Friday, May 04, 2007

''Don't Eat Stuff off the Sidewalk''

I'm a creature of habit and every day I walk to the convenience store by way of our bland and sandy sidewalks. The trip takes about five minutes and the shopkeepers all know me well. I'm the fellow who gets the same bottle of Pepsi and box of Reese's Pieces every single day, or nearly every day. Usually the man behind the counter is watching Chinese television on a tiny set behind the counter, and invariably there is someone in line buying cigarettes, lotto tickets, or a bus pass. I like to think that the family who works there has come to enjoy seeing me come in.

It began to annoy me that there was so much litter along the sidewalks I travel. So a few weeks ago, I began picking up a few bits when I make my daily walk. I worried that this would be a hopeless crusade, but what I found was that I got most of it within a few days, and it doesn't accumulate quickly. In fact, it shows up so rarely that I would assume there aren't many people who actually litter. In my life, I've only known one litterbug, and he was a co-worker on the road crew who believed that it ensured his job stability, since he was part of the crew that picked up trash. I would venture to guess that maybe one person in the three blocks that I take actually drops trash.

If I were to assume that one person in my neighborhood alone was a litterbug, it would account for more trash than I actually pick up. But, for the sake of argument, let's assume that one degenerate teenager in my neighborhood litters. If this is true, it would suggest that only 1 per cent of the population of my neighborhood is littering. We have 32 houses on our street. Knowing the population of six of those houses, and eyeballing the rest, I'd say that the average number of residents per home is three. Therefore, a conservative estimate is that 96 people live in our neighborhood, although given the large number of children at the other end of the block, the population is probably higher.

And we can also safely assume that at least some of the trash comes from garbage men who are in a hurry and spill trash. Everyone on the street recycles, without exception, and the containers are dumped quickly. They've spilled our trash a few times. In general, however, I would assume that this would be made up for by the people who pick up trash from their own yards, which is almost all of us, with the exception of some elderly neighbors.

Therefore, we can make a few assumptions about my neighborhood:
1. Nearly everyone cleans up in front of their own homes, suggesting that private ownership is what keeps the area clean.
2. At most, only one per cent of the local population litters, and probably less do.
3. They are all recycling.

So,it seems to me that some interesting questions to consider would be:
1. Is private ownership, in general, one way to keep areas cleaner and preserve the environment? Would it make more sense for groups like Greenpeace to take all of the money in their coffers, forget about any sort of publicity or overhead, and instead buy up every plot of land they can?
2. Even more blasphemous, would the solution to the problem of clear cutting in the Amazon rainforest, for example, be for private groups to buy up every plot of land they can and perhaps make them profitable as parks, or even eco-friendly resorts? That might sound crazy, but if you could wall off 1,000 acres and build 'romantic bungalows' on say 20 acres, and rent them out to ecologically-minded tourists, it would be affordable to preserve the entire space and you could, perhaps, fight clear cutting via tourism.
3. If most people are willing to keep their areas clean, within reason, is it really so hard to imagine that they would be willing to buy eco-friendly cars, for example? It seems, to me, that private individuals are far better than governments at getting things done. I've never been able to figure if this makes me an anarchist, a libertarian, but I hold out very little hope for government initiatives in general. They tend to add a layer of bureaucracy to any system that ultimately stymies any good they do. So, is the answer to forget about new laws, or to reserve new laws for polluting companies, and instead, make it painless for average people to live in a more eco-friendly way?

3 comments:

Hiromi said...

The Conservation Fund has been doing this for years:

http://www.conservationfund.org/

Rufus said...

Ah, okay. That makes sense. It's really the best solution I can think of. Also, I would say that, while I am wary of giving my money to Greenpeace for yet another series of advertisements, I would feel fine giving to a group that buys up land to preserve it.

Rufus said...

And now I feel guilty because Greenpeace does accomplish many good things, it's just I don't like their ads very much.