Environment: “We are dumber than all other living things”: How can we stop the junk crisis?

There’s a pretty clever scene in an otherwise insanely stupid Aquaman superhero movie. In it, before negotiations begin to save the world together, Unterseevolk first serves the people on land all the garbage they have thrown in their living space.

They get their garbage back at their feet, so one thing is clear: the responsibility rests with you who have ruthlessly polluted and exploited this planet.

Thus, two things appear in the picture: first, a catastrophe that humans have actually brought into the oceans, from dangerous waste barrels to (micro) plastic; but secondly, also the rubbish that the wealthy northern world gets rid of by sending it to the poor southern regions of Asia and Africa after looting its natural resources.

Lots of blind people

Will those who have lived blindly in abundance so far finally understand that they too are co-responsible for the solution there? What does it take (still) for a person who poisons his own world and that of his children to the point of becoming uninhabitable eventually to become sane?

All photos of gigantic, sometimes very toxic garbage dumps from India to Nigeria, plastic in the oceans in the mouths of dying animals, photos of masses of new clothes that are burnt because they haven’t been sold, the keyword “fast fashion”.

Take-out cup takes 50 years to unfold

And the facts: take-out cup takes 50 years to decompose; that the production of a smartphone, of which more than a billion are sold worldwide each year and are not used on average for three years, produces 86 kilograms of waste, a mixture of acids, radioactive sewage, plastic …

In German households alone, 476 kg of rubbish is thrown away per capita, and the global amount of rubbish is expected to increase from the current 2 billion tonnes per year to 3.4 billion in 2025.

Dumber than all other living things

Garbage is not destiny. “Waste is a human invention,” says chemist Michael Baumgart, scientific director of the Hamburg Institute for Environmental Protection and pioneer of the so-called cradle-to-cradle principle, with the goal of a waste-free recycling economy.

A forest as a landfill: A stranger disposed of his car parts in a forest near Görwihl in Hotzenwald.

A forest as a landfill: A stranger disposed of his car parts in a forest near Görwihl in Hotzenwald. | Photo: Waldshut-Tiengen Police Directorate

“We are the only creatures that pollute the environment with things that are harmful to other creatures. What plants and animals produce always comes in handy somewhere. Therefore, we are dumber than any other being on this planet.

Sunday morning: the battlefield for fast food

As inventors, we do indeed have a choice. It is a Sunday morning in Germany, five-thirty, daylight brings the last night owls home. Around the bank, in the pedestrianized area, a fast-food battlefield reigns, with crumpled silver foil, torn paper, and crushed debris.

A few yards away begins a parade of empty take-away cups, partially full, partially broken bottles, cigarette boxes, pizza boxes and McDonald’s bags …

tips everywhere

In the nearby park and by the river at its foot, silver disposable grills have been left from the night. And everywhere, the floor is littered with cigarette butts, practically none of them from the new, greener paper filters, only the classic ones that contain arsenic, lead, cadmium, formaldehyde and benzene, and which, according to the WHO, cause as many as 680,000. tons each year end up in the environment.

Tipping over in a ditch: a common sight.

Tipping over in a ditch: a common sight. | Photo: Daniel Reinhardt / dpa

But here soon the neon-orange men with their little truck will be coming and clearing the battlefields beyond the battlefield so that those who strolled on Sundays with take-out cups and smartphones can walk through a clean, tidy backyard. . Everything is settled here and quite normal.

In search of the right action

The answer to all of this is in Augsburg, where the university offers a unique Master’s Degree in Environmental Ethics. According to the description, its main goal is “teaching normative competences in view of the ecological challenges of our time” – for currently around 100 students it is about a deeper understanding of what is going wrong in the relationship between people and their environment and why, as well as searching for the appropriate actions required.

Teaching is interdisciplinary in the humanities and natural sciences, the course takes place at the Faculty of Catholic Theology and is led by the moral theologian Kerstin Schlögl-Flierl. In view of what you can see and know about people and their behavior in the environment, hasn’t she lost faith in him and his mind for a long time? Is There Still Hope?

Why is nobody doing anything

The professor replies: “Hmm, when it comes to nonsense, I haven’t really lost faith in the individual.” But? “A dolphin with plastic waste in its mouth was burning me a lot,” he says.

“I can already see political efforts to reduce waste, and in Germany we also have a strong culture of segregating and recycling waste.” But in the face of the turbulence of plastic waste in the oceans, all of this seems “very helpless” at times.

Attitude and behavior are not the same

Why have people had this knowledge for a long time but do not act on it? He says, “This is called the attitude behavior gap,” literally the attitude-behavior gap.

“For various reasons, it is impossible to achieve goals that are actually considered good. Whether it is because of lack of money, time or even neglect. Shopping in a climate-neutral and environmentally correct manner is time-consuming in many ways. But our environment should be worth it to us. “

There are different types of waste disposal in Rheinfelden, Switzerland.  Organic waste can also be disposed of at public collection points ...

There are different types of waste disposal in Rheinfelden, Switzerland. Organic waste can also be disposed of at public collection points, as can glass and aluminum. | Photo: Esteban Waid

What is the professor doing there? “Personally, for example, I am particularly interested in plastic post, the continuous reduction of plastic waste.” And professionally? What does garbage have to do with moral theology? “Theologically and spiritually, the behavior of creation stands in the background, as does accompanying spirituality.”

It doesn’t work without a legacy. But it should all be about reducing them, recycling them as well as possible, and initiating a cultural change. For example, fast fashion should already be a topic in schools for children and teenagers, he believes.

Will there be more bans?

But as the situation worsens, won’t more and more production and consumption bans be inevitably necessary? The professor answers carefully. After all, “changing people’s behavior based on insight” is key.

Bavaria, Lindau: A woman is reading a book in a hammock on the beach of the campsite.

Bavaria, Lindau: A woman is reading a book in a hammock on the beach of the campsite. | Photo: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand / dpa

Meaning? It’s about developing attitudes. “I am thinking, for example, of sufficiency, savings. How do we manage to become more frugal? How do we manage to transport the ideas of a post-growth society in a socially and politically correct way? “

One possible solution: saving

Saving in the individual, saying goodbye to growth in society – worldwide: One might infer that something like a new person is needed and as soon as possible.

He would have to not only believe all of this, but also act accordingly. Otherwise? Will he finally understand that what he did with nature, he did first of all to himself. Good old earth, she’ll get better after him.

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