Warning: This one is slightly political.
This morning I saw a gathering of crows by the side of the highway.
What drew my eyes to the birds is the fact that they were pecking at a bag of trash some motorist had helpfully tossed out the window. The bag was plastic, so the crows were almost certainly injesting plastic microparticles.
A group of crows really is called a “murder,” ironic considering that’s what we, not them, are doing to our world.
I’ve been thinking about this type of thing more than usual because I’ve been reading David Attenborough’s new book, A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and A Vision for the Future.
In some ways, it’s an easy read. His writing is succinct and clear. It’s the message that’s hard to take, though it’s certainly not news.
Our way of life, with all its careless wastefulness, is destroying our world.
The generations who came before us had ignorance as an excuse. They were simply trying to make their hard lives a little easier.
We have no such excuses. We know what we are doing, and if anything, our lives are a little too easy, a fact readily discernible simply by looking at the waistlines of most people who live in first-world countries.
So, what do we do about it?
The so-called leader of our country has walked back many of the regulations meant to protect our world and done so with the full support of many U.S. citizens.
And it’s become common to throw out items simply because we fancy something new.
That’s needlessly wasteful.
An example: When we lived in the city, on the nights before trash pick-up, we’d ride bikes around the neighborhood to garbage pick.
Yes, I know it sounds tacky. But you wouldn’t believe what people set out on their tree lawns. Full-sized Little Tikes kitchens and slides, bicycles, chairs, and hundreds of other still-useful objects.
Darling Daughter learned to ride on a bike picked off a tree lawn.
It was brand-new. No, really, it was. Someone had mis-threaded one of the pedals, and instead of fixing it or taking it to a bike shop, they put it out on the lawn.
She rode that bike until it was too small for her. I can’t remember what we did with it then, but it certainly didn’t go on the lawn. It was either donated or given to another kid.
Most of the things people toss are plastic, which I find especially heinous because plastic never goes away.
It’s in our oceans, killing birds and animals.
It’s in our landfills. I’ve read that most of the plastic ever produced still exists, and the fact is only 8% of it is recycled.
And it’s in our bodies. No one yet knows how it affects us, though I’m hazarding a guess it can’t do anything good.
I find myself thinking of the lyrics to Jackson Browne’s “If I Could Be Anywhere.”
Searching for the future among the things we’re throwing away
Swimming through the ocean of junk we produce every day
You have to admit it’s clever
Maybe the pinnacle of human endeavor
When things are made to throw away but never made to disappear
The way we eat and travel affects the earth too, filling our world with carbon and methane, contributing to global warming.
According to NBC News, about 1/4 of climate change is caused by agriculture and industrial farming.
We can do something about this, choosing to buy local when possible from smaller farms (which also cuts down on the fuel used to get our foods to us) and eating more plant-based meals by choosing to not have meat for every breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Yes, it can be more expensive to buy from local farmers. But if you buy items in season and freeze them for later, it can actually cost less than items purchased from a store. And protein from beans and legumes is not nearly as costly as meat.
After reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, The Engineer and I made a commitment to eat meat only once a day. Sometimes it’s sausage with breakfast, but mostly we eat animal protein at dinner.
This is not a huge sacrifice, though it’s not quite what Safran Foer is encouraging. His goal is no animal products before dinner, and we still eat a lot of eggs and cheese.
A quick note on eggs: We’re fortunate to live in a county where there are still people who raise chickens, so we buy our eggs locally. In the summer, we get them with our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share, and in the winter, I keep an eye out for roadside signs, occasionally driving to a small roadside stand nearby. They cost anywhere from $3-$5 per dozen, which is substantially more than the ones at Aldi.
However, buying eggs this way means we know they come from birds that are not factory farmed.
Do this for me: Look at a standard sheet of paper. That’s 94 square inches.
It’s sickening, both literally and figuratively.
You see, when animals are raised in such close quarters, they are prone to illness. Because of this, they are treated with antibiotics as a preventive measure, even when they aren’t sick. These antibiotics end up in our food, contributing to resistance in humans.
Ultimately, we pay a high price for cheap eggs (and meat).
Also, local eggs just taste better. The yolks are creamier, bright orange instead of anemic yellow.
The same can be said for meat. It tastes more like, well, meat.
It also smells like meat. The first time I opened a package of local chicken, I was a bit put off. Until I recognized what was happening, I thought something was wrong. Then a sensory memory surfaced, and I realized what I was smelling was chicken. I’d become accustomed to opening packs of chicken that had no smell (probably because the parts had been chlorinated).
These are choices we have made about food, ones we are fortunate to have the option and means to make. And we have made other decisions regarding the amount of plastic and disposable items we use.
My point in writing this post is not to say, “I do this, and you should too.” It would be unethical to try to impose my beliefs on others, and the choices we have made wouldn’t work for everyone.
Nor do I hold myself blameless in what we are doing to our world. I have many wasteful habits (long hot showers and baths being two of them) and could certainly live more lightly on the earth.
All I ask is for each of us to consider the effects our daily decisions have on the world, and to factor those effects into the choices we make.
If we don’t (and honestly, maybe even if we do), we will destroy the only environment in which we can survive. Earth will continue turning, but we’ll no longer be here to enjoy the ride. The saddest part is we’ll be taking many other species with us, species that did nothing to deserve the mass extinction that lurks ahead.
The best analogy I can find is the earth is like a horse carrying a rider, until it finally grows tired of the weight and bucks that rider to the ground. The horse runs on, free from encumbrance. The rider is left behind in the dust.