Yesterday I mentioned to my friend Erin that the trouble I’m having lately with my blog is that I have too many ideas. There is too much rolling around in my brain and trying to home in on one idea has been difficult.
As soon as I said the words “too much,” my problem solved itself. “Too much” is the topic that won’t go away. Looking around my house it seems I have too much stuff—too many coffee mugs in my kitchen cabinet, too many unworn shirts hanging in my closet. On any given day, if I don’t make a point of intentionally avoiding it, too much information streams through my consciousness—too many interesting articles, too many news headlines, too many links that beg to be opened.
On a societal level, we could almost be defined by having too much: Too many cars on the highways, too many types of cereal to choose from at the grocery store, too many events on our calendars. We have more kitchen gadgets than our grandmothers ever dreamed of and more entertainment available at our fingertips than the younger versions of ourselves could have imagined. We seem to have just about everything that we need.
But apparently we don’t have it all. Yesterday California’s Governor Brown announced the state’s first mandatory water restrictions. When a resource as important as water becomes scarce enough to be dangerous, people make a change. They have to. Scarcity has a way of inspiring immediate action.
Unfortunately, when something seems abundant, there’s not quite the same level of urgency.There are exceptions of course. When the cells in our bodies begin to reproduce at an abnormal rate, we call it cancer and we don’t celebrate the abundance. We act. We do what we can to stop or slow the cell growth.
A couple of years ago a group of forward thinking people here in Homer tried to act on the overabundance of plastic bags in our town. They understood the true cost of the free plastic bags that fill up our landfills and pollute our marine ecosystem. They tried to be proactive but they failed. They failed because banning plastic bags just didn’t seem urgent enough to most people. It turns out that plastic bags—at least to a few vocal opponents of the ban—are a symbol of American freedom. And as long as plastic bags are plentiful, then those opponents believe that it’s their right to get them for free at the grocery store.
When I dropped my trash off at the McNeil Canyon transfer station the other day I watched a bald eagle swoop down and grab a stray plastic bag from the ground. The giant bird flew off carrying its free find. Since it’s nest building season, I imagined it meticulously tucking the bag in between the cottonwood branches that it had painstakingly put together for its home.
The scene disturbed me. It’s not natural for eagles to build nests with plastic trash bags. But then it occurred to me that it’s not really natural for humans to wrap nearly every one of our food items in plastic, then bring those plastic-wrapped food items home in a plastic bag, then throw the grocery bag and the food wrappers into yet another plastic bag in order to discard them. It’s ridiculous when you think about how our reliance on plastic has become normal.
Maybe those who opposed the ban don’t think there is too much plastic in the world. Maybe they don’t care if eagles are building their nests out of plastic. Maybe the idea of plastic finding its way into the ocean and breaking down into tiny molecular bits to be consumed by our food supply doesn’t matter to them. Apparently it doesn’t matter as much as their personal freedom at the checkout stand. But their thoughts on the matter don’t change the fact that our reliance on plastic is a problem, and as long as it’s free and convenient, little will be done to curtail its use.
Imagine if plastic bags were scarce the way that water is scarce in California. Would the opponents of the plastic bag ban be outraged at the thought of being charged a small fee for their bags? Would they scoff at the crazy liberals who want to control every aspect of their life? Probably. But then after their scoffing they’d start to remember to bring their own bags to the store. They’d get used to reusing the plastic bags that had accumulated under their kitchen sink. They’d adjust to a life with just a little bit less plastic. The world would keep spinning and they would be no less American for their trouble.
Water, on the other hand, is a little more difficult to do without.