One Day: Do Cleanups Impact the Changing Climate?


Steve and Joaquin at work at the recent cleanup. (Tom Wojick photos)

How many cleanups were there in Rhode Island over Earth Day weekend? How many politicians went to be seen? How many people went to feel good? Now the big question: What did these cleanups do for the planet? For climate change/warming? The planet is heating at a fast pace, with the seven recorded warmest years having taken place since 2015.

Friends of the Pawtuxet, a nonprofit with the mission of promoting “The health of the Pawtuxet River between Cranston and Warwick,” held its recent cleanup at the Pawtuxet River Paths network under a blue spring sky. This cleanup may have not been as glamorous as bay or ocean cleanups. It was made up of people digging down and around and heaving and hauling.

Betsy working.

People came from Cranston, Warwick, and North Providence. They advocated by talking with the management of the Shaw’s supermarket on Warwick Avenue about its contribution to the trash and leaving employees with a few bags for a trash pickup. Shaw’s replied it had picked up some trash and planned to do more, as well as repair a fence bordering the river.

There were people on the trail such as Leah and Jayson, with their canine, young Hazel, carrying a bag to collect litter along the way. The portion of the Pawtuxet path that dog walkers use has less trash than other parts.

Did Friends of the Pawtuxet help Mother Earth or contribute to a larger trash pickup for the diligent workers of public works throughout Rhode Island? So far, the argument sides with not having accomplished what keepers of the planet may have espoused. Contributing trash?

Steve working at the cleanup.

Yet there is a further case(s) to make. Plastic did not float into the river to hinder fish, waterfowl, and turtles — they do live in the Pawtuxet River. Plastic that was picked up did not get into the cove or into the bay and into the ocean to become another piece of plastic eaten by a whale. That is no tall tale.

There is more. Volunteers saw encampments of people without housing, which stresses the need for adequate housing and mental-health services.

At cleanups, politicians and people worked together. But we need more than cleanups. We need big and small actions. There are environmental bills in Rhode Island to support, such as that which will require 100% renewable electricity by 2030.

Did this work allow people to ruminate on climate issues? Maybe volunteers went home feeling they contributed and thought about what else might I do to have an impact on climate change? Maybe someone decided on a small action, like turning off the all-night porch light.

The sober reality is there is always more that can be done. But the Pawtuxet River ripples with hope that you will participate in a cleanup next year; maybe this one.


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  1. Thanks Angie. I have been doing Earth Day Cleanups forever. They help, but what we really have to do is eliminate throw away culture. That takes advocacy and maybe revolution.

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