to help mommy anymore.

This could be linked in converse to trying to have a baby. Some people let it happen as it may, but other play a game of numbers. They chart their ovulation cycles, take their temperature, and make sex a function of reproduction, not seduction. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing to do, but it tends to mask our natural impulses to get it on when the getting is right. It also tends to raise stress levels, and we all know stress is bad for you, but it also maybe bad for getting pregnant.

Yet despite prognosis all over the world, things like endometriosis, PCOS and other potentially fertility-threatening conditions, women have managed to still have babies. So instead of stress, or physical factors (there are of course some that are clearly irrefutably not conducive to pregnancy, like a hysterectomy), I like to look at environmental factors.

We live in a toxic world. From our shower curtains and cars, to the wood in our furniture, the crap in our cleaning products, to our beauty regimen arsenal, there are dirty, fertility-encumbering chemicals lurking everywhere. For instance, if you visit www.SkinDeep.com, you will find that a lot of  lotions, creams, and make-up have at least one ingredient that inhibits fertility.  And since fertility is such an individual experience, it may make a big difference for some women to switch to avocado oil over Aveda.

Then there’s diet. I was reading a Newsweek article a while back about the science of diet and fertility. It was what you would expect: whole grains, good fats, lots of veggies, less meat and more beans, whole milk products,  exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight, and absolutely no smoking. I was on that diet, yet I was decidedly not trying to get pregnant. I decided that perhaps my new form of birth control should be eating at KFC on a regular basis: lots of trans fats and meat, meat, meat!

But the fact is, even if you worked out, making sure that you had a heavy dose of anti-stress moments in there, ate right, got rid of all the chemicals in your house, and had sex every day because that’s what you wanted to do, I’m not really sure that it would guarantee pregnancy. I think the odds might be better, but like I said, fertility is a funny thing.

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It’s Not Climate Change, it’s a Tax

We live on a planet. We have named it “Earth.” It is full of things. Some are alive, and some are not. There are big things, like mountains, and small things, like bacteria. If we were to make a list of the things, we might not ever finish, because the other thing the earth is full of is change. Things are born, things die, they change state, they get broken down into smaller parts, or are synthesized into something else entirely.

All of this stuff comes together to make a planet. Whether big or small, these things also have an impact on the Earth. Take my lap top for instance. It was made somewhere in Asia. Various metal and plastic parts were used, water was consumed, fuel was burned and then I bought it. The packaging it came in became trash, and one day, the laptop will be trash as well. The battery will have to be disposed of, and the materials it is made of will begin decomposing somewhere. Maybe it will even be recycled.

No matter what, there’s an impact. Let’s think of it as a tax.  In fact, humans are the primary source of tax on the planet. Sure, we started out gently, much like any other animal. We ate our leaves and berries, killing the occasional animal. But soon we were growing crops, rerouting water, and raising animals for work and slaughter. We were not happy simply living like the other animals. We wanted more. So the taxes went up. As we learned more, discovered more, constructed buildings and machines to facilitate our daily lives, the taxes grew. As did our numbers.

You see, we became good at fighting off our natural predators. First the animals, then each other (when we formed civilized society) then disease. Our new lifestyle brought perils of its own, but we were able to to fix more and more of what ailed us. Instead of finding shelter under a tree during a rain storm, we cut down the forest and built homes, burned the wood for heat, and used that heat and the tools we already had to make us some dinner. Of course at first we were not cutting down that much wood, or at least not much more than natural fires took from the forest.

But soon we were simply taking and taking without really giving back. We realized that the Earth would not provide enough without our interference, and so we demanded more of it. We paved over dirt so our cars could run, and those cars sent noxious fumes into the air. As did the airplanes flying over the oceans, which are filled with trash and are being over-fished. We stuff our animals with antibiotics and hormones as our global appetite for meat grows. We cover the earth in pesticides to increase yield. And even still, people die of starvation.

Things that were once luxuries are now staples. A half pound of flesh for dinner, an expensive trip to an exotic land, a house that we fill with items we have to have because they reflect who we are. All of these things are taxes. And as our numbers swell, and the world gains in prosperity and consumerist impulses, the taxes get steeper.

Some would say that we are already at a 100% tax. That once we started taking nutrients out of the soil and replacing them with toxic chemicals, when days came where it was unsafe to go for a jog because the air was so bad, when we started growing lawns in the desert…all of those things were signs that we had reached maximum. But the Earth has managed to hold on, and we have continued to tax, and tax and tax. Even though some of those taxes cannot be repealed any longer and will have permanent effects.

There are rivers, like the Hudson, were you cannot fish or swim, because they are so polluted due to our lack of regulation of industry, and it will be impossible to clean them. A recent study showed that 100% of the fish collected randomly from all lakes in the US were contaminated with Mercury, while plenty of Mercury contaminated fish already swim in the ocean. There is a floating cesspool the size of Texas made of plastic in the Pacific, and it will never biodegrade fully. There is so much pollution in some cities that when you blow your nose, everything that comes out is black.

People scoff about “climate change” as if it is some fairy tale made up by Liberals to scare children. The fact is, even if the climate isn’t changing, the way we have over-taxed our planet is frightening. There are significant consequences to our actions, whether we want to face them or not.  The Earth has become a hostile environment in which almost everything perished before, and it can certainly do it again. If carbon levels were responsible before, it only makes sense to try to keep them low now.

So why not lower taxes? Reusable bags, filtered water instead of water bottles, eating a little less meat. All of these things are easy to do, but most people are not willing to do them. Because for those whose consumption and ability to make money is paramount, the cost to the Earth is bearable. Heck, they’ll probably be dead by the time something really bad happens. All of us place a tax on the planet, but some of us do it with gusto.

People can waste water, buy as much plastic crap as possible, and fill themselves with factory-farmed meat while laughing at the silly hippies wearing hemp, going veggie, and only flushing when it’s brown, but in the end, we will all have to pay the price of those taxes. Whether through disease brought on by the pollution and the chemicals in our food, or if we simply pass it down the line to our children. Someone will pay. And will all those sweet profit margins be worth it?

I guess we’ll have to wait and find out.

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