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Monte Harris is a Happy Valley resident. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Many of us tire of hearing all the negative news reports we encounter daily from multiple sources. It can become so depressing that we turn to the virtual world for comfort.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Monte Harris collected this pile of garbage from 17 local environmental sites between July 1 and 7.I found myself doing this all too frequently. It was something I knew that I needed to change. This became especially clear to me in July 2010. I was working for a company that specialized in making autism supplements. It was a rewarding job; my work helped improve the lives of many children every day. But then, suddenly, everything went south.

Just before my 50th birthday, my companion of seven years inherited a hefty sum of money from her grandmother's estate, and through an email announced — out of the blue — that she would be moving from Oregon to Arizona in two weeks. It was devastating news. Two weeks after that I was laid off from my job. One month later, I turned 50. It felt as if my life was over.

Here's what the area between the road and Kelly Creek looked like before a Happy Valley resident took it upon himself to clean it up.After: Monte Harris cleaned up this site along Kelly Creek on July 4.During this time period, I was going to a local church and met a man who ran a homeless outreach ministry. He told me his biggest problem was finding resources. On my own dime, I created a website called connectavision.net. It is a site that acts as a clearinghouse for resources low-income people can connect with. I try to get it out into the mainstream but have never really had any success. At one point when I was out of work, I printed up flyers half the size of a piece of paper and joined with 12 local food banks to have them share my website and its resources with their clients.

I have never been blessed with children, but I have always thought I would have been a good father. However, I have always believed it important to leave a legacy. I have never wanted to just pass through life. My mother told me when I was a young child that I would someday do something amazing in my lifetime. It has instilled in me a desire to somehow make this happen.

In the years following my mother's death in 2015, I had put myself in a digital bubble and didn't engage with the daily news. Somewhere along the way I lost my connection with nature. Like many people, I still would venture into the natural world, but not without my smart phone in hand.

The world has changed much in the wake of the digital revolution. Distracted parents are watching their phones instead of their kids. The lunchroom at work is filled with people sitting together yet remaining worlds apart. People eat at restaurants staring at their phones instead of looking at each other. Netflix, Facebook, smart phones and computers have not enhanced my life. They have disconnected me from the world I grew up in; instead of walking by a river, I would instead sit in the parking lot overlooking the river, watching the water flow past or staring at my phone. I might occasionally get out of the car and go for walks, but I would still have my phone with me.

I don't trust that computers have been good for mankind overall. Used as a tool, I agree that we now have an unprecedented amount of information available a click away. But it's become too much of a good thing. This has negatively impacted the quality of my life; all of us are now too digitally distracted.

As a Facebook experiment, I once friended over 2,000 people. I wanted to experiment with sharing information. I shared assorted topics, including environmental articles about the patch of plastic in the ocean, disappearing glaciers and toxic pesticides. Almost all of them were largely ignored. When I shared posts of puppies, kittens, bunnies and birds, the response was huge.

This pile of trash was collected along the Kelly Creek watershed July 4.Most of us choose to remain unaware of the dangers threatening our planet; 7.5 billion people can choose to ignore what is happening to the environment, but the opposite is also true: We can decide to no longer ignore the dangers. The 500 million straws used in the U.S. daily is horrific example of what we ignore at our own peril. One could fill 127 school buses with 500 million straws. There are eight major rivers in Asia dumping plastic into the oceans. We have pesticides being used that kill honey bees directly responsible for pollination of over 90 percent of the world's food. Without them there would be worldwide famine. What puzzles me is those who poison them benefit from the bees' role in sustainable food production. They ignore their importance to the ecosystem and continue to kill them. When we do our laundry, the plastic from our clothing contaminates the waterways and creates imminent danger to marine life, birds and animals.

We all have an opportunity to make a difference. We can wean ourselves off some of the plastic we use. Statistics show that each person in the United States is responsible for discarding over 26 pounds of plastic a month. Even finding ways to consume 10 percent less plastic would make an enormous difference nationwide. There are many people at work trying to solve Earth's problems, and there is hope in that, but we all need to join in finding solutions and implement them.

I am working on launching a new environmental website to be called earthontheedge.org. I need help to make this happen. I am a blue-collar worker and everything I do is on my dime. I currently work for Stanley Black & Decker as a calibration technician. It's worth it to me to try to help save the Earth I love. For the first time in a long time I took off my shoes and went outside to walk in the grass, smelled the roses, and watched the hummingbirds and the bees doing the work they were created for. I walked further and stopped to listen to the sounds of the forest around me. At that moment I decided that my girlfriend and I had been losing connection to the natural world. We both love nature, so I asked her if she wanted to go to a local park in Gladstone at the confluence of the Willamette and Clackamas rivers.

At first, I just sat in the car and I watched the river. There were other people doing the same thing. I decided to take a walk by the river. This time it was different: I didn't just look at the river. I looked at the bank and saw all the cigarette butts and litter. I had a bag in the car and I picked up a bag's worth of trash. Then I took photos, not before and after photos, just photos of what it looks like with all the trash removed. While I was picking up the litter, a young man came up to me and asked me if I was out picking up litter. I responded yes. In his hand he had a bottle cap and a small piece of paper, he put them in my bag and said, "I hope that helps." Although it was just a very small gesture, it gave me hope. That night I slept well, and I thought, "I can do more." Just then an amazing idea occurred to me. I have heard so many people saying, "What can one person do to help the environment?"

What if I could demonstrate how much impact one person could make in just a brief time? I started my quest at the Clackamas River. And by the end of the day on July 4 I had picked up a bag of trash at 15 different local waterways. The total amount of plastic I collected was unbelievable. Someone had even dumped a bag of garbage of their own at Kelly Creek, and in that bag, was an empty insecticide bag. It was no more than five feet from the creek.

I took photos of all the bodies of water I visited, even the small ones which are so important. I took photos of the trash recovered from each location. The connection escapes some people, I suppose, but litter degrades, and the toxins go into the ground water. The groundwater can enter the streams, streams go to the rivers, and the rivers to the sea.

On July 5, 6 and 7, I picked up additional bags of garbage from streets in the area I live. I did this to show that even a 57-year-old man can make an enormous difference. In just seven days and 15 hours, I impacted an entire ecosystem from Molalla to Astoria and ultimately the Pacific Ocean. I am looking for like-minded people to join me in my quest to make a difference. We can turn this around if we work together. We are at the tipping point.

I've had people tell me that they saw themselves as activists because of what they share on Facebook. That is truly a fantasy because on Facebook people only want to look at what resonates with them, and they tend to steer away from anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. The scientific community issued a warning to humanity in 1992 that went mostly unheeded. Population, solid waste and plastic pollution exploded in the years that followed. In November 2017 — 25 years later — they issued another, darker warning of impending doom. If drastic changes are not implemented quickly, we will not need a third warning in 2042. We will be able to view the devastation from our own front door. If we do not do something now, it will be a slow path of diminishing life quality that will become irreversible. Without a drastic change in the current trajectory, it has been projected that there will be more plastic in Earth's oceans by 2050 than fish.

In doing this watershed cleanup project, I feel I made up for all the years in which I did nothing. I am working on finding ways to make change happen. We may not all be capable of doing a lot, but we can all do something.

There are some wonderful organizations out there that are trying hard to turn this thing around, but they need our help through activism, volunteerism and financial support. Here is a list of nine amazing people who are working hard to save our world. Proof positive that one person can make a stark difference if they are looking for solutions:

  Vicki Buck is one-third of Aquaflow, a small company that was one of the first to crack the technology needed to harvest wild algae from sewage ponds, then extract fuel from it suitable for cars and aircraft. 

Marina Silva, Brazil's environmental minister, was illiterate at 16 but rose to become Brazil's youngest senator and is now the woman most able to prevent the Amazon's wholesale ruin. On her watch, deforestation has reduced by nearly 75 percent and millions of square miles of reserves have been given to traditional communities.

Rajendra Singh helped people in India understand the old ways better when it came to water conservation. He had them return to building johad, earthen dams to hold the water in the monsoon season. After thousands of johad were built, overseen by Singh, the ground water level rose, and wells could reach water at 3 to 13 meters instead of at 100 meters as previously. 

Yacouba Sawadogo is a farmer who stopped a desert in the 1980s in Burkina Faso, Africa. Severe drought conditions and overgrazing had caused most people to leave the region and give up, but Sawadogo used some old farming techniques to turn desert and desolation into a thriving forest and ecosystem.

Wangari Maathai is the founder of the Greenbelt Foundation, created to find ways to combat deforestation in Africa. She made a statement that what was really needed was to plant a billion trees to help improve air quality.

Bija Devi already has in her "seed bank" 1,342 types of cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables, though she has no idea of their scientific names. She has worked as a farmer since the age of 7, never went to school and has never heard the words "wheat" or "turnip." Yet she now heads a worldwide movement of women trying to rescue and conserve crops and plants that are being pushed to extinction in the rush to modernize farming. 

Richard Williams, an American rapper better known by his stage name Prince Ea, recently performed "Dear Future Generations: Sorry," the most powerful environmental speech I have ever seen at youtube.com/watch?v=eRLJscAlk1M. This is a very powerful message of impending doom, combined with an offering of hope.

These people are all examples of how one person can have an enormous impact on the world, and have a profound effect on the people in their midst. Not all of us can change the world, but we all can change the way we live our lives.

We can find ways to decrease our plastic footprint and be willing to help the planet breathe easier; 7.5 billion people can be very destructive, but the opposite can also be true. If we pool our resources, talent pools and work together, maybe we can work together to turn back the clock and find some much needed solutions.

We can work towards improving life quality and diminishing the negative impacts of mankind.

Monte Harris is a Happy Valley resident. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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