Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Writing on an airplane

Plane Landing

Written en route to Chicago from San Juan, Puerto Rico on 3/24/07 in a journal.

I always think too much. It has been a problem my whole life. Now one may ask, how can one think too much? But those of you afflicted with the condition know what I mean. It means spending too much time trapped within one’s own head. For some reason, I think even more than usual while walking on a beach, although it is restful too.
On this trip I thought a lot about people vs. nature. Puerto Rico is lovely but it is not unspoiled. I was struck by the amount of litter and the amount of burned land I saw. At first I thought the burns may have been intended to clear underbrush, but fire damage on a nature preserve suggested otherwise. I came to believe that the fires, like the trash, were due to human carelessness.
I can make excuses for the people of Puerto Rico—poverty, lack of environmental education—like one might for the folks in third world countries who poach tortoises, endangered bird, wild gorillas. But maybe that lets them and us off the hook too easily. Litter and fires happen in wealthy regions too. There was a major fire in California last year that was attributed to arson. I am pretty sure it did not start due to poverty in the region.

Crowd at beach

This leads to musing about people. Walk on an isolated beach strewn with old sandals, half a beat up swim fin, men’s underwear, a woman’s bra (not in the same place as the underwear—get your mind out of the gutter), bottle caps, broken glass, cigarette butts, etc., and you can start to hate mankind. At a moment like that I become misanthropic. Perhaps the world would be better off without people? Not that I’m volunteering to be the first to go.
Actually I like people one at a time, when I can get to know them as individuals. Then I can even empathize with their less admirable traits. But humanity en masse!! Sometimes the adjectives that spring to mind are more akin to selfish, wasteful, bigoted, petty-minded, and cruel.
Of course, then the musing becomes more self-directed. What can I do to improve the world? Should I bring a large garbage bag every time I go to the beach and pick up trash?
Here I sit on an airplane needlessly heating the world for my own entertainment. Should I donate to offset my energy expenditure? What about my energy footprint at home? Is it practical to make my home run partially on solar energy? I really should change the water heater in my office. It is very wasteful and we don’t get hot water anyway (don’t ask me why not). Should I change my car to a hybrid? I feel safer on the freeway with a slightly larger car but it only gets 20 miles to the gallon.
If I stop commuting to my suburban office 2 days a week (36 miles round trip), am I benefiting the world by so doing? Or harming my patients? Perhaps, if they still come to see me, they will drive farther and expend more energy than I have saved by cutting off my commute. In my area, public transportation is entirely impractical.
See how my mind twists itself into knots. Why can’t I just soak in the sun like I imagine everyone else is doing? In truth I could do with a little less angst, but I do not wish to be oblivious either.
We are careful to recycle in my house. But there are many, including myself, who doubt our blue bagged waste really gets recycled by the city. Not to mention the garbage pickers who rip the bags open looking for cans to sell. A few years ago I watched a man in the sandbox of the local park filling his cans with the children’s play sand to make his load artificially heavier. Do I have to apply my principle of ignorance and poverty here too? Or is he just a crack addict and a creep? You tell me.
For a needed dose of guilt watch Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, conveniently playing on my airplane as I write this. That is if you haven’t watched it already. Then take the kids.
To learn more here are two web sites: one is about carbon emission offsets,
The other is the web site from An Inconvenient Truth,


Kimberley McGill said...

You expressed my own feelings well. It seems so difficult to decide what to put my energy behind. We are trying to live by permaculture principles but it is a struggle in many ways because of space and neighbors. But, as you said, I want to stay aware and at the same time find some space for peace of mind.

tarakuanyin said...

It's a struggle for me too to live in peace given what we're doing to our world. I recycle without knowing if it really does any good, and I cut back where I can. But still I know that what I do is inadequate. Too much thinking -- yes.

Self Taught Artist said...

I am with you on the hating en on one I am shocked at times how much I can love another human being for just being themselves out there in the world.
thanks for sharing your thoughts...too bad you can't be oblivious like so many people seem to be, but then again you wouldn't be you!

angela said...

Education is the answer and legislation. Since the commune made it easy for us we recycle here. It was pointless doing it in the days when you had to drive to a special bin now the bin is central to us all.
Smoking's been banned in many places and people have given up.
It is working but slowly...have hope.
My only fear is that we will have big brother watching us.