What a Humane World Looks Like: NOT Using the Planet as Our Garbage Pit

On Friday, my husband, my puppy and I drove up to Larch Mountain near Portland. The snow had been cleared only up to mile post 10, so we parked there and trudged through the drifts to see what we could see. We had come to get our nature fix to lift our spirits, but what we got instead was a crushing reminder of just how far we have to go to realize a compassionate, healthy world for all.

Right at the gate where we parked, we found clothing strewn about, numerous beer bottles and cans, and countless piles of spent and unspent paint balls. Further along the trail we saw a large screen TV that had been dumped by the side of the road. A different trail led us to another TV, several beer cans and bottles, and empty boxes of shells, all of which had been placed on/near a tree for target practice (not too far from the signs that say no target shooting allowed). On our way back down the mountain we stopped at another trail and found a vacuum cleaner tossed behind some rocks on the side of the road. It looked almost-new, but was missing its canister. (We took the vacuum home & put it in our trash.)

I was really angry and baffled by all this littering and destruction. Why would someone do this? What did they gain? What were they thinking? I gave myself a few minutes to think unkind thoughts about the perpetrators, and then focused on trying to enjoy the trees and sky (and watching our puppy frolic through snowdrifts for the first time).

Later, at home, I was throwing away some plastic packaging that couldn't be recycled, and I realized that in some ways I'm actually not much different from those folks who'd dumped their trash in the woods. I may not be that blatant and haphazard in disposing of my waste, but it still goes somewhere and harms something or someone. My trash goes to the landfill, replacing wildlife habitat, potentially polluting the air and groundwater. Driving my car contributes to all sorts of pollution, global warming, habitat destruction, displacement of indigenous communities, abuses of human rights, and more. Though I'm careful and mindful of the impact of what I buy, it still causes harm somewhere to someone. The harm I'm causing is just further removed than what we saw in the forest.

While I need to applaud myself for all the good I AM doing, I also need to take more responsibility for the harm I'm causing and take steps to continue to reduce that harm. I also need to remember that the systems we have in place have made it easier to externalize and conceal the consequences of our choices, so it's even more important that I commit to finding out more about the local and global impact of my choices, and that I search for positive solutions and alternatives.

And, next time we're hiking Larch Mountain, I'll remember to take trash bags with us.

~ Marsha

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