Editorial: Trash Talk

  • May 30, 2019

Normally it’s best simply to ignore trash-talking Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte. But when he heaps scorn on Canada for treating his country like a garbage dump, his trash reeks of a sad truth.

Duterte has been making an international stink about Canadian dawdling to repatriate 69 containers of garbage that were falsely labelled and left to rot at a Philippines port. The containers were supposed to contain recyclable materials but arrived in 2013 and 2014 stuffed with household waste. 

After several Duterte tantrums and threats, Canada finally agreed to retrieve its rubbish at the end of June. But Duterte wants it gone yesterday and, with typical bluster, has threatened to dump it in Canadian waters.

It’s painful to concede that the vulgar president could be on the right side of any issue. Duterte has insulted the Pope, suggested his country’s bishops be robbed and killed, endorsed the murder of thousands of citizens in anti-drug crusades, admitted to committing sexual assault and personally killing three men. 

His actions have been condemned by the Vatican, the United Nations and several nations. He is a brutish person. So it’s a sad day when a man who has spewed so much garbage can shame Canada for how it disposes its trash. But this dispute is merely a symptom of a larger, worldwide disorder. 

As Pope Francis has pointed out, we have created a culture of excessive consumerism and waste. Canadians, like those of other wealthy nations, insist on chasing lifestyles that seek happiness through the purchase of mountains of disposable goods, many of which arrive packaged excessively in layers of cardboard, plastic, bubble wrap or styrofoam. We are dizzied by a throw-away mindset that regards consumer products as temporary and replaceable. 

Although society is getting better at recycling, tons of stuff still goes to landfills — or gets dumped on the docks of developing nations. It’s disgraceful that this happens and shameful that, when our trash is dumped on a poor nation, prosperous Canada commits to cleaning up its mess only after being internationally embarrassed.

The Pope Francis encyclical Laudato Si’ lamented that, in a culture that promotes materialism, we have lost our sense of wonder about the magnificence of  God’s creation. That’s no small thing. Without wonder there is a natural progression to indifference about our responsibility to care for the planet.

“We are often guided by the pride of dominating, possessing, manipulating and exploiting,” the Pope wrote. “We do not ‘preserve’ the Earth, we do not respect it, we do not consider it as a freely given gift to look after.”

Any settlement of the garbage squabble between Duterte and Canada is unlikely to be guided by the Pope’s ideals. But the rest of us should be. It’s time we heeded a call to repair our common home and clean up our mess.

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