by Iris Harrell
I saw a cartoon in a recent "Funny Times" that showed a huge pile of trash with a person sprawled on top of it, clearly inebriated, and on his back passed out. The caption read "Mankind trashes Earth ... loses security deposit." I started to wonder who the new tenants of Earth might be after we humans get evicted.
This was a not-so-funny and sobering thought. Earth's stewardship and care has been the responsibility of humankind and we obviously need to "step up our game plan" and behave as if it were more of a life-and-death matter.
When I left the country in mid-January to go to my first-ever safari in Africa, I was extremely concerned with how dry our local surrounding landscape and environment looked. I wondered what the implications might be if Silicon Valley became a desert. January landscape looking like July or August landscape is not a good sign. I am starting to become more concerned about the rapid signs of global warming that are reappearing more often, as if to emphasize the increased need of doing something to reverse these problems.
While in Kenya, Africa, I saw firsthand so many women carrying drinking water in large containers on their backs back to their villages, and I realized more graphically how much our lives are affected when we don't have quick, easy and reliable access to clean drinking and cooking water. We were advised to drink only imported bottled water for the entire length of our trip, so as not to get any waterborne sickness. We complied with religious fervor. Most of the bottles we drank from were plastic. A quandary arose. How do you re-use a plastic bottle when the only water you can drink is from another plastic bottle?
There is a correlation between our trash and the quantity and quality of available drinking water. Our plastic, non-biodegradable bags and bottles that we as consumers use are found in great quantities in our oceans, rivers and streams. One American shopper typically uses 500 bags a year. The new local ban on plastic bags is a good first step to curbing the multiple problems caused by a simple plastic bag.
Plastic bags photo-degrade instead of biodegrade, breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits that contaminate our soil and waterways and enter the food web-chain when animals ingest them. It takes between 400 to 1,000 years for a plastic bag to break down. More than 100,000 marine animal deaths are caused yearly because of plastic bags thrown carelessly into the waterways. These bags are mistaken for food. Ninety percent of the debris in our ocean is plastic. Plastic releases toxins in our soil, oceans, lakes and rivers. These toxins affect our drinking water sources and all the natural life living in our waters. (We eat some of that "natural life.")
Producing plastic bags takes millions of gallons of petroleum (oil). So banning production of plastic bags could significantly reduce our carbon emissions, which, of course, is one of the biggest factors causing global warming. This destructive circle of bad behavior is spiraling into multiple problems for human "tenants."
So how hard is it to carry reusable bags into the grocery store? We don't usually forget to brush our teeth or bathe. Improved green habits have to become more automatic for us. There are still plenty of stores putting your newly purchased product into a plastic bag. Are you going to feel like a fanatic saying "Please don't give me a plastic bag"? These are the thoughts that go through our minds as we try to change our habits that we know we need to execute faithfully. We don't want to be looked at as crazy, but somebody has to be the role model for good stewardship.
A 2012 Christian Science Monitor article called "Troubled Waters" effectively pointed out that the real issue is that we do not recognize water's true value. The amount of water on our planet today is the same as when amphibians first came ashore. So how can we possibly have a water "crisis"? Only 2.5 percent of Earth's water is fresh water and two-thirds of that is locked away in glaciers and snow. As glaciers and icebergs merge with the salty ocean water, not only do we have less available drinking water options, we have rising sea levels, which is another set of problems related to water and humans.
We are now using more of our fresh water underground aquifers to meet our needs. Many of these aquifers are nonrenewable. The ones that are renewable are being used so rapidly (like too many straws in the same glass of water) that they are being depleted faster than they can be replenished.
What steps can we take as individuals, communities and a nation to fix these problems?
1. We need a national water policy and a state and local water policy that treats water as even more important than oil.
2. We need to be charged more for the water we use. This would give government agencies such as the Santa Clara Valley Water District more money to put into water conservation infrastructure. And we value what we have to pay more for.
3. Individually, we can make water conservation a top priority in our homes and businesses. (A constantly running toilet can waste 200 gallons of water a day.)
Lastly, we can try to avoid getting evicted as Earth's major tenant and most logical steward of Earth's precious gifts.
We don't want to be looked at as crazy, but somebody has to be the role model for good stewardship.