Thursday, January 24, 2013

New Toys

I was sitting in my living room playing with my son and his new toys from Christmas when he stopped paying attention to me and focused intently on his toy. As I watched him, I could see the gears turning in his head as he connected the dots and realized several things the toy could do that he hadn’t noticed before. His brow furrowed and he continued to do these new things over and over again. When he was satisfied that he had mastered this, he looked up at me and gave me a huge smile, looking thoroughly pleased at his ability.

I looked on with pride and reaffirmed his excitement with a big smile and a “yay!” We continued on with what we were doing.

This made me think about all of the times I had these same “aha” moments. Several of these came in college when I saw how classes seemed to correlate with others that you wouldn’t have expected. Topics like World Humanities and Waste Management don’t really seem like they have anything to do with one another upon first glance; especially when your world view is so limited at that point in life. 

But, we live in a world where nothing really stands alone. Everything is connected in some way. As humans, we are constantly trying to relate new experiences with something we know so we can make sense out of it. We do this in conversations too.

So, why is it that some of us can’t see the connection between the economy and the environment and things that affect both? I am amazed still by the benefits of things like conservation and recycling, and their compounding benefits on the economy and the ecosystems that we depend on. Likewise, it is astounding how much degradation of these ecosystems occurs from consumerism, overuse, and negligence when you are not keeping these things in mind.

Consider this: When we recycle 1 ton of material (2000 pounds), we save 3 cubic yards of landfill space (and consequently the methane it will produce), trees (at 17 trees per ton of paper), energy, water, air pollutants, oil, soil erosion (from mining practices), and all of the added CO2 emissions from the extraction, transport, refining, and manufacturing of new materials.

Energy and water are our biggest threats in the near future. We have aging and at capacity transmission grids and our water supplies are strained by overuse and pollutants. There are more and more spills, accidents, and unintended consequences from our ways of extracting raw materials that cost taxpayers billions. Though, we don’t usually see these costs. Hidden costs.

Has there been an “aha” moment yet? 

The only thing I can hope is that more people, and our government, will come to the realization that we need to make a bigger effort. Treat it like a new toy. It may take a little work and you may have to turn it over in your head several times but you will eventually see so many new possibilities.

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