Archive for March, 2011

Eve, Pandora and Environmental Science

Monday, March 7th, 2011

You may have seen the excellent slideshow presentation of artist Gail Potocki’s work at Huffington Post. The author chose to include pieces which are strongly representative of the symbolist narrative Gail employs to confront the user with -among other themes- humankind’s failings in it’s role as steward of the planet. With this narrative, Gail gives voice to the voiceless cohabitants of our environment that find themselves at our mercy (or victims to the lack thereof).

The purpose of the blog you are reading is to give you easy access to more information regarding the environmental science behind the themes in Gail’s work. We’ll touch on habitat destruction, toxins in the food chain, over-predation and climate change. They are all strongly connected.

frog Eve, Pandora and Environmental Science

Accompanying De Soleil at the Huffington Post is Gail’s description of hearing more frequently about frog malformations. Increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation through the depletion of the ozone layer and use of pesticides including methoprene and atrazine are a couple of the factors shown as contributing to the malformations. Learn more at Hamlin University’s Center for Global Environmental Education.

Indeed, frogs are more sensitive to environmental factors than humans but I, personally, don’t think it absurd that any epidemiological studies required before commercial use of potential environmental contaminants is approved take many years or even decades.

apples Eve, Pandora and Environmental Science

The Hawaiian Mamo bird (Drepanis pacifica) depicted in Opened Apples is now extinct. The linked Wikipedia article gives habitat loss and over-collecting as factors in its extinction. The habitat loss was largely a result of introduced livestock (cattle and pigs) and the over-collecting, well, the “famous yellow cloak of Kamehameha I is estimated to have taken the reigns of eight monarchs and the golden feathers of 80,000 birds to complete.” Predation by foreign mongooses and rats was also a factor.

colors Eve, Pandora and Environmental Science

The coral bleaching damage depicted in Dying Colors is a direct result of environmental factors including ocean temperature, causing stress-induced expulsion or death of their symbiotic protozoa zooxanthillae or the loss of pigmentation within the protozoa.

It’s no mystery that entire ecosystems of marine life revolve around reefs and that many groups of humans rely on these marine ecosystems for our own sustenance¬† (including those who fish around them and those who rely on tourism around reefs for their livelihood).

Depressingly, once bleaching begins it tends to continue even without continuing stress and if the colonies survive, zooxanthillae often require weeks or months to return to normal density. The new residents may be of a different species. You can’t go home again.

mother Eve, Pandora and Environmental Science

The environmental narrative in Corrupted Mother is dense. For the purposes of this writing, I’ll limit myself to the plight of the polar bear. Forced through increasingly larger flaming hoops in this painting, the warming of the planet is rapidly shrinking the habitat of these and (perhaps millions of ) other creatures.

For those of you who don’t ‘believe’ in climate change as an extant phenomenon or that it doesn’t necessarily portend grave negative consequences, I respectfully submit that the preponderance of evidence is against you and ask that you graciously refrain from such comments.

shipwrecked iisl Eve, Pandora and Environmental Science

Shipwrecked II presents us with the shocking and seemingly mysterious loss of huge numbers of honeybees in the United States since 2006 due to what is called Colony Collapse Disorder.

Many commercial beekeepers (those that rent their colonies to farmers in order to pollinate food crops) found one or even two thirds of their colonies suddenly wiped out. The causes, still being investigated, are multivariate. However, the possible natural factors -including parasites- appear to be outnumbered by human-influenced causes such as poor husbandry techniques (inbreeding and improper diet) along with commercial neonicotinoid pesticides.

In case you are thinking that honeybee health is not important, consider that honeybees add about $15 billion to U. S. agricultural output each year. If we lose them, our dinner becomes much more humble.

tiara Eve, Pandora and Environmental Science

The deforestation we see in Tiara in the interest of land for livestock and commercial agriculture or timber comes at the extreme costs of habitat loss for countless species and the entrenchment of greenhouse gases (and thus climate change).

I am beginning to get too depressed and irritable to continue describing in detail the impact of human shortsightedness.

vortex Eve, Pandora and Environmental Science

In Plastic Vortex we see a symbolic representation of the effect of cast-off plastic on ocean life. The currents of the Pacific Ocean are such that there is a huge conglomeration of plastic -some estimate that the area of it is twice the size of Texas- floating in what amounts to an eddy northeast of Hawaii.

The plastic breaks down eventually into small bits but doesn’t biodegrade. It is introduced into the food chain by animals that mistake the small bits for plankton and ingest it. Other, larger animals often mistake larger pieces of plastic for animals such as krill and ingest them. The animals that ingest the plastic become full of it, can’t eliminate it, are prevented from taking in nutritious food and die.

The plastic that makes it up to the levels of humans in the food chain, according to the NIH, is of some concern. Granted that exposure to these plastics is usually through food packaging and not ingestion of animals that ingested animals that ingested plastic.

It’s true that the term ‘environment’ describes a vast, seemingly infinite entity and that the time frames we experience as humans suggest that our impact on the environment has been to cause at worst the extinction of individual species. However, the environment (let’s limit it to Earth for the purposes of this blog) is finite and our impact upon it is largely cumulative. With the interconnectedness of climate change, environmental toxins, habitat loss and over-predation damage to the environment has become exponential and entire genera and families of plants and animals are vulnerable in the short term.

Is there any group of folk around that doesn’t believe the only remaining threat to continued human existence on this planet is, in fact, humans?

In relation to technological ‘advances’, I am not suggesting that we all need be Luddites but that when researching such advances as means of increased food production or easier application of hygiene products, it would behoove us to explore negative impacts to our environment to the fullest possible extent. It should be our practice to determine the environmental rules beforehand rather than making them up during the game.

With the exploration of environmental science and my personal ranting out of the way, I’d like to again thank Gail for guiding me, through her use of beautiful imagery coupled with the heinous truth of the symbolist narrative on the environment, to more thoroughly examine this deepest threat to my existence… which is me (and you).


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