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The dysfunctional family of Mother Nature

by Amy Chavez

“From now on, I will carry my own water bottle,” I promised Mother Nature. She had just scolded me as I came around the corner by presenting me with an angry beach covered with garbage. And this was not the first time she has told me off. Hundreds of beaches in the Seto Inland Sea are inundated with garbage that washes up.

A myriad of plastic refuse glistened in the sun requiring me to squint to avoid the reflecting sun rays. There was even a plastic car bumper, automotive flotsam, baking in the hot afternoon sun. But the majority of the plastic was PET bottles. Plastic straws were numerous, too, among the natural seaweed and driftwood that had washed up.

“And I won’t use straws anymore either,” I promised.

At that time, I decided to curb my dependency on plastic and become a better child of Mother Nature. “You better do it now,” said Father Time. “Things are only getting worse.”

That was a year ago. Whereas once I would have been curious about that newly shaped svelte plastic bottle in the vending machine peddling the latest fad drink, now I turn away, disgusted at its efforts to win me over with such overt marketing gimmicks. I carry my own chopsticks and a plastic spoon, fork and knife wherever I go. I’ve used them hundreds of times now and even carry an extra set to offer others when we eat together.

The Inland Sea is full of polluted beaches. If you find one that isn’t, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s because the environment is any cleaner there. It’s because the Inland Sea current carries the garbage past that beach and deposits it on a more convenient shore. The east side of Shiraishi Island, for example, is full of garbage, while the west side is clean. Most tourists never see Mother Nature’s angry side of the island. If they did, they might understand how big the problem has become. And surely Father Time would tell all of us, “Go to your rooms! Don’t come out until you have apologized and written out 100 times ‘I will not use the earth as a dumping ground.’ “

No one knows the degree of pollution in the sea better than those who live next to it, sail through it, or fish in it. When sailing, plastic bags get caught in the propeller, you notice oil floating on top of the water, and unbroken chains of garbage float by on currents that are meant to bring plankton and seaweed for sea creatures to feed on. The closer you get to land, the more garbage appears — a sure sign you’re getting close to other filthy human beings. The fish are smaller and fewer and the amount and type of garbage that washes up horrendous. What are we doing to ourselves?

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” says Father Time, marching on.

Living on a boat for three months last year, I saw firsthand the behavior of my siblings, caught up in their own anthropogenic world of greed. We have polluted Mother Nature without considering the effects on her health. And even now, when death of the planet is imminent, no one has come up with long-term care for Mother Nature. Pollution is a terminal illness that no one has found a cure for.

It’s easy to blame the government: They’ve concreted over nature; they’re propped up the fishing industry, which has led to overfishing; they’re building bridges to nowhere. All of this is true. However, it is not the government who is throwing garbage on Mount Fuji, nor tossing PET bottles into the rivers that empty out into the Inland Sea. Nor are they wholly responsible for our growing intolerance to nature. These are things only we can work on ourselves by becoming better children of Mother Nature.

We are out of touch with nature. We are easily offended by a spider or snake coming into our view. We grow up afraid of insects that do us no harm. “I don’t like frogs,” says a friend. “Maybe not,” I think, “but we should at least appreciate them and their part in our ecosystem.”

Nature has become something packaged like an o-bento, in the form of city parks with deliberately planted trees and shrubs among paved walkways. Nature is now an event you have to prepare for with proper clothing, tents, gas burners and insect repellent. Even the magazines advise you to take a walk in nature because it is good for your mental health. What used to come natural, we now need to be reminded of.

Yet still, we prefer to ride through the countryside in a car with windows rolled up and air conditioning going full blast as we whiz by in our own protective bubble. The concrete highways of Japan are raised well above the ground so we can drive over life below us. From the highways you can look down into the villages in the valleys below, not unlike “George Jetson, his boy Elroy, daughter Judy, Jane his wife” travelling through space in their own flying saucer.

Yet Father Time warns us that something is wrong with Mother Nature. Her arteries are clogged, her rivers full with plastic and Styrofoam. Her air passageways are polluted to the point she cannot breathe. Mother Nature’s days are numbered. And when she dies, she’ll have nothing left to leave her grandchildren.

“You kids are disgraceful,” says Father Time.

In the past year, I have learned it’s impossible to go off plastic completely. Even filling your water bottle is often accomplished by using purified water from a larger plastic water bottle. The water pipes carrying ground water into our homes are even plastic these days. But this will not stop me from trying. We must also part with our addictions to Styrofoam, cheap products and cheap energy.

“Wake up!” says Father Time, heading into the future. His alarm clock goes off, but most people can’t hear it. Others just hit the snooze button.