Little nuisances add up big harm to the environment

Have you ever heard a song by Robert Earl Keen called It's the Little Things?

It starts out sounding like a love song and then changes directions, so instead of a list of endearing everyday habits, you hear about petty grievances, with the kicker being: "It's the little things you do that (tick) me off.''

Little things don't seem to matter so much when you have the equivalent of a tanker load of oil spilling into the gulf every week.

This may not be a top worry about the impact of the spill, but it should be — the notion that we'll all decide there's no reason to take personal responsibility when the environment is ruined by titans like BP and various enabling federal agencies. The disaster makes it seem like it's all out of our hands.

Which it's not.

Let me first point out that a lot of people still find it reasonable to use a 3-ton SUV to take individuals weighing perhaps 150 pounds to the drugstore. How did we come up with this transportation system that, in turn, made it seem reasonable to drill for oil in a mile-deep sea?

I guess you could call it a little thing, the decision that it didn't make any difference whether personal vehicles got 35 miles to the gallon or 15. But clearly it added up.

Whether it's conceit or cluelessness, we're showing by our actions that we don't take the environment into consideration very much. Here are a few more little things that tick me off:

Grocery bags. I know. A lot of supermarket customers can't handle heavy bags. Still, it gets silly sometimes, one carton of eggs put in one bag and then dropped in your cart. This puzzles me because I thought the very idea of a bag was to consolidate the load into one convenient package.

I'm getting better about bringing my own reusable bag, but I sometimes forget and politely ask clerks to please fill the bag full. They do and then needlessly stuff this bag, which is hardly overloaded, into another bag. Then there was the time when, buying a sub, I forgot to tell the cashier I didn't need a bag until after she'd already put it in one. She shrugged, removed the sandwich and dropped the bag in the trash.

Idling. I can understand this on extremely hot, humid afternoons when there are hairdos that need preserving and blouses that can't be blotched with sweat. But how many times have you seen people waiting for their kids at school assume it's okay to use a exhaust-spewing, 4-liter V8 as a personal cooling system when it's nice enough to roll down the windows?

Litter. Judging from the amount of it I see on roadsides, I think there's been a bit of a backslide from the days when Lady Bird Johnson and that tear-streaked American Indian mostly cured us of this habit. But this is the one that gets me: smokers who don't think their cigarette butts — those filthy little wads of cellulose acetate loaded with tar and toxins — constitute litter. I walked past a dozen of them on my way into the supermarket the other day — just before I got to the ashtrays set right outside the entrance.

Fact: Cigarette butts can choke and maybe sicken wildlife. Plus they look extremely cruddy.

I'll spare you more little complaints. But if there's one lesson to take from the oil spill, it's that the environment affects every part of our lives. It's a very big thing.

Little nuisances add up big harm to the environment 07/01/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 1, 2010 8:59pm]

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