Friday, March 9, 2012

The Long Road

My friend Danielle of It Starts With Me and her family have picked up over 40,000 cigarette butts from Wrightsville Beach, NC. And counting.

This, by any measure in a sane world, would be insane. Knowing this, Danielle and the Cape Fear branch of Surfrider helped organize a town meeting last night to push for a ban on smoking at the beach.
Surfrider's campaign posters
are top-notch
Despite a packed house filled with a sea of supporters in blue shirts reading "Breathe Easy / Keep it Clean" (some 90% of the room supported the ban), the council voted 3-2 against.

In Portland, Maine it took until February 2012 for the city even to acknowledge that a plastic cigarette butt, loaded with a cocktail of toxic chemicals, was litter!
Monument Square, Portland, ME
(image from the Portland Press Herald online)
Let that sink in for a moment. The first rumblings of the ill-effects of cigarettes came in the 1940s. By 1970, cigarette advertising was banned from TV. The Tobacco Wars of the early 1990s ended with the universal understanding that cigarettes are dangerous, and deadly. Yet it took 20 more years for Maine's largest city to identify a cigarette butt as litter.

Last week I visited the Maine Fishermen's Forum up in Rockland at the beautiful Samoset Resort, overlooking rocky cliffs and a foggy sea. The fishing industry in the Gulf of Maine has reeled from one crisis to another for decades. Pollution, overfishing, acidification, sea-temperature rise -- these are putting tremendous pressure on fish stocks. So much of this comes back to simple mistreatment of the fishery & the environment. Yet judging by the view I saw out on the covered walkway...
100 more all around the can and snowy sidewalk for the environment isn't high on the radar.

Since I started the Flotsam Diaries, I've pulled about 1/2 mile of fishing rope from local beaches.
200 more feet pulled up at Curtis Cove, Biddeford
on March 7, 2012
It's all plastic -- nylon or polypropylene. It will last forever, in some form. What I've retrieved represents the tiniest percent of what's certainly out there. I've also recorded several dozen derelict lobster traps washed up. Here's 30 or so from Goose Rocks Beach, Kennebunk, last year:
Each trap is vinyl-coated, and each slowly releases 1000 chunks of toxic polymers as the steel rusts. Conservatively there are half a million derelict lobster traps on the seafloor in the Gulf of Maine. The number is probably far higher.

Yet Maine has no regulations for monitoring lost rope. If a lobsterman loses a trap, they fill out a form. But that paper form goes into a stack, with nobody really examining where it was lost. Even if the location was known, there are ZERO funds in the state to recover any of the gear.

So the problems grow. And heads remain firmly buried in the sand.

Still, it's not all doom and gloom. More and more cities are taking cigarette litter seriously. Even Portland, finally. More and more are taking grocery-bag and other plastic litter seriously. And the state of Washington has just passed ground-breaking regulation to monitor and help clean up fishing debris. There are fingerposts and guides the world over showing the good that can happen when you admit a problem exists & then fight it like you mean it.

Change can be a long road. I know all too well that it can feel sometimes like a hopeless road. But at least it's a road. Can you imagine life if there were no roads to take you somewhere beyond where you are?


  1. Great to have hands across the country supporting each other, keeping the voice for Clean and Green resonating.


  2. Bernie, your unquenchable optimism & positive thinking are a true tonic! Thx much for all you're doing.

  3. Harry, Well said. Is it a long rode ahead and unfortuneatly it doesn't look like there are any shortcuts available.
    What puzzles me is the backsliding and avoidance. If anyone told me back in the 70's and 80's that car manufacturers would be selling 28 mpg cars as environmentally friendly in 2012 and that folks would buy them, I would have said "No way"!

  4. It is pretty ridiculous. Industry's gotten really good at marketing "the same" as "change."