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A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. May's Theme: "Humour"
Volume 3 Issue 4 ISSN# 1708-3265
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What's Funny About Waste?
by David Suzuki PhD

Advertising. Local mailboxes and newspapers laden with flyers. Children pleading for the latest toys they've seen on television. Awash in consumer products and commercials, it's easy to forget where all this stuff comes from and where it goes.

We put up with advertising saturation because we don't have much choice. Between television and radio commercials, print advertising, pop-up internet ads, billboards and more, we can't get away from it. Some companies will help pay for a new car if you're willing to drive one festooned with advertisements. For $5,000, a Texan even agreed to have an advertisement permanently tattooed on the back of his head. Scary stuff.

But every once and a while I still see an advertisement so fundamentally stupid it takes my breath away. Such is the case with a television ad for a dishcloth that has been impregnated with soap. The big kicker? It's disposable. Use it once and throw it away. Why not? As the actor in the commercial says, "There's plenty more where that came from!"

Funny, I hadn't realized that plain old reusable dish cloths were such a terrible inconvenience. Good thing a nice company was willing to point out my hardship. And look, they have a product to solve the problem. How thoughtful!

Now, this product by itself is not going to cause environmental disaster. In fact, disposable products like this are pretty minor in the big scheme of things. Humanity's largest impact on the environment comes from things like driving our cars, heating our homes, and growing and processing our food. Disposable cloths barely register on the radar screen of environmental problems.

It's the attitude that is the real problem: "there's plenty more where that came from." This, in a nutshell, is the reason why humanity has managed to get itself into so much trouble. We keep assuming there's plenty more of everything - plenty more fish in the sea, plenty more forests, plenty more wild spaces, plenty more natural resources, plenty more room in the oceans and in the atmosphere for our wastes.

In reality, our planet is actually very small and interconnected. Our atmosphere, for example, isn't much more than 10 kilometers thick. So it shouldn't really surprise us that spewing air pollution and heat-trapping gases from our cars and factories causes smog and global warming.

These problems are costing us a fortune. According to the Ontario Medical Association, smog costs taxpayers in Ontario alone more than $1 billion every year through increased health care costs and lost work days. Global warming expenses are just beginning, but record extreme weather events around the world caused billions of dollars in damages - something the World Meteorological Organization says will continue to increase with global warming. For years now, insurance companies have been telling us their payouts for weather related damage are skyrocketing.

If we want to change this trend and have a clean, healthy, sustainable future, we have to consider the real costs of all our activities and products. We have to build external costs into the price of everything from gasoline to dishcloths. We have to encourage clean practices and efficiency and discourage waste.

Right now, we are very wasteful with our use of natural resources - including energy - largely because society as a whole, rather than an individual or a company, has to pay for the resulting pollution. The company touting disposable dishcloths, for example, does not have to pay for increased air and water pollution, rising health care costs and global warming. We all do.

Consider that when you see a commercial for a blatantly wasteful product. Plenty more where that came from? Think again.

David T. Suzuki PhD, the Chair of the David Suzuki Foundation, is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. David has received consistently high acclaim for his thirty years of award-winning work in broadcasting; explaining the complexities of science in a compelling, easily understood way. He is well known to millions as the host of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's popular science television series, The Nature of Things. Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

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