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Stine: Instead of looking 'away,' look in the mirror

Do you ever wonder where it all goes?

When we toss something in the garbage and roll that can to the end of the driveway, or when we flush the toilet or watch water swirl down the drain where does it go? It's both a blessing and curse that we don't have to give it much thought because it just goes away.

When it comes to pollution we now know there is no place called "away." For too long, as our consuming society added pollution sources, we learned to more effectively throw away all kinds of waste. It seemed easy to get rid of pollution, just send it "away."

Over 40 years ago, we learned that this place called "away" never existed, or was really just a temporary hiding place.

Landfills leak or emit harmful gases. Rivers of untreated wastewater and industrial pollution turn green, die or in some instances, caught fire. The air became filled with soot and pollutants that made people sick, and so many carbon emissions over time brought us the climate change we face today.

We've found many better, safer ways to manage pollution. But managing pollution is the hardest and most expensive way to address this problem. The cheapest? Prevention, by far, and that begins with every one of us. Minnesotans are ahead of the curve. We've innovated to protect lakes, rivers, and the air, along with the land that surrounds us.

Former Gov. Mark Dayton super-charged that leadership with his initiatives to make water protection a priority and show that state government can be an example by operating more sustainably. Speaking for his administration, it's our hope that Minnesotans advance this commitment by making choices for themselves that live up to our love of our water, land and air.

People, and the modern world we've created, create a legacy of pollution that must be managed and dealt with. Climate change, "the" environmental challenge of our lifetime, must also be dealt with by actions and choices from every one of us. Our best choice is to know this truth, and think about it in all facets of our lives.

The food we eat, the products we buy and use, our transportation choices, where and how we live — all these choices impact the health of ourselves and of the air, land, water and the greenhouse gases changing our climate.

Looking at our pollution choices, consumption eats conservation for lunch. New, smarter systems will ultimately be needed to continue our strong economy while preventing future pollution. Minnesota's clean energy path is an example of that.

As Gov. Dayton said about protecting clean water: It's not just about industry, or farming, or big cities, or small cities. It's about every one of us doing something. We all have a stake in clean, safe water for today and the future.

This is also true for all of our choices that generate pollution and contribute to, or lessen, climate change.

Personal choices for reducing our impact are a beginning, not an end, but we can all take a moment in making our New Year's resolutions to make the sustainable choice — our choice, because there is no place called "away."

John Linc Stine is commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.