When I was still a smoker, one of the things that annoyed me about my former co-smokers was their penchant for throwing away their used cigarette butts just about anywhere. In a majority of cases, the rubbish bin was literally just a few steps away yet for some reason, they’d rather throw them on the grass, the floor, the street, etc.
I once thought that this had something to do with the fact that smokers generally have a rebellious inclination and that this non-observance of basic cleanliness norms had something to do with it. Surely, health-conscious people who advocate a worthwhile cause would not display such a willful disregard for such norms.
Well, I was wrong.
You know where this is going. By now, you’ve surely come across that viral photo of the recently-held “Earth Day Run” sponsored by Nat Geo in Bonifacio Global City. (Incidentally, the photo was taken by a former college classmate, Francis Xavier Pasion. I doubt if he remembers me though.) As the photo shows, used paper cups and plastic bottles were seen strewn all over the street as runners who joined the event were seen walking by unconcerned.
Predictably, this raised a howl of scornful jeering from hundreds of netizens who pointed out the fundamental irony an event that was supposed to raise awareness for environmental issues. In response, they were met by smug justifications by runners who may or may not have participated in the event, and who pointed to the ignorance of non-runners in running matters. The justifications basically revolve around two things:
1. Throwing away paper cups and plastic bottles everywhere has always been the way of things in running events.
2. There’s always a clean-up committee in events like these.
Since I’m with the “scornful jeering” group, let me address (and demolish) these points. First of all, basically everyone already knows how marathons and other running events are held. Yes, everyone actually knows that runners have long engaged in this messy practice of indiscriminately throwing away used paper cups. That is not new and is furthermore not the issue. What is at issue is the fact that the run purported to be one that promoted Earth awareness. One would think that the organizers would at the very least try to instill an awareness of basic environmental cleanliness in participants. They did not even try. On this very basis alone, the event is already a failure.
The organizers had an opportunity to elevate the event into something beyond the usual running event. They could have come up with a way to emphasize the cause they claimed to advocate in a practical manner, rather than just hold the same old format where runners can’t be bothered to throw their trash properly because they’re so concerned with their running times. They could have told the people to bring their own hydration sources. They could have placed a lot more litter bins on the path. They could have required people to be holding at least one used cup at the finish line to be certified as having properly finished the race. (That’s three ideas already. And I’m not even an environmentalist.)
As for the excuse that there’s a cleaning committee anyway that would take care of the mess, well, that doesn’t make runners any different from my former co-smokers who flick away their cigarette butts anywhere, with the assurance that a janitor will clean up anyway. In fact, this is exactly the same excuse made by people all around the world who litter indiscriminately: Cleaning up is the responsibility of the cleaning committee, janitors, house helpers, city sweepers, etc., and never the litterer’s.
Again, the organizers could have anticipated this attitude and were in a prime position to attempt to change this mentality as befits the cause they claimed to advocate. They did not.
The jeers and ridicules are deserved by both the organizers and participants. The organizer – Nat Geo – is a powerful global brand. It’s unthinkable how they could be so careless as to just pay lip service to the cause of Earth awareness. Did they think no one will notice the irony and, worse, the hypocrisy? If they can’t make people realize the importance of such a basic environmental concept as throwing away one’s trash properly, how can they even hope to make them understand much bigger environmental concerns? It’s either they were incompetent on the practical application or they’re solely motivated by profit generated from the registration fees and sponsorships – and I don’t know which one is worse.
As for the participants, let me ask you these: (1) How friggin’ hard is it to hold on to an almost weightless paper cup/plastic bottle while you are running up until the finish line?; and (2) Would it really be a such a big deal if you add just around 5 seconds to your running time in order to throw away that paper cup/plastic bottle properly in any litter bin along the way? You were running in an event that promoted Earth awareness. Couldn’t you have at least suspended this usual messy practice of runners worldwide?
Being too concerned about your running time to the exclusion of everything else around you does not show your dedication and neither does it make you a model runner. What it makes you is a douche.
Because of this, I’m certainly placing this Nat Geo Earth Day Run (and probably other Earth Day runs) alongside other extravagantly ridiculous things such as the annual and useless “Earth Hour”, and the “green shopping bag” produced by the forest-denuding SM Supermalls.
These days, the best way to help the Earth is to simply not participate in any of these counterproductive corporate Earth Day gimmicks.