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Thinking Outside the Box

Ouch! That’s uncomfortable! 
There’s more I didn’t tell you about Bernie Fowler in this week’s feature interview leading up the 27th Annual Patuxent River Wade-In.
 
A cross and a flag mark the entrance to the Prince Frederick home of the 90-year-old champion of the Patuxent and retired Maryland state senator. “God and country,” he says, are his mottoes. 
 
In his heart, Bernie Fowler is a conservative — in the old-fashioned meaning of that oft-preempted word.
 
Conserving the bounty we’ve been blessed with is that old-fashioned meaning and what Fowler is all about. Even if conservation demands going to extremes of change. Extremes like paying taxes. Extremes like acknowledging our hand in changing ecosystems — from his beloved river to the global climate — and taking responsibility for fixing problems that won’t fix themselves.
 
Conserving the bounty we’ve been blessed with takes getting more innovative every day. 
 
Life is too fast, we complain nowadays, and it’s true. We live in a vortex of speed, twirled by trying to keep up with the speed of our machines. In 1914, people were just hopping into automobiles. In 1814, the fastest thing on wheels was a horse cart; bicycles weren’t invented until 1817. 
 
In 1714, the typewriter was a far-fetched idea. In 2014, the Internet moves ideas digitally at the speed of thought.
 
While we’re hustling to keep up with the future, the past is catching up with us. Yes, we’re the children faced with paying the environmental bills wracked up by at least six generations of our ancestors, back 200 years. 
 
In that perspective, our pittance of a flush tax or stormwater tax barely pays the interest, and the principal keeps mounting. The edifice towering over us is pretty scary. No wonder we don’t want to acknowledge it.
 
Yet unless we want that mountain of environmental debt to come avalanching down on us, we’ll have to be willing to pay our share. And to think — as Fowler advises — outside the box. 
 
Much of the problem comes down to cleaning up after ourselves. We pay the flush tax to clean up our toilet water, whether in our septic systems or wastewater treatment plants. The stormwater tax — plus our rain barrels and French gutters, rain gardens and pervious pavements — captures the rain that flows off roofs, parking lots, driveways and roads — not only in our homes but throughout our counties.
 
The bigger the problem, the bigger the change and outcry, as every change means loss for people invested in what came before.
 
As Bernie asked me, “have you got a magic wand?”
Realistic solutions are going to cost us all, not only our money but also our cherished beliefs. Natural gas burns 30 percent cleaner than coal — but we’d have to swallow fracking or work fast to find better ways of getting the gas out of shale. Sustainable solutions — solar, wind, water and geothermal — each bring their own problems. Will we have to make peace with nukes, as scientist Burt Drake suggested in our Bay Weekly conversation back in April?
 
Conserving the bounty we’ve been blessed with means that one way or another, each of us is going to have to think the unthinkable. I fear that’s what’s meant by thinking outside the box.
 
Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com