Me. We. Reflections on Environemtal Change

The shortest poem on record used to be Fleas - Adam, had ‘em, until Mohammed Ali was challenged at a Harvard speech for a short poem, to which he responded, "Me. Whee!" With the ultimate poetic license I submit an even shorter poem: Me. We. This poem will begin our journey together discussing the current status of the environment on this planet. I thought it most appropriate to start with the person I know best, me.

I was born in 1948 and lived in Miami my entire life until moving to Key West in 1973. I remember vividly swimming in the Miami River, fishing in it and eating the fish! If a family had a car, they only had one, and almost no one had a boat. Consequently, I could pole my skiff out to the flats off Elliott's Key and gig lobsters in the middle of the day and fill my boat in less than 30 minutes. There were no bottles or cans littering the side of the road because there was a .2¢ deposit which we kids would collect on the bottles to buy candy and the aluminum can had not yet been invented. There were no cigarette butts either because filters had yet to be invented or used on the scale they are today. We didn't use paper towels but reused the same wash cloth. When I came home from school and the house smelled like chocolate, I knew that my mother had made chocolate pudding using the contents from a single, small cardboard box and milk from a bottle that would be returned the next day to the milkman. I had never heard the word landfill.

I don't mean to sound like an old geezer here, for my life on this earth has been less than 60 years. The point I'm trying to make is that the population has grown so dramatically and our way of doing things has changed in ways one could never have imagined. At the turn of the century, in 1900, there were about 500,000 people living in the state of Florida. Today, there are more than 18 million people with 1,000 newcomers coming to the Sunshine State every day.

We have gone, in one generation, from a nation that saved everything to a nation that throws everything away. During World War II the drives to collect and reuse everything from rags to rubber, copper, tin, paper and glass were done as a national priority. After World War II, with the increasing production of automobiles and the commensurate tidal wave of gasoline production, came petrochemical bi-products that the industry needed to get rid of and what better way to do so than to sell it. The only problem with that was that they had to change the mindset of a frugal nation.

The early advertisements on the miracle of plastics looked at through the prism of time are almost funny if they weren't so tragic. We have been convinced by Madison Avenue and lured by the sirens of convenience to believe that using and disposing makes sense. In fact, it is communal suicide. While I don't mean to be overly dramatic, the manufacture, use and indiscriminate disposal of plastic is commonly known to create hormone deficiencies, infertility, cancer, learning disabilities, autism and obesity and, laughably, a shortened lifespan.

The reusable wash cloth that my mother used has been replaced by roll after roll of paper towels. The chocolate pudding which created one small cardboard box as waste has been replaced by a cardboard frame holding 6 plastic cups with aluminized plastic lids which is placed in a plastic bag at the grocery store. Almost every family today has more than one car.

A common theme in what you will read here is that we need to think about what we are presently doing and then act on that information, both individually and communally. Key West "enjoys" a rate of recycling of approximately 6 per cent. San Francisco, on the other hand, is now over 70 per cent! If a complex, urban environment such as San Francisco can do this, why can't we?

Perhaps a place to start is, instead of bringing your groceries home in a plastic bag that you throw in the garbage, why not buy a reusable canvas bag which every grocery store is now selling? Instead of using paper towels, use a cloth rag and throw it in the laundry. It is these small acts of personal initiative that add up to significant change in how we relate to our environment.

In next week's column, I will talk about landfills and then go on to the "meat of the coconut" which is the philosophies behind the four Rs: Reducing, Reusing, Recycling and Rotting (composting).

Chris Belland is Co-Chair of the Key West Chamber of Commerce Love Your Island program. He is also the CEO of Trusted Tours and Attractions. Trusted Tours and Attractions promotes and sells discount tickets to tours and attractions in over 30 cities throughout the United States. Find great deals on Boston, San Diego, Washington DC, New Orleans and New York City tours to name a few.

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