On the environment

Something has been bothering me for some time. Specifically, it is the climate debate. Before you label me, or click away, just hear me out. I pride myself on being a level headed person, so when something bothers me, it's usually for a good reason. With that said, here it goes.

It should be clear to most people how hard we are on this planet. After all, you don't have to go far to see litter, land fills, run off slews, oil spills, clear cutting, excessive land development, toxic waste dumping, and on and on. Just look at Hong Kong's harbor. Large quantities of sewage is pumped into the water, raising the bacteria level. Algae blooms move in, growing and spreading until the food source is exhausted. Then the algae sinks to the bottom and dies, depriving the water of large quantities of oxygen. This creates dead zones, where everything dies. It's disgusting how we treat our home, but what I find more disgusting is how we argue about it. The global warming turned climate change debate has picked up steam over the last few years, but it is hampered by the fact that it is rooted in politics. And history has shown that causes born in the political arena see more lip service than decisive action. In a word, rhetoric spewing professional bureaucrats are arguing over who is right and who is wrong, instead of focusing on those tangible things that could make a real difference.  It is like Erma Bombeck said, "Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere". Politicians like to point the finger, so naturally they will narrow their focus onto one thing (usually a big one). Right now that thing is carbon dioxide. Namely the carbon based fuel sources that expel large quantities of it. Yes too much carbon dioxide is bad. Strip mining is horrible. Fracking is worse. Coal is an antiquated energy source, but as mankind has shown, we don't change directions quickly, or easily. So while we are fighting that battle, why can't we work to enact smaller, meaningful changes that will benefit our home right now?

I started thinking about this when i stopped by the mailbox to pick up the mail. Our post office box is filled everyday, and it isn't because of birthday cards or well-wishers. It is junk mail. That nasty little secret that lives out in the open. Everyone hates it, but little is done about it. Consider this. Six out of every seven days, my mailbox is at least half-full, and conservatively speaking, 80% of that is junk mail.

The other day we had mailers from Citibank and Chase offering us their best new credit card. There was one addressed to me, one to my wife, and one addressed to "household". Really? How long before these financial giants are mailing one to us, plus our children (regardless of age), plus the household? You can see their logic. More mailers means more potential customers, just as more hooks in the water might catch more fish. But their practices aren't just predatory, they're downright destructive. Think of all the ways we use paper. Then think of all the ways we shouldn't. Did you know that 100 million trees are cut down annually to be used to make junk mailers? This should sicken most people. I know it does me. And if the volume isn't bad enough, consider this. According to donotmail.org, "The paper is often sourced from destructive logging operations in some of the world's most ecologically important forest regions, including Canada's Boreal Forest, The U.S. Southeast and Indonesia's Tropical Rainforests". That is one tree for every three Americans. Now consider the global implications.

100 million trees = a year's supply of credit card offers, insurance specials, and political flyers. That is 100 million living organisms we destroyed to make a product that "44%" of people simply throw away unopened. And what is worse, only "22%" of junk mail is recycled. (NYU) In the past 20 years of industrial evolution we have integrated new techniques for paper recycling, yet 22% is all we can account for. Sad doesn't describe it. Embarrassing is more like it. If it was 100 million trees cut down annually to make live saving devices or products which could immediately improve someone's life it might be different. Individually we are intelligent, but what this tells me is that as a whole we are moths dangerously circling the flame. We have convinced ourselves that this is okay. That it is an acceptable practice and behavior, simply because it is how things are done. But it gets swept under the rug, because all we hear are the politically-spun narratives they want us focused on. Us versus coal. Us versus oil. Us versus carbon dioxide. They want you to focus on the big picture issues here, but in reality it is those smaller issues plaguing, no crippling society and our ecology that can enact measurable change now. Should we move away from fossil fuels, or limit their use? Heck yes. Can we enact that kind of change overnight and afford a meaningful reprieve from the damage already done? Unfortunately, no. They say we are pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in damaging quantities, while at the same time removing the very organic mechanism meant to keep atmospheric components in check. Simple science. Trees inhale co2, and exhale o2. Every school age child learns this early on. So instead of raising the crusader's sword against big oil or big coal, why can't we as a people simply demand that destructive behaviors like junk mail be brought to the forefront. Perhaps our elected officials could take their legislative powers and enact some good for a change. Instead of arguing over who is right, and who is wrong. Or, legislating what services and products we must buy.

Before I step off of my soapbox, I must touch on packaging materials. Beyond junk mail, I cannot think of another example of needless waste. You purchase something small, especially electronic. Chances are that it is wrapped in a plastic bag, supported by a plastic insert and stuffed inside a cardboard box (more paper use). According to the DNR, the U.S. alone produced more than 11.9 million tons of plastic waste from packaging in 2003. That is the equivalent of 22 million Arabian horses.

 Image credit: www.funmozar.com

Image credit: www.funmozar.com

And that doesn't include paper components for paper packaging. If the number wasn't staggering enough, 90% of that 11.9 million tons bypassed the recycling industry and went straight to the landfill. Cultivate, produce, ship, buy, and bury it in the ground. Yep, sounds like a destructive cycle to me. Calling us the "consumer" is right on multiple levels.

Yep, we are working so hard at sustainability. Alright, soapbox is going away now. As always, thanks for reading. Chime in below!