Paul Andersen: It’s nature’s way of telling you …

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

“It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong

It’s nature’s way of telling you in a song

It’s nature’s way of receiving you

It’s nature’s way of retrieving you

It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong …”

When the rock band Spirit recorded this melodic foreboding in 1970, global warming was barely on the radar. Today, Spirit’s song is a caution on climate change, species extinctions, falling sperm count, shrinking penis size and the specter of human infertility.

“Nature’s Way …” written by Spirit’s guitarist, Randy California, describes how nature informs, guides and warns us that the industrialized world has dire downsides. Nature is telling us to control the pollutants that bring existential threats to all species.

Forgive a columnist for being the bearer of grim news. I would far prefer uplifting, happy prose. But when scientific evidence points to problems, we either take note and oppose them or suffer the results with full culpability.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently broke the silence: “Something alarming is happening between our legs. Sperm counts have been dropping; infant boys are developing more genital abnormalities; more girls are experiencing early puberty; and adult women appear to be suffering declining egg quality and more miscarriages.”

Kristof wrote: “It’s not just humans. Scientists report genital anomalies in a range of species, including unusually small penises in alligators, otters and minks. In some areas, significant numbers of fish, frogs and turtles have exhibited both male and female organs.”

Where climate change elicits denial from recalcitrant naysayers, sperm count and penis size may be a wakeup call. Endocrine disrupters resulting from industrial pollutants may be taken seriously and inspire concern for future generations.

In “Count Down,” a new book by Shanna Swan, humans are put on notice of an inconvenient truth that won’t be easily or conveniently ameliorated. “For men, phthalates, found in many products, from plastics to shampoos, are the worst offenders, tanking testosterone levels and sperm counts — and causing sperm to basically commit suicide. In women, these chemicals may cause early menopause or cysts in the ovaries, or they may disrupt monthly cycles.”

Swan explains that biological changes are the result of “growing exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals that are found in everything from plastics, flame retardants, electronics, food packaging and pesticides to personal care products and cosmetics.”

We have so surrounded ourselves with the byproducts of industrial processes that our bodies are revealing reproductive malfunctions. Not even Viagra and fake boobs can get a rise out of human procreation under the thrall of toxins coursing through our systems.

“Count Down” reports that “over a quarter of men experiencing erectile dysfunction were under 40 and that testosterone levels have been dropping at 1 percent per year since 1982. For women, the miscarriage rate has risen by 1 percent per year over the last two decades.”

The conclusion: “If these trajectories continue, in vitro fertilization and other artificial reproductive technologies may become a widely needed tool for conceiving children.”

Other unintended consequences of industrial life now include compromises to overall health due to hormonal imbalances that could drastically alter “anatomical development, … change brain function and impair the immune system.”

These trends reveal that we humans are highly sensitive to altering the environments to which we have long been adapted. The changes that industrial life has wrought have occurred with incredible rapidity. While modern, industrial life is widely cheered as progress, human health and reproduction speak otherwise.

Instead of challenges from overpopulation, we now face the opposite threat of depopulation. Neither of these opposing threats has been weighed with responsibility. Humans simply muddle along as we have for generations, oblivious to unintended consequences.

The band Spirit warned 50 years ago that such threats are nature’s way of telling us something’s wrong. Whether we listen will be a measure of our collective intelligence and of whether we can humble ourselves before nature’s unbending laws.

Biological disruptions are nature’s way of directing our long-term future as a species. Survival hinges on the voice of nature rather than the demands of our own natures in the myopic pursuit of industrial production.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at