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Gerald Winegrad: Americans have great wealth and freedom. Time for responsibility, too. | COMMENTARY

Americans are facing troubling times with a pandemic killing 400,000 people, thrusting millions into serious financial distress, while domestic terrorists attacking the U.S. Capitol poison the roots of our democracy.

And yet the vast majority of Americans, especially in our area, are still extremely fortunate and have much to be thankful for compared to billions of others globally.

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Food insecurity for millions of Americans is alarming while we produce enough food to feed our 328 million people and export more food than any nation. Waste and distribution inequities linger but compared to other nations with mass starvation, we are very fortunate.

More than 820 million people globally (11%), are undernourished while overconsumption of an abundant, cheap food supply leads to obesity and diabetes fostering a booming diet industry.

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We take safe, clean water for drinking and other uses for granted. Globally, 2.2 billion people (29%) do not have safe drinking water. Three billion people lack basic handwashing facilities.

We have high-quality public water drawn from aquifers as deep as 1,500 feet, treated for purity and distributed through 1,500 miles of pipes. Wells tapped into aquifers regulated by the Health Department for purity serve 20% of our population.

Despite national awards for public water quality, County residents still buy bottled water that costs more than gasoline. Nationally, 50 billion plastic water bottles are bought annually (1,500 every second), 80% ending up in landfills.

Flushing our toilets, showering, and washing clothes, we don’t worry where the wastewater goes as long as it goes “away.” With 80% of local residents on public sewer, wastewater flows through 1,700 miles of pipes to treatment plants where, after highly advanced treatment, the wastewater is discharged into rivers. The remaining biosolids are landfilled or applied on farm and parklands.

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There are 40,000 local septic tanks serving 20% of residents. Some systems cause Chesapeake Bay and groundwater pollution problems, but at least all folks have sanitary sewage systems.

When you next use your toilet, please think for a second that 60% of the world – 4.5 billion people – don’t have a home toilet safely managing human waste.

Also, think of the half-million U.S. households that lack adequate sanitation with foul effluent burbling up into bathtubs and causing hookworm.

Wonder where the garbage you throw “away” goes? The vast majority of trash is trucked to Jessup, loaded into rail cars, and transported to King George, Virginia and buried in a massive landfill.

Recyclables are trucked to an Elkridge recovery facility, sorted, and sold for reuse. Most yard waste is trucked to the Millersville Landfill where it is composted. The remainder goes to the PG County Composting Facility.

In low-income countries with most of the world’s population, 90% of solid waste is disposed of in unregulated dumps or openly burned with serious health, safety, and environmental consequences.

Our electrical service is reliable and universal. Occasional interruptions are big news. But 840 million people (10% of the world) have no access to electricity and service is intermittent or unaffordable to many others. Three billion people (40% of the world) do not have access to clean fuels for cooking creating health risks from indoor air pollution.

We consume 2.7 times more electricity per capita than the English, 2.6 times more than the Chinese and 1.9 times more than Germans.

Our electricity comes from burning coal (20%), natural gas (39%), and nuclear (34%). The U.S. emits the most global warming gases per capita among countries with sizeable populations.

How many of you reading this do not own at least one car? In the U.S., there are 838 cars per 1,000 people, 275 million cars — more per person than all nations except for two small principalities. Two of our great competitors, Russia and China, have 381 and 196 cars per capita.

Car ownership is seen as an American birthright and unlike many nations, they are our major transportation mode. We expect to drive where and whenever we want on a mostly excellent road system.

Our gas prices are the lowest of most industrialized nations. A gallon of gas adjusted for inflation is 50 cents cheaper now than in 1950. We drive more miles per capita than any nation, exceeding second-place Canadians by 30%.

Americans are still blessed with great freedoms, including fraud-free elections and the availability of basic needs for healthy lives. With that comes responsibilities to our democracy including the need to conserve and not waste resources including food, water, electricity, and gas and to reduce pollutants.

Don’t forget the world record 80 million people forcibly displaced due to war, persecution, and human rights violations including 26 million refugees, half of them children.

We, the fortunate, are duty-bound to share our abundance with others and to work to renew our democracy under our new president.

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