It was every person’s dream. It wasn’t just the tranquil setting of the generously appointed home, but the almost endless lush gardens. An enviable taste of paradise. Centerpiece a waterfall. With crystal clear water tumbling over a backdrop of rocks, making its way down to the well stocked fish pond below. Not only peacefully picturesque was the garden, but bountiful in what it produced for its guests. The owner was a generous man. He demanded little. He’d invited his guests to make use of his home for the year. At absolutely no cost.
But what happened by the end of that twelve months would shock you. What was once a pristine garden had been neglectfully deteriorated. The guests, as if disrespecting their landlord’s generosity, had transformed it’s natural sustainability to more of a decadent playground. More fish were now floating than swimming. The air was tainted with smoldering remains of waste. Rubbish littered the corners of the property. Sure some members of this household kept their part tidy and clean. But collectively, what their self indulgence left for the next guests, was now far from the pristine condition it was. In fact it was disgusting.
Sounds like one of those tenant from hell stories you see on TV.
And what’s this got to do with a gap year I hear you ask?
I was on one of those long fifteen hour flights back across the globe. As I glanced through the window, the majesty of that huge wing carrying us thirty thousand feet up caught my attention. I reflected further on the natural majesty of the world below. Some of which I had the opportunity to experience these last several months. The sheer beauty. The endless range of mountains that connect with the clouds, the jungles that breath life into the many diverse forms of its inhabitants. The rivers, the picture perfect waterfalls that give life to that it touches. The magic of the earth that endlessly produces to perpetually sustain life. The sea that spawns its own rich colourful and extraordinary depth of life.
But like that fable like story above, are we all not like those tenants of this planet. The reality is in a hundred and twenty years, not one of us will be here any longer. Our tenancy will be up. We will have then handed it over to the next tenants. Families connected to our grandchildren.
But what state will we have left it in? Will our legacy be one we’d proudly leave to our next generations?
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not on some moralistic campaign here. Nor do I see myself as some tree hugging environmentalist. In fact I’ll admit I’m even a skeptic when it comes to human caused climate change.
The reality is you don’t have to be rocket scientist or an environmental expert to see what’s happening.
How much we are literally defecating in our own global backyard. Air pollution, contaminating our waterways, and most visible of all, our massive waste, the endless plastic our bloated consumerism generates. I watched a small food stall owner restocking his polystyrene foam takeaway containers for the day’s business. And then along the roads you find where they end up.
Developing countries like Latin America and Asia for example, are stunningly beautiful. But regardless, it seems there is an ingrain culture that accepts to simply throw stuff at it. Their roads and highways are glaring examples. In some areas it’s indescribable. I was travelling through Honduras in Central America. We’d stepped out the vehicle because of a traffic hold up. It was a mountain road. The scenery with its far reaching mountain ranges that surrounded us would have been breathtaking. But what actually took your breath away was the extraordinarily huge amount of rubbish that littered all the way along the stretches of the highway.
My last day in Panama. A car is stopped at the lights. The door opens. Out drops a plastic bag of rubbish onto the street. Today, on the back of a motorbike in Cambodia. My driver finishes his drink. Spontaneously he ditches the disposable plastic cup to the side of the road. In both cases the growing piles of scattered rubbish clearly says it’s the norm.
But before we all smugly shake our heads in aloof disgust, it wasn’t that long ago we were no different. (Nor are we guilt free of still generating increasingly huge amounts of this waste ourselves)
The difference now, just like those tenants, we share the problem.
It’s where the last leg of my flight brought the message clearly home.
I had time for one more movie. I’ll admit my final choice wasn’t the type of film I felt bothered to watch. But I did anyway. I’m glad I did. A Plastic Ocean. An excellent documentary. It makes a critical point. We have a global problem. We and our families and those that follow us are now and will continue to be affected.
I urge you to watch it.
What happens on one side of the world is impacting what we eat and our health, on the other side of the globe.
On arriving in Singapore I couldn’t help but notice, by comparison, the amazing difference as to how litter free this city is. It may be one of the cleanest cities in the world, my driver explained, but he was convinced their imported food from neighbouring countries were the cause of his various health ailments.
This documentary makes that exact point. We share the problem globally. In particular it focuses on our insidious amount of waste. In particular plastic.
It reminds me of when I was growing up in Australia. We had exactly the same cultural mentality of what you see now in the developing counties. Don’t need it. Throw it out the window.
But back in 1969, as with many other western countries, the government took leadership. Suddenly the penny dropped. Our eyes were opened what we were doing. We changed. Our highways for one have since been transformed for the better.
As individuals we can all make an effort to do the right thing to care for our environment. As individual nations we can do the right thing. But without global leadership, our individual efforts is not much more than giving us a warm and fuzzy feeling.
While the problem seems insurmountable, its easy to ignore. No matter what form we pollute, whether the atmosphere, the land or water, by waste or other means we need to change. And we can affect change.
Like all social change, starting to share the conversation will lead to make a difference. In the meantime we may still continue polluting our global backyard and tossing our waste away with abandoned disregard. But hopefully it wont be too long before our political leaders, those with global influence, including those who currently don’t give a toss, may be influenced by a growing collective conversation. To start providing the required global leadership.
Nature not only gives us an incredible and diverse spectacle to admire but like that landlord, continues to provide us with generous and forgiving abundance.
But do you feel comfortable your future generations will remember you as one of the tenants from hell?
We live in amazing times. We can make a difference. Watch the video. Start the conversation. If you think this message helps, share the story. Share the video.
So if for no other reason, hopefully by the time yours or my young grandkids take their senior gap year, they too will still be able to enjoy the extraordinary experience nature offers. If not just that bit cleaner.
Take a look at these videos…
For those of us with a tinge of grey, remember these ads back in 1969? It just took some national leadership to highlight we needed to change. Forty years on however, we are now a much greater interconnected global community. When will we see global leadership to affect change?
A Plastic Ocean -Rather than another one of those the world is going to end fear mongering stories, A Plastic Ocean is equally insightful, frightful and cautiously hopeful. This documentary is a must-see.
PS – the few photos above are from Singapore. (It was just a short stopover!). I could have also posted endless examples of piles of plastic infested garbage from other places. But the documentary shows this well enough. Besides I preferred to leave on a more positive note and simply ask you to join me and start sharing the conversation 🙂
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5 comments On It was every person’s dream. But what happened after would shock you.
Hello Chris. Thanks for highlighting the problem of our consumerism – ours and our overseas cousins. A change in attitude is slowly happening, but needs to be a lot quicker, and our economic system does not help.
Your writing is superb, Chris; I hope you have in mind to produce a book or something at the end of your gap year, which I can tell, has been quite incredible.
Warm regards from your cousin,
If more people travelled it would open up a new world here in Australia I think. They would respect what we have and how to preserve it. Love the senior gap year.
Thank you for all your comments. Dion your travel comment touches a good point. That’s another topic I’ll get back to!!
Chris, very insightful . Look up Henderson Island, the most plastic polluted place on earth.
Wow that is sad Jon. I saw a sample of this on a small pristine island off Cambodia. It was obviously the resort’s staff daily job to rake up the rubbish and plastics washed onto the beach overnight (I added a pic on the next post). I wonder if we have to wait until it gets that bad of being washed onto our suburban beaches before we get serious about taking action?
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