Section (C)
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
We recently participated in an environmental fair at the Mall (购物中心) of America in Bloomington,Minnesota, the largest indoor shopping center in America. After speaking with thousands of parents,children and teachers, we were alarmed at the public's wealth of environmental ignorance.
We were equally annoyed that all of what we heard was so superficial, and based on such a shallowunderstanding of today's true environmental problems. Here are five examples.
One: Recycling (回收利用) is the key.
Actually, recycling is one of the least important things we can do, if our real objective is to preservenatural resources.
Remember the phrase "reduce, reuse and recycle"? Reduce comes first for a good reason: It's betternot to create waste than to have to figure out what to do with it. And the production of recycled items,like the production of any other form of manufactured goods, requires energy and other resourceswhile creating pollution.
Rather, we need to make products more durable, lighter, more energy efficient and easier to repairrather than to replace. Finally, we need to reduce and reuse packaging.
Two: Garbage will bury us.
The original garbage crisis occurred when people first settled down to farm and could no longer leavetheir places after their garbage grew too deep. Since then, every society has had to figure out what todo with its waste — something that is usually unhealthy, smelly, and ugly — throwing garbage in thestreets, piling it up just outside of town, building it into structures or simply setting it on fire.
Today we can design history's and the world's safest recycling facilities, garbage dumps and facilitiesfor burning rubbish. America even has too much garbage dump capacity, thanks to the fact that wehave been building large regional dumps to replace older, smaller local dumps.
The problem is political. No one wants to spend money on just getting rid of garbage or to have agarbage site in the backyard. The obvious solution is to stop generating so much garbage in the firstplace. Doing so requires both the knowledge and the self-discipline to use less energy and do more withless stuff.
Three: Industry is to blame.
No, it's all people's fault. Certainly industry has played a significant role in destroying natural areas,generating pollution and using up resources. But we are the ones who signal to businesses that whatthey are doing is okay — every time we buy their products.
And don't just blame industrial societies. In his recent book Earth Politics, Ernst Ulrich vonWeizsacker wrote that "perhaps 90 percent of the destruction of animal and plant species, soil erosion,forest destruction and creation of deserts is taking place in developing countries." Thus, even non-industrialized, poor economies are creating environmental disasters.
Four: The earth is in danger.
In reality, the earth doesn't need to be saved. Nature doesn't care if human beings are here or not.
The planet has survived major changes for millions upon millions of years. Over that time, it is widelybelieved, 99 percent of all species have come and gone, while the planet has remained.
Saving the environment is really about saving our environment — making it safe for ourselves, ourchildren and the world as we know it. If more people saw the issue as one of saving themselves, wewould probably see increased support and commitment to actually doing something.
Five: Americans are wasting more.
The myth has it that Americans consume too much, since the creation of solid waste per personcontinues to climb. Each person generates about 4.4 pounds of garbage a day — a number that has seensteady growth. The assumption is that we are unstoppable in our desire to consume.
In reality, increases in solid waste are based largely on the mathematics of households, notindividuals. That is because regardless of the size of a household, certain necessary activities andpurchases generate trash.
As new households form, they create additional garbage. Think about a couple going through adivorce. Once there was one home. Now there are two. Building that second house or apartment usedlots of resources and created lots of construction rubbish.
Where once there was one set of furniture, one washing machine and one refrigerator, now there aretwo of all these things. Each refrigerator contains milk bottles, meat containers and packages of mixedvegetables. Each cupboard contains cereal boxes and canned goods.
The government's official numbers tell this story: From 1972 to 1987, the US population grew by 16percent, while the number of households grew by 35 percent. Solid waste created in towns and citiesincreased by 35 percent, too.
If Americans were really creating more trash by spoiling ourselves with a lot of unnecessary items,we would be spending more on trash-generating items: non-durable goods like food and beautyproducts. These all generate lots of garbage, since they are used and discarded quickly, along with theirpackaging. But household money spent for non-durable goods actually declined slightly from 1972 to1987.
Yes, the earth's resources are not infinite; natural areas are being destroyed; the number of plantand animal species is declining; consumption of resources is expanding. But we must be less willing toaccept superficial, theoretical announcements of right and wrong, cause and effect. To truly change theworld for the better, we need more facts, not simply more faith.