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By Jim Bell







Essentially our situation on planet earth is that of 5.6 billion astronauts living on a spaceship. Like any well designed spaceship, ours has a life support system (solar powered) that directly and indirectly supplies us with all the necessities of life, including the conditions that make life as we know it possible. The more we understand about how our life support system works, the better we can meet human needs in ways that make us more eco-nomically secure.






Scene: Children in classroom giving answers to questions about recycling. Questioning shifts from recycling to a broader perspective.

Teacher: How many of you ever have thought about being an astronaut?

(Children raise hands.)

Teacher: Have you ever thought that you are already an astronaut?

(Children look puzzled.)

Teacher: Let's imagine that we are going on a long space journey. What do we need to take with us to make our journey possible?

Child: Food!

Teacher: Yes, we certainly need food.

Child: Water!

Teacher: Good.

Child: Air!

Teacher: Excellent, but there's another problem. We are going so far that we can't carry enough food, water, and air on our spaceship to get us to where we are going. What should we do?

Child: We need plants!

Teacher: That's good. How do the plants help us?

Child: Plants recycle the air.

Teacher: That's right, plants use the carbon in the carbon dioxide we breathe out to grow and release the oxygen we need to breathe. What else?

Child: Plants give us food.

Teacher: Let's see if I've got this right. Plants provide us with oxygen and food. O.K., If we drink water and eat the food the plants provide us, eventually we have to go to the bathroom. What do we do with the waste that we flush down the toilet?

Child: UGH, we'll flush it out into space. (laughter)

Teacher: But wait a minute, where did this waste come from?

Child: It came from us.

Teacher: Where did it come from before that?

Child: It came from the plants we ate.

Teacher: Where did the plants get it from?

Child: They got it from the soil and water the plants grew in and the carbon dioxide we breathe out.

Teacher: Well, if we flush our toilet wastes out into space what will eventually happen?

Child: We'll run out of the soil, water, carbon dioxide and oxygen resources that we and the plants need to live and grow.

Teacher: So what do we have to do?

Child: We have to recycle!!!!

In the 1960's and 70's, the architect and technologist Buckminster Fuller and others popularized the phrase "SPACESHIP EARTH". They recognized that just like any well designed spaceship, the earth has a life support system that supplies us, its astronauts, with everything we need, and will continue to do so indefinitely, as long as we don't damage it too seriously.

Our planet's life support system is actually a sophisticated recycling system. In this system the sun provides the energy to recycle the air, water, and nutrients essential to life as we know it.

In a seemingly endless cycle, solar energy lifts water from our planet's surface into the atmosphere where it condenses as rain, snow, fog, and dew and returns to the earth to replenish the soil, waterways, and groundwater basins.

The sun also provides the energy needed to recycle the air we breathe and the nutrients necessary for life. Through solar-powered photosynthesis plants grow by absorbing nutrients and water from the soil and carbon from the air. In the process, plants release oxygen and provide food and materials.

Because humans and other animals eat plants directly or eat animals that eat plants, we are also part of this solar-powered recycling system.

Through this recycling process every atom in our bodies has been recycled thousands or even millions of times through other life forms that lived in the past. When we eliminate waste from our bodies or when we die, decomposing organisms break down our bodies and wastes into materials that can be used by plants, thus beginning the cycle of life once again.

Indeed, even as we live, 98% of the atoms in our body are replaced or, more correctly, recycled each year. (1) Minute by minute we extract new atoms from the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe, to replace the atoms we lose through our bowels, from our hair and skin, and when we perspire and exhale.

Unfortunately, all is not well with our solar-powered life support system. And though people are becoming increasingly aware of the problem, there is a lot of confusion concerning what to do about it.

Part of this confusion stems from our failure to make some basic connections between how the life support system or the ecology of our planet functions and how this relates to our individual and societal well-being and security. The material that follows in PART TWO is an attempt to clear up some of this confusion.






Jim Bell 4862 Voltaire St. San Diego, CA 92107