Perú is destroying itself and its land

While the nation of Perú has enacted legislation to stop burning brush, dead weeds, and other materials on its soil, the people of Perú out of lack of concern for the well-being of the country or unspeakable laziness torch the soil on a daily basis.  Burning the soil, which is already poor in quality, can cause the soil to lose its ability to absorb and retain water. After any fire of any size or intensity, the top layer of soil may become water-repellent thereby forbidding and denying water absorption and retention. This causes rain to drain off the soil without absorbing into the ground and permitting the germination of seeds into grasses and other foods.

Burning the land, destroying the planet

The more intense the fire, the greater the chance that the top layer of soil will become water-repellent. Once fire consumes bushes, their roots no longer pull moisture into the soil and if the roots emerge they will be dwarfed at best and will, in most cases, die before producing a new generation or reinvigorating the soil.  Peruanos forget that by burning the soil of Perú they are endangering not only the soil burned but the earth near the conflagration, as well as creating a nearly irreversible loss of shade that the bushes once provided means soil moisture is more likely to evaporate.

When Perú farmers and city officials burn bushes to allow for the construction of new highways (few that will last more than a minimal number of years because of the graft associated with the buying of highway materials usually sees degree-holding but not truly educated engineers sell off part of the asphalt and other street products for personal gain (theft) and then replenishing what is taken out of their supplies with sand or ash) bush and grass burning may cause the soil to be less stable.  When the soil is less stable (which is an increasing problem in Perú, especially in the provinces such as Lambayeque in the north, and minor provinces in the south, where political corruption is rife, erosion is a major concern after a fire. The loss of root systems, coupled with the water runoff caused by soil water repellency, can allow much of the soil to wash away. Shallow-rooted plants are affected by unstable soil, as they depend on vegetation, such as shrubs and bushes, to hold the soil in place.

Not only is there the problem of creating unstable soil in Perú because of random and unattended burning (as seen most clearly in the rice fields in front of the Universidad de Chiclayo which is a seasonal disgrace and a crime against nature), but by burning the stalks of the rice plants or other crops grown across from the Universidad de Chiclayo, including small bushes  that once lined the roadway, the ground is needlessly exposed to the sun. This lack of shade raises the temperature of the soil and not only increases the risk of a wildfire, but worse it invites intensified global warming and creates additional problems for the ozone layer and local ecology.

If the fire also caused the soil to become water-repellent, the soil will be even warmer due to the lack of moisture and this increased warmth will be reflected upward, making living conditions in Chiclayo, Pimentel, and all other areas affected by such ignorance of climatology unbearable, and ultimately, if unchecked, will make the area uninhabitable for people or animals. Depending on the ecosystem, this warmer soil may hinder or encourage seed germination. Microbes present in the soil, if not killed by the burning, may not survive in the warmer soil and thus the entire ecosystem is endangered. Many plants depend on soil microbes and, although they may grow, will not thrive if microbes are absent from the soil.

Most Peruanos with whom I have spoken have never studied agricultural sciences nor know basic soil chemistry. In quest of immediate profits the average Perú farmer will strip soil naked and then wonder why his crops are not producing abundantly. Here the problem is the lack of learning about the earth the farmers tend. During the combustion process, several previously bound nutrients are released in their elemental or radical formation. This process is described by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (2001), “Certain positive ions, collectively called cations, are stable at typical combustion temperatures, and remain on site after burning in the form of ash or uncombusted hydrocarbons. If in the ash form they are subsequently leached into the soil where they exchange with H+ ions; the resulting increase in H+ ions in solution increases the pH.” These changes are significant on low pH sites (e.g.cold, wet, acidic sites) since a higher pH typically increases the nutrient cycling of various elements critical for plant growth, including nitrogen and phosphorus. When I have tried to explain basic soil chemistry, none have ever heard of nitrogen nor the role it plays in soil. Without nitrogen, it is nearly impossible for anything of value to grow.

Nitrogen is bound in soil in an organic form. This organic nitrogen releases slowly into the soil and is made available for plants to use. Bush burning changes organic nitrogen into mobile nitrates. The nitrates seem good–at first–but in the end will destroy the earth and what it can produce.

It is true that plants are able to use mobile nitrates easier than organic nitrogen, and this accounts for the sudden plant growth that appears after a fire. However, mobile nitrates are more susceptible to being washed away with water runoff. Long-term bush burning creates soil that is lacking in nitrogen. Micronutrients, normally present in soil with decomposing vegetable matter, are lacking in soils after a fire. The combustion process of bush burning also increases soil’s pH. This is problematic in ecosystems that rely on low pH values, and native vegetation may have a hard time establishing itself again, and if bush and brush burning continues for years, all nitrogen will be destroyed and the land become unproductive and life forms dependent upon the soil will disappear.

When soil burning is left unchecked, and there is no one to watch or curtail or contain the burning, what happens to the soil is catastrophic. In some uncontrolled fires, the ground is scorched in a way that hydrophobicity occurs.  Hydrophobicity (water repellency) results in decreased infiltration and increased runoff that often results in increased erosion., and it will make the soil become almost like plastic. When it rains, dry soil will run off more easily, causing mud and landslides as seen in the devastation  in Haiti following the  2010 hurricane. Breaking up the soil, either by hand or letting the wildlife take care of it by walking around and turning up the soil, will help ensure that erosion does not occur. The roots of plants can help keep the soil together, but if there was not much vegetation to begin with, erosion becomes even more likely.

Nitrogen may be reintroduced back into an ecosystem via symbiotic and non-symbiotic fixation. Fixation, which is commonly more active following fires, can in some ecosystems actually restore lost nitrogen. This process is generally facilitated by both heterotrophic (can not survive on its own) bacteria as well as symbiotic fixation taking place within nodulated plant roots. Nodulated plant roots occur in numerous plants species including alder, ceanothus and various legumes. Depending on the site, bacterial fixation in decomposing wood may also provide an important post-fire nitrogen source. The process is enhanced by the ash and the blackened soil surface which acts as a black body (absorbs energy and warms quickly).

The soil can regenerate if all soil bacteria is not destroyed in the fire. Following any fire, soil biota (living soil organisms) is commonly affected to varying degrees. In general, it appears that soil will often protect subsurface soil biota (including insect pupae) from fire. This level of protection is dependant upon the depth of the organism in relation to the depth of heat penetration. In general, hot fires typically have a more significant and longer-lasting impact on soil biota than low intensity fires that are both infrequent and not on the same soil; they tend to have little or no effect on soil biota. Overall, it appears that changes in soil biota are typically minor, and thus have little impact on the ecosystem as a whole. The exact impact of fire on soil biota however, is complex, and for the most part still poorly understood.

Constant fires, that are common in Perú agricultural areas cause numerous problems. One of these catastrophic problems is the increase in air and water pollution when carbon is sent into the atmosphere, but this is not as intense a carbon pollution as is the exhaust from old cars, buses and trucks that are daily on Perú roads and highway.

Not only has it been proven that automobile pollution lowers intelligence ratio (IQ) ratios, especially among pre-born, new-born, and the young, as Dr. Shakira Franco Suglia of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston told the Reuter’s News Agency and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (http://in.reuters.com/article/2008/02/15/us-dirty-air-idINKUA57144920080215?pageNumber=1&virtualBrandChannel=0) even after adjusting for the effects of the parents’ IQ and conditions at home, birth rate, language spoken in the home, and other variables. Children who are exposed to more carbon dioxide and monoxide usually have an IQ of 3 to 4 points lower than children who have fresh air to breathe. Other studies show that pregnant women who experienced the highest exposures to pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons had children with IQ scores four points lower on average than kids born to less-exposed mothers (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=pollutions-toll-on-the-brain). A 2008 study conducted by the schools of public health at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel hill on 20- to 50-year-olds pinpointed ozone-related reductions in attention, short-term memory and reaction times equivalent to up to 3.5 to five years of age-related decline. All climate change deniers, such as US Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and the Koch Industries of Kansas (who are in the top ten of the world’s biggest polluters), have repeatedly been proven wrong about their theories that climate change is “a hoax” or “anti-Bible”–as it is very real and the product of the current age–not of any biblical period 2000 years ago. This is used to justify water pollution as it is believed, wrongly, that water will purify itself, and thus in Perú a natural wonder is now a garbage pit: Lake Titicaca, not just by tourists, but more so by native Peruanos who do not care, as the schools and universities do not teach global awareness nor the finite resources on this water planet we call Earth.

Pollution of Lake Titicaca, Perú

Auto pollution, especially from poorly maintained buses and autos as well as from the burning cheap combustibles such as gasoline can even lead to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.  The older the auto is on the road, and the cheaper the gas purchased to move the vehicle, the less chance a fetus has to obtain any equality with those who are not subjected to the pollution of the auto, but, instead, gives up any real chance of obtaining a solid education (most children who are exposed to auto exhaust have a short attention span, no interest in reading anything serious, and frequently sleep in class–which if tolerated, which it is in Perú, because of poorly trained teachers who want more to be loved than to educate–will find their career choices limited and their culture diminished).  Those who are most commonly affected by pollution have little interest in reading or learning, and are content with maintaining the status quo including polluting the world while disavowing the climate crisis and mortal attacks on the environment.

Pastoruri Mountains in Perú losing their glaciers

The problem of the pollution goes even further than the immediate circle where the child and family live. The pollution is destroying the ozone, and with it the ice caps from which Perú gets its drinking water, water for irrigation and cattle and other life forms. Already most of the coast of Perú is arid, but the ice atop Cordillera Blanca, the largest glacier chain in the tropics, is melting faster than before as can been seen in photographs taken in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2007, and so forth, because of rising temperatures, and peaks are turning brown.  Quelccaya in southern Peru, the world’s largest tropical ice cap, is retreating at about 200 feet a year, up from 20 feet a year in the 1960s, and with its loss Perú is experiencing a certain death within this century.  But this loss of ice is not only a problem for Perú for its neighbors, especially Bolivia is beset with the same problems and same losses.  In Peru, home to 70 percent of Earth’s tropical glaciers, the Andes mountains have lost at least 22 percent of their glacier area since 1970 and the melt is speeding up, according to Peru’s National Resources Institute, INRENA, a government agency. Two-thirds of Perú’s people live on the coast–which has less than 1.8 percent of the nation’s water supply. 

Ever the politician and seldom the serious thinker, Perú president Alan Garcia Perez lacking any serious education actually believes and has argued that the rush of melting ice in the Andes will lead to abundant hydroelectric energy although it will also lead to increasingly most costly production of suitably adequate drinking water.  Julio Garcia of the National Environment Council, CONAM, acknowledges that this will be extremely costly for those living in Lima, and for many it will be too costly to obtain.  Julio Garcia is among the few people in Perú who acknowledges that the nation of Perú will most likely run out of drinking water by 2050 (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17113441/).

Most scientists agree that Perú will have no water within forty years.  Bolivia will have no glaciers within thirty years. In Columbia, snow and ice caps are receding at the rate of eighty feet a year–and increase of fifty feet a year in just a few years.  The high peaks of the Sierra Nevada of Merida range in Venezuela show some glaciers have entirely disappeared over the past several decades while others are evaporating more rapidly than thought possible.  Ice is melting rapidly atop Cotopaxi, an active volcano whose 19,000-foot snow-capped peak can be seen from the capital, Quito, Ecuador, 40 miles to the northwest.  All of this means that there will be a critical shortage of water in thirty years, and most likely lead to wars over water as occurred in the Arabian desert.

What can be done? It is difficult for most people to change, especially if they are enchained to a culture that deny global warming or are accustomed to massive use of water, retain and use old vehicles and buy cheap gasoline, and have little care for the environment–as is the rule in Perú.  One simple way that a small halt on this erosion is possible is for communities to stop cutting down trees.  Climate change began in earnest with the cutting down of the Brazilian rainforests.

Burning down the Rain Forest to plant soy which is more profitable

Humans cut down a lot of trees, making deforestation the second biggest source of the 30 billion metric tons of CO2 put into the atmosphere yearly by us. Planting trees might not solve global warming, but cutting back on cutting down trees would be a big help, especially cutting down trees with spreading branches. In Chiclayo, where I live, the city plants trees and then promptly cannibalize them by cutting them into different shapes–most of which look like umbrellas–this adds to the CO2 and climate warming. Most schools (public and private) have grass behind their fences, but in front of these institutions there is dried earth that buses travel over, people walk on, and no grass planted, thereby contributing more to global warming. Few yards have grass or trees, and usually have enough sand and soil filtering in through poorly constructed windows and doors, that dusting is a daily necessity. However, if the homeowner would plant grass and trees in front of (as most houses in Perú are built like condominiums) the house (or around it which is the best way) there would be a minor impact.

Poverty in Lima, Perú

The building of shantytowns using adobe (mud) bricks is destroying the climate faster than most burning, as the adobe has to be kilned to be usable, and the kilning is a process of hardening the already dead earth by using combustibles that not only pollute the air but both CO and CO2 to the atmosphere. Far worse is the carelessness of people (not only in Perú but around the world) who insist on plastic bags to carry groceries and other items out of a business, and then toss away once the items are in their home or place of work. These plastic bags, which Ireland has now wisely made illegal, enter landfills–and none are biodegradable.  Recycling must occur now–glass items need to be stoked into furnaces and refashioned, plastic must be abandoned, newspapers once read and found unwanted must be returned to recycling bins, and waste products such as unwanted foods returned to the earth.

The ancient Romans had the best idea on how to honor their dead: the dead were cremated–not in caskets as occurs today–but on a bier of wood and old grass, and the deceased’s ashes were cast over the land, thus helping the land. A few bio-crematorial industries do exist, but the problem lies with religions that require the body be buried, usually with some chemicals added to retard decomposition (cp. http://biocremation.info/Portals/0/A%20Comparison%20of%20Alkaline%20Hydrolysis%20vs%20Combustion07262010.pdf).  To take up miles of land for burial is an absurdity, and causes further climate destruction.  Recently the Roman Catholic Church has accepted cremation, a ritual that for thousands of years was common among the various branches of religions in India, Thailand, Japan, and elsewhere. Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism, mandate cremation. No coffins are burned, no water is needed.

There is a simpler answer–but one that will not be popular in emerging nations especially where religion is strong, as is the case in Perú. The answer is for people to postpone marriage at least to the age of thirty and to limit child-bearing to one or two children in a family. Not only is this essential to the realities of the finite resources left on this planet which are not renewable, but the reality of accepting that more mouths will require more food and without adequate food and water there will be more wars (cf. http://www.publicbookshelf.com/public_html/Outline_of_Great_Books_Volume_I/thomasrr_caa.html).  As Thomas Malthus noted in the eighteenth century: “”The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man” (Malthus, Thomas Robert (1798). An essay on the principle of population. Chapter 1, p. 13 in Oxford World’s Classics reprint). Malthus argued three points concerning the possibility of population control:

“Must it not then be acknowledged by an attentive examiner of the histories of mankind, that in every age and in every State in which man has existed, or does now exist

That the increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence [people will increase in number only if there is sufficient food to eat],

That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and,

That the superior power of population is repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence [lack of food], by misery [war and natural calamities] and vice [prostitution and homosexuality]” (Malthus, Thomas Robert (1798). An essay on the principle of population, in Oxford World’s Classics reprint. p. 61, end of Chapter VII).

Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus

Malthus, who would become an Anglican priest,  took prizes in English declamation, Latin and Greek, and graduated with honours, Ninth Wrangler in mathematics, he took the MA (which was more arduous to obtain than the PhD in most universities today) degree in 1791, and was elected a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge by its faculty.  Malthus did not believe that humans would voluntarily, intelligently, limit their own number and thus nature had to limit how many people were on the planet through war, plagues, and natural calamities such as global warming, climate change, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so forth fearing that no one would have the courage to practice natural birth control (abstinence, delayed marriage, delayed pregnancy, or acceptance of homosexuality as a natural reality that occurs throughout all living species; cf. http://www.health.am/sex/more/1500-animal-species-homosexuality/ and http://www.news-medical.net/news/2006/10/23/20718.aspx).

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