America the Not-so-Beautiful
Next to saving stuff I don’t need, the thing I like to do best is throw it away. My idea of a good time is to load up the back of the car with junk on a Saturday morning and take it to the dump. There’s something satisfying about discarding almost anything. Throwing things out is the American way. We don’t know how to fix anything, and anyone who does know how is too busy to come, so we throw it away and buy a new one. Our economy depends on us doing that. The trouble with throwing things away is, there is no “away” left.
Sometime around the year 500 B.C., the Greeks in Athens passed a law prohibiting people from throwing their garbage in the street. This Greek law was the first recognition by civilized people that throwing things away was a problem. Now, as the population explodes and people take up more room on Earth, there’s less room for everything else.
The more civilized a country is, the worse the trash problem is. Poor countries don’t have the same problem because they don’t have much to discard. Prosperity in the United States is based on using things up as fast as we can, throwing away what’s left, and buying new ones.
We’ve been doing that for so many years that (1) we’ve run out of places to throw things because houses have been built where the dump was and (2) some of the things we’re throwing away are poisoning the Earth and will eventually poison all of us and all living things.
Ten years ago most people thought nothing of dumping an old bottle of weed or insect killer in a pile of dirt in the back yard or down the drain in the street, just to get rid of it. The big companies in America had the same feeling, on a bigger scale. For years the chemical companies dumped their poisonous wastes in the rivers behind the mills, or they put it in fifty-gallon drums in the vacant lots, with all the old, rusting machinery in it, up behind the plants. The drums rusted out in ten years and dumped their poison into the ground. It rained, the poisons seeped into the underground streams and poisoned everything for miles around. Some of the manufacturers who did this weren’t even evil. They were dumb and irresponsible. Others were evil because they knew how dangerous it was but didn’t want to spend the money to do it right.
The problem is staggering. I often think of it when I go in the hardware store or a Sears Roebuck and see shelves full of poison. You know that, one way or another, it’s all going to end up in the Earth or in our rivers and lakes.
I have two pint bottles of insecticide with 3 percent DDT in them in my own garage that I don’t know what to do with. I bought them years ago when I didn’t realize how bad they were. Now I’m stuck with them.
The people of the city of New York throw away nine times their weight in garbage and junk every year. Assuming other cities come close to that, how long will it be before we trash the whole Earth?
Of all household waste, 30 percent of the weight and 50 percent of the volume is the packaging that stuff comes in.
Not only that, but Americans spend more for the packaging of food than all our farmers together make in income growing it. That’s some statistic.
Trash collectors are a lot more independent than they used to be because we’ve got more trash than they’ve got places to put it. They have their own schedules and their own holidays. Some cities try to get in good with their trash collectors or garbage men by calling them “sanitation engineers.” Anything just so long as they pick it up and take it away.
We often call the dump “the landfill” now, too. I never understood why land has to be filled, but that’s what it’s called. If you’re a little valley just outside town, you have to be careful or first thing you know you’ll be getting “filled.”
If 5 billion people had been living on Earth for the past thousand years as they have been in the past year, the planet would be nothing but one giant landfill, and we’d have turned America the beautiful into one huge landfill.
The best solution may be for all of us to pack up, board a spaceship, and move out. If Mars is habitable, everyone on Earth can abandon this planet we’ve trashed, move to Mars, and start trashing that. It’ll buy us some time.
"What I've always hoped to do with my writing
is to say, in so many words, some of the ideas that lurk,
wordlessly, in the minds of a great many people."
About the Author
Since 1978, Andrew A. Rooney has been a TV commentator on the program 60 Minutes. He has written more than 800 essays, which he presents on television or in a national newspaper column. His essays, which are sometimes humorous and sometimes controversial, have earned him three Emmy awards.
“I haven’t changed my mind about anything since I was twenty-three” writes Andy Rooney, America’s favorite curmudgeon. “In my head I know I must be wrong about some things but in my heart I don’t think so.”
Rooney, writing at the top of his inimitable style, tells us just what is in both his head and his heart. For the first time he writes about his fundamental beliefs on such issues as mortality (“I do not accept the inevitability of my own death. I secretly think there must be some other way out”), abortion (“I don’t favor abortion though I like the people who are for it better than those who are against it”) and religion (“I wish people would spend less time praying and more time trying to solve the problems religion was created to help us endure”). Rooney has found a way to be thoughtful yet not solemn; in fact he is at times downright irreverent. He talks about birth control just as easily as he talks about electrical outlets, the state of his own backyard or the joy of a rainy day. With the enduring crankiness of a truthful sage, Rooney punctures our pretensions, showing us those things that we’ve always known to be true but never quite knew. You’ll find yourself smiling, involuntarily bobbing your head in agreement. Of course, Rooney also hopes to incite anger. He boasts, “There’s something in this book that will irritate almost everyone.
Andy Rooney, known as “Andrew” to good friends, spent the first fifty years of his career trying to attract attention to his writing and the last ten years of his career trying to avoid the attention he’s attracted from his commentaries on 60 Minutes.
Drafted at the end of his third year at Colgate University, Rooney spent three army years as a reporter for The Stars and Stripes. He flew on the first U.S. bombing raid over Germany and, after the Normandy invasion, traveled with the First Army across France and Germany. “For those who didn’t get killed or wounded,” he says, “war is a great experience.” He later wrote three books with his friend Bud Hutton about World War II. In 1962 he wrote The Fortunes of War, a History Book Club selection.
That same year he began his work as a writer and producer of television essays. Narrated by Harry Reasoner, these essays won four Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, and on six occasions they were voted best-written by the Writers Guild of America.
His 1971 Essay on War was broadcast on public television’s The Great American Dream Machine. It was followed by documentary hours at CBS News such as Mr. Rooney Goes to Washington and Mr. Rooney Goes to Work.
Today Andy Rooney is perhaps best known for his weekly cantankerous essays on 60 Minutes. Rooney, who was one of the original writers and producers for the show, which began in 1968, has been on the air since 1978.
Since 1981 he has written four collections of essays: A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney; And More by Andy Rooney; Pieces of My Mind; and Word for Word. His syndicated column appears three times a week in 265 newspapers.
This essay, and ninety-nine more, can be found in
Not That You Asked… by Andrew A. Rooney
Random House, New York, NY
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