Paper or plastic

I have several pages of bulleted notes for blog posts that I couldn’t get to this week for a number of reasons too mundane to share. Anyway. Since I am marinating in my own sweat in my overheated office, today you get what is uppermost in my mind.

We have been having some extreme weather over in my corner of the world. Record setting highs and lows, drought followed by torrential rain that’s over so quick it runs into the sewer rather than soak into the ground, and its the same all over. Its kind of tough to talk about the poor polar bears when people are dying because they are afraid to open their windows, so the news of the record loss of ice in Greenland comes and goes.

And being that this is America, the country that invented credit cards, we can put off thinking about global warming and climate change till a little bit later. Whenever that is. The problem with long-term impacts never being a priority is that it becomes the present in no time at all. Discussions about environmental concerns are getting to be like talk about guns control – all-or-nothing dug in positions, specious arguments and open disregard for facts. Its maddening.

In the midst of this awful drought more and more fracking permits are being issued. Permission to take millions of gallons of ground water, combine it with chemicals like arsenic and pump it into the ground to extract shale gas. Using diesel to fuel the extraction equipment and contaminating the drinking water with, among other things, methane and radioactive materials.

If you dismiss all the (present and future) environmental impacts, electricity from natural gas fracking is even cheaper than wind power. Why is that equation OK? It makes it hard to be sympathetic about out of control wild fires in Texas when you find out their water cant be used to fight the fire because it is full of fracking chemicals that will feed the fire.

We all make choices everyday that could chip away at some of the underlying causes of climate change – even as we wait for politicians to legislate sensible behavior around emissions and other sexy policies. Part of the problem is that even our individual choices are complex. Paper or plastic being one of them. The plastic bag uses petroleum, the paper bag is a (potentially) renewable resource, so which one is better? Why your own reusable cloth bag of course.

Its hard to find a balance between doing what you can and not being judgemental about what other people do or don’t do. Another skirmish in the mommy wars, akin to how long you nurse and using day care, is the kind of diaper you choose.

When I was pregnant I got into the whole cloth diaper debate.  My mother used cloth diapers with six children and I had little desire to repeat the experience, but I was trying to make a responsible choice. What I discovered was that a bigger problem than the half-life of used Huggies was all the paper & cardboard in landfills. Something like 40% of the garbage pile is recyclable paper and cardboard. Done. I pledged myself paper product recycling to offset my (grateful) use of disposable diapers.

I have been recycling since the days when you had to drive to a drop off your newspapers and cans. Now we have curb pick up and still not everyone recycles. Even the easy stuff like newspapers and aluminum cans. It doesn’t seem like environmental issues are a right now kind of problem yet. By the time they are a priority we will already be in the midst of disaster. Sort of like the whole drought thing with the crops burning up and food prices projected to be even higher this winter.

At least the short-sighted choices with dire future outcomes makes for good science fiction. And a lot of that science fiction starts with severe class divisions. What happened to the Occupy folks again?

One response to “Paper or plastic

  1. If you need a vision of hope in this situation, check this out.
    http://www.thebagshare.org/

    Communities decided NOT to ban paper or plastic, but to get to know each other while providing an alternative. Learning to sew, learning to see ourselves as part of us system, learning to return what we've borrowed, and learning to trust are as important outcomes as reducing our enviro impact. One thing I especially love is that “inmates from the local correctional facility” organized themselves to sew for bagshare as part of doing their time, creating their own act of restorative justice.

    We often want to do better, but often need an invitation we can accept.

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