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Cause and effect

There’s one irrefutable axiom of science that applies to life in so many ways, and that’s Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion – "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."

Put on a pair of inline skates and throw a baseball, and the ball will go forwards, while your body moves backwards. Step onto a boat from a dock too slowly and see what kind of reaction happens when you shift your weight from a solid dock to a moveable object. Something always has to give.

When we move, the energy we expend pushing our foot down onto the ground bounces back to us, allowing us to walk, run and jump. When we lean against a wall, a well-designed wall will lean back.

Action and reaction. Cause and effect.

Newton’s laws have withstood scientific scrutiny for more than 300 years, and yet we still refuse to acknowledge that they apply to everything we do.

For example, few people would have connected the tuna sandwich they had for lunch with a recent report by Dalhousie University researchers that the ocean’s large fish, including tuna, are disappearing.

People don’t connect the gas they burn driving to work with global warming, air pollution, growing asthma rates, and a pair of devastating wars in Iraq – Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz admitted as much on a recent trip to Asia.

People don’t link the steaks on their barbecues to water pollution, the steady market devaluation of grain and other animal feed stocks on the global market, the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and billions of tax dollars either spent or remitted as farm subsidies.

Without subsidies and government turning a blind eye to the environment, how else would you explain the fact that a pound of ground beef costs less than a pound of soy burgers, when a cow eats about 90 pounds of grain, including 40 pounds of soybeans, each and every day for up to three years? In addition, it’s estimated that it takes about 10,000 litres of water to produce one pound of beef, between 15 and 50 times more than is required to produce a pound of soybeans. A quarter of all developed land is currently used for livestock production, a fraction of which could feed the world if it were used to grow beans and vegetables.

A corollary to Newton’s third law of motion is the "free lunch" principle, whereby there is no such thing as a free lunch. This is action and reaction on a social and economic scale; nobody picks up the tab without expecting something in return, and nothing – nothing – is ever as cheap or as free as it appears.

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