Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Why not trash Yellowstone?

It is fair to say that most of us think that trash is worthless; trash is indiscriminately thrown “away” and banished. It is rare to see someone adorn spaces with trash, the objects in our lives we choose to discard. Landfills are located in remote areas (both geographically and from those with the most power - instead they are located closest to people who are treated as worthless). Our society have become desensitised to the existence of trash, and have condoned its production for the sole aim of “moving forward.” Fully extending this line of thought, however, leads us down paths our society refuses to consider. When we say trash is worthless to us, that means that the places that the trash ends up are also worthless to us. This means that land, air and water are worthless to us, or can be minimally respected, as long as they can continue to provide services to us unimpeded, or through human intervention and “ingenuity.” A second thought will not be given to a piece of land, any piece of land, as long as industrial agriculture can produce monocultures of crops that can provide people with “food.” As long as it continues to rain, we are fine with trash ending up in our oceans. As long as we can breathe, incinerators can continue to spew toxic chemicals into our air. 

Trash continues to flow as a fluid, down paths of least resistance, ending up degrading the sources of our existence – land, air and water. Let us focus on trash and the land and landfills. Trash continues to fill landfills unabated, with complex politics and policies now surrounding their operation. But what is forgotten, or not considered in these politics and behaviour, is that a landfill is actually a piece of land. This land, unfortunately, has been so "undervalue" that people have chosen to take some of our most "worthless" objects, our trash, and store it there. Some may say that the land we use as landfills wouldn’t have been used any other way. That land would be a "waste" of space; indeed, given our ethic of man over nature, this space must be used to take full advantage of what we as humans have been granted by nature – ample space to spread our influence. Such a space, desolate and uninhabitable in some cases, now can bear scars of our humanity, and become a place that is no longer left untouched. Yet, just because a tract of land is not being used by man, or cannot be used by man does not mean that it is of no value. Now one might ask, "What is the difference between this land, converted to a landfill, and another tract of land, say Yellowstone National Park?" I would say there is no difference in their values as pieces of land that make up this Earth. Each is mystical, each cannot be comprehended fully through science, numbers and technocratic, money-minded thought. The only difference is the difference in human perception through the assigning of monetary value to something purely aesthetic to human senses – we have monetarily valued one piece of land to be much greater than the other. Some may argue that, actually, Yellowstone is invaluable culturally and represents the pinnacle of human conservation of nature, that it represents the grandiosity of nature, its rugged, uncompromising terrain, and the complexity of ecosystems and the geological activity the Earth can support. (Yet this thought has not stopped people from blowing up the tops of beautiful mountains to reach coal laying below the surface; land is "valued" monetarily. If rare earth elements were to be discovered below Yellowstone, Krishna/Allah/Buddha/Science forbid, I am positive the mining industry would line up outside a Congressman’s office seeking approval for mining plans.) But I argue that this land being used as a landfill is as valuable as any other space on Earth, including Yellowstone. A landfill is a piece of land that is made of Earth. It is a piece of land that has been exposed to the weathering elements of rain and wind, that supports complex ecosystems of organisms and the magnificent creations of nature that we barely comprehend. Each piece of land is unlike any other piece of land on Earth, and has been exposed to the forces of nature in a different way than any other place on Earth. 

Now we have two vastly differently valued pieces of land before us - a storied national park, where people from all over the world come to see, to experience and to feel connected to nature, and a landfill, a place valued by humanity so insignificantly that we have no qualms with sending what we value the least, the trash of our culture, to sit there. But if we were to value the uniqueness of each piece of land (as well as each square mile of ocean, each parcel of air), there is no reason that we should send our trash many miles away. Indeed, if we were to produce trash anyway, why not trash Yellowstone, or our backyard?

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Here is a post about experiencing nature, and the trash borne of it.
Also, here are two links (1, 2) that Arnab shared with me regarding the trashing of Mt. Everest.


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