Lessons From the Zabaleen
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. Problems with welfare benefits
The Opinion page article "The Myth That Welfare Policies Don't Work," May 21, misses the mark. A welfare system that increases benefits for dependent children without limits creates a class of citizens dependent on the welfare system forever and promotes future generations dependent on welfare.
As a loan officer and credit-union manager, I have compared the income of a single mother on welfare to that of a college-educated teller. The monthly welfare payments, which are net income, exceeded the gross income of the employed teller by more than $200 per month. The single mother on welfare will never be a productive member of our society. She can't afford to go to work. As well as getting a raise every time she has a baby, she gets a bonus for being pregnant.
Welfare should be assistance to get people back on their feet, not to support them indefinitely. Welfare programs should include education, job training, day care, housing assistance, and food coupons. Laurel D. Marquart, Crescent City, Calif.