A decade ago I wrote an article about “beach whistles” that struck a chord with many of our readers. I thought of it while preparing for a webinar I led last week called “5 Ways to Heal the World” (you can watch it here for free).
Here’s an excerpt from that article:
I’ll never forget my eighth grade science teacher, Bill Andrake. He was a hippie with so much passion for science and the environment that it was sometimes scary. More than once, he dumped a garbage can on the floor and sifted through the trash while admonishing us for throwing away all kinds of things that were recyclable. Mind you, this was the 1980s. None of us had any idea how or where to recycle something.
One day, he took us on a walk down to the beach, and the moment we got to the sand, he bent over, picked something up, and held it high for us to see. It looked very familiar, but I didn’t know what it was. Well, I kind of knew what it was – it was one of those things that were always scattered all over the beach, which I used to decorate my sand castles. It vaguely resembled a plastic hotdog. I just didn’t know what other people used them for.
“Behold,” he shouted, “the common beach whistle!” Hmm. I had certainly never used one as a whistle. “Also known as a plastic tampon applicator!” That didn’t clarify anything. I was thirteen years old. The only word that made sense to me in “plastic tampon applicator” was “plastic.”
He went on to express his outrage over the fact that the coast was littered with these things. Immediately after school I did some research. Since there was no internet and my friends were as clueless as I was, I had to ask my sisters. Needless to say, my mind was blown, I looked at girls differently after that, and I stopped putting those things on my sand castles. The “plastics don’t biodegrade” message was lost on me because I was too busy trying to wrap my head around menstruation.
Thirty-something years later, it’s only gotten worse. I’m sharing this because I think it’s time for humans to get real about what it’s going to take to stop the piles of plastics that are accumulating in our oceans, landfills, and even in the bellies of birds and sea creatures (including micro particles in fish that we eat). Besides the fact that it’s just disgusting, there are three reasons I believe we should be concerned.
- Many plastics contain chemical constituents that have negative impacts on human health, including infertility, cancer, and thyroid disorders. For instance, the plastic additive BPA is known to impair human reproductive function. The alternative in “BPA-free” products is usually BPS which is likely just as bad.
- It’s not sustainable. We’re not just not fixing the situation, it’s actually getting worse. We’re still producing more plastics every year than the year before. Currently humans buy one million plastic bottles a minute. The great majority of it won’t get recycled.
- It’s a crime against the world that birthed us. You may or may not agree with me on this one, but I see the world as a gift, as our mother and provider, as the source of great beauty and opportunity. Human civilization owes everything to Earth, and we’re covering it with garbage. I think it should concern us that we have become so disconnected from nature and our origins that we don’t see and/or don’t care.
The biggest impediment to changing course is that we don’t want to make sacrifices. We don’t want to pay more. We don’t want anything to be less convenient. We don’t want to rinse out our containers. We don’t want to save recyclables and drive them to a recycling facility. We don’t want to buy less stuff. And we don’t want to make sacrifices if other people aren’t!
But what if we could see these sacrifices not as some kind of punishment or burden, but as a way to give back to our beloved planet – regardless of what others are doing. Have you ever looked at photographs of other planets? They’re ugly and lifeless. Ours is uniquely awesome. It’s exceptional in all ways.
The current pro-environment narrative is often something like, “If we don’t change we’re doomed” or simply, “We’re doomed.” How do those phrases make you feel?
In contrast, see how you feel about this alternative version: “This is the best planet in the universe! It’s gorgeous! It’s perfectly suited to our needs! The air, the water, the soil, the sun, the plants, the animals, and the minerals provide for us completely! Let’s take impeccable care of it! Let’s show it how much we adore it!”
Who we are is inextricable from what we’ve been provided.
I urge you to try this approach: Let yourself be fascinated by your planet. Go outside. Look more closely. Turn off your phone and your mind for a while. Be grateful for everything you have and recognize the path it took to get to you. Read National Geographic. And demonstrate your reverence for the majesty you get to bask in and be part of. Say to the world: This I am pleased to do for you as a tiny expression of my recognition and appreciation for everything you’ve done for me. Don’t compare yourself to the oblivious masses; this is about your personal relationship with the world.
I’d love to hear how this feels to you. Share in the comments below. And, if you didn’t listen to my webinar, please do! I address this topic more thoroughly in the webinar, and I broaden the scope – it’s not just about how to heal the environment, but how to heal ourselves, our fellow humans, and the larger institutions that aren’t serving us. If you act now we’ll pay you $100 and send you a free blender! Ok, not really. But I know you’ll be glad you did.