Just read the Nov/Dev 2011 Audobon magazine article, Life Support, about the improving state of Everglades since the author’s previous visit 10 years ago. I won’t go into the details of the article. Nor will I pretend to have a solution for that region. However, the article conjured up some environmentally-related memories from growing up in Florida, so here goes:

As a child I was frequently puzzled by the fact that nobody knew exactly what to do with their old engine oil. Most people I knew dumped it in some far-away back corner of their property. They’d even joke about it probably not being the best thing to do, but they’d then comment on the low quantity and low frequency. And of course, I’ve done the same on many occasions. After all, I was in charge of mowing the lawn, which necessitate oil changes and removal of old gasoline from the previous season. I’d dump it reluctantly, because there didn’t seem to exist any alternative.

In 2001, when I bought my first vehicle I began to change my own oil. While purchasing oil and a filter I asked an employee at Discount Auto Parts about used oil. He told me there was a large blue container in the back that I could dump it in. Finally!

Truth be told, I have no clue what engine oil really does to the soil, or the organisms living in the soil, or the water table below. But that doesn’t matter. The possibility never sat well with me. I was just happy I didn’t have to play the cognitive dissonance game with myself. No more wanting to care about the environment while potentially damaging it and then deciding I’m not that big of a hippie after all. That sort of behavior (mental gymnastics) doesn’t help anybody. Moving on …

A few years after high school I saw a classmate who’d been living in a larger city after college. She had a job with some sort of environmental consultant. The news of that made me happy, but the way she described her job ruined my mood. I’m paraphrasing, but I recall her describing it as “making sure people get to use their land in the way they want”. I’m not sure whether my face showed my disappointment, but I felt horrible nonetheless.

There’s so much danger in letting everyone have free-reign over their land. A piece of property comes with plants and animals that depend on it, in numbers hard to comprehend. The world is complex, and it’s at our mercy. Not enough of us are considerate.

However, property-rights would be a lot easier to debate about if it weren’t for these problems:

  • It’s hard to educate or inform others without being abrasive
  • It’s hard to suppress the desire to stand your ground when another person suggests you might be in the wrong
  • It’s hard to make a person care
  • As humans we often think we’re the most important things on the earth, even though we’re not endangered in any way (but from ourselves)

We’d make much more progress if these four items weren’t such huge barriers.