By TAY TIAN YAN
Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily
While environmental protection is a rather recent creation, environmental issues have been in existence since time immemorial.
Even a powerful empire, an ancient civilisation, could be engulfed by natural disasters.
I was referring to the Roman Empire, the most powerful and glorious kingdom the Western World has seen. This ancient empire that existed until about 2,000 years ago could have been annihilated by Man's ignorance of their living environment.
Historians in the past had made assumptions on the fall of the empire: political turmoil, flagging economy and undermined military power that had brought down the once invincible empire with a little help from the invading barbarians.
But, there was a missing link between the cause and effect. Why had the once unsurmountable race suddenly be denied of its absolute superiority in politics, economy and military?
There must have been some intrinsic changes that caused the decline of a powerful people, something many historians are still exploring today.
Some emerging environmental historians have offered new reasonings in recent years. They looked at things from the historical ecosystem and pointed to the ingression of environmental disasters as key to such changes, with a host of evidences.
After the Romans conquered much of the continent, their people were increasingly basking in material indulgences, thanks to their new found wealth and unprecedented economic boom.
Sumptuous servings aside, they also made sure the utensils used to hold their food were of supreme qualities.
To satisfy the needs of the people, businessmen coated a special substance on the utensils to give them a sparkling exuberant look. The empire's rich and famous were particularly enchanted by such utensils, not knowing that the special substance coated on them was actually highly toxic lead.
Other than utensils, many day-to-day items, including the water pipes, also used lead, which got into the blood stream of the Romans over time to dangerously high levels.
What makes lead all the more frightening is that lead poisoning does not present early signs and symptoms, progressively invading our brains and organs instead, culminating in physical degeneration and debilitation, and the harms are passed down to our children and grandchildren.
Poisoned by lead, many Roman children were born physically and mentally challenged.
Historical statistics show that half of the Roman noblesse were rendered barren while the remaining half gave birth to mentally challenged children.
The palace court was devoid of physically healthy princes within one or two generations, and very soon even healthy children became a rare commodity among the nobles.
The last few Roman emperors were mentally retarded, their vast empire heading towards demise.
Would anyone listen to him if a scientist were to stand up and warn that such utensils had to be discarded or the empire would be ruined? He would most likely end up on the gallows.
Even to this day, there are still a handful of people who do not believe in what the rare earth could do to human bodies, thinking it is safe and reliable.
This is a critical bet that could give rise to unimaginable consequences had we made the wrong decision.
Modern people far supersede the Romans two millennia ago in environment awareness. Knowledge aside, we have something more vital: to make the right decision.