The respect of God’s creations is among the fundamental principles of Islam and Christianity. However not many people in Lebanon make the connection between that principle and respecting or protecting the environment. Walking by the Mediterranean seaside in Beirut one is appalled to see people throw all kinds of garbage into the water, from empty beverage cans, to water bottles, juice glass containers, balls, cigarette butts, broken toys, you name it. Some of the polluters may have good intentions, they throw left-over food and bread crumbs for the birds and the fish, while others compete with each other to see who will throw an item the furthest into the water. Sadly, one has to look very far away into the horizon to see any remaining traces of the famous formerly emerald- turquoise-blue water.
The sidewalk is a more tragic story; people walk about or sit on benches while consuming sunflower seeds, pistachio nuts, peanuts and similar snacks and disposing of shells and wrappers on the pavement very casually and “innocently”. In picnic areas such as parks or wild natural areas people barbecue meat and do not always bother to put out the fire or to leave the place at least as bad as they found it.
In a similar manner one can describe “drive by trashing” as in “drive by shooting” with people tossing garbage on the street while sitting in the comfort of their cars, a misdemeanor which would get the culprit a penalty ticket of $500 in the West. The worst thing is that when one takes a walk for relaxation purposes one takes the risk of turning into a walking ashtray and being burned by someone’s cigarette which he holds in his extended hand while he is in a “pensive” mood. One should also be grateful if one just barely escapes taking a “tea-shower” when a shop owner suddenly bursts out of his shop and tosses the remaining contents of his tea cup in the air before going back inside for a refill.
It is interesting that the same people who commit the above detestable actions dare to complain when the winter season starts and the streets are flooded due to garbage clogging the street drainage pipes.
Going inside the households, conserving water or energy is viewed as penny-pinching and stinginess, despite the high cost and severe rationing of water as well as electricity; additionally it is almost unheard of for people to separate the recyclables from daily trash. Fortunately for the environment some of the foreign workers have been taking it upon themselves to do the separation by sifting through the trash once it gets transported to large collection areas, they are motivated by monetary gains since they can sell what plastic, glass, metal or cardboard they salvage; the only problem is that they end up spreading the trash in the street in the process of sifting through it.
At universities it is not common to practice paper-recycling and it is rare to see a system that conserves energy, instructors typically leave the lights and the air-conditioning on at the end of class sessions, days and nights. The icing on the cake in the country-wide conspiracy of disregard for the environment is the absence of decent and reliable public transportation, since most Lebanese people are too proud to use it, and owning a fuel guzzler sport utility vehicle has become a status symbol, with the concept of car-pooling unheard of.
The root of the problem is the absence of solid programs in school curricula that enhance young people’s awareness of the importance of protecting the environment, the lack of laws that penalize polluters, and the fact that there is no government agency which is comparable to the environmental protection agency (EPA), although there is supposedly a ministry for the environment.
However, considering the inadequacy of meeting people’s basic needs such as accessible safe drinking water and electric power around the clock, one should not be surprised that protecting the environment is very low on the list of the authorities’ priorities.