Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The drive back

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.


Talal said...

What surprises me is the ever-increasing number of people who can't find reason in the reasoning behind “ungreen” behavior. Almost all countries in our region have environmental issues that will always find resistance from the less fortunate (the driver in this case). And upon seeing their apathy towards sound environmental behavior, we never cease to be annoyed. We can easily conclude that among a major chunk of our societies, indifference and disinterest in this matter, to say the least, is the norm or even the trend, and trends should never be overlooked. Such a trend will keep gaining ground because they’re only addressed through public awareness campaigns, regulations and laws with a lame end result of a promise for a greener future, a promise which most people (in our region at least) understandably couldn’t care less about, since they’re seeing millions upon millions poured into an irrelevant future, irrelevant to their basic present needs, let alone their future needs, and they’re seeing people more concerned about the biodegradability of the cigarette butt than they’re worried about a whole generation literally living month by month, or even day by day, never daring to think about their future.

I don’t think there’s anything missing in how we’re trying to convey the importance of being more protective of the environment, it’s just that environmental awareness can never be attained among people living in a dark present, and promising them a dark green future is not something they will easily stop resisting.

Lama Bashour said...

You make a good point. However, I personally don't think it's about a dark green future. Environmental issues are not just about caring for the next generation. It's about caring for what is at your doorstep today. And I do believe that a lot of people are not concerned with that, unless they feel it directly affects them today. I think there are ways to bring that message to the public, but definitely not through recycling campaigns.