We’re making progress, but we have a long way to go

Another year, another Earth Day celebrated by the eco-conscious masses. Nothing too remarkable to report this time around, save for the fact that Earth Day officially turned 40 (hooray!). What began as an honest environmental effort by a select few on the hippy front is now a full-blown feel-good festival. One can almost sense the original tree huggers’ astonishment as they witness their movement transcend stereotypes and misconceptions simply to become “green,” America’s favorite household catchphrase as of late.   
You have to admit we’ve been busy patting ourselves on the back, and for good reason. It’s refreshing to know our efforts are perhaps beginning to pay off. Better now than never, you could say. Recycling has become more efficient and mainstream; more and more people are aware of their day-to-day purchasing and disposing options; Hummers, for whatever reason, are discontinued; plastic shopping bags are treated none too kindly in some parts; and so on and so forth. Even better, local schools are teaching our children firsthand where trash comes from and where it often ends up, sometimes going as far as to create really neat art with it, as we recently saw at Jefferson Elementary School in Carlsbad.
The environmental revolution, it seems, is moving full- speed ahead. It shows that with a little forethought and significant wherewithal, we trash-producing human beings can be nice to Mother Earth if we feel up to the challenge. But this isn’t to say we’re out of the woods, so to speak. 
I happened upon an interesting e-mail the other day, sent to me from the kind folks over at Coastkeeper and the SD Surfrider Foundation. In it were results from beach cleanup efforts held throughout the county in 2009. As you can imagine, their numbers paint a somewhat different picture.
For starters, roughly 6,000 pounds of trash was removed by the two groups from local beaches last year. And in that figure lies an ugly truth: we love smoking cigarettes in San Diego, if the 48,154 discarded butts found on the beach are any evidence. Volunteer trash pickers also came across 109,404 pieces of plastic and 12,126 pieces of Styrofoam.
In fact, Styrofoam, cigarette butts and “other plastics” have topped this annual report card for three years running. This, I would suggest, says something about our patterns of local consumption. 
Not to be outdone by Coastkeeper and Surfrider, other local nonprofit organizations reportedly collected a combined 680,000 pounds of trash from local waterways and inland canyons! We’re talking a whole lot of garbage that would have stayed put had it not been for the efforts of our modern eco-warriors. To that end, I offer a heartfelt thank you. 
Now, does any of this read as “clean” and “green” to you? We could pour over the numbers, perhaps attempting to negate those glaring, unpleasant facts. But really what it says is that we’re still dirty, despite some of our best efforts. As painful and difficult as it is, we can do so much more. And it begins on a local level, at home and in the community. Are you up for the challenge?
Happy Earth Day!

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