Your Turn: Humans also part of nature

I never fail to read columns by Leonard Krishtalka, as they appear in the Journal-World. They are always insightful, intellectually honest and they tell us what we need to hear, not necessarily what we want to hear.

However, I do take exception to one of his statements, listed as fact in the May 5, 2016, “Your Turn” i.e., “That for the first time in the Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history, humans not nature (emphasis added) are the most powerful force transforming … life of the planet.” As the late economist, Kenneth Boulding pointed out in 1981, humans are not separate from but part of nature.

Airplanes and automobiles are no less natural than termite mounds or bird nests. Life on earth has always influenced climate, beginning with stromatolites more than 3 billion years ago. They happily lived in shallow seas taking in carbon dioxide and excreting a waste product that ultimately filled the oceans and the atmosphere and as that waste product was poisonous to them brought about their virtual extinction (a few exist today in Australasia). It is that waste product that made possible the Cambrian explosion, forest fires in California, megafauna.

Global warming is not new. If you drive down I-70 in road cuts, where you see limestone, you are driving through a period of global warming where you find sandstone and shale of global cooling.

We as the current dominant species are redepositing carbon sequestered for 300 million years back into the atmosphere. We know with scientific certainty, its warming effect on the planet. Stromatolites, the dominant life form for more than a billion years, certainly transformed the planet dramatically, as many intervening species did also. Most are now extinct. A life form cannot exist in an environment that changes more rapidly than its ability to adapt.

The difference between warming periods in the past and currently is we are the first species to understand our impact on the thin envelope of life where we live and have the capacity to do something about it. Implying that humans are separate from nature might be an oversight, unless it is a bone thrown to what “creationists” believe (which we assume it was not).

In our democracy it is crucial that we make objective decisions. We should not choose leaders because of their beliefs. Belief requires no evidence. Belief is protected under our constitution, and there are no religious tests for public office, but it is important we understand the difference between what we believe and what we have evidence for. History is replete with examples of disastrous consequences when leaders who did not know that difference were put into positions of power.

Our country was founded upon the principle that we would make objective decisions. George Washington in his farewell address in March of 1797 admonished Congress to “promote as an object of primary importance institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge, for as government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion be enlightened.” As someone who has devoted his life to one of George Washington’s institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge for the purposes of enlightening, Krishtalka should not imply a separate “human” and “nature.” They are one in the same. Oh, and the stromatolite’s waste product? Oxygen.

I look forward to future columns by Krishtalka. They are always important and they are always enlightening.

— John Solbach is a Lawrence attorney and former chairman of the Kansas House Judiciary Committee.