This will be my last column on the environment. Several years ago, I started writing it under the banner of the newly-formed Love Your Island subcommittee of the Key West Chamber of Commerce. The first column was titled, "So I Said To Myself ... Self." Essentially it was the beginning of some soul searching and self-examination as to my own personal relationship to my environment and whatever responsibilities I might have to it and, at the same time, to future generations. It has been a glorious journey and I have learned a great deal and have tried for the past four years and one month to pass on these lessons to anybody who cared to read about them here in this column.
Well, after my column last week, I Said To Myself ... Self." I had come to the realization that there are those who have strong feelings about what is going on in our environment and practice it every day of their lives. There are others who pay lip service to it and there are others who really don't care. It also occurred to me that most of the people who believe passionately about being good stewards of the environment do not need my advice and the people who don't, are not really paying attention. Don't get me wrong, that is OK, at least for now.
What will happen in the future, of course, is a matter of contention. There are those who believe we are headed down a slippery slope of global warming and those who say it's all hogwash. Just for the record, I believe the consensus of the majority of esteemed scientists who have studied the subject and that the world is, in fact, on a warming trend. While it may have a great deal to do with the change in the tilt of the axis of the Earth as it has during past Ice Ages, I believe it also has a great deal to do with the vast amounts of fossil fuels that are being consumed each year. In short, I do believe man has a great deal to do with global warming. I do believe we are consuming the resources of the earth in an unsustainable manner. I do believe we are poisoning, on a massive scale, the food we eat. I do believe the chemical pollution being absorbed from plastics and Styrofoam is a root cause of a modern plague that to date has no name but can be seen in the increase of autism, obesity, attention deficit disorders and cancer in our children. At the same time, I also believe that much of what is going on is a choice.
Exactly like the choices we made to get us into our current dilemma, each is like a drop of water. Taken by themselves, they are insignificant but taken collectively, they are an ocean. The choice of inflating your tires for better gas mileage, turning off the light when you leave the room or letting the water run while you brush your teeth adds up over the thousands of people in our community, the millions of people in our country and the billions of people around the world. Parallel to this is the sad fact that population is not decreasing or even staying the same. Last year we crossed the threshold of seven billion inhabitants on the Earth and while the growth has slowed somewhat, we are on a path to double that number in the lifetimes of my children. Simply, how we are acting today is not sustainable.
For the past 49 months I have given presentations in the public schools, participated with my friends of the GLEE organization in numerous city-wide cleanups, written this column and tried to practice what I preach. Recently, in a discussion of our own environmental practices in my business, I realized that personally I fall far short of what should be done and what could be done. Yes, we have a recycling program at our office and have won several awards for energy initiatives at a couple of our locations, but it is still way short of what we should be doing which, in essence, is the root of the global problem. We all rationalize our actions to the point of our personal comfort level. Unfortunately, this is probably (although I hope not), an untenable way of dealing with a problem of this extraordinary nature.
Most of us, and myself to a great extent, will live with something or work around it as long as it is not too bad. It is only when we have a sustained crisis where we are compelled to act differently that we, in fact, do so. We are not really concerned right now about salt water intrusion into the fresh-water wells of Dade and Broward Counties but I can assure you if the day ever comes that we turn on our tap and nothing comes out, it will get our attention. When gasoline is at $3.50 a gallon or even up to $5 a gallon, we just tighten up and take it. I have lived through a period myself where there was no gasoline and I can assure you that even the society in which I lived was close to anarchy and panic. Do you remember it? We are seeing greater incidents of disease in children but how far does it have to go before we say "enough" and stop accepting the way food is produced simply because it is cheap. I can assure you the long-term cost will make the current momentary low prices seem insignificant to the final cost. Do we have to wait until there is a crisis in our fish and birds from consuming plastic bags before we decide to use something different?
I don't know the answers to these questions because we are all different. We grew up in different circumstances, some make more or less money than others and we are all educated at different levels and, therefore, our perspective and answers to these questions are not the same. At the same time, it seems difficult for me to understand how so many of us do not recognize the "dying canaries in the mine" and more to the point, how an island like Key West will not recycle. We can. We just won't.
By the way, my previous column to this had what I thought was a revolutionary perspective on handling the waste of our community. It was to simply crush the glass here and put it in the rock pits on Rockland Key, compost our wet garbage and yard waste and recycle the rest, which for the most part, represents valuable commodities like paper, aluminum, steel and electronic parts. The fact that not one person made a comment that it was a really stupid idea or even a good one leads me to believe -- as I said when I started this column -- that those who get it don't need to be told and those who don't, don't really care.
Writing a column takes a great deal of time and energy and because I am no expert, a lot of research. I hope those of you who have read these words over the years have found something of value. I know I have. It has been an interesting journey of learning that I intend to continue, for I am far from the example to which I aspire. Thank you to the Key West Citizen and Solares Hill for giving me the opportunity to do this. Sincerely -- Chris Belland.