I have not been posting for over a week – I did a few work shifts and felt a bit sick at some point too. I got my 12th COVID test done, which luckily this time was negative. The amount of COVID patients is rising after a nice summer break, and while I notice myself getting more worried, I have started to think about our behavioral patterns again. Even though I have always been interested in environmental issues, facing this pandemic last spring by working at a COVID unit and getting sick myself were the triggers that pushed me to take more actions towards helping our planet. The pandemic and our environmental crisis are connected, not only by the causal connection but also, by them both being fueled by our behavior, choices, neglect, and politics. It seems to be very difficult to put my sentiments into words, but here is something I hope will raise thoughts.
We should understand, believe, and care enough before we will make an effort for a cause. I am not totally sure which of those we are short of when I think about these, at least three different phenomena, going on with both of the problems – COVID and environmental crisis. “I don’t believe it – at least before I see it (or it almost literally hits my face),” “I cannot relate even though I do believe it,” and “I don’t let it sink in though I do believe and can relate to it.” These thoughts have a bit of selfish echo in them indeed. But I have an impression, that a lot of this involuntariness and denial takes place because we need to protect our minds and realities. If we recognized what we are trying to protect, would it be easier to believe, understand, and act?
I don’t want to focus too much on what I have noticed people saying and writing. Or what conversations have led to arguments in my circle of people. Instead, I want to open a few examples of my own life experiences. Mostly about how I needed to live through something to fully let my mind to catch the information I already had received.
The plastic problem – I had to see it myself before it sank in.
Where I originally come from, we don’t have an ocean coastline. We have the Baltic sea, which unfortunately is very polluted – (and it is not only about the St Petersburg of Russia to be blamed) – but its problems are a bit different from the big oceans. Also, the whole culture, what comes to the disposable items, is a bit different. When I moved to the States and started to spend more time by the ocean, the existence of the plastic waste hit me. This summer, my family had a vacation at the Cape Cod, and we, of course, spent a lot of time at the beach. When I scooped the water in my hands, the small pieces of plastic were everywhere. I started to look around and noticed all the chips and larger parts of plastic material floating in the water – everywhere. It was shocking. I do know the situation is even worse somewhere else, but I don’t need to see that myself – this was a big slap on my face enough.
1. Different sizes of plastic pieces were floating in the Atlantic Ocean. 2. From a Public beach in Boston 2019. 3. Maine coast 2016.
Another lesson for myself was to see this throw-away society / disposable culture and live in it. I had heard about it, I thought I had understood it, and I had no problems to believe that we are in trouble with our habits. But apparently, it had not sunk in deep enough. We know this phrase of “It’s only one straw said eight billion people.” After moving to the States, it was not hard to imagine this amount of straws anymore. Of course, I had been familiar with the habit of “coffees to go” in disposable cups. Yet, I was amazed when I saw this culture happening in real life around me – by an enormous amount of people living it to reality. It looked like everyone around me was carrying this plastic cup of whatever drink in their hands several times a day. In every car I looked into, someone was sipping a drink. Highschoolers did carry big trays of drinks with them on their way to school. People did show up to workplaces a drink in their hands. The amount of dumbed straws, cups, and lids suddenly made perfect sense.
Another opportunity to see and learn about the opposition between my original and new living environment was also related to this disposable plastic culture. When we had a lunch break at work in my country, and we chose to go to the cafeteria, we took china and silverware, got our food, ate, took the dishes back after eating, and sorted the leftovers and trash. The plates, glasses, and utensils ended up in washers. That was the norm in the majority of the places. But here it is more common to take a plastic container, fill it with the food, eat with plastic utensils, and toss all the waste into the trash bin (I am aware there are cities and states where this is done better). Why are we stuck with this “normal” when we know better? When I ask about this situation from the locals here, most of them are not shocked. It has been their norm ever since their years at school. I have taken time to let what I see to sink in, and the awareness of the current situation makes me desperate. It would be easier not to think about it, go to denial or belittling. When these plastic realities and the “not-so-perfect recycling system,” do meet, it is not difficult to understand why our oceans and food chain are so polluted with plastics and related toxins.
So, the capability to more deeply understand the situation with plastics really required me to live, experience, and see it myself. I know I have learned, but there’s still a long way to go. I have learned to multiple what I thought was already disastrous. I don’t think I need to travel around the world to see how bad our environmental crisis is. I have looked and listened, and I am actively allowing it to sink into my mind. I do realize that there is always “someplace, some country, some region” where things are done even worse. Will I let that be my excuse? I would not have needed to get COVID myself to be able to understand that it can be dangerous. Yes, last January, when I first heard about it, I was almost sure it would pass like SARS1 or swine flu years back. But I was not stubborn with that assumption. I did let the information in my mind before it slapped my face from many different directions.
So at the moment, it does not matter if it is about the Coronavirus or our environmental crisis, but we all need to let the information really touch our minds. We have to find a way to relate and believe, without getting sick ourselves or causing more harm to everyone around us. I don’t want to say, “Let it sink in.” I choose to say, “Allow it to sink in” because it is more active. There is a choice to be made. And we need to make that choice to survive.
Featured image: Bald Head Island, NC, summer 2016.