A Time When We Can No Longer Afford Our Wastefulness

But now I have been though hundreds of towns and cities in every climate and against every kind of scenery, and of course they’re all different, and the people have points of difference, but in some ways they are alike. American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash – all of them – surrounded by piles of wrecked and rusting automobiles, and almost smothered with rubbish. Everything we use comes in boxes, cartons, bins, the so-called packaging we love so much. The mountains of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use. In this, if in no other way, we can see the wild and reckless exuberance of our production, and waste seems to be the index. Driving along I thought how in France or Italy every item of these thrown-out things would have been saved and used for something. This is not said in criticism of one system or the other but I wonder whether there will come a time when we can no longer afford our wastefulness – chemical waste in rivers, metal waste everywhere, and atomic wastes buried deep in the earth or sunk in sea. When an Indian village became too deep in its own filth, the inhabitants moved. And we have  no place to which to move.

John Stein, Travels with Charley – In Search of America

When I sat down this morning and started reading Travels with Charley while having my breakfast, I did not think it would insprire me to write another blog post. I had read this book many years ago and I decided to read it again as inspiration for a different project I have in mind but I didn’t think it would inspire me to write about waste.

Reading Steinbeck’s observations about the environmental effects of consumerism – visible to him back in the early 60s – had something uncanny about it. How everything he describes in his little gloss is true and has been true for a few decades. Considering that he could see where it was heading makes all those claims void saying that we couldn’t have known the effects back then and that the issues only now become clear to us.

Today there would also be no need to say “[t]his is not said in criticism of one system or the other” as all the big (and small) European countries lost their thriftiness and all contribute to the problem. His observations are true for the countries on both sides of the pond although the degree of waste and pollution is undeniably bigger in the US – sorry there is no way of sugar-coating this. Still, we are all to blame when “an Indian village [becomes] to deep in [our] filth”.

Just this week I read some shocking articles about the effects of our waste dumping in Africa, about who is responsible for removing nuclear waste in Germany and that an EU lab considered Gylophosat as non-carcinogenic and that it might be allowed to be used. We cannot afford our wastefulness and still – like the brainwashed zombies that we are- we consume, buy new, throw away, want more and cheaper. We don’t care where is comes from, how it is produced and certainly don’t give a f*** what happens to our stuff once we decide we no longer want it.

John Steinbeck was a prophet in the saddest sense.



Steinbeck, John. Travels with Charley – In Search of America. London: Penguin Group. 1986. Print. p.26.

I stole the picture from this website.


One thought on “A Time When We Can No Longer Afford Our Wastefulness

  1. You know, I was having a conversation in work earlier this week about palm oil being used in certain products. A colleague replied “Where does it come from?” so I explained about the rainforests and how deforestation was occuring in order to produce the palm oil, which results in danger to wildlife. And you know what they replied? “Who cares. I won’t have to worry about it anyway, I’m too old. It’ll be my kids’ problem.” And that is the mentality we are having to deal with TODAY. It makes me sick.


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