April 7, 2007

Sweepers...Man Your Brooms!

As a young sailor in the 1960s, I remember an evening at rest on the fantail of the USS Saratoga – at anchor in the Mediterranean Sea – gazing at the reflection of the moon atop a seemingly endless ocean. Heady stuff for a kid from landlocked Nebraska.

“Jeez, Chief,” I commented to a salty Chief Petty Officer next to me, “that’s a lot of water.”

“Yup, son,” he drawled in his crusty but authoritative style, “and that's just the top of it.”

That fleeting moment left me with a lingering respect for the enormity and wonder of our planet. That perspective, however, didn’t stop me or any of the thousands of sailors aboard hundreds of ships in our navy, from throwing trash off the stern of the ship. It was, after all, a nightly routine we were directed to follow – instigated by the Boatswains Mate’s nightly announcement over the 1MC speaker system. “Sweepers, sweepers, man your brooms and give the ship a clean sweepdown fore and aft. Take all trash to the fantail.” And take it…and more…. we did. I shudder when I think about the many items given the “Deep Six.” Some “garbage” had to be taken to the fantail with a hand truck!

But my conversion to treating Mother Earth more kindly didn’t occur overnight. Largely through the unflagging efforts of my wife over many years, I became a believer in recycling. And appropriately disposing of batteries, spent oil, etc.

I recall the devastation and loss of lives (some 250,000) from the tsunamis that swelled from the 2004 earthquake in the Indian Ocean. The sobering experience from the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s in 1980. Of course, these occurred in the short snippet of history called “my lifetime,” and I was keenly aware of them, due largely to a modern communications system that spewed out more facts, history, video and still photos than most of us could absorb.

Having become a believer in environmentalism, I have not become a believer in Al Gore’s gloom and doom. His film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” is conveniently focused upon Al Gore. From nostalgic childhood memories to a his touching self-described survival of difficult personal losses that many of us have or will come to experience in our lives. It was…..well, it was…..Gorey.

I believe in global warming. I believe earlier in this century, many scientists were equally concerned about a coming “ice age.” However, there does appear to be unrefutable evidence that we are in a period of global warming. Key questions for me are:

What is the cause of this global warming?
How much of the cause is “man-made”?
How long will it last?
How does human activity compare with “natural” forces of nature in climate change?
Can we make a difference?

My view is that we humans DO participate in a wide range of environmental misdeeds. I also believe that those misdeeds, including exorbitant carbon dioxide emissions, pale when compared to the forces of Mother Nature.

Of course, we know it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, and some would say it’s even more foolish that we humans should think we can significantly alter the forces of our global environment.

Perhaps the most nagging question for me is the final one. Can we make a difference? I believe we can, however miniscule it might be. So I’ll continue to recycle and find other ways I can be friendly to the environement.

But don’t expect me to fall for Al Gore’s gloom and doom. The cataclysmic events he unveils in his self-aggrandizing movie may well occur. But they’ll not be caused by man.
In the meantime, I don’t want to be even a minor, unwitting participant, in such an event. So please help me find a recycling center that’s closer than 50 miles from home!

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