Imagine you have a favourite item of clothing; let’s call it a shirt. When you first get it, you’re so pleased, fixating on every detail. You wear it for Sunday best and “going out” to special places; and it’s always well looked after, without a crinkle, lovingly handled and appreciated often. A little further down the line, you slip into wearing it on other occasions when you run out of other clothes. You get a little more careless in its handling; throwing it in the tumble-dryer when you’re in a rush to get it dry. Suddenly, you are mixing it in with your other clothes and now it has a threadbare patch or a hem coming loose but you still nurture a fondness for it; perhaps you even repair it once or twice. In the end, you take it for granted; its to be found screwed up on your bedroom floor or sat on where you left it on the sofa. Finally, you forget to take it off when you’re working on your car or touching up the paint in your house…
Planet earth has been treated a lot like that. For a long time, we seem to have perpetuated a relative respect for it, a bit like the shirt worn more often than it used to be yet still appreciated…until we got clumsy. In our relatively new industrious state, we were too busy to take care of it like before and, when it took the knocks of wearing it out in pursuit of our own careless “needs”, we got more haphazard about putting things right as mishaps occurred.
This seems to have deteriorated into something like the scrunched-up and treated badly phase of the shirt since the 1970s. Up until then, it feels as though we still took relative care of our planet, most of the time (by which I refer to the average Joe, not the way the Pacific was being used for nuclear testing or any of the corporate abuses that were already well underway). Your average person wouldn’t just throw their litter in a field in the mid 1970s, I don’t believe, based on my own recollections of that era and the upbringing I had from my parents and school. Or, at least, not those over a certain age, though the new junk-food culture and the cool-points attached to adopting a certain nonchalance around behaviour such as littering, as encouraged by films and TV, did much to harm this status quo from that point on.
Perhaps that era expected those kids to grow out of it but they never did; becoming the next generation of adults who, like so many overgrown teenagers, continue leave so much mess for other people to clear up, setting that example for their own kids. I find myself in a world where its completely normal for huge piles of fly tipped waste full of sharp objects and solvents to be left down country lanes by “grown-up’ building firms or broken prams and toys to be abandoned in the nearby pond by the “grown-up” parents to kids on the local housing estate. Rubbish gets thrown out of moving vehicles all along my road (which the elderly of the community volunteer to pick up several times a year since the council can’t keep up with it), the simple rules for recycling household waste get ignored and its “the thing” to have chinese lanterns and helium balloons at every celebration, never thinking about where they end up at the end of the night. Speaking to the guy who lives next to my local beauty spot, he says he can’t bear to walk by the river’s edge once the evenings become lighter because he invariably comes across groups of people, including families with kids, gathered there by the weir, with their bags of supermarket food and drink in all its associated packaging. “Please make sure you take all that rubbish home with you” he will say to the adults of the groups. “Oh yeah yeah, of course” they always say; but then, the next morning when he walks his dogs, all their rubbish, the wrappers, the burned out barbecue tray, are left strewn by the water’s edge…
Where it has really gone wrong is over the last three decades, during which it has become normalised not to think about the consequences of littering the environment with all the plastic debris left over from our convenient lifestyles. There’s a disconnect between people and the environment and it has only become worse since the age of the mobile phone. Now, people walk around as though in their own biosphere since all of their own friends (who share their same views) and, in fact, their own mini-verse in digital form is carried around with them wherever they go via the device that seldom leaves their hand. Face, it, most people pay more attention to that world in a handset than they do to the actual world going on around them; they stare into it even as they sit in a field or walk the dog. Added to the way that “chain” businesses and restaurants make it seem as though everywhere is really just the same place…same burger bar and other franchises, same signage, same city layout…its as though they simply don’t register when they have moved from one place into another. It’s all the same and, when sameness is everywhere, those same behaviours that “do” on the littered pavements around shopping malls, where invisible cleaners pop out to sweep it all away, are assumed to be normal as they drive down country lanes and hang out in fields or parks.
The other evening, I shared a post on social media about the harm that plastic rings from around plastic bottles do to wildlife when they get caught around their heads and beaks. The pictures were horrible; terribly upsetting, and this is news that needs to be passed on to those who have no idea what harm they are taking part in, yet I had the lowest response of any social media post I had ever shared. Perhaps this stuff is simply not real for most people; and they prefer to keep it that way, focusing on funny videos of the antics of pet dogs and cats and other humanised abstractions of what animals supposedly are out in social media land. It’s all too real for me. Last night, I came across a helium balloon from (no doubt) a kids party at the nearby village hall, now bobbing around in a farmer’s field close to the nesting birds I’ve been watching on my daily walks. I was unable to retrieve it since it was over a “no trespassing” farmers fence with a wire top so the sense of frustration and helplessness was profound; though I have often carried these balloons home to dispose of them from my walks in the past.
Then this morning (which is a clue as to how often these incidents are coming to my attention), my usual sunrise view from my window was embellished by a large plastic thing, either a bag or another inflatable (I can now see its another huge silver balloon), caught at the top of a very tall tree in my elderly neighbour’s garden. It’s not the aesthetics of theses two situations that makes me so livid, though yes that too, but the fact of witnessing these harms take place, knowing what a peril they are to wildlife and the environment. The behaviours that led to them has become normalised; this is the difficulty. How normal it is to let balloons or lanterns off into the sky like they simply vanish into thin air….how normal yet how naive. Here’s the paradox: we seem to be part of the generation that is, at once, the most informed yet most tragically naive since truth is something people get to custom-build from what they choose to focus their attention on (and there are just so many choices now).
Only a few months ago, I came across a dead swan on my walk…a relative mystery, though I had my suspicious, until its flesh started to rot away and there in its gullet and deep into its guts was the long tangled ribbon and plastic attachments, the deflated silvery mess, of another party balloon. If the child whose birthday that was had any idea…if she could have seen that majestic bird’s death throes; what a party-pooper!
As legislation is murmured about, calling for a ban to the chinese lanterns that terrorise and injure livestock (I just read about a horse caught on fire by one of these) and cause all sorts of dangers and harms in our environment, I ask why these balloons are any more necessary or tolerated; just for one moment’s predictable excitement among many for children and even adults who, I like to think, would care more about the animals they go on to harm. When, if ever, do these balloons get disposed of appropriately (if there is such a thing…) rather than allowed to float off into the sky. How long before they join the plastic hell in our oceans where so many birds and other wildlife are dying from ingesting this pollution that it looks like a holocaust taking place…which, really, it is (see Albatros trailer below). This culture of “not my problem” and “out of sight, out of mind” has got well out of hand. Earth has apparently become the lease favourite, least attention-garnering, most taken-for-granted, thing in most people’s minds and this is a balance that needs to be tipped or we are truly done for; there’s a truth we would all have to share!
It’s not often that I have a rant in this blog but I feel my eco-dragon wanting so badly to be unleashed during these days and weeks following what has been a profound grounding process…from being so spiritually focussed that I endeavoured to transcend these realities to where I find myself now fully confronted by these harsh realities of what it means to be human in this era that I feel I must say and do my part. Right now, it’s a sorry thing to be that human when seen in association with all the (just so dominant) behaviours of the collective and it is for all of us who believe in an alternate reality to tip that balance. This can’t be done by being polite, mute, spiritually disengaged or decorous around these topics; we have to say what we think, do what we have to do, get involved like it really matters…and much more often than we used to…and so I am!
Albatros is a film that everyone should see – watch the trailer below; go to the Albatros website to download a full version.