Saturday, April 28, 2012


When I was growing up my mother always preached moderation. She was concerned that when I wanted to do something I had a tendency to overdo it. She believed moderation was the best policy for everything, eating, playing sports, hiking, dating, reading, anything you might want to do. I cannot say that I have lived my life indulging in moderation. Indeed, it would be more correct to admit that I have been terribly immoderate in most of my interests. I now realize that my mother was right. I should have listened. My life would have been easier and more sensible, I would not have so many mental and physical scars. I have been thinking about this in a broader context lately, partly I must confess, because of a stupid ad that is featured on television. You have no doubt seen it, it reports that we here in the United States use enough plastic bottles every year to encircle the earth many times. Every time I see this ad, in addition to being rather upset by it, it reminds me of the famous line in The Graduate when the friend of the family tells Dustin Hoffman he has only one piece of advice for him…plastics. This leads me to ponder if the invention of plastic was a good idea or an absolutely terribly idea. Then I try to decide whether I think plastic is worse for the world than the internal combustion engine, a question I am unable to answer.

Then I begin to think that perhaps these were both useful inventions, and the problem is merely that we have not used them in moderation. It is clear that plastic has become an environmental disaster with both oceans apparently containing vast islands of plastic that are having a deleterious effect on the health of the oceans as well as the life that exists there. I have reached the point where every time I leave the market with a plastic bag full of whatever it is I purchased I feel guilty about it. Even more than that, I have the ominous sensation that I am actually helping to bring about the eventual destruction of my own species (to say nothing of other species as well). It seems to me this is an obvious example of immoderation. We don’t really need all these plastic bags no matter how convenient and inexpensive they are. Even going back to paper bags would be better in spite of the toll on our forests. But in fact we don’t even need paper bags, we could easily have cloth or other natural bags that could be used over and over (some people actually try to do this but they are obviously few). But it is, of course, not just plastic bags that are the problem, virtually everything nowadays is made of plastic: dishes, bottles, clothing, automobiles, televisions, you name it. There is nothing wrong with wood, metal, and glass, the usage of which has virtually disappeared. This is, when I think about it, insane. Plastic is obviously useful but like everything else my mother cautioned me about, it should have been used in moderation.

The internal combustion engine is another case in point. I am not a fan of Tolkien but I have to give him credit for recognizing immediately that the internal combustion engine was a potentially bad idea. And of course, as in the case of plastic, we completely overdid it, switching from trains to trucks and from public transportation to private automobiles, truly stupid ideas from the standpoint of the environment. Not satisfied with the amount of pollution and waste of resources from those two mistakes we now have terribly destructive ATV’s, personal watercraft, and snowmobiles, most of which serve no useful purpose other than entertainment at great cost to the land and water.

We have also been more than immoderate in the use of the earth’s resources, using them as if they are infinite, even though they are obviously not. Oil, coal, timber, minerals, other species, even water have not been used sensibly by our species, the result just now beginning to be felt as the population grows and the demands are ever greater. Imagine what it will be like when a billion plus Chinese each have an automobile just as we do. India, too, and Brazil, Russia, and Japan, and of course they use as much or more plastic as we do. From the standpoint of species survival this is obvious insanity but we seem helpless at the moment to do anything to prevent it. I should have listened and paid attention to my mother. Indeed, the whole world should have listened to her and followed her sage advice.

Never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide.


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