When we look at our tiny planet in our mind’s eye as a giant inexhaustible resource that we can constantly drain on all it gives, and throw our waste onto its surface with no thought of the consequences of such actions, that tiny earth, the third planet from the sun, starts to look big and blurry like above. All we need to do is focus and realise the planet we live on is nothing more than a small village in the wider universe we are a part of then it all starts to come into sharper focus like below.
This was all brought home to me recently, in the middle of all places, a secondary school mountain bike competition. How did this setting bring it into focus you might ask? It all happened when we sat down to eat.
We were all fortunate enough to be spending three days in The Mont Ventoux area of France. When a few hundred of us – competitors, teachers and families – all arrived we were told how the area was an area of outstanding beauty and a natural park so we should treat it with respect and be careful to leave the area as we found it, clean, pristine and green. We all looked around in agreement and made sure to hammer home those sentiments to the adolescents all around us. After all, these kids were mountain bikers and used to being in natural settings doing what they loved, so not despoiling the area came more naturally to them then maybe it would to others who aren’t as fortunate to participate in a sport that often finds them in the middle of our world’s vast natural beauty.
After the first day checking out the downhill and trials courses before the competition began we were yet again reminded that the area is a nature reserve and should be respected. As we sat down to dinner on that first evening though, handed to all of us were two disposable plastic plates, a throw-away plastic bottle and a wrapped plastic knife fork and spoon set with two paper packets inside – salt and pepper. I immediately thought to myself oh no, what a mixed message to be sending. Unfortunately it wasn’t just for the first meal that the plastic arrived for the well over 400 of us gathered for the French National Secondary School level competition, it continued in the same manner for all five meals over the next two days of competition.
Everyone respected the request of the organisers and dutifully scraped plates, sorted out uneaten food, and put the rubbish in the proper receptacles so it could be hauled off to somewhere else.
It wouldn’t have been a huge stretch to have given a more solid message to all of those young people over those three days that the protected beauty spot we were in is actually planet Earth, to respect one area only is not the answer.
Yes it may have taken a bit more organising, but as my wife said after I returned with our son from the competition and we discussed the dilemma over dinner as a family, “All it would have taken was one person at the organising meeting to bring up the matter of plastic waste and a discussion hopefully would have ensued.”
The UNSS (Union Nationale du Sport Scolaire) like many extra-curricular activities in the school system here, is run on a tight budget, but I do not think the cost of just a bit more forethought and finding a way around the throw away plastic plates, bottles and cutlery would have broken the bank. In life we have to make tough decisions. To send such a mixed message to our youth on a planet with mounting environmental problems is much more costly. If the UNSS organisers of that event and all future ones can save thousands of plates over a three day period from heading to landfill and give a clear message to those who will be the future caretakers of the natural beauty spot we all inhabit, that would have been priceless!
Well done to all the young kids who were out there enjoying the beauty while pushing yourselves to your physical and mental limits. I also want to congratulate the organisers for putting on such an event encompassing competitors from all over France. I just hope that the youth of today will change the mindset that we have cultivated over too many years and know that this wonderful planet can and will keep on giving, but like any symbiotic relationship it needs to be treated just as kindly in return everywhere not only in certain regions or areas.