SENSibility 2: Don’t Forget the Garbage

We hear a lot about climate change these days. It is The Big Dark Thought of our time, just as nuclear Armageddon was The Big Dark Thought during the Cold War. It is worth remembering that a lot of people lost sleep worrying about nuclear war, and understandably so. Imminent extinction events have a way of keeping you up at night, especially when they involve really big explosions and lots of heat and flames. It didn’t help that Hollywood seemed to enjoy making movies (mostly bad ones) about what life would be like after a nuclear war. Even if you lived, things would pretty much suck. Of course, there was a lot of other scary stuff going on in the world during the Cold War: regional conflicts killed thousands; oppression and tyranny was the daily reality of millions of people; and the gap between the richest and poorest increased rapidly. If you lived in a scary or poor part of the world, there were other far more immediate worries to keep you awake at night. But the threat of nuclear war was the primary existential fear factor in the parts of the world where daily life was less scary and, well, richer.

Today, climate change is The Big Dark Thought. It is all over the news, it is a hot topic in schools and universities, and Hollywood has discovered it and seems to enjoy making movies (insert editorial comment here) about what life will be like after climate change has devastated the global ecosystem (things pretty much suck). But there is a lot of other scary stuff going on too, and while climate change is justifiably the primary existential fear factor of our time we should not forget the need for action on other global issues.

Like the fact that we are using the Earth (Terry) as a dumpster for our garbage.

I know, climate change is caused by pollution and therefore is part of the “Earth as a Dumpster” analogy. But climate change is mainly about the emission of greenhouse gases. There is other scary garbage news too: by 2010, the world will have thrown out 100 million cell phones and 300 million personal computers; 3 million people are killed every year by outdoor air pollution and 1.6 million by indoor air pollution; last year, most of Africa’s cholera outbreaks were caused by rubbish. Much of the rich world’s trash is exported (often illegally) to poor parts of the world to wind up in toxic dumps and scavenged for anything of value (even computer components are melted down for the minerals they contain). I could go on, but the point is that while climate change is most worthy of our attention, other global pollution issues are just as worthy. The Big Dark Thought, and the extinction event that is implied by it, should not obscure our need to do something about the other global pollution problems we have created. Don’t forget the garbage.

Related Topics