Whoever convinced us that water should be drunk not from the taps handily located in several places in our homes, but from plastic bottles bought in the supermarket deserves either a marketing metal or a special place in hell. It's been a while now since a few of the water brands were forced to come out with the truth: that the water they bottle and sell comes not from some fancy-arsed spring of pure water from the pristine innards of the Earth, complete with fluttering butterflies, rainbows and magic fairy dust, but from the regular municipal water supply, run through a purification process et voilà! delivered to our hot, gullible little hands for exorbitant amounts of money. Sure, there are places in the world where drinking bottled water is the safer approach, but in most of our industrialized world, the water that comes through the tap is perfectly fine, indeed governed by stricter regulations than the bottled kind. Yet, we schlep cases and cases of bottled water home, spending money on something we already pay for and adding endless mounds of plastic to our earth. In 2003, an estimated 40 million bottles a day went into the trash - not in recycling - and that was four years ago, before the nasty little things became as ubiquitous as they are now (and, to be fair, before a significant increase – in Toronto, anyway - in awareness of the importance of recycling).
And they add to this: a continent-sized midden in the Pacific Ocean composed of our detritus, 80% of it plastic. Instead of the middens of the Iron and Bronze Ages, located within a settlement and a gold mine for archaeologists, this one, called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is a gold mine for no one, leeching plastics back into the food chain. I didn't know about the GPGP and can hardly wrap my mind around the thought of a heap of garbage the size of a continent and moreover, I don't really want to. The thought is so disgusting, so demoralizing, so utterly frightening that I feel paralyzed in the face of the implications. Every day, there is another headline in the papers about bees disappearing, threatening our fruit and vegetables supply, about CO2 emissions rising faster then previously expected, about stress in the Arctic, warmer oceans leading to extinctions and by the time I've had my morning toast, I'm terrified and overwhelmed by a sense of doom and helplessness, because how can we stop this insanity, nevermind reverse it? I suspect I am not alone in averting my eyes from the articles. I recycle, I try to lighten my footstep on the earth, but I cannot read about it every day and continue to get out of bed in the morning.
I read an article in the Toronto Star this weekend about a new book called The Geography of Hope. Written by Chris Turner, who lives in Calgary, it is based on a year of travelling around the world in search of solutions. In search of hope. In the book, Turner calls for the end of despair and the beginning of dreaming. The end of focusing on the horror of what we’ve done to this planet and the start of enthusiastically championing innovative solutions. Which I fell on like a starving woman on a Vegas buffet. It makes such perfect sense, doesn’t it? And then I looked around some more and discovered this speech by Adam Werberg – it’s from 2004 and it blew my mind. Werberg says that the old approach to environmentalism is dead and it’s time for the movement to be reborn, changed.
I’m not sure it’s quite yet time to stop talking about what’s wrong – I do think it serves a purpose to raise awareness of the ruin caused by past (and present) practices. Scaring people a little can be motivational. But balance this with real, practical examples of what can be done and people will get excited and join in. Might even be some inventive types out there who’ll get inspired and think up other nifty solutions. What a concept. I like it.