Pollution: Three Personal Windows. 1957 – 1997 – 2017
In 1957: Betty Watson worked for an American company in Cambodia, making a two lane packed gravel road out of a foot path for oxcarts and elephants. This is where she began her sojourn into wildlife rescue and where she witnessed the local women washing their newborns in the same canals that their neighbors washed their water buffalos in.
There was no “clean” water available for the villagers in Cambodia at that time and little hope of getting some.
Fast forward to 1967: Joe Watson was working at UC Berkeley for a world renowned Biochemist, Robert (Bob) Stokstad. Bob demanded critical thinking and participation in lively discussions in his laboratory every morning. This is when Bob would drop an intellectual bomb and stand back to see where the pieces fell. Bob posited that the “clean” industries of the chip makers in Silicon Valley did not have to worry about the small volumes of chemical solvents that they contaminated the water table with. “All they have to do to mitigate was to drink bottled water, avoiding the contaminates”.
I knew that Bob’s grandchildren and his son lived in Silicon Valley so I asked Bob, “What do you think about your grandchildren eating vegetables boiled in that water and what about taking baths in that water”? With a smile, Bob recanted his position.
Fast forward to 2017: Betty and I were visiting Cambodia with our foster daughter, Thavon Chhun and her family. We were in a water taxi,
motoring through The Floating Village of Tonle Sap Lake, during the dry season.
As we passed one on the stilt houses, A young woman smiled and waved to us. She was sitting on the safety rail of her porch, with her bottom hanging over the edge, pooping. Her next door neighbors were taking their daily baths in the waterway at the same time. They had no “clean water” infrastructure.
The primary catch for this fishing village was water snails; And, those snails lived off the aquatic plants that flourished in the rich polluted water. The fishermen were transporting large plastic bags with their daily catch to the loading docks, so the snails could be delivered to the local markets.
A year later, we saw open garbage pits outside the private homes in Fiji. We saw plastic containers and a myriad of other things waiting to be burned and buried.
I can honestly say that the cultures of the Third World and the First World haven’t learned a thing. While we belch the pollutants of combustion into our air, and dump coal ash into our rivers, we spill oil into our oceans.
The citizens of Flint Michigan can’t drink their own municipal water because most of the town has no “clean water” infrastructure. The first tenant of pollution control is ignored: “Do not dump your own waste into the environment”.
The Nature Conservancy thinks about this stuff every day. Guided by the adage, “Waste not want not”; We reuse the plastic pots that come from our nurseries, and we reuse the pots that we used the previous years. This year, during our Spring Cleaning, we stored and stacked over 1,000 plastic pots to be used this season. In addition, we saved more than 700 plastic tree guards, from years past, to reuse for this year’s acorn plantings.
As a policy, The Nature Conservancy is asking all the volunteers to bring their own reusable water bottles with them to the workdays so that we don’t add to the problems that these conveniences cause.
When you change the way you look at the world you can change the way you do things. The smallest changes done by the largest number of people can make the biggest difference.