This post comes from Andy Carman, a member of LDSES’s Board of Directors.
Spring in South Texas gets to be a soggy affair. We get some fierce thunderstorms, and just after Memorial Day we got one—big enough to make national headlines. Every time we get a storm like that, the system of drainages and bayous that convey all that muddy water to the Gulf is left with a high-water mark of suburban detritus: busted sunglasses, stray work gloves, broken Happy Meal toys, gas caps, soda bottles, fountain cup lids, cell phone parts, and of course all those grocery sacks—lying limp or stretched around bunches of grass and low-lying tree limbs.
So, Wednesday evening, May 27, the Boys Scouts of Humble, Texas, LDS Troop 574 set out to gather up some of the debris before the next storm sent it to the open water of Galveston Bay downstream.
Our Scouts, like all Scouts, are expected to abide by the Outdoor Code. “As an American,” a Scout pledges, “I will do my best to—Be clean in my outdoor manners. Be careful with fire. Be considerate in the outdoors. Be conservation minded.”
As it should, the Outdoor Code emphasizes personal behaviors—specifically behaviors that boys might engage in while out of doors and sometimes under lighter supervision. Boys, after all, can sometimes forget to be clean, careful, and considerate. But there’s that portion of the Pledge, “Be conservation minded,” that goes beyond the personal and connects a Scout to systems around him. It allows him to consider the interconnectedness of personal behaviors and how those behaviors affect life for other people and Creation.
That broader connectedness was brought to the boys’ attention through a short lesson by Ryan Ferrin, second counselor in the ward bishopric.
Brother Ferrin spent a few minutes before the service describing the way litter, especially plastic litter, can negatively affect sea life through entanglement or ingestion or habitat disruption. (He drew on educational material from Algalita Marine Science Institute.) To illustrate, Brother Ferrin shared with the boys a few images of birds and other sea life that had been killed or hurt by plastic debris.
Houston is often called “Bayou City,” since it is at the bottom of a wide, flat flood plain. Water is always flowing through all parts of town. Standing in that waterway choked with plastic and other waste, we saw the often gruesome images of what litter can do when it enters the bayou and then the oceans beyond.
A litter cleanup in some ways seems like a knee-jerk conservation exercise. After all, when it comes down to it, all we’re really doing is relocating and aggregating the garbage. Or litter patrol is often thought of as a beautification measure. The trash is ugly—the Indian in the commercial cries a single poignant tear.
Litter is ugly—and, one could argue, socially prejudicial in its visual rhetoric. Relocating the litter is, in fact, kind of absurd as an isolated practice, or if it’s for strictly aesthetic reasons. But this gets to the crux of what the Outdoor Code means by “conservation minded.” For an albatross chick who’s eating one too many lighters and soda bottle caps, litter is not simply ugly. For a turtle who mistook a plastic bag for a fish, litter is not a social problem.
Being conservation minded, as the Scouts of Troop 574 learned, means going beyond the personal scale, beyond a given problem as perceived in isolation. It means understanding that Creation is interconnected and interdependent. It means understanding what’s really wrong with a throw-away toy, what’s really wrong with tossing that grocery sack. Being conservation minded means seeing ecological problems as systems, and the ways in which our small choices so often add up to larger problems.
The Scouts of Troop 754 understand that better now, and as they live the Outdoor Code, that understanding is sure to spread. A litter pickup will turn into more litter pickups. It will turn into habits of not littering, of finding a recycling receptacle. And, even beyond that, it may turn into considering options before buying something designed and destined for thoughtless disposal. That aggregation of good choices and behaviors is, after all, what the Outdoor Code is ultimately about.