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Once upon a time a young woman — let’s call her Lily — came of age and went out on her own to make her way in the world. Life was free and easy, and she did whatever she pleased.
Then she fell in love–let’s call him Dan. They married, and together they built a home just big enough for themselves and for the two children they hoped to have one day.
Lily and Dan loved each other deeply and spent all their free time together doing whatever they pleased. By and by children came, first one, then another, until eventually there were five children in the house, and even though everybody had to share one bathroom and the kids slept in bunk beds, they all got along famously.
Now, while it would be lovely to end this story with, “And they lived happily ever after,” that’s not what happened. For one day, they awoke from their own dream and discovered that all the other Lilies and Dans of the world also had five children, and that the streets had become littered and the cities were crowded and there was not enough food for everybody.
So what’s the point of this little fable? On Halloween the world’s population reached 7 billion — truly a very scary prospect. At this momentous juncture, it seems timely to take stock of our impact on one another.
As their family grew, it was no longer possible for Lily and Dan to do whatever they pleased. Each member of the family had to share a smaller portion of the space available to them, and, no doubt, to make day-to-day compromises in order to share that space equitably. This was not seen as a sacrifice by Lily and her family. But compounded several billion times over in the world around us, sharing space and resources becomes an issue of fundamental human fairness.
Here are a few of the many frightening numbers: beyond this Halloween milestone, we can look forward to a world population of 8 billion before the year 2030, and 9 billion before 2050, despite declining birth rates. There are now about 250 million vehicles in the U.S. alone, and about a billion worldwide. Our global carbon footprint, including the exhaust from these one billion vehicles, is about 150 billion tons of CO2 since 2007 and continues to increase at the rate of about 1,000 tons per second.
Further, our crowded little family of seven billion continues to throw away stuff in places that aren’t exactly fair to everybody else in the family. Such was the case in Downey, where the Kiwanis Green Team, a group of students examining environmental issues, retrieved hundreds of cigarette butts from our city parks. At Independence Park, for example, they found 1,515, at Apollo Park, 712, at Furman Park, 857, and in the San Gabriel riverbed at a Keep Downey Beautiful cleanup, 1,200. Cigarette butts were also found in the rest of the city’s parks, though in much smaller numbers.
In response to their efforts, which produced significant community awareness, Downey City Council just this week passed an ordinance prohibiting smoking in city parks except for designated smoking areas.
The fundamental truth in the fable above and in the actions of City Council is that we all must relinquish a little freedom in order to live together fairly. We may not see it as such, as in Lily’s family, who happily shared their limited space. But that’s how it works. As trivial as it seems, even stopping at a traffic light is a case in point. Each time we stop at a red light, we relinquish a little bit of our freedom in the interest of fairness–safety too, for that matter.
This is not a question of civil liberties; it’s a matter of simple fairness: an inconsiderate smoker should not be permitted to trash our parks and our playgrounds.
And that — treating each other and our precious planet fairly — is the motivation behind all reasonable environmental causes, including those which this column attempts to address each week.
Lars Clutterham is a Downey resident and charter member of the city of Downey’s Green Task Force and Downey Chamber of Commerce’s Green Committee.
Published: November 10, 2011 – Volume 10 – Issue 30