A thought on littered beaches

I see the pictures of rubbish on the beaches and I wonder.

I wonder if it has always been like this and am surprised to see a past full of rubbish and pollution, careless littering and spreading that which is unwanted, the things that have served their purpose.

Where I grew up there were large black hills, slag heaps made of the waste produced by coal mining.  The coal that fuelled industrial production, mechanised transport and domestic heating left messages on the body, and a memory for my mother of a childhood when she did not ever see the sun except for a few brief outings to the Pennines or North Wales. Coal dust and heavy smoke blackened my face as I went to school in winter, as it blackened many lungs.

In the small rivers and canals of my youth, the water might flow red and frothy as outflows from small tanneries made the water undrinkable, unpleasant to the nose, and unwelcoming for a swim or paddle. Along the bigger rivers, chemical giants let off town-enveloping clouds of steam and smoke that burned nostrils, eyes and lungs, made us gag, and literally took away our breath.

On the beaches there were slabs of concrete and entangled metal, warnings of deadly explosive devices, large black stretches of oil and flotsam that included containers of mysterious powders and liquids. Ships flushed out their tanks and threw cargo overboard. On occasions we would find a dead sheep, a bale of cotton, a broken chest labelled with the name of a far-away port or details of an exotic cargo. By the shore acres of tarmac for tin box transport were poured out and left to harden.

Out at sea unimaginable quantities of war materiel lie in trenches, dumped in haste so long ago. Under the waves deadly warships try to move in silence, but whales and dolphins know who is there. On sandbanks, rusting and crumbling artificial islands add daily to the stuff we ask the oceans to accept. In the air unwanted fuel streams from the tanks of landing jet airliners as they approach airports near many cities, often with a special manoeuvre to dump the fuel over sea.

Even at the coast all life is lived to the accompaniment of the loud hum and clatter of transport, manufacture and construction, against which music and speech cannot be heard. Only the waves.

I think of all this and then again of the several tons of rubbish collected on beauty spot beaches.  I reflect that this waste was left behind by people who have lived lifetimes and generations in a world submerged in greater quantities of waste they did not create. Military adventures, mineral exploration, mass travel and global trade in the unnecessary have produced the mess we now find on our beaches and in our minds.

It is then that I realise that the people on the beach are not the people who have done the damage.