Regan: All the Small Things

Care, and act.

by Joseph Coit Regan | 1/3/19 2:05am

 Until July 20, 1969, a human being who gazed at the light of distant stars perforating the night sky had to do so on Earth. Neil Armstrong changed that forever. To him, our planet was a small blue dot mostly alone in a vast expanse of darkness. After Apollo 11 landed to unprecedented worldwide acclaim, the moon and everything else out there seemed like something we could do more than look at from Earth. Unfortunately, much like in any other place humans have landed, human apathy and thoughtlessness did not leave the Moon as it had been found.

Litter is a problem that we should care enough about to prevent on an individual and systemic scale. Estimates put the amount of material left on the Moon by humankind at 413,000 lbs. Unmanned space vehicles and other necessities for arriving on the moon comprise a large portion of the estimate, but not all. Floating around our Moon, right now, are plastic bags filled with urine ejected from space craft, two golf balls and stages of the rockets that we took there and back. Compared to Earth, the garbage on the Moon is nothing. The only difference between the Moon and the Earth is that we have been able to mistreat the Earth for thousands of years because it was the only place our bad habits could reach. The Moon should be an opportunity for us to treat where we live differently, or at the very least see clearly how badly we tend to treat our homes.

Many are accustomed to overlooking litter. Crumpled cans of Keystone aren’t unique to Dartmouth, but plastic bags and wrappers, bottles, cigarette butts, and used and unused condoms are common just about anywhere that humans live. 506 miles above Earth, two new satellites launched by the European Space Agency, Sentinel-3A and Sentinel-3B, track the estimated 250,000 metric tons of trash visible on the ocean surface. They estimate that there is a total of 4.5 million metric tons of trash in the ocean. The single pieces of litter you are accustomed to seeing add up, and the sum total spells environmental catastrophe.

Litter destroys our environment. Fish have been found growing around plastic rings, and those that survive do so in an increasingly synthetic ocean. Coral reefs are dead and dying. Dogs and birds are increasingly being killed by plastic bags that read, “this bag is not a toy.” What such a label is supposed to accomplish is telling about how a global problem has so far been approached. The thought with the plastic bags is likely that a child will be saved by the warning because children are well-known to be law-abiding and reasonable members of society. And then there is the fact that animals are unable to read.

Litter is a simple, convenient choice indicative of apathy bordering on evil. To care is to act. We need to act to prevent carelessness from continuing to destroy the only known home of life in the universe. As a small child, I once took an oath at Audubon society camp to never leave a light on in a room I had left or a piece of trash in a place that I had departed from. Whether it takes a pledge, the statistics or the tragic stories of destruction and death written by litter, we are all responsible for our actions.

Small acts can add up to great or terrible facts. Litter is a series of small acts that is continuously adding up to facts more terrible by the day. To indifferently discard something after one has no more use for it is not only bad for the planet, it also indicates a nihilistic point of view. One simply cannot do something so bad and unnecessary without having a viewpoint that is somewhat or totally apathetic to the consequences of their actions.

My grandfather often tells of two men on a beach in New England during the fall run for striped bass. Schools of fish the bass hunt move southward along the Eastern Seaboard in huge and hungry groups, and striped bass pursue them in a feeding frenzy. The schools striped bass pursue will often hurl themselves en masse onto the beach in order to escape death. The story begins when one man comes upon another hurling fish, one by one, back into the ocean after the frenzy has passed them by. He asks him, “What does it matter with there being so many?” The other man does not pause as he saves fish one by one, but as he throws the next one back he says, “It mattered to that one,” and then as he throws another fish he says, “And that one.” The other man nods and continues on his way, and the man continues to throw fish back to their home.

“Too late” is a point of view that is chosen. The man walking along the beach thought it was too late for the fish that had escaped one death for another, and the other man disagreed. Choose life, choose to care, choose to act deliberately according to your belief that life like yourself and across the planet is worth caring for. Then, act.

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