Awakened by the muffled, distant howls of slaughtered Indians, Uncle Sam rises from his bed and hits the light switch…blissfully, purposefully unaware of how valley fills enable him to gain access to that electricity day after day.

***

Here’s how The Sierra Club begins its discussion of mountaintop removal mining: “In places like Appalachia, mining companies blow the tops off mountains to reach a thin seam of coal and then, to minimize waste disposal costs, dump millions of tons of waste rock into the valleys below, causing permanent damage to the ecosystem and landscape.” That is a valley fill.

Then comes word-on October 18, 2008-that the Interior Department has “advanced a proposal that would ease restrictions on dumping mountaintop mining waste near rivers and streams, modifying protections that have been in place, though often circumvented, for a quarter-century.” This from a New York Times article, which continues: “The department’s Office of Surface Mining issued a final environmental analysis Friday on the proposed rule change, which has been under consideration for four years. It has been a priority of the surface mining industry … The proposed rule would rewrite a regulation enacted in 1983 that bars mining companies from dumping huge waste piles, known as “valley fills,” within 100 feet of any intermittent or perennial stream if the disposal affects water quality or quantity.”

***

Like any good American, after subconsciously blocking out the faint sounds of slave chains clinking and bull whips cracking, Uncle Sam’s first chore of the day is to check e-mail. No time for him to contemplate e-waste, now is there?

***

E-waste (discarded electronics and electrical products) has some potential in supplying secondary raw materials to keep the entire system afloat, when not properly treated properly it becomes a major source of carcinogens and toxins.

“A whole bouquet of heavy metals, semimetals and other chemical compounds lurk inside your seemingly innocent laptop or TV,” adds Jessika Toothman at HowStuffWorks.com. “E-waste dangers stem from ingredients such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, copper, beryllium, barium, chromium, nickel, zinc, silver and gold. Many of these elements are used in circuit boards and comprise electrical parts such as computer chips, monitors, and wiring.”

According to the EPA, in 2005, “used or unwanted electronics amounted to approximately 1.9 to 2.2 million tons. Of that, about 1.5 to 1.9 million tons were primarily discarded in landfills, and only 345,000 to 379,000 tons were recycled.”

***

Uncle Sam decides he wants eggs for breakfast and what Uncle Sam wants, Uncle Sam gets. Not even the din of doomed chickens can slow down this hungry man.

***

Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns has written a narrative of what a battery hen might say if it could speak human language. The narrative begins: “I am battery hen. I live in a cage so small I cannot stretch my wings. I am forced to stand night and day on a sloping wire mesh floor that painfully cuts into my feet. The cage walls tear my feathers, forming blood blisters that never heal. The air is so full of ammonia that my lungs hurt and my eyes burn and I think I am going blind. As soon as I was born, a man grabbed me and sheared off part of my beak with a hot iron, and my little brothers were thrown into trash bags as useless alive.”

Battery hens produce the vast majority of eggs you’ll find in your market.

***

With food now in his stomach, Uncle Sam joins the vast majority of Americans who take at least one form of pharmaceutical drug each day. Choosing to ignore the agonized screams of tortured animals, Uncle Sam gulps down his pills.

***

Aysha Z Akhtar, M.D., M.P.H., is a senior medical advisor and Jarrod Bailey, Ph.D., is a senior research consultant for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “The more we study the relevance of animal tests, the more apparent their shortcomings become,” Akhtar and Bailey state in a Feb. 9, 2007 letter published in the British Medical Journal. “Even subtle physiological differences between humans and animals can manifest as profound differences in disease physiology and treatment effectiveness and safety. For example, numerous differences in spinal cord physiology and reaction to injury exist between species and even strains within a species. These differences likely contribute to the repeated failure of spinal cord treatments that have tested safe and effective in animals to translate into human benefit.”

“Results from animal tests are not transferable between species, and therefore cannot guarantee product safety for humans,” agrees Herbert Gundersheimer, M.D. “A major shift in our research paradigm is long overdue,” declare Akhtar and Bailey. “The move away from animal experiments toward more accurate methods of studying disease and intervention is scientifically superior and more ethical for humanity, as well as for animals.”

“Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are like us,'” writes Professor Charles R. Magel. “Ask the experimenters why it is morally OK to experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are not like us.’ Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction.”

***

Uncle Sam’s medicine is washed down thanks to store-bought water. As he packs his water bottle in his work bag, he could swear a cruise missile has soared past his house but instead nods his head in disbelief.

***

“Americans buy 30 billion single-use water bottles every year, the majority of which end up in landfills,” writes Dominic Muren at TreeHugger.com. “In fact, 845 bottles end up in the land fill every second. All these water bottles are made from petroleum, and require petroleum to be shipped around the world. All that, and there’s no evidence that bottled water is any cleaner than tap-water.” 

Catherine Clarke Fox of National Geographic adds: “But all those plastic bottles use a lot of fossil fuels and pollute the environment. In fact, Americans buy more bottled water than any other nation in the world, adding 29 billion water bottles a year to the problem. In order to make all these bottles, manufacturers use 17 million barrels of crude oil. That’s enough oil to keep a million cars going for twelve months. Imagine a water bottle filled a quarter of the way up with oil. That’s about how much oil was needed to produce the bottle.”

***

Tired of getting animal blood on his socks, Uncle Sam reaches for his leather shoes…courtesy of the $1.5-billion-and-100-million-animal-skins-per-year U.S. industry.

***

“Leather is not simply a slaughterhouse byproduct,” says animal issues columnist Carla Bennett. “It’s a booming industry and an important part of the slaughter trade, since skin accounts for approximately 50 percent of the total byproduct value of cattle.” Leather is also made from slaughtered horses, sheep, lambs, goats, and pigs. “When dairy cows’ production declines, for example, their skin is made into leather; the hides of their offspring, ‘veal’ calves, are made into high-priced calfskin,” adds Bennett. “Thus, the economic success of the slaughterhouse (and the factory farm) is directly linked to the sale of leather goods.”

Another tactic for procuring animal skins is hunting. Species such as zebras, bison, water buffaloes, boars, deer, kangaroos, elephants, eels, sharks, dolphins, seals, walruses, frogs, crocodiles, lizards, and snakes are murdered solely for their hides. These animals are often endangered or illegally poached-and death is rarely swift or painless. Alligators are clubbed with axes and hammers and may suffer for hours. Reptiles are skinned alive to achieve suppleness in the leather and may take days to die. Kid goats are boiled alive.

A clever diversionary tactic of leather makers is to label their products “biodegradable” while pointing out that synthetic versions are usually petroleum-based. However, says Sally Clinton in Vegetarian Journal, the tanning process acts to “stabilize the collagen or protein fibers so that they are no longer biodegradable.” In turn, the Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology explains, “On the basis of quantity of energy consumed per unit of product produced, the leather-manufacturing industry would be categorized with the aluminum, paper, steel, cement, and petroleum-manufacturing industries as a gross consumer of energy.” The primary reason for this is that over 95 percent of U.S. leather is chrome tanned. “All wastes containing chromium are considered hazardous by the EPA,” writes Clinton. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the incidence of leukemia among residents in an area surrounding one tannery in Kentucky was five times the national average. According to a study released by the New York State Department of Health, more than half of all testicular cancer victims work in tanneries.

***

Uncle Sam heads for his beloved SUV, trying his best to not only find his cell phone but also to avoid stepping on the thousands of dying frogs that litter his driveway.

***

The South American tree frogs’ population is declining and biologists are blaming global warming. These frogs, it seems, have the very un-froglike habit of basking in the hot sun (most frogs normally avoid prolonged exposure to light due to the risk of overheating and dehydration). According to a research team at the University of Manchester, “global warming is leading to more cloud cover in the frogs’ natural habitat. This, in turn, is denying them the opportunity to ‘sunbathe’ and kill off fatal Chytrid fungal infections, leading to many species dying out.”

Andrew Gray, Curator of Herpetology at the Manchester Museum, says: “With a third of the world’s amphibians currently under threat it’s vitally important we do our utmost to investigate the reasons why they are dying out at such an alarming rate.”

***

Uncle Sam starts up the engine and plugs in his cell phone headset, ready for a drive’s worth of important, essential, and utterly crucial business calls…but how can he hear over the sorrowful primate calls echoing off the SUV’s interior?

***

Here’s how the United Nations describes it: “Columbite-tantalite-coltan for short-is a dull metallic ore found in major quantities in the eastern areas of Congo. When refined, coltan becomes metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge.” Tantalum from coltan is used in consumer electronics products such as cell phones.

Why would the UN be involved in describing a component of your cell phone? Well, coltan is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an African nation besieged by a brutal civil war. The mining and sale of coltan is used by both sides in the conflict to fund their military mayhem. In addition, the UN explains: “In order to mine for coltan, rebels have overrun Congo’s national parks, clearing out large chunks of the area’s lush forests. In addition, the poverty and starvation caused by the war have driven some miners and rebels to hunt the parks’ endangered elephants and gorillas for food.” Within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the number of eastern lowland gorillas has declined by 90% over the past 5 years, and only 3,000 now remain.

***

Uncle Sam (on the phone): “Yeah, I’m on my way. (pause) I’m fine. Just got a headache. So much damn background noise lately. (pause) Ah, stop your worrying. It’s all gonna be fine. What could possibly go wrong now that Obama is in charge?”

(To be continued?)