I spent all of yesterday at a waste disposal site in Jordan. Obviously, it was not a very pleasant experience. I saw the the site of the accident where one worker drowned in an industrial waste pond (hopefully from suffocation and nothing worse). I also visited a site where brand new clothes from the industrial estates were being burnt because they did not meet the specifications to be exported, no one was willing to pay customs on them and there was no mechanism for giving them to the needy.
On the ride back from the site, I was involved in a heated discussion between driver and the environmental engineer who accompanied me on the visit. Basically, the driver was upset at what he saw, saying that people shouldn't have to work under such conditions while the engineer was complaining that no one takes the environment seriously in this country. The driver was adamant that concern for the environment was a problem for other, more affluent people to worry about. While the engineer couldn't understand what the driver would lose if he segregated his waste and every once in a while brought a bag of papers into the office to place in the recycling bin, the driver couldn't understand what he would gain if he did.
As interesting as the entire discussion was, I was a little dismayed at both arguments. I felt that we still have a long way to go in terms of understanding the world around us and how it affects us. Despite the good intentions and passion of the engineer, he couldn't find a single argument to make for environmental activism than the tired old "recycle your waste and you're green" that we seem to be stuck in. I was also disheartened by the sensitive and empathic driver, who probably wasn't one tiny step ahead of the generations before him by thinking that conserving our resources is just a luxury.
I know I sound like a sustainability elitist but this is not the first time I've been exposed to such reasoning. It seems to me like non-extremist opinions when it comes to environmental issues are not that easy to find in our society. Something is definitely missing what we are trying to convey.