• jrwickman

Building On Bedrock

When The Ground Falls Away

We’ve now established that I’m an environmentalist. That from an early age in Oregon, I was taught about the benefits and the responsibility of recycling, waste reduction, renewable energy sources, and living as sustainably as you’re able.

Well, recent revelations have shaken me. Hard. When I speak to people who are unfamiliar with concepts of sustainability, one of the first things I introduce to them is the ease with which a person in an urban area can recycle.

Back when recycling programs first began, you had to sort the materials. Glass, paper products, and plastics went into separate containers. Over the years, it’s become much easier. Just stuff it all in the Blue Bins and you’ve done your part. And for many people, that is their largest and most significant contribution to reducing waste and pollution. I try to do more every day to reduce my single impact on the planet, or to encourage others to do the same. From deleting paper towels from my shopping list, to reducing the amount of plastic packaging I purchase. So, educating people about recycling has always been a point of pride for me.

I can often climb up on my soap box when discussing issues of waste reduction. Mostly that’s because I firmly believe that if everyone everywhere were educated about the impact we’re making on the planet with our waste, everyone would care enough to do better.

With the recent publication of a joint NPR/PBS investigation (1), I’ve found a cornerstone of my belief about the world broken and bulldozed over. The public has been deliberately lied to for decades. Led to believe that plastics were being recycled so that they would not feel guilt about buying them. The article is linked below and has quotes from powerful people in the plastics industry that indicate deliberate intent to mislead the public.

My fiancé pointed out to me that she’s suspected this for years. That she learned in her college economy courses that it’s not fiscally practical to invest in recycled plastics because it’s simply cheaper to use new plastics. This is all detailed in the article.

This might not come as a great shock to many. “The public were lied to? You don’t say?” I get that part of it. For me, I have genuinely believed that these materials were being recycled. Realizing that I’ve been blindly naive all these years actually felt like the ground falling out from underneath me. An unpleasant swooping sensation in my gut.

As my mentor used to say to me, “You get five minutes to beat yourself up. Then, dust yourself off and keep going.” She was talking about bad auditions. But, that little nugget applies to so many things. So, I beat myself up for naiveté (for longer than five minutes), then I resolved to keep going.

So, we’ve been lied to. By a bunch of jerks who care more about lining their pockets than the health of people and the planet. Let’s keep going.

We have to. We must. Because my hometown in Oregon just got ravaged by a wildfire. It’s a tiny little town nestled against the coast. And it’s always wet. I don’t recall there ever being a devastating fire there. I remember small fires that sometimes happened. As we’ve learned about fire history, these low intensity fires were a natural part of forest ecology and “were key to maintaining wildfire resilience, forest structure and ecosystem health” (2)

In the last two weeks several red flag events have happened in the Western U.S. Over the Labor Day weekend record temperatures of 121 were recorded in Los Angeles. The next day very early season snow storms hit Colorado and New Mexico. This was followed by a horrendous number of wildfires in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

If this is not an indication that we need to change, I don’t know what is.

I’ve never been a fan of the phrase, “Save the Planet.” The planet isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It could certainly become uninhabitable for humans, animals, and plant life. But, it will keep spinning. So, maybe a more appropriate phrase should be, “Save Life On Earth.”

Because we are killing ourselves. If loss of life and climate change aren’t enough to get the attention of corporations and law makers, maybe the price tag of these disasters will. I hope. Maybe.

Regardless of how deceived I feel. I’m going to press on. I will keep talking about sustainability and keep making changes to my daily impact on the planet. And, I will continue to hope that more will do the same.

I’ll step down from my soap box for now.



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