The predicted winds never arrived on Sunday. Instead the air hung still and what began as rainclouds thinned to merely overcast. We took advantage of the break with a walk along the dunes. The higher tide and stormy swells have deposited even more driftwood along the shore, as well as the usual shattered shells and occasional fish carcass. It also delivered far more trash than I could fit in a single bag. Bottle caps, bottles, styrofoam and unidentifiable plastic chunks littered nearly every square foot of my beach, evidence of what a dumping ground we’ve considered the ocean to be.

And of course I pick up what I can. But gathering the trash off the beach is like shoveling snow with a trowel during a blizzard. What one really needs is the downfall to stop. I remember visiting Universal City after I’d been in Humboldt County for a couple years. Pleased with my heightened environmental awareness, I’d managed to reduce our family trash to a single grocery bag’s worth per week. We recycled everything we could, bought in bulk, followed all the usual “50 Things You Can Do To Save the Earth” instructions. Because those acts made such a difference in our home life, I thought I was seriously accomplishing something. And then I went back to L.A.

Oh, right. Overflowing garbage cans, no recycling and 3.8 million people living on concrete. Suddenly ACRC seemed so cute. So quaint. “Oh, look at those earnest little do-gooders with their recycling and reusing! Now, give me another styrofoam container to chuck on the ground when I’m done.” Granted, that was years ago, so I’m sure some progress has been made, but seriously — our teensy defenses against the assault of waste will not hold in the end. After visiting Taiwan, where everything is served in plastic, the need for total overhaul from the top down is even more evident.

But, wow, is that going to be hard.

I just don’t see, on a local or state or national or international level, how we’ll get to the necessary place of cooperation when so much energy is spent keeping politics nasty. This policy of us vs. them will never work. We have to all be “us.” Okay, we have to all be “us,” except for the clearly insane and incorrigibly evil.

A naive sentiment, maybe, but I’ve gone from naivete to cynicism and back more than once, and I always end up in the same place: hate doesn’t help. Intelligence, compassion and finding the commonalities do.

Sigh. Another thing to work on in 2011. The list is getting so very long.