Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Extreme cleaning

A recent Everest expedition by Japanese and Nepalese climbers had an atypical goal: collect the garbage and abandoned gear of past summit-seekers. The group apparently collected 1,000 pounds worth of cast-off junk on this trip, adding to the 8.8 metric tons collected on a previous series of clean-up climbs.

I'm always saddened by the volume of trash I encounter on a day at the beach or an afternoon hike, if not surprised. I've been around enough to realize that not all people are willing to carry a bottle around until they find a recycling bin, that some people aren't even willing to wait for a garbage can, and don't see a problem with tossing out their bottles, plastic bags, cans, candy wrappers, televisions, and mildewed couches wherever it is most convenient for them. And even if careless litterbugs didn't exist, stuff has a way of getting itself discarded. I've had a piece of paper or plastic pulled away from me by the wind. I've stupidly lost a pair of sunglasses to an ocean wave. I've generally tried to chase down (or dive after) my litter, but I've lost a flyaway bag or two on a day when my back hurt, or when my child was crying or running the other direction. Sometimes circumstances supercede a desire to tread lightly. Multiply my accidents by a few hundred or million and you have one massive Earth day clean-up job.

So although I hope that respect for nature is a prerequisite for a successful climb, it's not surprising that mounds of garbage would be left behind even by a few hundred responsible Everest climbers each faced with the individual challenges that accompany that impressive feat. Everest's tons of trash remind us that mere human presence always has consequences.

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