Having the Environmental Conversation: I Didn’t Think It Started Here
By Blaine Collison
Seventeenth Street in Washington, DC, where it crosses the National Mall, is one of the prettiest streets in America. Stand in the middle of 17th and turn one full revolution and you’ll see the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the White House and stands of trees all in between. On a summer evening – like tonight – the area is full of tourists and locals, all out enjoying the Nation’s Capital.
I was commuting home on my bike – my colleagues and I appreciate EPA’s bike facilities every single day that we use them – and I followed a car down 17th Street, across the National Mall. The passenger stuck his hand out of the window and I could see a nearly-finished cigarette. I got a bad feeling about what was going to happen: Sure enough, the passenger dropped his butt onto the street right between the Monument and World War II Memorial.
I’ve seen this plenty of times before, but lately I’ve grown tired of resigned acceptance. I caught up to the car at the next light and had a conversation that went like this:
Hi. You dropped your cigarette on the street.
Yes, you did.
You dropped it right there on 17th Street at the light. By the World War II Memorial.
Well…why? That’s not where it goes.
That’s not where it goes. No one wants your trash on our streets. Why’d you put it there? Why not just put it in the trash?
That’s where I [colorful adverb] put it!
Yeah, but why? It’s just going to go into the [Potomac] river.
‘Cause that’s where I [repeated colorful adverb] put it!
But no one wants your trash on the street.
Well, clean up the [adjective form of the previously-used colorful adverb] street!
It would be easier to do that if you wouldn’t drop cigarette butts on it.
The light changed and the exchange ended. No one had called each other a name or made a threat, but it also didn’t seem like anyone had made any progress.
One of EPA Administrator Jackson’s key strategic priorities is “Expanding the Conversation”; bringing into the environmental protection process people and stakeholders that have not traditionally been part of it. I’m pretty sure that I had a conversation tonight with one of those folks. Not dropping trash on the street is more basic even than Environmentalism 101. And this was the National Mall. It’s sacred American public space. That we need to have a conversation at this level…
I’m still frustrated and amazed by this. But tomorrow, I’m going to try a little harder. And I’m going to reach out a little further.
No more butts on the National Mall, please. It’s simply not acceptable. Demand better of ourselves and each other. Now and every single day that follows.
About the author: Blaine Collison is the Director of the Green Power Partnership, EPA’s national voluntary green electricity program. The GPP includes more than 1,200 organizations that actively engaged in expanding the conversation and creating more U.S. renewable energy.
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