It is not a secret that I love travels and field works. Any occasion is good for me to explore a new country and discover different corners around the world.
When abroad, I generally do not miss too much my country or Italian food (although I always like tasting a pizza), and I always try to mingle with local people to get familiar with the culture of the place I am visiting.
However, every trip has a turning point: wastes.
Not that I live in the cleanest county in the world, but, as already mentioned in a previous post, it generally saddens me to see how bad waste management and indifference towards garbage can spoil so many beautiful natural places.
Some months ago I had the lucky chance to go to Mauritius for an expert mission. By far this Island is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Also, this is one of the amazing countries where plastic bags have been banned to reduce pollution and environmental impacts.
Indeed, wastes are one of the main problems in islands worldwide, where waste disposal via landfilling, illegal dumping and backyard burning are still a common practice.
During my first visit to Mauritius in 2016 I had the impression the island was quite clean compared to other countries I have been. However, this time I started looking at things with different eyes and I noticed how, despite the increasing effort form the government, the presence of abandoned wastes is still a major problem.
How sad is it to see such a beautiful place, a real paradise on earth, sullied and threatened by a clearly solvable problem?!
But being sad is not enough. As a scientist I feel I must have a more active role in environmental protection and education.
But how to do it effectively?
Let me give you and example. Once I was abroad for a fieldwork, working with a team of local experts. It was a nice sunny day and we were well-hunting in the middle of the sugar cane fields. At sudden, one member of our group –a group of experts working for environmental protection– tossed the plastic bottle from which he had just finished drinking a soda right in the sugar cane field.
I was petrified. One of the few occasions in which I remained speechless.
I thought I had to say something, that I had to point out that this was completely wrong. But how? At sudden I felt I could not find the right words to highlight that this was not the correct behavior (especially for someone working in the environmental domain) without being offensive. Not that I wanted to yell at him, of course, but I was concerned that even I kind remark could have embarrassed him in front of his colleagues.
Then, the second option that came to my mind was to pick the bottle without saying anything: “The example” – I thought– “is stronger than words!”. But again, would he even noticed? Or worse, would he get offended anyway?
While in this impasse I saw that ‘our” plastic bottle was quite in a good company in the field. And actually nobody seemed to care.
So here it comes my question: which is the best approach – if any – in these situations?
In general I try to give the example myself and, when possible, to discuss about the need for a stronger engagement in environmental protection, especially of those working our field (here where ResponsibleWaterScientists comes from). But when I am just a random person, visiting or working in a foreign country for a short period, I always feel that the risk sounding like a moralizer, spreading judgments and going away without really engaging for a concrete change, is always around the corner.
Probably for many people my dilemma has no sense, because it is perhaps more important to call for a quick action and make (even a little impact) on the society, than to remain indifferent. However, for me it is also very important to respect the sensitivity of people, especially if I am in a country other than mine.
So … what to do? Which should be the role of environmental scientists in this regard? Shall we all better engage even in these everyday life situations? If so, are there any “magic words” to use?
I am asking you, because I’m still thinking about that bottle we left in sugar cane field.