Wednesday, September 13, 2017

On Sucking

The cloud's silver lining is more of an ash gray at this point, but here it is: the predicted highs of 100 in Portland in Jesus Johnson September did not arrive because wildfire smoke obscured the sun. This is what counts for good news in Climate-Change-Denial Land.

At sundown, it was 87 degrees and snowing. Snowing something. Because my idea of quarantining young men between the ages of 12 and 28 has never gained traction, we now have 33,000 acres of pristine forest on fire, and counting. The Columbia River Gorge, strenuously green and laced with waterfalls, is systematically being incinerated and its ash redistributed over the Portland area. This follows a particularly hot and dry summer season which we have been advised will be our new normal. Anywhere you live, actually, you may now expect a new normal, but--our short attention spans aside--novelty is not in itself a worthy goal. The wildfire currently consuming the Gorge is a direct consequence of humanity's systematic extraction and burning of otherwise dormant carbon stores over the last couple hundred years. With punctuation provided by one or two young assholes with firecrackers.

We first heard the news while eating lunch in a diner on Mt. Hood. The waitress brought over a glass of water with a plastic straw in it. "Hold the straw," I forgot to say. Seems like straws come automatic these days, and it always surprises me. I can't think of anything I drink that needs a straw, let alone everything I drink. There's a campaign on now to get people to say "no" to straws. It probably started with the heartbreaking video of a rescue worker pulling a plastic straw out of a sea turtle's nostril. Straws, and all other plastic garbage, have a way of making it to the ocean.

Things are going to have to change around here, and straws seem like easy enough targets to start with. Because when do we ever need a straw? If we're not prone in a hospital bed with only a bendy straw between us and nutrition, when do we need one? Must we suck? So. At the very least let us campaign against straws.

I tried, when I got a glass of water at a local brewpub that prides itself on being environmentally friendly. They answered my letter promptly:

While the concern for sea life is pressing, most of Portland's garbage goes to the Columbia Ridge Landfill, which is located east of The Dalles and away from the Columbia. There would have to be some extenuating circumstances for our plastic trash to make its way into the ocean.

Extenuating circumstances! Yes. And yet those are what somehow manage to send 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic to our oceans. Sad, as they say, but that's circumstance for you.

We used to use biodegradable plastics for straws and to-go wares. Unfortunately, Portland stopped accepting these items in their composting program, and we had to take a hard look at our disposables. We ended up making the decision to stock a high post-consumer recycled content straw, because if it's all headed to the landfill we want to make sure that we're using a plastic that has lived through more than one cycle and been utilized to its full potential.

Okay. However, there is such a thing as a paper straw. And, there is such a thing as not needing a straw in the first place. I grew up without plastic straws and air conditioning and a lot of other things that we now apparently need. So did the rest of the humans that existed before about 1970, which is quite a good portion of them, all told.

A friend offered an explanation for the sudden proliferation of straws. "I think it started with lipstick," she said. "Lipstick is too hard to wash off glasses, and requires human scrubbing, which is not cost-efficient. Thus, straws are provided with each glass in case the human plans to put lipstick on it." All righty then, that makes sense. Lipstick: another plastic tube containing significant amounts of palm oil retrieved for profit from monoculture plantations for which gigantic swaths of primary forest have been razed, resulting in 80-100% loss of native species, and also containing compounds that kill fish and plankton and cause mutations in amphibians, packaged together in order that we might provocatively accentuate our pieholes, and necessitate the use of plastic straws to trim labor costs.

Dear lord, dear large theoretical sky person who cares about us and watches over the sparrow that falls, by all that is holy--and I would include here the moss and ferns and pikas and salamanders of the Columbia River Gorge--may we humans begin to define "what we need" as what we...actually...need? And, failing that, dear lord, might you allow us to suck less?

36 comments:

  1. So humans are systematically sucking the very life out of our own home. I'm pleased to report that I refuse a straw more often then I use one and haven't owned a lipstick for several decades. All of my plastics go into the recycle bin.

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    1. I try, but jeez it's hard to avoid plastics. The amount I go through in a week is astounding.

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    2. And most of it unnecessary extra packaging I suppose. We get it here too. Things wrapped in plastic, placed in a cardboard box and the whole thing again encased in plastic which needs a chain saw to cut through. Because if it isn't packaged thusly, someone in a store anywhere, will rip into the package and steal the item. That's what the manufacturers say. I've worked in a supermarket and the extra packaging doesn't really stop the thieves, they just shove the whole thing into an inside jacket pocket.

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  2. Odd; I hardly ever am given a straw with my drink in a restaurant, even though I wear obvious lipstick. When it occasionally does happen, I look at it astounded, like "what am I supposed to do with that?" and take it out. It's a glass of water, after all, not a milkshake. A lot of times, though, when I order my usual (a bottle of Pellegrino or some other bubbly water), they ask me if I want a glass. I look at how I am dressed, which is usually in a dress, with makeup, and maybe even heels. It's a nice restaurant, not a diner. What am I... a savage? Of course I want a glass! And before you ask, I'd like my food on a plate with a knife and fork as well. Jeez....

    As to climate change, here in Delaware, we used to get very hot, humid weather in the summer, and we'd have an annual drought, during which the governor would tell us not to water our lawns or wash our cars. Not anymore. Our summers have been downright cool compared to what they used to be, and with lots of rain. I think we only had to water our vegetable garden manually twice during this growing season. The birds are starting to go south, even though they used to wait until October. I think we've exchanged climate, Murr.

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    1. Give it back. Give it back, I say.

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    2. Yes, Yes! That is my theory exactly -- that the Washington DC area has exchanged climate with the Northwest (Portland, Seattle). Some summers are so cool and wet that we actually grow moss on parts of our wood deck.....

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  3. I'm convinced. No more straws. Before I was discovered in the jungle and learned to drink from a cup or glass I would just stick my face in it or cup my hands. If it weren't for my dependence on coffee and beer I would still drink that way. Milk is a different matter.

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    1. Coffee, water, beer. Covers every situation.

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  4. Cold-sensitive teeth. Not using a straw is painful.

    Sucks, don't it?

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    1. Yes ma'am! But you can buy a few metal straws and take them with you! Or so I'm told. Metal? Is that right? Somebody will enlighten us.

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    2. Metal gets cold, so the same problem still exists. But plastic straws can be washed and reused if you're prepared to do all the fiddly rinsing out.

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  5. Do they still actually make paper straws? But really, most of us don't need them, you're right.

    Here's a piece you might find encouraging. It involves a young man who is working to clean up the oceans, and in a big way:
    https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/blogs/remember-kid-who-invented-way-clean-ocean-plastic-hes-back-and-its-happening

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    1. They do make paper straws. I'll check on that link in a minute. I think I've seen it before, but of course that doesn't mean I remember it.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. No straws and no lippy here. But plenty of other areas I could/should be working in. Our definitions of 'need' have become very luxurious over the last few decades.

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    1. I suspect a few natural disasters and viruses and suchlike will straighten out our sense of entitlement right quick-like.

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  7. A couple of weeks ago I was having lunch with a friend in one those ghastly Australian('Merica probably has similar places)sports clubs.I asked for a cider(bottled) and the girl snapped the cap, plonked the bottle down,gave me a straw, at most 10cms long and went off to serve another customer.
    I think this might be the origin of the "short straw"

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    1. See, that's why you should go with inches.

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  8. We are currently on our annual vacation trip to Chincoteague/Assateague, and our habit is when walking the beach to carry a bag (usually a plastic bag that we find a bunch of in our rental house under the sink or somewhere) in which to collect trash. Not shells anymore, but trash. The other day we were doing it down at the public beach end of Assateague - which is not our preferred spot, but you have to visit it just for the flavor at least once, plus to see the birds along the route to Tom's Cove - and as we came back down the beach past the lifeguard stand a comely lass - one of the lifeguards - came trotting up behind us and presented us with a very nice large whelk shell because they had seen us picking up trash and were grateful. Virtue is rewarded! We picked up several straws. And with ribbons attached to what used to be balloons. And plastic bottle lids. And cigarette butts. And... People really do suck.

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    1. Meanwhile, here's a few dozen stars for your crown! Huzzah!

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  9. Seattle is way ahead, banning plastic straws fairly soon. I dunno, christ, feels like we're pissing in the pacific off Astoria and expecting the ocean to rise. I guess it's all we can do, but sometimes seems futile.

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    1. I just read that yesterday. I think it's going to be presented to the city council? I get mighty discouraged, but I think if California and Oregon and Washington all got together on some serious economic/environmental issues, we can turn the tide. We could be a powerhouse. West Coast single-payer, carbon taxes, universal wage, standards...

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    2. As Nance says below, thunderous applause - for your entire piece of course, but especially the idea of CA/OR/WA working together and turning the tide. At least the West Coast tide...

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    3. We'd be a huge economic engine. We could turn the country around.

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  10. Straws? Don't need 'em. Lipstick? You'll have to pry the tube out of my cold dead hands. Oh and I'm going to use "dear large theoretical sky person" every day now.

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    1. I think I did put on lipstick once in my life, and the effect was bizarre. Maybe I did it wrong. Plus, it tasted weird.

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  11. They have paper straws in our local grocery. I need a supply because my 2 year old great grandson needs a cup with a lid and a straw so I do not have to mop up furniture and rugs of various liquids he is given to consume. I have hope that by the time he is able to vote he will be able to handle liquids in a cup or glass without a lid.

    I refuse straws while dining out. The confused stare I get is reducing in intensity. I think I am not the only one refusing straws anymore.

    I will not give up air conditioning but have considered moving to the artic circle so I do not need it anymore.

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    1. I like the new cups they make for toddlers with the lid and sucky part. I don't think they spill even when they're thrown on the floor, which they very often are. Plastic, of course!

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  12. you want to cut down on the number of straws in the ocean and quarantine young men, both good ideas; but the way to do it is with laws that encourage population control: tax deductions limited to two children - every child over two your taxes increase to address the added pollution - sex education is schools - quit applauding large families...

    Seven billion people and rising equals more young men between 12 and 28 and more straws in the ocean.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. I could scarcely have put it better, sir.

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    2. I am SO in favor of population control!! We are breeding ourselves into extinction. I wish there were some contraceptive we could put in the air, and then people have take a test to get the antidote. No more un-planned pregnancies. Every child wanted and cared for. Fewer straws in the ocean.

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  13. I picked up on the Air Conditioning-as-necessary thing. My theory is that if everyone was without it, we would adapt. I remember pre-A/C days -- when it was hot outside, we'd go sit in the cool basement on wicker furniture in front of a fan. If we had to be outdoors in the heat (hiking as a Boy Scout), we'd just slow it down a bit, and take lots of water (and salt tablets!!). The problem today is that everyone wants a "conditioned environment" and no one wants to adjust to the weather. Everyone wants to look crisp and alert at all times. Perspiring is no long socially acceptable...you get the idea...

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    1. I think you're absolutely right. One of those hot days this summer, I recall sitting at my computer at night, before it had cooled down, and feeling my skin produce sweat, and notice it did make me feel cooler, and that it was really not so bad. My childhood memories of Washington DC weather have me prone on the linoleum with arms and legs out and a black oscillating fan a foot away.

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  14. I will not give up air conditioning but have considered moving to the artic circle so I do not need it anymore.


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