In the New York Times Sunday Review section of Oct. 4, John Tierney, writer of the Findings column for the New York Times Science section, makes a simple if arguable point: While all of our current efforts at recycling solid waste might make us feel better about helping the environment, there is scant evidence that recycling actually has a positive impact on the environment.
He got to me with his presentation of that premise, because I think it’s something a lot of us wonder about as we religiously separate our trash and carry it out to the curb for recycling.
Early in the piece, Tierney throws down the gauntlet: “As you sort everything into the right bins, you probably assume that recycling is helping your community and protecting the environment. But is it? Are you in fact wasting your time?”
Tierney cites a 1996 Times article he wrote where he presented evidence that recycling is “costly and ineffectual.”
Since that piece, he says that while the recycling message has reached more people than ever the reality is that the bottom line economically and environmentally has not changed much. Included in his evidence is the fact that it is still more expensive for cities to recycle household waste than to send it to a landfill.
Citing commitments like one in New York City to achieve “zero waste” in recycling policies, Tierney points out that to offset the greenhouse impact of one passenger’s round-trip flight between New York and London, you’d have to recycle 40,000 plastic bottles. That’s if you fly coach.
Deeper in, Tierney argues that a fear of running out of landfill space to avert a supposed crisis has never been “realistic.”
In his 1996 piece, Tierney reported that all the trash generated by Americans for the next 1,000 years would fit on one-tenth of one per cent of the land available in the US for grazing. Then he reminds us that landfills are now often covered with grass and converted to parklands. Even the site of the United States Open tennis tournament is played on the site of an old landfill. So, why don’t we just give up and keep dumping our solid waste into open fields?
If we compare that mentality of surrender to our current situation in America with guns and mass shootings, where existing gun laws and our failure to strengthen background checks and our agony over the deaths resulting from mass shootings doesn’t seem to be amounting to much in terms of curbing and stopping gun deaths, why don’t we just give up and concede that we’ll continue to be burying bodies from these tragedies?
Second Amendment zealots and the NRA aren’t even satisfied with leaving things as they are. No, they believe that more guns and more armed school teachers is the solution. As President Obama said when he spoke calmly and sensibly about his frustration after the shootings in Oregon, “Is there really anybody who believes that?”
Sadly, yes. There are people who can look squarely at a mass shooting and argue that a safer America would result if only more personnel – more “good people” – carried guns. Shootings would become shoot-outs and we’d be happier with the results. I would first suggest that they try running that past the families of the 33,000-plus dead from guns annually, a number that appears to be exceeding our national annual death toll from traffic accidents.
To extend Mr. Tierney’s argument about recycling and mine about gun deaths, does knowing we have lots of room to dump our trash create a justification for making more of it? For allowing more solid waste in the form of plastic packaging, water bottles, ad nauseam? Let’s posit that, tomorrow, five or even 10 people on a campus like the one in Umpqua are carrying handguns for “security.” There isn’t a strong statistical probability of accidental death from those new guns? There’s some kind of assurance that the people carrying those guns won’t have their own world of issues and use them on strangers or loved ones or themselves?
Every new mass shooting brings with it speculation about mental health, to some extent because the media just can’t seem to accept that those dead from guns are dead from guns. But am I missing something to point out that people with bad mental health don’t walk onto a campus with archery gear, or bag of rabid squirrels to be released, or a baseball bat? They walk into the kill zone with guns as one man did near Santa Monica College, killing six and injuring four in 2013. Giving up on controlling and better regulating the singular element that enables and makes possible these homicides only ‘recycles’ deadly ignorance and denial. It’s time to sort the trash surrounding the means by which Americans are needlessly dying.
Contact Steve Stajich at firstname.lastname@example.org.