On any given sunny day, I'm apt to be at the Albany Bulb, walking the dog, building pirate ships with my kids, searching out new art installations. A former construction waste dump, it was decommissioned in the late 1980s and covered with dirt. Things started to grow on it. Today, huge slabs of concrete and twisted rebar intermingle with grasses, trees and bushes. It's like a fantastic display of mother nature reclaiming what's hers or perhaps it's warning us of the persistence of industrial waste. Either way, there is something endlessly fascinating about the place. There are huge sculptures made from found objects, natural and otherwise, eclectic mobiles hanging from the trees, painted rocks and mosaics. Every time we go, it's slightly different because the wind and water transform or erase what the artists create and in this too, the bulb is a living example of human/nature interactions.
It's also usually a trash pit. At the beach, plastic water bottles, plastic straws, plastic bags, plastic everything litters the sand and rolls in and out with the tide. I cringe as I watch my barefoot children frolic in the waves. Yet, despite how much I love and use this place, I have never so much as picked up a single plastic water bottle and thrown it in the garbage. Until last week.
Last week, I arrived at the bulb and was amazed to find the beach clean. Instead of rolled up plastic bags and straws, seaweed and shells littered the ground. I still haven't been able to find out what lovely souls are responsible for the clean-up. When I went again, the effects were slightly wearing off--here and there garbage was scattered across the beach. Without thinking, I dug a bag out of my pocket and started picking up trash. In the end, I spent thirty minutes and filled my bag.
Reflecting on why after years of being one of the many neglectful users of this beach, I finally pitched in to help, I realized that it was because I felt like my efforts would matter. When the beach was overrun with trash, the whole problem seemed insurmountable, but once it had been cleaned, keeping it that way transformed into a doable problem that I could personally help accomplish. This highlights a critical factor in motivating people to get involved: the belief that ones own efforts can make a difference. Of course, I should have been picking up trash all along, but it wasn't until I could see and believe that I could make a difference that I actually overcame inertia and took action.
-Laura Mamo I recently found this powerful sociological account of visiting the BP disaster area by my colleague, Jackie Orr. In this piece she reflects on the complexities and accountabilities of all of us as simultaneous participants and members of those affected by environmental degradation and disasters. We need more embodied and intellectually engaged thinking like this. Thank you Jackie.