Earth Day: Compost & Microbiome Extinction

Today is Earth Day. This annual feast of eco-spirituality has been with us for a half century. It gains more converts every year. Its official patron saint is Gaylord Nelson, then-senator from Wisconsin. He stirred crowds on the first Earth Day with calls for new national policies that will “interfere with what many have considered their right to use and abuse the air, the water, the land.”

Campaign nationwide to elect an “Ecology Congress” as the 92nd Congress – a Congress that will build bridges between our citizens and between man and nature’s systems, instead of building more highways and dams and new weapons systems . . . .

Ecology is a big science, a big concept – not a copout. It is concerned with the total eco-system – not just with how we dispose of our tin cans, bottles and sewage.

Heady stuff. But the name that lights up for me each April is Ira Einhorn.

An environmental activist and devotee of Sixties’ counter culture, Einhorn spoke on stage at the first Earth Day event in Fairmont Park, Philadelphia on April 22, 1999. He credited himself as a co-founder of Earth Day, a role still popularly associated with him. Organizers of that Fairmont rally have denied his claim. You cannot blame them for wanting to distance the sacred event from a convicted murderer. In 1977, his ex-girlfriend disappeared after she returned to the apartment she and Einhorn had shared to collect her belongings. Eighteen months later, police found her partially mummified body in a steamer trunk in Einhorn’s closet.

In the gleeful phrasing of pundits at the time, she had been composted. It might have been unholy murder, but at least it was a green burial.

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Give Einhorn some credit. Clearly, he was onto something: ecological death care. In scientific jargon it is called “natural organic reduction.” Scientists tell us that composting the dead is better for the environment than cremation or traditional burial. It saves carbon, you see, thereby cutting contribution to climate change.


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Tennyson’s famous line from “Locksley Hall” insists that in spring, “a young man’s fancy turns to love.” Graham Lawton, staff writer for NewScientist, must be older than ones the poet had in mind. Lawton’s column heralding thess sunny spring days, strikes an apocalyptic note. All those vital microbes that transformed the body of Einhorn’s ex-girlfriend into mulch are endangered species. Mother Earth’s microbiome is in “shocking decline.” And “possibly precipitously.”

Bacteria, fungi and other microbes, which are vital to life on Earth, were long thought impervious to threats endangering larger lifeforms. Now biologists are warning of a microbial extinction event. . . .

“We’re starting to see scary signals that there may be this large microbial extinction event under way that we barely noticed,” says Colin Averill, an ecologist at ETH Zurich in Switzerland.

When we think of biodiversity decline, we usually sweat the big stuff: plants, fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. But these are just the tip of the iceberg. . . .  But there are at least 6 million species of terrestrial fungus and up to a trillion species of bacterium and archaeon, collectively known as prokaryotes.

The alarmism sounds so . . . so scientifickey. Have we not been following the science? It has been a full nine years ago, PBS told us that microbe extinction may be at the root of modern plagues like asthma, allergies, diabetes, obesity and even some forms of cancer. Antibiotics, C-sections and modern sanitation are cited among possible causes of this catastrophe.


Microbial mass extinctions were kicked off by . . . can you guess? . . . human evolution. NewScientist was on the case in 2016: “We may have become exposed to mental and physical health problems because our cultural evolution has wiped out legions of microscopic species.” In addition to health problems, an “agricultural apocalypse” is upon us. A certain odor attaches to modern farming methods and, as the article slips in, the Industrial Revolution.

In 2018, an op-ed in the Washington Post commented on this silent crisis by opining that:

Scientists need to build biobanks: just like we have seed vaults for plants at risk of extinction, we need to collect microbiome samples from populations that don’t live a modern lifestyle and who have a much richer, more diverse microbiome than we do.

I could keep going. Type microbe extinction into your favorite browser on a day you have nothing else to do except sit at the computer. The return list is long.

Here’s one more. This, from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a subset of the NIH: “Diet-induced extinctions in the gut microbiota compound over generations. . . Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome.”

Modernity—man’s dominion, his handiwork, his diet—is the blight at the core of these extinction narratives. The indictment was delivered discreetly in “Dinosaurs and Destiny,” a 1988 editorial in The Economist (quoted in Trashing the Planet, 1990):

The extinction of the human species may not only be inevitable but a good thing . . . . That is not to say that the rise of civilization is insignificant, but there is no no way of showing that it will be much help to the world in the long run.

Such is the new, acceptable way to say, “Dust thou art; and unto dust thou shall return.” Earth Day has become the Ash Wednesday for secular environmentalists.

ADDENDUM: The NCBI reference to diet is not a one-off. No indeed. The seriousness of this lunacy came home to New Yorkers a few days ago in Mayor Eric Adams’ hair-raising press conference. With the cooperation of American Express, NYC will track people’s meat purchases! Tracking is the authoritarian starting point for placing penalties on—and eventually eliminating—meat from our diets. Meat-eating must be eliminated, or heavily curtailed, to reduce methane emissions from “the human gut microbiome,” as NCBI puts it.

Passing wind and burping, whether by livestock or humans, is now a recognized threat to the climate.