Sustainability, Is It Lost?

What can we do to help our environment and ensure viable and productive ecosystems in nature?

The Answer That Largely Goes Unheeded….

… sustainability in the most elementary of the concept, and adaptation in the full biological sense of the word.

Adaptation is a change where the organism or species becomes better suited to the environment, not the environment becoming better suited to the species. The latter implies control, something our species seems destined to provide.

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Image from my other blog, Green Apples, The Buck Stops Here. You want more big buck photos?

Most of nature’s creatures follow this doctrine; living, working, and having everything that they need for survival and well-being by relying on the immediate natural environment and adapting to constraints and conditions. The animals and plants take only what they need and in turn, return to the earth and give back. They each keep their numbers in check.

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No, not native or even a plant known to our area or planting zone, Nandina domestica Obsession, zone 6-9, is a new plant in my garden (non-invasive variety, native to Asia) generously shipped  from Southern Living Plant Collection. They were kind sponsors for the Garden Blogger’s Fling in NC this year. I also received Mahonia eurybracteata Soft Caress zone 7-9 (native to Asia and October/November bloomer) and you will see it in my monthly wrap-up blooming in the garden.  These two berberis relatives will be a trial here. If you live in the South, check out Southern Living. They are a real quality outfit.

Were We Ever Truly Sustainable?

We once did this when we first tossed seeds to the wind and discovered farming around 10,000 years ago (History Channel, source – Mankind, The Story of All of Us). Ironically, that is believed to have occurred in Israel, a hotbed of contention in our world today. Some findings have indicated man growing plants from seed could have first occurred 23,000 years ago, but farming as we understand it did not take hold until much later.

  • About 10,000 years ago, early man started developing familial communities of about 60 or more.
  • 10,000 B.C. the human population reaches one million.
  • Around 9,000 years ago, farming became a way of life (source History Channel).
  • At 3,000 B.C. man establishes villages, the rest becomes the road we take today with the start of land ownership.

Land ownership based around farming, led to levels of violence not seen in early man’s existence previously. This created a whole host of problems for humans because farming turned millions of humans populating the planet into billions. It also led to conflict. (History Channel)

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Dandelion seed head images shot November 21, 2012

And with billions comes the unintended social, environmental, and economic consequences of rapid population growth swallowing up natural resources. Sustainability, once early man’s way of life, is now coming to light, even if only in theory, out of need to our environment.

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The Difference is Why.

When our species reached 5,000,000 on this planet, it was assumed to be the first time a single species dominated our planet. (source). But we were well within sustainable capacity of the land, partly because infant mortality rate was low, most living only a few years past birth. The average age people lived was much lower than it is today.

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Then people lived sustainable lives because they had no choice. Do it or die. They did not even comprehend that they were living sustainable lives either, it was just something they did like the animals were doing.

Is Sustainability Feasible?

Today, being truly sustainable is a complete rarity and unless it spreads beyond the relative few, is almost pointless in the grand scheme of things.

The only thing not pointless is the peace of mind it gives the individual doing it. Today, it is not even an attainable goal on a larger scale unless some disaster forces it upon us as a species. Too much advancement and personal comfort would have to be abandoned.

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To be a sustainable individual, we have to have a sustainable home; then we need a sustainable city; that requires a sustainable nation; and that, a sustainable world.  You can readily see the problem to the solution.

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Yep, We are Nature Too

… all 7,080,897,112 of us as of the time this post was finished. And how do you get over 7 billion people to think sustainably?  I am guessing most of them have more immediate things to think about. Not so different from long ago, but also quite different in how it is done.

In prehistoric times, man adapted. The individuals in the small groups all had their jobs to do to sustain the group. It was very hard finding and making everything they needed to live. If things grew lean, they used their two feet and moved. Now, land is owned and this makes moving impossible in many respects if a person does not have the funds to purchase. To purchase, you need money, when in times of old, you needed ambition, hard work and craft. Early man made his shelter from available materials and a lot of ingenuity. Slightly different today.

Funny thing about ownership, you own nothing when you pass on. In a way, you own nothing here either. You are a temporary caretaker, and many don’t take this responsibility very seriously.

I have written about this before and it seems like an unattainable battle to get a world view that has the same agenda.  There are too many of us in the first place, but also too many that don’t, or choose not to care, and sadly, there is no answer to any of this.

And what about our dandelion?

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Each dandelion head makes between 40 and 170 or more seeds per yellow bloom, and a single plant up to 5,000 seeds per year. Can you imagine how many of them are in the world? They are the botanical success without a doubt. The last few posts mentioned some of the reasons. Here are some reasons the dandelion is a sustainable plant.

  • All parts of the dandelion are edible cooked or raw, but boil roots for safety. Don’t pick them from where you are unsure if they were treated with pesticides.
  • The common dandelion weed is packed with minerals such as calcium, magnesium, thiamin, phosphorous, iron, zinc, and selenium. Added to that, it supplies vitamins and nutrients, A, K, C, B1, E, B2, B3, B6, beta carotene, choline, plus much more. One half Cup of greens has more vitamins than the average multi-vitamin.
  • There are 14,000 IU of Vitamin A in one Cup of raw leaves of dandelion leaves, much more than carrots.
  • One Cup of raw dandelion leaves has more Calcium than 1/2 glass a milk.
  • It has also been cultivated as medicine for thousands of years by numerous cultures to treat countless ailments.
  • Since those years in food crop production, selective breeding techniques have been employed to grow them tastier, bigger and more nutritious.
  • They are non-invasive despite how many you see in lawns, and are seldom found in healthy, wild settings, beyond the initial succession of low-growing, herbaceous species. They get weeded out by taller growing plants shading them from the sun.
  • Bridgestone Corporation, the tire manufacturer, announced that it has “produced promising results leading to the Russian Dandelion becoming a commercially viable, renewable source of high-quality, tire-grade rubber.”

Is there no end to the miracle of this plant? And it is free and very available, certainly a sustainable plant for sustenance and health. I like the leaves in salads and salad dressing, but there are even recipes for dandelion cookies.

So what ends as it begins, “What can we learn from a dandelion?”

Are we a biological success? It really just depends. We are the most innovative and successful organism on the planet in countless ways, but also one of the most wasteful, dangerous and damaging as well.

Next a Macro post. Hopping on Board with Macro, Shooting the Critters.

If you missed the first four posts in this five-part series, please take a look:

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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62 Responses to Sustainability, Is It Lost?

  1. greenshoots says:

    I have no idea how you take such beautiful photos but you do, you really do!

  2. Your post is very clever…the irony that dandelions are considered a weed worldwide and people go to great lengths to eradicate them when they are in fact nutritious, medicinal and have other beneficial uses. Just shows how little we appreciate what nature offers us.

    • That is why it took five posts. I could have easily made 10 posts on this subject. The dandelion from a medicinal standpoint has so much value in many cultures. I was at a talk by a Native American woman who told us about how wonderful this plant is for tonics. I have never tried it, but with all the research I did after, I am very inclined to believe some of it.

  3. Always very interesting and thought provoking posts. Love the stag photo.

  4. Oh man, I’m with you on dandelions. I argue that they, and all plants, have rights to exist–i.e. human rights extended to plant rights.

    • I agree with you. I extend that to animals as well. We just had an incident in our area where two older teens set a puppy on fire. The puppy is alive but in very bad shape. The kids are in court. There is no law strict enough for what should be done to these kids. With how many serial killers that start with animal abuse, should our laws not catch up with this type of horror?

      I just read your article. It is well though out and well documented. It shares many of the thoughts I included in my five posts. I agree whole heatedly with you. I had to laugh at your neighbor. My guess is it was a slight to your way of gardening. You can look at his cedars as a protective windbreak for your gardens and wildlife! Plus, like you alluded, they have a right to live as well. I am glad you see the dandelion the way you do. I like seeing them in Spring too.

  5. sharon says:

    wow frosty seed heads!!! are a crystal delight…..good thoughts…loved the back view flower~

  6. HolleyGarden says:

    Two things in your post bear more thought: 1) Nature usually keeps creatures numbers in check, but for man, 2) we are the most innovative organism on the planet. The question is: When will our numbers overwhelm our innovation to extract enough food? Some may argue that there are people starving in parts of the world, but a lot of food is wasted daily, so I don’t think we’re at our limit just yet. (Just poor distribution.)

    • See this blog. I follow it. The name of the blog is how much food we waste. He gives recipes how we can use all the food we purchase and grow.

      As per the waste, it really is a shame, but it is not a solution of poor distribution. There is no way to get the almost spoiled food where needed in time and then there is the moral issue of what is one man’s garbage is another man’s meal. This country gives a lot of food and medicine to third world countries. They give technology to help them help themselves.

      In our own country, the number of people on government assistance is staggering and a good number of them are beating the system. I see welfare vouchers being used to buy tenderloin steaks in bulk in my city grocery store and other food I can’t afford on a daily basis. I see the recipients go out and get in their Mercedes. No one will tell me this is not abuse. No one will tell me these same people flashing a roll of hundreds to buy the beer the vouchers won’t pay for can’t afford to pay for their own food. This scenario happens more than you can imagine. One guy just got caught for selling vouchers and it was estimated he ‘earned’ over a couple of hundred thousand dollars. And waste??? What is wasted here? The hard work taxpayers expended paying for such abuse? I need to get out of the city. I see too much.

      I am not suggesting that we do as animals do and kill off competition for resources. We have wars to do that for us. We have nature and climate to do it for us. Hey, are we not responsible for a good portion of both???

      • HolleyGarden says:

        What I see is the amount of food that is wasted that could go to homeless shelters, etc. And we also import (and export) a lot of food when I think it would be more efficient to keep that food in their own country. I often wonder what happens to the food, not only at the restaurants, but in the grocery stores that “go bad”. I am happy to have 35 heads of lettuce in which to choose from in the grocery story, but wonder about the 10 heads that will go past their expiration date and not eaten (but is not yet spoiled). Is this considered garbage? Well, when I was younger and struggling to put food on the table, there was a man that would come by my work and give us expired cheese. It was still good, just not sellable. I don’t know where he got it, but I was happy to have it. A co-worker, however, was insulted, and one day told him to get out and never bring us expired cheese again! I think if one is insulted, perhaps they’re just not hungry enough.

        In the past year or so, we have made a concentrated effort to be less wasteful, buying only what we need and will actually eat, cooking to not have leftovers, or actually eating them, and growing or buying from a local farmer most of what I can. It has made a difference in how I see food, and the waste of food. Interesting that this post came just as we celebrated Thanksgiving, where traditionally too much food is served.

        • “What many of us will have today is turkey – and what we’ll have tomorrow is a plenty of leftover turkey. Sadly, way too much of that will end up in the trash (about 200 million pounds of it, with a value of roughly 280 million dollars, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council).” This quote came from 222 Million Tons site and most recent post. It really makes one think.

          You asked about what happens with food from restaurants and grocery stores. Some ends up feeding livestock and other animals. There is a primate rehab facility in our area and the local grocery stores provide all the expired food stuff to organizations like this. The food is still good, just not fresh and perky like people want to bring home. A tad wilted or browning in the case of the lettuce and celery. The person running this primate center is a cousin to my husband, so I know about this first hand. The surplus that the animals cannot consume, they distribute to people they know. Pig farmers also get the past prime food for their livestock. I know local restaurants that send the food to the shelters. Not food that is spoiled, just food they would not cook for a second time to serve patrons.

          That is too bad about the good Samaritan that brought cheese. Cheese lasts a long time and is very nutritious with high calorie content. It is good to fill up the stomach. Plus you can use it in many ways. If you get a chance, check out 222 million tons. it is a great source of useful information.

          I was never unlucky enough to have had to worry about where the next meal was to come, but always looked at food as a gift. I WILL NOT even waste one morsel of meat. I know it is strange, but I feel very thankful to the animal that gave its life, willingly or not to provide that food. It seems only fitting not to waste it. I make so many kinds of soup, most I just invent, that use up all the vegetables too. We had one today that used everything off the boiled turkey carcass and I added a lot of fresh vegetables to make a soup. I like foraging in the refrigerator to get creative with the tastebuds.

          • HolleyGarden says:

            I am so glad the food is being given to the primate center, and to pig farmers, etc. Perhaps I should ask the local grocery stores what they do with their expired foods – it may pleasantly surprise me! And yes, I’m going now to check out that blog. 🙂

  7. What a wonderful salute to the sustainability concept. I’ve never seen the humbled dandelion look so iconic. Would like to know more about Bridgestones involvement in crop research.

  8. nicole says:

    It would be great if we could all move towards a more green mind set like other countries. It’s as if our country does not want to acknowledge climate change. The research that has been conducted in the Antarctic can not be denied. Your point about giving up our comforts is so true. Though the environment is a passion of mine I too am guilty of consuming and enjoying those “comforts” in my everyday life. I do try to offset some of those things with smart choices in how we live. Turning off lights, living in a smaller home, driving less, walking more, teaching my kids about the environment, using less water, not using chemicals on my lawn, running an eco club at the local school….Thank you for this post…awareness gets things moving in the right direction.

    • Climate change is happening no matter how many want to wish it away or deny it’s existence. There is no answer to the problems at our current state of affairs. The weather developments are happening too quickly. I am like you. I do all those things you mentioned, but can never be sustainable myself living where I do. We do what we do…

  9. Great and interesting post. Also thank you for giving the photo details, as a learner it is most useful.

  10. Emily Heath says:

    Over-population is something I think about a lot. It’s becoming an issue here in London, we have so many people that our transport systems struggle to cope. Housing prices mean only around 49% of people own their own home (the average deposit needed is around £60,000, not easy to save when rents keep going up). There is increasing pressure on the green spaces we have left. If I had children, what kind of world would they have left to grow up in?

    • I made a choice not to have children a very long time ago. My brother also does not have children. I know it is just a small thing to do, but I believed when very young we were headed to a time of too many.

  11. I would like to do better than I do in terms of living a sustainable life, but that is hard when you live in a city. Having a garden at our holiday home, though, is a great way of being constantly reminded that we exist not in a vacuum, but in a habitat that needs to be taken care of if we want it to be recognisable in a thousand years.

    • I know how you feel. I wish I could do more also, but city living is a step in the right direction. I doubt we have a thousand years ahead. If climate predictions are accurate, we will be cooked off our planet.

  12. gardenerat60 says:

    Wonderful post. So many points touched with such flow. Thanks for letting me learn a few things.

  13. Barbie says:

    This has been an interesting post to read and to feel your passion about the simpleness of the powerful dandelion. We need to reconnect to Earth – we have lost our free will. Everything has become controlled, right down to the seeds we use to sow our food.

  14. Alistair says:

    Donna, so very interesting and I wondered where we were going with the Dandelion, you are a wealth of knowledge. The increasing longevity of the worlds population is probably hard to deal with. Something I have been pondering over in recent times being what I call in the early Winter of my life Perhaps we wont just be culling the red deer and the squirrels in this land where I live.

    • I have studied sustainability in graduate school. It has always been an interest of mine. The people problem is not one we will deal with consciously. We always have ridiculous reasons for war and I think they are just a consequence of too many of us, plain and simple. There is not much we can do but wait and see where all this plays out. Nature fixes all I think.

  15. Great Post! Each of us can do a little more – maybe we will get there.

  16. evanma92 says:

    Reblogged this on Circle of Life and commented:
    Here are some interesting thoughts about sustainability and adaptability, tracking the progress of sustainability from the ancient times when people had no choice but to be sustainable to the present day, whether sustainability is feasible.

    How do we unite the world into living sustainably?

  17. Have you ever considered another career as a food photographer? Your photos of the squash and apples are amazing. Despite the size of the problem, I still believe that if there is a solution, it is made up of millions of individual changes.

    • That is billions of minds to change. Many of us make the changes in our lifestyle, but how much does that accomplish? You would think it would by example, but it is a long desperate road to travel. You know with your native plant project. Not everyone can be convinced and when those that allow their non-native plants to seed, that sets the project back quite a bit. Here the buckthorn is constantly being culled, but one shrub makes thousands of offspring, so it is a losing battle. The other issue is the places where they settle are not easily accessible by man, like deep in the gorge. So these shrubs just keep on repopulating the landscape and people try to keep on top of removal. One variety was once sold as an ornamental, so people keep them in their yards. It lacks natural control of insects or disease that would curb its growth. Plus it is a host to other pests, such as crown rust fungus and soybean aphid. So what do you do? It too has medicinal qualities I have read, and many species of birds, especially robins and cedar waxwings, eat the plentiful blue-black berries and help spread them to other areas. Some battles can not be won.

  18. Beautiful photos, as always – I love the dew on the dandelions. So delicate, yet as you point out, robust little breeders. You raise some good points about the possibility of sustainable lifestyles with 7 billion of us running around. In the end, I hope that we will find a balance again, though that may only happen when we’ve severely impacted our own ability to survive, and there are far fewer of us drawing on the Earth’s resources. In the meantime, all we can do is make better choices, and hope they affect those around us.

    • The reality is always harder to look at I believe when we bring up a growing population. Your blog brings up a stark reality as well. I cannot fathom the numbers of such waste in the world we live in today, especially when there are places in such dire need. We will be facing that with water supplies in the near future as it already affects some nations today. Think of the waste of water in this country. Supplies have been dwindling and many still waste it as if nothing will ever affect where they live. I know it may be a while yet to even contemplate this thought, but it is now when we can look to do something about it.

  19. Once again, very thought-provoking, Donna. This comment really resonated with me: “Today, being truly sustainable is a complete rarity, and unless it spreads beyond the relative few, is almost pointless in the grand scheme of things.” I often think about the shows where people try to go back in time and live like pioneers in a truly sustainable lifestyle in a small community. The thing that always hits me is how back-breakingly difficult that type of life is/was. And often the women end up working from daybreak to long past nightfall. The men work hard, too, but the “women’s work” truly is never done. That does not sound like a gratifying life to me. But I think there’s a middle ground–in being responsible and trying to add back to the earth as much as you take from it. Still trying to figure that one out, and it IS important to me. Thanks, again, for making me think deeply.

    • It is so true most people of today are not cut out for the long days of back breaking labor, day in and day out. I have to admire people who do as the pioneers did, it really takes a special person to make their lives so hard when modern convenience is so near.

      The closest and largest community of sustainability and simple living is probably the Amish. I lived very near Amish country and shopped there all the time. I saw the Amish daily. Many times I thought to myself, I would love this simple life, then reality hits of all that you would lose (my very sleek sports car was what kept pulling my dream back) . Then the questions flood of are these THINGS really important, or is the morals and values of the community that is enticing?

  20. Wonderful essay, though this is the one time I thought I would have been made better without the pictures except for the first and last.
    While I cannot entirely give up meat I’ve made the conscious effort to reduce it to 1 or 2 servings/ week. I walk, bike it or public transit when possible, small changes that are ultimately healthier for me and the planet. And yes, we are nature too an ecosystem all on our own.
    there bacteria living in and on our bodies outnumber our own cells

    • Hum, no photos? I only had four to start, then I thought my ‘photo’ and garden readers would balk.

      I could give up meat and did briefly as a PETA member (no longer a member), but my husband could not. Cooking would be more of a chore. I walk everywhere and use my Jeep rarely. That is an advantage of city living. I was hit by a car riding my bike, so that ended my bike riding days. Not because I was seriously hurt, just mentally spooked.

      I read Science Daily often, but did not see this article from 2008. I believe they are onto something with their study. I am sure there is much to learn about disease and our bodies can help teach us. Have you seen this article?

  21. I find that eating what is grown locally tastes so much better than what is shipped from hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. I also do not have the time or energy to fight Nature anymore and I am enjoying my garden more than ever.

  22. greenucsu says:

    Your post is very insightful and thought provoking. It sums up what I have been trying to say to people for a long time now. Most people can’t seem to see past their nose when it comes to things that matter. Farming for the human species is a heritage we have had for thousands of years but it now affecting every single other species, directly or indirectly and think that it is now that we need to start looking back and eat what we find rather than farmed. Also your photography is beautiful and supports your post well. I look forward to reading more of your articles. x

    • Not many would be very adept at finding their food. Most would not know how to hunt or how to forage without killing themselves on plants. In Costa Rica, we foraged in the rainforest. I ate so many things I had no clue what they were. I was with two Costa Ricans and one Colombian. Two of them were in the landscape program and knew the plants well. My Colombian friend knew the fruit and bugs very well. I can not say we ate good, but at least we had food.I did not eat one bug either. Fish yes. but no bugs.

      • greenucsu says:

        I can understand that most people wouldn’t survive the hunting and foraging (I probably wouldn’t either, learn quick I would imagine). However, with the increasing size of the human population and the agricultural landscape but say for some reason agriculture came to cease to exist, would it not be a small blessing for those people who couldn’t hunt or forage? Just as in the wild where populations of species are naturally kept low (or at a sustainable amount and where there is no human interference) then nature would then be able to keep human populations down, life would be more balanced for the environment…

        • greenucsu says:

          Also, I’ve spent some time in the Costa Rican jungles. It’s so beautiful! x

        • The people that could do these basic things would be considered great teachers. I wish there was an answer for the many of us. It seems so inevitable that we are headed to an event where there will be less of us. Tensions brewing around the world, icecaps melting, temperatures rising, water shortages, droughts, the list goes on and on. I saw a special yesterday and the scientist predicted an earth devoid of people, how he was unsure. The animal he hoped would survive the great extinction was a raccoon. His reasoning was they are very smart and dexterous, and could evolve back into us. I was laughing and I know he was serious. I though having the great apes as a relative was a bit demoralizing, but a raccoon? How many people chase them away in the middle of the night from their garbage cans?

  23. Interesting series. I’m glad you listed the other posts in the series because I had missed one. If you haven’t already read it, take a look at Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond.

  24. I agree sustainability is a big if…if everyone cared, if everyone did everything they could…but since the if belongs to the individual, we will have to each make up our own minds to do what is right. I keep checking myself to make sure we don’t waste food and water…some days we are better than others but your post certainly helps to keep it front and center for me. Love the dandelions in the photos and my garden as they have their place too. When the red admirals came North this spring by the thousands, the dandelions were the only flower they found for nectar.

    • I am good about those things too, but see around me many that are not. Conserving is not something most people will do unless it is forced on them. Even then, they will fight to have what they lost. Can you imagine the violence that would result of people stealing from one another? A very different world would develop and so would the individuals in that world do things they would never have dreamed. I saw a special yesterday on the Bonobo chimps. They are very different from regular chimps. They developed isolated from them and humans by being located on the opposite side of the Congo river and did not swim to the other side. The ice age helped keep them separate too. They never developed a ‘dark side’. They are truly altruistic, empathetic, compassionate, kind and giving. They do not engage in conflict. I found it enlightening that we as humans evolved on the ‘wrong’ side of the river.

  25. DOnna, a perfect wrap-up for he series, it is never too much thinking to considerer the many implications of density of population in the world and try to present alternatives to the “wild consumerism” from the last, let’s say, century it needs to be our daily priority, to find new patterns of cultural beaviour

  26. A most-thoughtful discussion, Donna. A couple of random thoughts:

    I’ve been troubled ever since I read this scientifically based Doomsday scenario that indicates we are NOT on a “sustainable” track:

    Also, 1 out of every 5 people live in mainland China. The government’s approach to “sustainability” has been the draconian “One Child Rule,” where each couple is only allowed to have one child. This will eventually lead to a situation in China where a person will have no aunts, uncles, siblings, or cousins, and where each child will have the undivided attention of 2 sets of grandparents and 1 set of parents. As a person who comes from a HUGE clan (my mom was one of 13 kids, and I had 42 first cousins on that side alone, I can’t imagine life without extended family, yet I can appreciate China’s dilemma if couples were allowed to have all the children they wanted. (Because India has no reproductive “mandate,” its population will soon surpass China’s to be the largest in the world.)

    I just have to hold onto the belief that, ultimately, God is in control.

    • Thanks for the link John. I was amazed at those numbers. I do wish people would stop making it political though. It really takes away the true meaning and severity of the issue. As long as there are shareholders, there will always be this huge problem with fossil fuel, and many Democrats are shareholders too. The hypocrisy astounds me. One one hand the politicians spout the rhetoric, on the other the profit.

  27. Just read the link below and it reminded me of this article. The recipe looks interesting though I haven’t checked out the health claims

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