Thursday, November 23, 2006

Children, EPA and The Semantic Web

Every day I read in the local, national and global news something that makes me wonder why humans are not using the best scientific knowledge that is available, to help guide decisions related to natural resources and ecosystems. From the understanding I have gained over my lifetime I assume that there is enough general agreement about what needs to be done about clean water and air, species sustainability, energy issues, causes of climate change and many other ecological problems that we could be making better decisions every day if we just followed the best scientific conclusions that continue to accumulate constantly from all over the world. I don't understand how citizens can allow short term religious, political and economic issues to overrule science when clearly the future of many living organisms including the human species is at stake. Today I want to write a few comments about the following topics and follow up with more detailed comments in future posts.

1. Is there any scientific doubt that the sensory mechanisms of all organisms including human children are tuned to respond and learn from natural environmental experiences? An interesting new book by "Richard Louv" is available titled, "Last Child in the Woods" - Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," (The links provided are to Google Searchs.) The book may be spawning a social movement now being developed by schools, states and even government agencies such as the National Park Service and Forest Service called, "No Child Left Inside." (Another Google Search Link) Children and their families are being encouraged to visit parks, wetlands and natural areas. Note that the areas to visit includes water bodies like lakes, rivers and streams. My question is, how do citizens reconcile the need for children to explore these places at the same time allowing more chemical pesticides to be applied by rule changes by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency? Note that the slogan on the EPA web site is "35 years of protecting human health and the environment."

2. "EPA Issues Final Rule on Aquatic Pesticide Applications" is a November 21, 2006 news release from the EPA Newsroom. An article written by H. Josef Herbert, of the Associated Press "EPA Exempts Some Pesticide Use" notes that this is an exemption from previous rules and means that pesticides can be applied directly into water or sprayed nearby or onto foliage over water without a pollution permit from the federal Clean Water Act, if the application is needed to control aquatic weeds, mosquitoes or other pests. He also notes that obviously environmental groups say this ruling will make it easier to pollute the nation's lakes and streams. He also quotes Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who believes the permitting exemption will lead to more toxic pollution getting into lakes and streams. "He said a billion pounds of pesticides are used annual in the United States "and much of it ends up in our waterways."

3. The Semantic Web: I share Nova Spivac's opinion on his blog Minding the Planet, that "ecology is going to be the most important science and discipline of the 21st century – it is the science of healthy systems." In his very comprehensive and understandable November 06, 2006 article "Minding the Planet -- The Meaning and Future of the Semantic Web" he wrote, "Ecology is essentially the science of community – whether biological, technological or social. And community is a key part of the Semantic Web at every level: communities of software, communities of people, and communities of groups. In the end the global mind is the ultimate human community. It is the reward we get for finally learning how to live together in peace and balance with our environment."

As I read and research ideas about the future of the Semantic Web I understand the potential for how expert knowledge that is trustworthy, reputable and reliable is accumulating and will become more and more important in the future. Meanwhile, I believe there is already valuable expert knowledge that we use every day and could use even more effectively to help solve a myriad of ecological problems that are accumulating at an alarming rate.

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