An enlightened age?

Perhaps doing a double shift outside alone in the Starbucks Kiosk is not a good thing for me, because it leads me to thinking about things and the way perhaps they should or could be.

I confess the older I get, the more confused I become.

Now while some folks suggest that this is the beginning of the onslaught of senility or dementia, I prefer to think of my point-of-view as a combination of thinking and experience.

This morning I had to clean up the Kiosk terrasse in the wake of a Saturday evening in a big city at the train station.

Alcohol bottles, cigarette butts, leftover fast food and other unmentionable / unimaginable / unidentifiable remnants of the ruins of a night out.

The public trash can is only mere metres away.

Why is it so difficult to transport trash into a litter bin?

I wonder: do these same folks treat their own homes in a similar manner?

The argument has raged for almost an millennium that people should have the right to consume alcohol.

Fair enough.

But does this right then give the drinker the “green light” to drink irresponsibly?

I get that it is a negative notion to control another person’s behaviour, but does this give people “carte blanche” to behave in ways harmful to both themselves and often others?

Stan Lee, the creator of such Marvel Comics classic characters such as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, coined the phrase: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

I have seen warhawks in the States proclaim that war is necessary because “freedom isn’t free.”

But where is the code that governs personal behaviour if individuals themselves are lacking of such a code of self-control?

Take smoking, for another example.

How many nations print in bold letters health warnings on cigarette packages?

Yet smoking continues universally, even with higher taxes upon tobacco and higher insurance rates for smokers’ policies.

Certainly legislation has been introduced to reduce non-smokers’ exposure to second-hand smoke, but what about the effects upon the environment?

All of us in westernized countries have become so inured to seeing cigarette butts on the ground that we no longer notice them.

To our jaded eyes, they blend almost seamlessly into the urban landscape, as an expected part of the surroundings.

Cigarette butts are the most common form of litter in westernised nations.

Every second piece of trash, 50% of all that is disposed, is a cigarette butt.

Each year over 4.5 trillion cigarettes end up as litter (over 550 billion in the US alone).

Add cigarette packaging and their cellophane wrappers to the stew and the situation becomes even worse.

It takes a full year for a butt to biodegrade, while the filter component made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic, never dies.

Butts get into the water supply.

Animals and fish poison themselves on them.

Kids unattended can actually kill themselves by eating them.

Fires are often caused by fling lit butts.

Yet imagine the outcry that would ensue if one tried to ban tobacco.

The public outcry would be heard screamed out to faraway planets!

To be fair I get that for some alcohol and tobacco are addictions, chemically damnably difficult to break.

But I have to ask: where do we draw the line between unthinking destruction of ourselves and our world with the liberty of self-expression?

(Of course, I am not blameless in my own actions.

I do enjoy fast food, but I am not ignorant of the damage done by companies like McDonalds or my own employer.

My only pitiful excuse is that fast food is fast when I have little time to sit down for a properly prepared one.

I also enjoy an occasional beer or glass of wine, but, for some odd reason, seem to be able to walk away after only a glass or two.)

How can we encourage people to actively want to modify their own behaviour without liberty-hampering legislation?

Financial incentives?

More money given to centres that help smokers and drinkers break themselves of their addictions?

Penalties that litterers be fined and forced to clean up their own litter?

I see the value of the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but how can we ensure that some people’s rights are not trampling over others’ rights to a clean environment and an unpolluted future?

My own Starbucks crew, at least half of them are smokers.

Do I want to see them punished for their pleasures?

Of course not.

But do I want to clean up after them?

That is an entirely different question.


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