Some people throw waste around, while others throw waste in specially designed dustbins. It is reasonable to set up campaigns that would (a) collect as much waste as possible and (b) raise the awareness that throwing waste is socially unacceptable since it harms nature and our environment. Various “green days” or “earth days” are created for that purpose. It looks like both goals are achieved by one campaign: waste is collected that would otherwise still pollute our environment, and awareness is raised.
Unfortunately not. Regardless of the success of the (a) goal, there is no way to succeed with the (b) goal this way only. Those that do not care about where they leave what is defined as waste do not perceive their deeds as unacceptable. Should they feel that way, they would not waste the environment. They cannot connect between (a) and (b). They do not join those folks that collect waste on campaign day. Even more: they can watch those collecting waste from a comfortable chair. They feel good not being a part of a campaign and are thus reinforced to throw waste even more in the future – to feel even better.
The lesson: there is no hope for a campaign that does not bring evident reward or punishment to those aimed to. Education and engineering (providing convenient places for waste collection) are not enough without enforcement in a change process (campaign). Where the waste management system works, it works because enforcement is in place as much as education and engineering.
But there is another, more dangerous side effect of waste and other environmentalist campaigns. Campaign initiators start to understand themselves as creationists. They behave like those complex systems can be created within seven days (God) or for “less complex” systems like waste management in 1 day despite the fact they do not believe in creationism.
First: the natural waste system is not much less complex than the universe. The living part of the universe that produces waste has done that for 4 billion years on Earth alone. It is a continuous process within the circular economy of the biosphere where the wase of one becomes the food for the other. If one species grows fast, its waste produces ampler and ampler food resources for other species. It is the evolution that, by the force of the diminished food supply for a growing species, reduces its growth and enhances the growth of the species that use the waste of the ever-increasing species.
If CO2 is a waste product of an animal kingdom and food for the plants’ kingdom, and since the animal kingdom largely takes plants as their food, it is clear that here we are talking about a perfect self-regulating complex system of food and waste with clearly recognizable benefits for all species involved. Since the benefits of a more significant production of CO2 are intuitively clear for all agents of such a circular economy, they do not need a communication campaign. Even more: if a communication campaign goes against the benefits, as is the case of campaigns propagating the reduction of CO2 emissions, then only intellectuals might follow the campaign, while ordinary people will comply with the logic of non-intellectual benefits.
Second: Earth “was being” created in 4,5 billion years and is still (fortunately) in a creation period. Those waste campaigners appeared like a god: from nowhere with a certain aureola that typically accompanies saints. And immediately everyone wants to be in their presence (that is also an attribute of saints or god), from the president to the last “wannabe.” They all had one day of glory and felt good that day. So, that day was not spent in vain for them. Forget that they missed their goal – if the goal is to manage complex waste systems or to raise awareness.
Final remark: People influence the environment. We influence it with our waste as well. First human permanent settlements had to manage the crucially important issue of human and animal excrement, for instance. Should they not, we would not exist, most probably because infectious diseases would decimate us. But it was not a single event or an enlightened person that would change the course of evolution, but a complex set of human actions and reactions that on one side emerge our survival and on other sacred texts from Bible, Koran, Talmud, Vedas … that codified collective experience into practical prescriptions about sustainability. Heroes and deities are not creators but emergent properties of a long-run complex set of individual experiences selected through evolution.