Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, I remember people saying about visiting places of natural beauty, from campgrounds to local parks to national parks, beaches, and so on:
“Leave it better than you found it.”
“Take only pictures, leave only footsteps.”
Today, every place possible in America has litter. I saw litter at every stop of the forty-eight hour train ride from Los Angeles to Houston, where we would go hours without cell phone access or seeing signs of people. Every road shows litter people through from their cars. Cities are buried in it, certainly New York.
It’s easy to associate litter with poor areas, but rich people produce far more pollution, plus they’re the shareholders and decision-makers who profit from choosing to drill for oil, manufacture disposable junk, produce plastic, and so on. They fly and drive more.
I’m not saying it’s completely gone. A small minority of people probably leave places cleaner than they find them, but they’re nearly invisible and shrinking. The culture seems to accept that pollution is inevitable and therefore acceptable and therefore, why not? Many people limit themselves somewhat from just dropping anything anywhere, but I think they miss that waste ending in a landfill or invisible, like jet and car exhaust, far away like coal plants, hidden like nuclear waste, and so on doesn’t count.
They seem to think that going to a landfill means exiting the ecosphere. They seem to think if it says “compostable” or “Recycle me!” that they aren’t hurting people. They think if the vehicle is electric it doesn’t pollute. We act as if any sign that something pollutes less than outright pouring crude oil into a dolphin’s blowhole, then we can disregard all the pollution created in manufacture, transportation, and handling end of life.
We accept any excuse, however flimsy, to neglect our effect driving a system that pollutes enough to kill tens of millions annually. That number is increasing and, if we don’t change, can easily increase by a factor of one hundred.
Capitulation and abdication
America has capitulated its values and abdicated its position of stewardship. Liberals, conservatives, independents, libertarians, environmentalists, young, old, male, female, neoliberal, socialist, capitalist, communist, educated, uneducated, blue collar, white collar, . . . everyone. Each group gives different excuses and blames others, but each group does it.
Coopted, assimilated, and corrupted
I’m writing these words at an NYU library. Besides me, every person here has at least one disposable container of coffee, water, or a drink. There’s even one disposable plastic cup at a place with no person.
My point: we’ve reached where nearly every single thing people sustain themselves with pollutes. We lost water long ago. People will walk past a water fountain to pay for a plastic bottle. The group I volunteer with puts plastic around nearly everything not already covered in plastic. Even fruit and vegetables have stickers.
EDIT: while leaving the library after writing, I passed a water fountain that was bone dry. Likewise, walking home in the park, littered with single use plastic bottles, the fountains were bone dry too.
Am I missing something or can most Americans not live without polluting?
Most Americans pollute with nearly every activity: eating, moving, spending time with friends and family, working, engaging in arts and sports, sex, yoga, meditation (listening to apps, buying dedicated cushions and clothing, etc), and so on.
Change my view: American culture has abandoned “Leave it better than you found it.”
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