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Each of us has a role in saving the planet

April, Healthy Communities Month in Woolwich, provided a plethora of  examples of how to live lighter on the land, enriching ourselves and our environment in the process.

Today (Saturday) volunteers are fanning out across the township in a clean-up effort, essentially picking up after the thoughtless people who litter wantonly. If past years are any indication, they’ll find all sorts of discarded items. More than just candy wrappers and pop cans – perhaps written off as childish negligence – the long list of junk found along roadways, in parks and other public places reveals deliberate intent. A stray coffee cup or scrap of paper may have been caught in the wind, an old tire (or, more likely, 50 old tires) did not arrive on its own – somebody was bypassing the proper disposal process.

Such garbage is not only unsightly, it is potentially hazardous: people should be able to use the parks and trails without worrying about what they may step on. Worse still, some people are not above dumping toxins such as used oil and household cleaners.

Environmental arguments aside, such dumping is completely inconsiderate. Our shared spaces are just that: shared. Everyone who dumps trash, even if it just that coffee cup or candy wrapper, is in fact leaving the mess for somebody else to clean up – people who make use of common areas are in essence forced to do the work.

Anyone who has ever walked along a roadside ditch, for instance, knows just how much garbage can accumulate in such places; it’s visible even from your car as you drive along, thus the need for something like the Adopt-A-Road program, whose volunteers can already be seen hard at work.

As unsightly as it is, however, such litter is only the tip of the environmental iceberg: The real damage comes from the stuff we can’t see, or collectively gather up for proper disposal.

As environmentalists stressed while we marked Earth Day this week, the number-one issue remains climate change. Canada, of course, has a poor track record on this file, promising little and doing less, arguing any targets we set would be a drop in the bucket if the big players – the U.S., China, India and Russia – refuse to play ball.

Perhaps it’s time to move past the rhetoric and actually start doing something. Even climate change skeptics – those who argue the changes are naturally occurring, not manmade – can’t argue the fact we’re polluting the only home we have. Measures designed to improve the environment can only improve our own health and quality of life down the road.

Those opposed to fighting greenhouse gas emissions often cite economic reasons, saying we’d kill the economy by cutting back on energy production and manufacturing.

This stance ignores many realities. First off, resources such as oil and coal are finite – we’re going to run out of them eventually. Also finite is the planet’s carrying capacity for the pollution we generate; we used to think dumping waste into the river/lake/ocean made it go away, but we now know better (what we do to the Grand, for instance, ends up downstream in Brantford and points south).

One way or another, we’ll have to change the way we live today. Whether we choose how to do that, or the planet makes the decision for us remains to be seen.

The need for each of us to tread more lightly on the earth is the real take-away message this month.

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