NO BUTTS ABOUT IT: Beyond fuming about smoking!
One hundred and thirty-seven — if I count the small cigarette butt pieces strewn along the sidewalk. And this is just the number I’ve noticed, and just on the trip back, walking home from buying my newspaper one recent Sunday.
Most of the discarded butts are lying in the gutters, drowned from rain. Then there are those tell-tale clusters of toxic smoke sticks intentionally dumped under trees. Or by the 7-Eleven parking lot spots, announcing the emptying of a smelly ashtray from some smoker’s car.
I don’t normally count butts, though I always notice them, worrying about the harm they do. I confess to fuming about it with righteous indignation, inventing epithets toward accused smokers for imagined carelessness, rebelliousness, laziness or general lack of respect for the planet I cherish, and to whose survival and well-being I daily try to contribute. Don’t the litterers realize their gutter butt may end up in the stomach of a baby bird or a sea turtle?
But then I feel guilty — about the huffing, name-calling, designating smokers as alien “other.” Heck, I have trusted co-workers and a friend or two who smoke. I even got rescued on a camping trip when my car broke down in the mountains by a Marlboro man who drank Cokes, lived in an unkempt trailer and spoke lovingly about his dead wife: a great guy.
So, yes, I feel guilty judging others harshly, playing know-it-all, creating separation instead of compassionate regard for common humanity. Isn’t that part of what is so wrong with our world today? Taking moral high grounds that discount others’ humanity?
So, while I am astonished that people still smoke and make butt garbage, given all the evidence of its harm to living things, in my heart I know that their motivations are not necessarily to cause damage — to me personally, to themselves, their kids, elders or Mother Earth.
Probably most smokers don’t know it can take three years for that butt to biodegrade, polluting air, soil, ground water, watersheds, creeks and oceans as it joins trillions of other discarded butts. I’ve wished everybody could have a green education since writing (and publishing out of pocket) “Love Me, Love My Planet,” the first enviro primer for kids back in 1991. I understand we’ve a long way to go. And so many of us are struggling mightily, some probably self-medicating, or comforting with cigarettes.
I guess I am best off remembering that there is a lot to appreciate about living in where I do, in northern California, with many enviro programs, products, events, even whole sections of our newspapers devoted to living sustainably. Pre-pandemic (and hopefully, coming back to life), we have had programs dedicated to the green education of children and their grown-ups. So I guess I can put on protective gloves, and pick up cigarette trash along my way, junk food wrappers and plastic soda bottles with their corn syrupy residues, too. And be mindful of my cursing thought habits, shifting to a more empathic, even proactive mode.
I want to be able to appreciate people with lives and habits different from my own, and even when I disapprove of their choices, practice non-violent, compassionate thought and actions: promote a healthful, beautiful, clean and sustainable Earth.
No butts about it.
[First published April 12, 2012, in The Press Democrat as a “guest opinion” piece.]