Today isn't just my weekly political essay. It's also Earth Day...or, to be more exact, one of several Earth Days we seem to celebrate in the name of ecology. Never could figure out why we had to have multiples of this, or multiple Arbor Days for that matter, but I digress...
Recently I read that the American tradition of Earth Day will be 40 years old next year, having been celebrated first in 1970. As a 53-year-old, I can testify that our society has come a long way in cleaning up our water and air in that time. The cost and whether it has been too high will be left to debate another day, but federal government mandates that ordered pollution reductions and fines for those who disobeyed appear to have made a difference, and all while our population grew and our technologies and industries experienced vast changes.
As I sit here today, the issues of the day that seem to warrant immediate attention are anything but environmental ones. Our current economic recession is at the forefront of our problems, and on the back burner sits our Middle Eastern diplomacy problems (fornerly known as the war on terror...I can't remember what it is now being called).
However, smack in the middle of issues that could explode in our collective face is this "drug war" on our Southern border. Yet, little is being done to effectively address it. Call me crazy, but it seems to me that we are treating all of these like problems we just have to endure. Meanwhile, Congressional leaders prepare to write and debate a Climate Change Bill with what seems to me to be a misplaced enthusiasm.
Here is where I remind the reader that the original aims for Earth Day included an embracing of hemp as a natural resource and marijuana as a natural therapeutic herb...both naturally bio-degradable. Remember that Thomas Jefferson made his living from growing and selling hemp crop, then check out this visual about hemp's uses:
NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) was also born in 1970, along with Earth Day, a symbol of natural ecological living.
In the 1970's progress was made toward evolving to more natural lifestyles. The fledgling pharmaceutical industry, whose first commercial success in the 50's and 60's was in collusion with doctors to prescribe amphetamines and barbituates (uppers for weight loss and energy, downers for relaxing and handling stress), was slowly being challenged. Seriously. Baby steps, but steps.
Then came the Reagan years. One presidential administration managed to return the power in the equation back to the pharmaceuticals and take away a big chunk of citizens' privacy and personal liberty through the Drug-Free Workplace Act. Suddenly, your urine could be taken and examined, in order to work and support yourself. Then your blood. Then your hair, and by way of technological advances, your DNA.
So, what does this have to do with ecology and Earth Day? A lot, actually, and we are moving in the wrong direction if we want to advocate life with less pollution and negative ecological impact. Because we chose pharmaceuticals over embracing pot and hemp, we have just as much drug abuse, if not more. It's just legal. We have record high levels of biomedical and pharmaceutical waste showing up in our drinking water (including what gets put in those bottles we buy). Hormones, chemicals of all kinds. It's really a hothouse science experiment in the making and we are the test rats.
There is also the lifestyle byproduct waste of our society choosing not to embrace the more laid-back natural approach. Who among us does not have one or more cell phones, mp3 players, pda's, laptops, and that's just your mobile devices. At home, there are perhaps desktop computer or more laptops, tv's, dvd players, cordless phones, home theater and sound systems, electronic security and temperature systems, and a ton of battery-operated small appliances from toothbrushes to vibrators.
Where do all of those used-up batteries go? Landfills, if we are lucky and they are properly handled. So do the devices themselves after a few years. Very little of this stuff is ever recycled or even recyclable. But it could be. The positive ecological impact potential is huge, but remains ignored.
Many of us are genuinely concerned about our ecological future and will be touting and promoting the Earth today. Many of us do the right things: no cigarette smoking, cloth bags to sack groceries in, curbside recycling, clothes thrifting. We might drive cars that get 40 mpg, and have energy-efficient appliances in our homes. We also might align our politics with those who promote the dangers of climate change. Al Gore may be considered a hero and a visionary.
We go along with Just Say No. Perhaps we had one relative who got hooked and it ruined their life. Or we are too weak to be self-responsible about casual drug use and so welcome the draconian laws of restriction. Or we have no personal experience whatsoever and believe our pastor or our drug czars who tell us that hair grows on palms and all who take illegal drugs will go to hell, and pot is a sure-fire gateway drug to cocaine, heroin, speed.
And yet, most if not all of us continue to obliviously pollute with electronics and medications. We think we are helping by using products with biodegradable packaging, but don't realize the huge amount of it sitting there as waste and waiting, because it takes years to biodegrade. WE might buy on the internet thinking it saves fossil fuel pollution, but much of the shipping packaging and the increased transportation fuel use makes the gain small (less cars and more freighters and cargo planes). Take a look at your packaging the next time you get some. While it is true that a lot of it is made of recycled materials, what happens to it now? Ever think about that?
I've mentioned before that I think most of the ecological commemorations are just a lot of hooey to help people feel like they are somehow connected and correct. People are reminded of it a handful of times a year. It's what we do every day that counts.
Ask just about any Mexican national who is here working, either legally or not, and they would rather see you working to get marijuana and hemp decriminalized. They will tell you that doing that one thing will end these drug wars because the demand that drives the mafia power struggle will evaporate.
And it will also make life more safe and stable for their loved ones back home. This is important because something called a Kuznets curve shows that more stable economies grow wealth, and wealthier economies tend to take care of their environments better once they stabilize their wealth. Mexico still needs to do that.
Remember this the next time you hear the knee-jerk reactionary line about if we legalize pot we will have kindergartners high on every street corner, or that California's pot clinics are really providing product to dealers to sell to kids. This is the same Psy-op tactic as was used in the South in the 1920's when citizens were urged to support making hemp and marijuana illegal on the grounds that if black men smoked it they would rape white women.
The real issue might be that if people could smoke a bowl instead of pop a pill, the pharmaceutical industry might suffer. Stress-induced crime might go down. More folks might drink less and drive drunk less. Small farmers might find a lucrative crop to make a living with, as Jefferson did. A lot of people might not waste important years incarcerated. And we might could continue making progress in advocating natural lifestyles in the process. That's ecology we can all celebrate.