Dog on Cannon Beach You might have read the recent article in the New York Times on cigarette butts as litter but there is another piece in the Oregonian by Gary Bates that I found to be more compelling.

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  • Bates’ article looks at the issue broadly but also in light of other basic acts of respect for the places we live like picking up trash and dog droppings: being an Oregonian, he implies, means caring about the natural environment and its future. His piece isn’t preachy but reflective. He writes about a man who chases after the bag he uses to pick up after his dog after it gets blown away by the winds at Cannon Beach. 

    You can’t help wondering. Is this principled man a resident? A vacation home owner? Or just a conscientious visitor to this pristine place?

    It doesn’t matter, you decide. Wherever he’s from, Cannon Beach or Canton, Ohio, he’s an Oregonian.

    In the best sense of the word.

    We might even call the man a Cascadian in the best sense of the word.

    But, any effort to regulate smoking or cigarettes usually inspires talk of limiting “freedoms” in general. A bill in the Oregon legislature to fine people for not properly disposing of their butts passed out of the House of Representatives earlier this month.  It may go forward or it may not.

    But it just isn’t the case that preserving the places we live means limiting our freedoms. Bate’s point is that these smaller things are not about freedom but about what kind of place we want to live. Efforts to pass cap and trade legislation, a bag fee for plastic bags or the growth management act all run into the same trouble somewhere along the way when the charge is made that the new laws or policy will somehow limit freedom. But these policy changes are aimed at encouraging some of our basic instincts to clean up after ourselves and, sometimes, leave things better than we found them.

    We can learn a lot from the efforts to limit the damage of tobacco products. Focus on the facts (cigarette butts don’t biodegrade) not the moral issues (smoking is an addiction not character flaw) and provide resources for a way out (treatment for smoking works).

    The butt ban is just one small part of the larger conversation in our country about how we improve our collective experience of freedom by making sure the places we live are just that—livable—whether threats to our quality of life as whole communities come from a cigarette butt or from the end of a tail pipe.

    Photo of Cannon Beach courtesy of Flickr user Jesse Millan under a Creative Commons license.