Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Time capsule

Sherri, Laura, Laura, Katherine and I were talking trash (I like the sound of that) last night at Crazy Wisdom Tea Room, when Sherri mentioned how people, scientists/researchers I assume, once took a core of a landfill, similar to how ice cores are taken to study paleoclimate. She mentioned that they found a phone book from forty years ago, that was remarkable still a phone book; it had not degraded, decomposed, or anything of that nature. (If you want to know how McDonald's Happy Meals don't go bad or decompose, check this out - Sally Davies photographed a Happy Meal everyday for six months, with very little about the "meal" changing...) This got us talking about legacies we would like to leave behind. This is a post I have been thinking about for a while - trash as a time capsule.

I would assume that most of us want to be remembered, at least for a generation or two, for being good people, for being positive influences on our families and communities, or at least for not being, for lack of a better word, bad. We want to be remembered for being there when people needed us, for being a good listener, for being responsible, thoughtful and kind. Indeed, there are social and legal pressures for us to be this way, if we want to live in "civilisation." Word spreads about people's karma; our criminal records just don't seem to go away. Our credit scores follow us whether we like it or not, and so it is better for us to pay off credit card debt on time. We don't want our name sullied with accusations of misconduct, driving under the influence, or indecency. We are held accountable and responsible for our actions, and we "suffer" the consequences of our actions. Now say we were held accountable for the environmental harm we've caused, or more tangible yet, the trash we've produced...

Imagine if we had to write our names, hometowns, and dates on each piece of trash we produce. As we know, most of our trash doesn't decompose over human and multi-generational time-scales, especially in landfills, as Sherri can attest to. Imagine if fifty years from now, people dug up your trash, and saw what trash you produced, and made judgements about how you chose to spend your money, time and effort. Imagine if they made judgements about you as a person, responsible or otherwise. Why did she have to buy that knick-knack from the dollar store that came in a lot of packaging? Didn't she know that Styrofoam is harmful to the environment, both its production and its after life?

How can we be held responsible or accountable for our actions? Indeed, it is the unaccountability that is cause of environmental and social harms. Clearly, if there are rules for behaviour, rules of engagement, people try not to break them, because there are consequences. You pay a fine, you get sent to jail, you are shamed in your community and family. Carbon dioxide molecules don't have the names of those that caused their formation attached to them, and neither does our trash.

What would you like to be remembered for?

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