Rather out of the ordinary for me today, I accosted two teenage boys for littering the streets of my home town. Picking up their discarded plastics, I took them to them and pointed out they were only meters from a bin. Where, normally, I would probably have picked the litter up and disposed of it myself without saying anything, some anger seemed to take a stronger hold of me and I returned to try to reason with them. The affects of the riots must be reaching my head – and the words ‘teeangers’ and ‘social responsibility’ were suddenly driving me.
Although they apologised, I tried to explain to them the damage they were doing, thinking that a little education might go further than a telling off. When I suggested that the plastic could get washed out to sea they started laughing. The idea was in no way preposterous – this is not the midlands – we live a couple of miles from the sea, in a town with rivers at either end of it. It’s not unrealistic to imagine that their litter would get blown into the river and carried out to sea. I made them see the error in their ways enough for them to stop laughing and listen briefly once more as I suggested that creatures could easily catch the plastic in their mouths and choke on it. Even though they were merrily attempting to laugh at me as I walked away, I vainly hoped that some of this went in, and that, under their teenagery-exterior, they might both secretly love wildlife, and be wracked with guilt at the idea that their thoughtlessness could have caused something to lose it’s life…
On the other hand of course, they might have just continued to think I was some crazy person who seemed to care about the planet and thought, preposterously, that litter could sometimes get washed to the sea. Perhaps I should have told them that, recently, an autopsy on a whale in Australia showed it had died because it had 6 meter square of indigestible plastic bags stuck in its stomach. The marine biologists who had had to watch the whale die, unable to do anything to save it, had also recored this as a video. The whale cried and suffered until it died. Where do you think the bags came from, if not from some sea side town? But I didn’t give them this little anecdote. Perhaps, from now on I should keep it in my immediate verbal repertoire, especially if haranguing young people is to turn into a habit… Perhaps they still wouldn’t care, but the fact that they were so ignorant as to not have any idea of where their litter could end up surprised me. Is the same to be said of the people who let all of those plastic bags drift into the sea? And if so, is it because of the size of our world, that so many people seem so unaware of the consequences of their actions?
After the riots that stunned our country over the last week, most of us are asking how this has happened. Those of us fortunate enough not to live so close to the edge of an underbelly of crime and disillusionment that we have had our eyes opened to, struggled to believe what we were seeing. As people lost their lives, homes and businesses, we wondered why the rioter and looters didn’t care. How can we be brought up within society and not be willing to care for it, not be aware of our role in it? Those questions remain to be answered by sociologists and anthropologists – not me – yet the questions shine a light on our problems in regards to the environment. It seems to me that we have simply evolved to such a degree, that our reliance on technology and commercialism instead of nature, and our vast numbers, mean we have forgotten what caring for the earth was all about. As the two youths in my town weren’t aware that plastic can a) travel and b) kill something that tries to consume it, the youths rioting in the inner cities probably don’t know or care much about their Earth either. Do they know that meat comes from animals, that are farmed, but sometimes in horrible ways? That bees pollinate the plants that our food chain depends on? Did they know that, as they burned down peoples’ livelihoods and possessions, that that fire was releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, an atmosphere that is struggling to maintain our own ‘goldilocks’ zone?
So, here is my trite answer about why the world is in the state that it is. I believe it is because, although we remain irremovably connected with the world, we seem to have lost all sense of our connectedness. Whether we can do anything about this remains to be seen. What, perhaps is most troubling though, is another truth about human nature which seems to go hand in hand with lack of sense of responsibility, and that is, that those of us who do know that the planet is in trouble seem to be naturally wired to ignore the truth. This nearsighted-ness, seems to be a component of our nature. Just as we go through life making plans for the future, with little thought of our own mortality, never expecting the end – we seem to march towards the destruction of the planet without actually registering that that is what we are doing. Where environmental truths are concerned, it seems that the lights are on but no one is home. Many of us seem to be concerned about the planet, but unable or unwilling to do something about it, and I do not count myself out of that equation. Part of the problem is that changing our ways is hard. Most of us have been brought up in a society of waste, a society that leaves the heating on, and uses plastic packaging, because we didn’t used to know it was damaging. Now that we do know, old habits die hard. Yet all change has to start somewhere. Imagine, if those teenagers not only go on to never litter again, but tell their friends off if they see them casually discarding waste, and bring their children up to place their rubbish in the bins provided…. we can but hope.
So, to avoid having ranted without giving any real sense of hope, or guidance on what kind of behaviours we should be adapting, all my posts over the next week will concentrate on small things we can do to make a difference to our environment. Not big asks, but small changes that are easier to work into our day to day lives. The first shall be this: think of that whale and never use a plastic bag again! We don’t need anything else choking up our seas.