Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Environmental paradox

Tuesday, July 14th
For the past weeks, as we traveled across Morocco, I have looked through a critical lens at environmental issues. Is this country progressive? Are Moroccans aware of their actions and the consequences of increased consumerism? What lies ahead for the children of Morocco?

My first impression was one of surprising road-side cleanliness, very little littering .....until, I discovered the plumes of smoke. Increasingly, they rose into the sky, like old-fashioned smoke signals..... a landscape filled with pungent smells of burning trash! I noticed that parts of the rural areas were virgin, untouched by any sign of consumerism....no plastic bags....no soda cans or plastic bottles, not even little bits of used paper in the landscape.

The road to the desert was different, however. When coming closer to Boulmane du Dades and Ouarzazate, there was more trash littering the arid land. "The wind" - I thought - "it must be the desert wind" that carries trash merciless into the desert landscape! Then, suddenly at the side of the road a picture of some rodent and a lot of Arabic writing. My frustration level rose, as I wanted to be able to read the sign, but could not! Did we just pass a sign that was announcing the protection of some endangered creature? I honestly do not know. But, I asked myself how far environmental stewardship has progressed in this beautiful country. The answer came to me in dual fashion:

First, I remembered our visit to the small elementary school near Essaouria. There, the principal had shown to us with great pride, the environmental program of his students. I was impressed, and even our guide had a tear in his eye, when he noticed the tremendous dedication at the local educational level;

Second, my visit to the Cedar forest near Azrou, evoked a feeling of catastrophic alarm. The Barbary Macaque, an indigenous monkey of the cedar forest, was being "protected". When I asked a local inhabitant about the location of the refuge for the monkeys, she said that she was unaware of their "endangered species status" in Morocco.

The floor of the cedar forest was littered with plastic bags, and merchants were readily selling peanuts to attract the monkeys.....I admit, I was guilty too, - purchasing the peanuts, so that I could take a few photo shots for my science class. What bothered me the most were that the horses for tourist rides, were galloping through the cedar forest amongst the endangered species. Their constant movement through the forest were destroying the fragile forest floor, - the very ground for future cedar growth - and the survival of the Barbary Macaque. The sign at the edge of the forest attested to the efforts being made by the Moroccan ministry and some benevolent French organizations. But is it enough?

Finally, my young "friend", and driver
, Hicham, drove me back to campus in a gas-guzzling, antiquated Mercedes Benz. To think, that I actually paid a few dirhams, polluting the fragile habitat! He explained the difficulty of deforestation for the local inhabitants, the increasingly cold winters due to climate changes, and the high prices for heating fuels/gas. His suggestion was a simple one......subsidize the price of liquid gas or propane for the local population during the winter months, thereby encouraging the reduction of use of firewood!

Wow, I thought for a minute, - my driver has an environmental approach that warrants exploring!
And who am I ? - ....looking through this critical lens at Moroccan environmental issues,.....when we ourselves, have a lot of educating to do in the U.S. After all, my eighth grade students were the ones educating their parents about e-waste recycling and its environmental impact.

Maybe therein lies the answer, and the future for both, Morocco and the US: ....it's our students, our young people, the very ones whose future and lives will be most affected by pollution and consumerism. They are the ones who are taking the lead, - here, in an elementary school near Essaouria, and far away in a small city near Los Angeles!

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