“Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.”
– Prophet Muhammad
My life is essentially a collection of experiences and activities guided by a need for information. I like knowing things and more importantly, I like knowing when someone is talking out of their ass.
Religion, politics, science… these are all disciplines that people are passionate about, but rarely does that passion translate into a quest for true understanding. Most people simply spout of psuedo-facts gleened from watching TV sound bites or friends who “know.” Or worse, they repeat items that are psuedo-science or bastardizations of real ideas.
There are words for these types of people, but I prefer to call them ignorant zealots. It is an unfortunate side-effect of living in the so-called “information age” that anyone with a computer and an internet connection can get customized rhetoric against or for anything.
Three arguments I tend to get involved in quite often are about recycling (conservation), animal cruelty, and religion as politics.
Recycling is one of the hottest topics you can come across in your day-to-day conversations. Ask anyone why they recycle and you’ll be hard pressed to find an answer that is even remotely based on fact or science. For the most part, their answers will be passionate pleas to save the environment, the Earth, the whales, etc. Few if any will discuss recycling simply as an aesthetic value proposition – reducing the amount of litter in communities. Most people don’t really investigate recycling, instead regurgitating factoids and random trivia to support their position.
It can be argued that recycling has been around since the dawn of man. Reusing the bones of animals they killed for food is possibly the first and most productive use of previously used materials. But recycling, and the fanaticism that it creates in otherwise sane human beings, began in earnest in 1987.
That was the year that a barge named the Mobro 4000 began a meandering journey along the eastern coast of the United States in search of a safe harbor in which to transfer its cargo into an appropriate landfill. That incident had a rather interesting, yet whole-heartedly misguided, effect on the population of not just the East Coast, but the whole nation. Believing there was no more room in landfills, Americans concluded that recycling was the only option lest we be buried under billions of tons of garbage.
Before I begin to systematically destroy people’s misconceptions about the environment and recycling, I should say that I do honestly believe that the idea behind recycling is sound. Afterall, if we are able to make use of some of our detrious we create through consuming goods and services, we’d have less actual garbage to bury in landfills. The problem is that the act of recycling is in itself, wasteful. And two wrongs, do not make a right no matter how you play with the math.
There is no question that for some cities, recycling offers a cost-competitive option to waste management. The problem is that in many more cities, recycling simply takes away time, focus, and money from programs that better serve the communities within the geographic area. For those cities, it is much cheaper to bury the garbage in an environmentally safe landfill and use funds that would otherwise be earmarked for recycling programs toward community services like housing, food supplements, and medical care. The cities that implement mandatory recycling programs are even worse. These mandatory recycling programs offer short-term benefits to a few (mostly politicians, public relations consultants, environmental organizations, waste-handling corporations), while diverting money from genuine social and environmental problems.
Of course, saving money isn’t the only issue recycling zealots use to defend their position. Many of them believe that Americans have a moral obligation to recycle. Some facts about the United States:
- The United States has five percent of the world’s population, yet generates 19 percent of its wastes.
- The U.S. uses 20 percent of the world’s metals, 24 percent of its energy and 25 percent of its fossil fuels.
- The U.S. ranks 15th in paper recycling efforts and 19th in glass recycling.
- Some 96 percent of U.S. plastic, and 50 percent of its paper, goes into landfills. By comparison, Mexico, arguably the poster child for toxic pollution, recycles more glass than the U.S.
These numbers position the U.S. as a voracious and unsympathetic monster, hell-bent on destroying the planet, yet those numbers should be tempered with the idea that the United States also contributes more to the well-being of the ENTIRE POPULATION OF THE PLANET than any other country, and in some cases, more than all countries combined.
The U.S. contributed $930 million to the World Food Program in 2002, four times greater than the next largest donor, and 51 percent of total contributions to rid the world of famine. In response to the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake, the U.S. gave over a BILLION dollars in aid. More than any other country by more than half. Of course, zealots will point out that the U.S. is giving less than 1% of its GNP and can afford to do much more. Truth be told, the U.S. doesn’t HAVE to do anything at all, yet it does anyway.
Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources, but for the zealots, it is all or nothing. The conservationists have long been of the “end-is-near” variety. They have turned a relatively noble idea into a virulent need for panic for panic’s sake. It is a system driven by fear, largely at the expense of American lifestyle and happiness. Unfortunately, we have become mired in an economy of fear that extends to just about every facet of our lives from what we drive to where we live to what we eat.
NEXT: Passion without Understanding, Part II – Animal Attraction