Monday, August 10, 2009

Give a hoot, don't pollute

Americans who grew up in the seventies and eighties no doubt remember Woodsy Owl, a mascot with a message. Woodsy was the brainchild of a National Park ranger who came up with the idea to combat litter, first at National Parks, then across the nation.

By the time Woodsy was born, however, America's fight against litter and pollution was already in full force. Keep America Beautiful was established in 1953 and is one of the most successful non-profit organizations in history. Not only did they manage to convince governments to impose stiff fines for littering, but they instilled a nationwide consciousness - a pride even - about littering through public awareness campaigns and educational programs. If you were born in the second half of the 20th century, anti-littering programs were a part of your primary school education. As a result, if you go to America, you will notice clean streets, mainstream recycling, and a general awareness about the problems that result from littering. Sure, there is the occasional bad seed that sprouts an unsightly and unhealthy piece of litter - you're never going to get all of the people to cooperate all of the time - but for the most part, Americans are conscious about what they do with their garbage, especially in comparison to other parts of the world.

Like Lebanon.

Lebanon from a distance (if you can see it through the haze) is a beautiful place, and Lebanese are right to say so. But you would think they hated it. This is a country with beautiful beaches where sunbathers and swimmers have to navigate piles of garbage to find a place to lay their towels. This is a place that gets complaints from other countries when they have to combat all of the garbage that floats to their shores. Lebanon is a place that can inspire poets and artists to create things of beauty - until they see the garbage and want to cry.

I know I did. I stood at the Pigeon Rocks, thinking about all of the people throughout history who had sailed the Mediterranean, all of the people of all different backgrounds, ethnicities, races, all of those who had seen this same rock formation, had see this same horizon. And then I looked down.

A boat would have a hard time getting through those waters below. Plastic bottles, bags, cans, coffee cups, styrofoam...hoards of it, all running together like a buffalo stampede, ready to destroy anything in its path. Fish and birds and other wildlife eat that stuff until they die of the toxins or their stomachs explode (literally). Others are imprisoned by it, caught up in plastic bags or god knows what else, unable to free themselves, sometimes starving to death, sometimes succumbing to asphyxiation.

How can one claim to love his land called Lebanon and disrespect it by throwing his garbage on the ground?

What Lebanon needs is a Woodsy Owl or a Keep Lebanon Beautiful, and civil society must take the lead in creating public awareness about pollution and starting a recycling program. There are some great civil society groups in Lebanon who are working towards a better environment in Lebanon, groups like IndyAct, Amwaj, Beeatoona, Mawassem Khair, and so many others. They have ordered beach cleanups, organized awareness campaigns, worked towards fighting global warming, and other issues. Check out their websites and give them a hand.

Give a hoot! Don't pollute!

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