Sunday, February 16, 2020

You Can Help Save the Earth

Annamaria on a Crusade

Great thanks to Michael for his encouraging and hugely informative post this past Thursday.  If you haven't read it, you can find here his words about some important counter climate-change strides.  His theme is that while governments may be recalcitrant, individuals and corporations are inventing ways to work against the rising tides.  I want to piggyback on this  subject, which—like Michael—I believe is the most important issue before us as human beings.

Michael focused on plastic as one of the major pollutants so I will start there.  When I first learned about the mass of plastic floating on the Pacific Ocean, I became so alarmed that I turned into a warrior against plastic.  My enemy is all those innocent-looking zip-lock bags, easily portable bottles of water, and yogurt containers.  Here are the facts, as of March 2018, about the that floating mass:

The giant accumulation of plastic called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains at least 79,000 tons of discarded plastic, covering an area of about 617,800 square miles (1.6 million square kilometers), according to a study published in Scientific Reports.

It's probably larger now, two years later! 

For perspective, this mass is larger than all but the 17 largest countries on earth.  According to National Geographic Magazine, some of the that mass will biodegrade in 450 years.  The rest will last FOREVER.

The most daunting (and for me personally disgusting) fact about plastic is that micro beads of it have been found in human breast milk.  If this doesn’t scare the begeezes out of you, I don’t know what would.

What can we do?  isn't it obvious?  We need to move as fast as possible toward 100% biodegradable packaging materials.  Europe is doing a much better job of this than the USA.  I started working on this post in Italy, where plastic bags for carrying food purchases are, by law, biodegradable. 

Until our country comes to its senses, those of us who live in the USA and other backward countries can at least buy products that are packaged in cardboard—dishwasher detergent and raisins for instance.  And soap in bars that comes wrapped in paper will get you just as clean as the liquid stuff in plastic bottles.

There are alternatives to plastic film and baggies for storing leftovers.  And we can get your takeaway from places that package our lunch in cardboard cartons instead of plastic containers.  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  

Michale’s blog made a point of the amount of water and energy that goes into recycling.  I’d like to focus on the energy issue in another important way.  

Even if it is generated through solar panels, wasting electricity is economically and environmentally insane.  In the US, just about 100% of hotels and apartment buildings have hallway lights that are burning 24/7.  In Italy, and I imagine other European countries as well, the norms are aimed at curbing overconsumption of electricity.   Lights in hallways are wired to motion detectors.  If someone is walking by the lights go on.  Otherwise the place is dark.  In hotel rooms, lights automatically go off when you take your key from its little slot as you leave the room.  No waste. 

Speaking of waste, in the US, there is also the insanity of indoor temperature settings.  Typically, thermostats are set at 74 degrees F in winter and 68 degrees in summer.  One has to wear a sweater to feel comfortable indoors in summer and to strip off layers to keep from overheating in winter.  I recently heard a climate-change denier on the radio, pooh-poohing the potential benefits of electric cars because, he said, “The power grid in the United States does not have enough capacity to charge all those automobiles.”  I wonder how that prediction would fare, if all those hallway lights went on only when someone needed them, and those temperature settings were reversed: in winter 68, when we are wearing winter clothes.  And 74 in summer.  If 74 is comfortable in winter, why is it too hot in summer?

Changing the habits of a nation is a daunting task, but ordinary people make environmental decisions everyday.  We can decide what kind of car to drive.  Or better yet, to use mass transit.  One by one we can start to reduce our own consumption and waste production, especially when it comes to using plastics and power.  We can choose food gown locally.  Or set our own thermostats at rational levels.    We can keep or precious planet in mind when we decide what to buy at the supermarket and what kind of bag we use to tote our purchases home.  We can try to influence others to join the fight.

We can become a climate activists.  Write letters, attend rallies, make speeches, and make noise about this issue.  Vote only for politicians who give solving climate change a high priority.  When a corporation acts insensitively, or public officials make wrong decisions, we can stop buying their products or shopping in their stores.  We can write to corporate CEOs, store owners, board chairmen, politicos and tell them that we are boycotting them for their behavior.

Are these actions guaranteed to solve the problem.  No.  Of course not.  But we must try.

My father, who died twelve years ago, wept when he thought about the mess humans were making of the Earth.  “My generation,” he said, in tears, “is leaving the world so much worse off than we found it.”  He felt personally guilty about that.  So do I.

Some people’s religion tells them that there will be a Last Judgment—a time when the saved will be separated from the damned.  I think the people of this planet need to stage a Next to the Last Judgment.  We need to start damning those who do not see the crisis.  And especially those who, for their own personal gains, ignore it.

This sacred planet is the home we all share.  This is a trite statement, as is the title of this blog.  BUT.  What other battle cries might we adopt at this juncture.  Can we look at deaf and dumb politicians and say, "We who are about to die salute you."  Shall we eat, drink, and be merry? 

 We can continue to act like a virus infecting our planet, crawling all over it, acting like we are in charge.  Climate change looks to me like Earth's immune system sending the forces of wind, flooding, fire, and drought (the real four horsemen of the Apocalypse) to delivery a grim message.

Save the planet is not the real issue, of course.  The Earth will still be here, even if we go on abusing its and ignore its warnings.  It, as an ecosystem, will continue to fight back.  If humans, as a species, fail to heed the dire warnings of our living home, it will kill us.  The same way any living organism's immune system destroys an infection.

We are marvelous.  Whether you think we are the creation of an intelligent God or the result of a series of splendid accidents, we are a wonder species.  Wouldn't it be great if we were also smart enough to save ourselves.  I hope we are.


  1. Thank you, Annamaria, for your passion and commitment. And for pointing out all the small (and relatively painless) ways in which we can all make a difference. I do think this is a time for optimism, and for personally doing "the right thing."
    What I was trying to say in my blog was that we CAN do this. We just have to decide to do it. And not wait for the governments of the world - with all their private agendas - to decide to do it for us.

  2. You were my muse on this one, Michael. I am grateful for the inspiration. I agree that the human inhabitants of Earth can make up for the blaggards who are ignoring the problem for their own short-term gains. What I want to do today, in my own small way, is set on fire that fence too many people are straddling. “In my own small way...” is my theme. I have heard too many people say, “What I can do is just a drop in the bucket.” But a billion drops in the bucket can put out a forest fire.

  3. Right there with you, AmA, well said!

  4. Thank you, EvKa. I am pleased to say that some of my friends on social media are spreading it around. Some the message may get to those fence straddlers and not only the ‘saved” who are regular readers of MIE. I hope.

  5. Some of these fence straddlers don't even notice it's a sharply pointed picket fence, or are simply too tight-assed to care! Bravo, Sis.

  6. Very good post. If only everyone did the right thing. But look what's happening in Washington. The guy in the White House has weakened or overturned over 85 environmental protections or regulations -- raised legal level of fossil fuel and mercury emissions, weakened Clean Water Act, allowed Big Oil and Gas to frack more and to drill and mine on public lands. A lot is needed to overcome that, in addition to our individual actions.
    And on top of these problems, I think about the whales who have been found dead with 50 pounds of plastic in their stomachs. And the birds who dive for fish and end up with plastic around their beaks. And on and on.

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