Volume XI, Issue 31 ~ July 31 - August 6, 2003

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Bay Reflections

Can We Meet the Demand?
by Albert ‘Abby’ Ybarra

As the school year ended, I was encouraged by my son’s second-grade class at Mt. Harmony Elementary School. The class took on the challenge of becoming explorers of their school watershed.

They started the year learning about the Bay and specifically how its underwater grass is being tromped down by our human footprints on the ecosystem. Led by their teacher, Judy Mansfield, they also studied the ecosystem as one operating system in a web of intricate connections. I visited to offer a series of classroom activities to raise their understanding of how the earth operates.

We ended the year by celebrating the spirit of the earth and making a small healing in a way students chose: planting four large trees. They had also learned about planting trees to stop erosion. They showed their art skills by writing poems and making art depicting how trees operate and benefit all living things.

In my Native American tradition, I led them in a prayer ceremony and blessed the students along with our trees by burning holy sage. Yet as I stood proud alongside the other parents, I wondered whether we can meet the demand to protect what we have.

News is too frequent of the degradation of natural habitats not only in the Bay area but also across the continent and beyond.

The consumption of forests, energy and land is exceeding the rate at which the earth can replenish itself, according to a report from the National Academy of Sciences. Failure to rein in humanity’s overuse of natural resources could send the planet into “ecological bankruptcy.”

The report focused on the finite resources of the earth but gave no timetable of when need would outstrip supply. Yet humanity’s demand for resources had soared during the past 40 years to a level where it would take the planet 1.2 years to regenerate what people remove each year. The impact by humans on the environment has inched higher since 1961, when the public demand was 70 percent of the planet’s regenerative capacity, the study showed.

Then through the smoke of the burning sage, I was aware of the smiling eyes and wonderment of the students. What a source of energy they are, I thought. Can this be captured for reuse?

How many trees would it take to recover the amount of carbon dioxide created in each lifetime, I asked. They raised their hands and then yelled out, “64 trees!” That’s the estimate of a scientist at the USDA–Forest Service.

Maybe we could be on the long road to recovery? This generation has the power to make things happen.

Looking about at the smiling class, I imagined a few environmental engineers, a scientist or two and a few teachers among the tree planting teams working on their last day of school. My son Diego tells me often that he wants to be a scientist.

With the rain gently falling on this happy tree planting day, the Great Spirit and those who have gone on before us at our side, I saw the gleam of enlightened students ready to learn more. I saw the possibility that, if they are given the opportunity, we can meet the demand.


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Last updated July 31, 2003 @ 2:45am