Talking trash and faith’s call to action

By CHRISTIAN PIATT
THE PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN

More often than not these days, faith communities recognize that environmental issues must be taken on by them, and not relegated to the government to solve.

Commercials such as the one featuring the Revs. Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson speaking together about global warming indicate that care for our world is a growing concern across the social spectrum.

There are a number of issues with which faith communities can assist and have a significant impact – right here in Pueblo, Colorado.

Perhaps the most obvious local concern is water, and we’ve seen some religious leaders step up and speak out, particularly for marginalized communities such as Pueblo’s East Side, which suffer the most when Fountain Creek swells with sewage from our neighbors to the north.

Another looming issue is global warming, and how we as a nation will address it. As reported recently, Congress is debating a series of bills to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions dramatically over the next 40 years. While the overall concept is hopeful, there are some potential disparities that we must anticipate, particularly as a less affluent, “working class” community. The so-called “cap-and-trade” system seeks some sort of middle ground, allowing cleaner industries to sell pollution credits to heavier polluters such as coal-fired energy plants and cement manufacturers. Though the net effect for the nation is positive, there’s a real potential for a tremendous imbalance, to the detriment of poorer communities.

Given the fact that companies generally locate higher-polluting industries in more depressed economic areas, this means that those towns who host such industries likely will see little improvement in their local environment, given the fact that it’s more cost-effective to buy pollution credits than to retrofit old factories with cleaner systems.

Another potential positive of the bills is that they include credits that can be used to invest in “green” technology research, using some funds from the cap-and-trade system to pour money back into smarter, cleaner energy. The drawback for poorer communities is that, in general, technology-oriented investment benefits communities with workers who have advanced degrees, which usually are more affluent to begin with.

So while communities such as ours get more pollution, the bigger, richer cities get more money for more jobs. If we as faith community leaders are in truth advocates for the disenfranchised, then this is a concern that we cannot let our legislators and other public leaders leave unaddressed.

Finally, the way we deal with our trash in Pueblo is, to be blunt, embarrassing. There’s a strange fixation in Pueblo I’ve never seen in any other community regarding people’s near-obsession with not being told what to do with their trash. Meanwhile, as we’ve seen with the closure of a local dump, those who fail to take responsibility for their own waste cause piles of refuse to grow in prairies and along roadsides.

There are those vigilant souls within the city and county governments who have fought for years to have a community recycling program, but there other “garbage civil libertarians” who believe it’s more important to allow people to haul their own trash than to honbor our responsibility to reduce our environmental impact.

The issue is this: Most recycling industries require a certain guaranteed volume of recyclables to be available in order to justify the expense of establishing and running a plant. This might mean that a mandate requiring everyone to use a trash-hauling service would have to be enacted in order to lure a recycling business to Pueblo. There are, however, a select few in the city who seem to resist this concept to the bitter end.

If the concern is economic, certainly some of the tax revenues from a recycling plant could be converted into subsidies for poorer residents to cover the cost of trash services. If, however, the conflict is over matters of tradition and personal preference, then that’s just careless selfishness.

One of the greatest assets Pueblo has is a relatively clean environment and a high overall quality of life. If we want it to stay that way, we may have to fight for it.

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