The Sunday School class I attended yesterday is a new and refreshing concept: rather than a regular read a couple verses then talk about it Bible study, the moderator brought in the New York Times and let everyone select a story to read out loud, (or part of it, as it was over two full print pages long), and then discuss it both with a secular and theological perspective. While I'm too shy to interject among people I don't know, it was still interesting to be in the room listening.
The article selected was Clean Water Laws are Neglected, at a Cost in Suffering, an expose feature on environmental crimes being committed against our clean water supply, and the people who directly suffer for it, as well as highlighting the inevitable consequences for all the rest of us. Several of the statements were frightening, especially such sobering statements as "In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses."
The human interest element of the story revolved around a family suffering rashes, burns, tooth decay, and other grievances caused by a nearby coal company's waste saturating the ground. The stump question of the round table discussion was the obvious - how could any person or persons operating within the entity of a corporation knowingly allow such harmful and unethical practices to occur? I never took a business ethics class, but apparently there's an alternate ethics system that encourages umbrella thievery on a rainy morning before an important meeting in order to insure that one does no damage to the potential for a successful transaction. Can pardons for such small transgressions grow to allow justifying the damage of entire communities? Or are people so capable of compartmentalizing, that mass ecological destruction can simply be left on one's desk to return to tomorrow morning? I usually just leave my calendar and a few broken pencils, but that's me.
I suppose the compartmentalization question is easily answered by taking a look at common contributing products to water problems around the world, something I never knew till pointed out by a seminary student present in class. My conscious is clear because I spurn soda, but apparently Coca-Cola is not a very welcome presence in India, taking water for drinking and farming from the ground in gluttonous amounts in the name of industry. I'll stick to milk, thanks. Guess that means no more cuba libres, though.
Of course the bottom line question is always - what can we do, and the answer, (especially if you're raised Protestant... ), seems to be to feel guilty, about everything. I think this is a by-product of promoting social "awareness." I know awareness of issues is important, but it seems pointless in the face of actual action. I know I'm not going to stop the global water crisis. My showers are way too long. So I choose to rephrase the question as: what can I do right here right now. Actually, I still come up short in regards to an answer. My initial response was to go buy a Brita water filter for the tap, but after it exploded off the spout several times when the water pressure was increased, I gave up on that. Now to use more gas to get back to Target for a refund. Luckily though for me, (for now), Austin's water quality is not-bad. Which isn't good, but it won't give me rashes or deform my future fetus, (I'm sure I'll take care of that some other way).
I still don't know what I can do to be a better eco-citizen in my own neighborhood, but for the moment I will sit smug in my vegetarian, cola free diet.