So trying to fulfill some minimal civic responsibility, I go to Town Meeting, as usual. I pick up a few handouts on the tables near the door and sit down quietly in the back. I re-thumb through the town report. It seems amazing who has not paid their taxes, and who has. Everybody’s got difficulties. Who knows what big insurance company has struck financial hell into which household by deciding, after all, not to pay.

Anyway, on one of the handouts I spot the three-cornered recycling symbol, which gets my attention because underneath it are the words “Effective immediately.” Now what?

It says the range of recyclable materials has been reduced again. Paper (except newsprint and magazines) and plastic bags are no longer accepted for recycling. We’ve already been throwing away most plastic containers since last summer after China crashed the market by halting most recyclable plastic imports at the beginning of last year. Now this flyer is telling me I have to chuck it, too, into a dump somewhere. In Norridgewock, for now.

A week or so after Town Meeting, Stanley Besancon, director of the Unity Area Recycling Center in Thorndike, told me the flyer is incorrect, at least by implication. The center still accepts paper and plastic bags, and only No. 2 plastic containers. I’m taking a wild guess that the flyer was issued as somebody’s cost-saving measure, but what do I know?

Anyway, back in the meeting, the warrant contains a question asking us to approve funds for solid waste removal fees. We learn that starting in June everything we throw away is going to be taken to a new facility in Hampden. The selectmen are diligently trying to figure out the best way to handle the recycling. The problem is, recycling costs extra money. If we can’t sell the recyclable materials, we have to throw them away. My 2 cents is: The Unity recycling center should continue operating if at all possible. But money trumps everything, even community health.

Even survival. How much longer we can keep filling up the woods, deserts and oceans with trash before it starts to overflow is anybody’s guess. Actually, it’s not a guess anymore. It’s already started.

It is estimated that there are as many as 51 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean. Every square mile of ocean has plastic on the surface. By one estimate, at the rate things are going, by 2050 the plastic in the ocean will outweigh the fish.

Plastic goes out of your sight, but it doesn’t go away. Let’s take a ballpark guess and say that between the ages of 20 and 60, I threw away five plastic bags a week. Forty years times 50 weeks is 2,000 weeks, times five equals: I personally have thrown at least 10,000 bags into the trash, almost all of which are still somewhere.

How many plastic bags have you thrown away? There are 4 billion or so of us in the industrialized world, all throwing away plastic bags. And coffee cup lids. And plastic wrappers. And Styrofoam containers. And soda bottles. And tires.

Probably it will not come as a shock to you to find out, if you don’t already know, that plastic is a petroleum product and that seven of the 10 largest plastic producers are oil and natural gas companies.

The big oil companies have known for decades that burning and exploring for fossil fuels have major adverse effects on the environment, including the climate. They have gone out of their way to pretend it isn’t true, kind of like the tobacco companies trying to kid you into thinking that sucking smoke into your lungs day in and day out doesn’t do any damage.

As big oil’s own scientists foresaw in the 1970s, the Earth’s atmosphere is starting to overheat because we’re pumping so much carbon dioxide into it. The 20 warmest years on record since 1850 have been in the past 22 years. The five warmest years are, in order: 2016, 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2014, according to NOAA.

Money trumps everything, though. The only disaster the oil companies want to avoid is not making more money. Evidently, corporations are people with no civic responsibilities.

In case you’ve missed it, the Earth is currently undergoing the sixth mass extinction of life forms in the 3.5-billion-year history of life.

The last mass extinction took place about 65 million years ago when an asteroid about 6 miles wide barreled into the Earth, created the Gulf of Mexico, threw rocks and soil into the outer atmosphere — much of which fell back and turned into fireballs that heated the air in some places to water-boiling temperature for a few minutes — and left dust shrouding the planet that blocked sunlight for weeks or months. The climate changed so radically and abruptly that about 75 percent of all species then living on Earth expired. You know, like the dinosaurs.

That was the fifth mass extinction. The one going on now is also caused by the warming of atmosphere and water that has been taking place over the last roughly 200 years, and also by a large array of habitat disruptions, such as mass-scale agriculture, deforestation and pollution. Virtually all the world’s climate and biological scientists agree that humans are the driving force behind the extinction event that soon will be — or already is — affecting your backyard.

We’re having the same effect as a giant asteroid. The Industrial Revolution hit the Earth hard starting about 250 years ago and just kept on exploding. If some insect species was causing damage like this, we’d be hell-bent on eradicating that insect.

As pointed out a few weeks ago, many estimates are that we have about a hundred years to figure this out, or this whole party is going to be over through, among other things, the collapse of the food chain.

Science got us into this mess, and science will get us out. If we want out, that is. Going Big Oil one better, the president denies there’s any such thing as climate change and has proposed to cut federal spending on basic scientific research by at least 10.5 percent for next fiscal year.

This is the maximum civic irresponsibility.

 

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at [email protected]. His recent book is “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods.” Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.


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