Trashed

It’s toxic substances week here in the hobbit house, perhaps because as I was grubbing around in the garden the other day, my neighbor casually leaned over the fence and said “you know, they used to repair cars here.”

“Ah,” I said, smearing black sludge across my nose.

“So, you know. I mean. There’s…stuff. In the soil?”

“Ah,” I said again.

And then I went back to stubbornly pulling out the most extensive root system I have ever seen. I think I pulled roots out of China. Seriously.

At any rate, I started reading Parts Per Million on Monday, and then on Wednesday I picked up High Tech Trash, and I got a library notice today saying that my copy of Five Past Midnight in Bhopal was in. Although, given the state of the hold shelf, anyone should checks the “Smith” shelf at the library probably also knows that. That’s right, Department of Homeland Security. I ordered Five Past Midnight in Bhopal, and I just might read it.

What brought about this slew of books about pollution?

I’m not really sure, actually. I picked up the first two when I was at the library on Saturday because they were there and they looked interesting. And then I was researching Bhopal for unrelated reasons, and Five Past Midnight came up, so I ordered it, in accordance with my new policy of ordering every book that seems interesting. Pollution is an intriguing subject to me, especially pollution by evil corporations, and my role in that pollution as a consumer.

The first book is about Beverly Hills High School. Apparently, there are oil wells right next to Beverly, and some people have a problem with that. (I can’t imagine why.) The book focused on a lawsuit which ultimately got thrown out of court, and it was a bit meandering and poorly organized, unfortunately. It left me with a feeling of general discontent and dissatisfaction. Not because I think it’s ok to have oil wells next to a high school, but because the author didn’t seem to have her shit pulled together, and as a result, the book felt weak.

One thing about the book that I found interesting was the collusion of the school district with the oil company to try and get the case shut down. You’d think that a school district would, I don’t know, protect teachers and children. But apparently I am wrong. I also thought it was interesting to note that a lot of school districts get offers of shitty, contaminated land to build on, and then people get sick, and people are surprised by it. I should think that it’s a no brainer to find safe land to build schools on, but this is not the case in a country which places little value on education. Bummer.

The second book is about, er, high tech trash. Basically, it’s a discussion of the pollution caused by the tech industry, which uses huge amounts of resources and generates tons of waste. A lot of this waste is handled poorly, and it contaminates the environment to the detriment of human, animal, and plant health. This book felt rather poorly edited to me, as I noticed an alarming number of grammar errors, but in general it was fairly strong. I think it would be a good primer for someone who isn’t aware of how much waste is generated to make electronics, and it puts forward a great case for handling e-waste properly. Unfortunately, the author waxed poetic about the miracles of nature a bit too much for my taste, and it kind of put me off.

I haven’t read the book about Bhopal yet, but I assume it’s going to go into the details of the disaster, and talk about pollution in general. Hopefully with a focus on companies operating in third world countries, which tend to have less stringent environmental regulations.

Reading so much about corporate pollution has been interesting, especially since I’m writing on a device which generated tons (literally, tons) of waste before it got to me. I think that it is a good idea for consumers to think about the massive amounts of waste which we are generating with our disposable culture, and that it might, perhaps, be time for us to rethink the ways in which we use the environment and handle our trash. We are literally trashing the planet, and while it will eventually recover once we go away, it’s not going to be a very fun place to live for us and a lot of animals in a remarkably short amount of time. Unfortunately, we live in such a consumerist culture that it’s hard to know how to break free. Will we, or are we going to end up trapping ourselves in our own garbage? I think it’s rather telling to note that many visions of our future include huge piles of garbage, don’t you?