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August 23, 2016

The Balance of Nature

“DOCTOR AT SEA” a monthly Column in The Islander Magazine

The Balance of Nature

At the time of writing, the Palma Boat Show is in its last couple of days and visitors to the Islander stall will have been made aware of the magazine’s campaign to clean up the plastic litter drifting around the sea. Like so many environmental problems, this seems too big to handle but a sea-change (hm!) in attitudes by lots of individuals can make a difference.

This is just one example of our abuse of our environment.

We are now reeling from major environmental crises over the past few weeks in particular. The Ash Cloud from Iceland reminded us how puny we are even if we misrepresent the situation as did President Obama’s spokesman when he said that the President had decided not to attend the funeral of the Polish President in Warsaw – that must rank as one of his easier decisions in a tough job and really was a helpless reaction to overwhelming forces of nature – decisive, hardly – realistic, definitely – humbling, let’s hope so. The Ash Cloud has been followed without much of a breather by the Oil Slick and this looks like having a much more devastating and prolonged impact on the southern United States maritime ecosystem and coastal economies.

The volcanic ash problem is entirely out of our hands and may be settling but has threatened to affect air travel and atmospheric pollution in a big way. The oil platform disaster is definitely of our making and could wreck the balance of nature in the Gulf region for years to come. They are both very big examples of environmental attack and the impact can resonate in all kinds of unexpected directions – the Louisiana shellfish industry fears destruction as the breeding areas are about to be inundated with lethal crude oil. Earlier this year, following the Chilean earthquake, many fish processing factories were destroyed so that the fishing fleets, which had been able to continue relatively unaffected, suddenly had nowhere to send their catches – the balance of society infrastructure can be surprisingly delicate.

This balance in nature and society is very obvious in human beings.

When we lose sleep we become less efficient and we become irritable and even depressed – a well-balanced mixture of rest, work and play makes for a more contented person. Old fashioned advice about one hour sleep before midnight being worth two hours after midnight seems very quaint but does seem to work when you realise that it more or less guarantees a seven or eight hours sleep rather than an inadequate five or six. Ten minute power naps in the afternoon, or even longer siestas, may recharge the batteries but tiredness earned rather than tiredness inflicted is a much easier master.

Similarly, we can eat to live or we can live to eat – we can eat as an essential part of a balanced day or we can eat for the sake of it and grow fat – and unhealthy. Clearly we need calories to function and we enjoy food that looks and tastes good and our body flourishes with just the right amount but needs to be looked after when we are surrounded by plenty – or we will run the risks of obesity with accelerated back pain and joint pains, increased risk of diabetes or heart disease, or even the risk of delayed evacuation in an emergency at sea.

A daily dose of exercise is much better than an apple a day to keep the doctor away – which one of us has a machine that gets stronger and more efficient the more it is used? – or can repair itself when damaged? – or, unfortunately, gets weaker and less efficient the less it is used – “use it or lose it” comes to mind and even half an hour of brisk walking three days each week can be enough to make a difference.

Other illustrations continue to flood in and we know them well – alcohol, sex, work, ambition – they can be out of balance just like sleep, food and exercise and we feel the pain but usually the remedy is in our own hands. We cannot tackle the massive threats to our environment like the Ash Cloud and the Oil Slick on an individual basis but we can make our individual impact on the litter and we can usually look after ourselves better than we do.


Dr Ken Prudhoe, MCA Approved Doctor, can be contacted at Club de Mar Medical Centre, Palma de Mallorca.

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