"Gehenna"

 

by: Suzanne Elston

 

Several years ago I discovered a book in the delete bin at an airport bookstore. It was written in 1978 by French novelist and mathematician Jerome Deshusses. Its title, "The Eighth Night of Creation", appealed to my awakening ecological self, and I hoped that I might find its contents of interest.

 

I was not disappointed. Its first chapter, "Gehenna", changed both my understanding of traditional religious teachings and my worldview. In light of our ongoing struggles to find an appropriate way to dispose of our garbage, and with Easter only a few weeks away, it seemed appropriate to share Deshusses' observations.

 

A lot of the world's religions promise eternal reward or punishment for how we handle things here on Earth. In the Christian faith, heaven is where the best of us will spend eternity. Hell, we're told, will provide endless torment for those who don't fare quite so well. But whatever the destination, we've been led to believe that our ultimate fate lies somewhere in the future, beyond death.

 

According to Deshusses, it turns out that when Christ of the Gospels talked about Hell, one of the terms He used was Gehenna. Over the centuries we've made this word a general term for torment, but it originally had an exact meaning. Gehenna was the name of the garbage dump that was nestled in a deep valley outside the walls of Jerusalem.

 

Needless to say the dumps of Christ's day were a far cry from the sanitary landfills we engineer today. Gehenna was an open pit, infested with rats and reeking with decaying food and human excrement. The bodies of executed criminals and other undesirables were also dumped there. When the pestilence that fed on the dump began getting out of hand, the entire thing was set on fire. But even the fires of Gehenna didn't purify - they sent billows of reeking smoke over the entire city, spreading disease and death.

 

Small wonder that Christ used the word Gehenna when He was trying to convey what eternal damnation might look like. It was a powerful image that everyone could relate to. But I think it goes one step further. I think that we can make our own heaven or hell, right here on Earth.

 

So instead of taking that image and that lesson to heart, we've done what we do best. Ignore our waste and hope it goes away. We've taken the idea of stewardship and turned it into dominion. Most of us act like it's our God given right to make as much garbage as we want. Sure, we'll be accountable for our actions someday, and hopefully, that day will come after were dead. It's the ultimate cop-out.

 

Two thousand years later, the dumps are still filled with the discarded remains of our civilization. Instead of being filled with rats and unwanted corpses, we now cast our radioactive and chemically hazardous wastes away with little regard for the consequences. But like the rotting wastes of ancient Jerusalem, sooner or later the mess we're making of this planet will catch up to us.

 

That day is fast approaching. Sure we've paid lip service to the idea of waste reduction with our blue box and recycling programs. The problem is that as fast as we figure out a way to recycle one kind of waste, we are introduced to a new generation of consumer products. These new products create more waste that also requires disposal of some kind.

 

Consider the success of single-use products. In just a few years, everything from single-use dusters to single-use toothbrushes have become must-haves for consumers, while creating a billion dollar industry in the process. These products are being produced by the same companies that are now required to pay their share of curbside recycling programs in Ontario. Not surprisingly, these new products, which are 100 percent disposable, are not subject to any tariffs because they cannot be recycled. I can't believe that the Ontario government is either that stupid or that forgiving.

 

Enough is enough. We're running out of space, time and patience. Nobody wants a garbage dump, and yet we continue to produce the stuff at an alarming rate. Canadians have the dubious honor of being the biggest producers of garbage in the world. I think we've finally reached the point where we can no longer hide from our own Gehenna. When asked for whom the garbage dump is built – the answer is for you and me.

 

WEBSITES OF THE WEEK

 

There are alternatives. Check out the Grassroots Recycling Network

 

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) puts the onus on the industry that creates products that ultimately end up in the dump. For information, visit Environment Canada and search for EPR.