Littering is on the rise.  For the past 15 years, I never saw any litter during my half-hour and one-hour morning walks through my suburban community.  Just green lawns and lots of tall trees.  But ever since the economy tanked and failed to recover, I'm starting to see trash on the side of the road and even on the edges of people's front lawns.

It started gradually about six months ago.  A soda can here.  A cigarette pack there.  I started to bring a trash bag on my walks to pick up the two or three pieces of trash along the way.  On this morning's walk, my bag was not big enough.

Who are all these people throwing trash out of their car windows?  Perhaps a recent grad losing hope as he thinks about corporations outsourcing jobs and profits, while he tries to figure out how to pay off his student loans with a minimum wage job?  Maybe a homeowner distracted by thoughts of bankers who used bailout money to pay themselves bonuses and who are now foreclosing on his home?  Whoever these people are, they must be people who are starting to lose their sense of connection with the community.

Do you remember when the environmental movement started to get a head of steam in the US?  It started shortly after Vice President Richard Nixon's famous kitchen debate with Soviet Premier Nikita Krushcev.  Nixon told Krushcev that almost every American WWII veteran was able to buy a home with modern kitchen appliances.  He could have added that they could get a college degree, or even a graduate or professional degree, without taking on any debt.  This led to neighborhoods with a sense of community, and people who were secure enough in their own lives to be open to the idea of protecting the environment for future generations.

Yesterday, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the press that he is looking at ways to balance the budget by cutting the pensions and health benefits of the soldiers who have been putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

I need a bigger trash bag.

John Howley
Woodbridge, New Jersey

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