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Lessons From the Zabaleen

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The article "Taking Recycling to the Limit," May 22, when read in conjunction with the Opinion page article in the same issue "Paying Off the Environmental Deficit," underlines a poignant, though oft-ignored message.

The truth embedded in these two articles is the truth of a divided world - a world of the wasteful rich and another of the conserving poor. The zabaleen [Egyptian garbage pickers] can smile because while their present may be immersed in filth, they are ensuring a more beautiful and sustainable tomorrow for future generations. The very converse is true of the gas-guzzling and waste-generating industrial rich. How long will we force this wretched existence on the zabaleen and their likes? How long will the y subsidize our wastefulness?

The figures on American consumption the author of the Opinion page article quotes are powerful, but even more powerful are the comparisons. In energy consumption (a specially relevant standard for greenhouse-gas emissions), an average American consumes 280 times the energy that an Ethiopian consumes; 40 times as much as a Pakistani; 13 times as much as a Chinese; and, in fact, 2.5 times as much as a French or a Japanese.

Such a world cannot be sustainable, nor can it long endure. It is the imposed frugality and poverty of the many that is subsidizing the wanton waste and luxury of the few. It is these few who need to learn some lessons from the zabaleen. Adil Najam, Cambrigde, Mass.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.


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