Volume 14, Issue 36 ~ September 7 - September 13, 2006

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

Vote for Planet Earth

Elect Environmental Bulldogs

Conservation is no longer a pious ideal, but rather an element of our survival.

—Cecil Andrus, former Secretary of Interior

At times, one wonders whether anyone pays attention when the plain truth is spoken by someone who should know of what he speaks. Who better than the Secretary of Interior could understand the ultimate consequences when humans come to regard the land and waters of the earth more as a commodity than as a partner?

Long gone are the days when a state of harmony existed between humans and their environment; no longer do we treat our lands and waters with love and respect. Greed is the more appropriate word.

Have we become like ostriches with heads in the sand; unwilling to accept what deep within us we know must be the truth — or close to it? That we are bankrupting our natural resources while trusting they will at least outlast us — or that science will come up with some miraculous antidote to remedy what we have done and continue doing?

You might say it’s like the title of Al Gore’s latest book, The Inconvenient Truth. We don’t want to listen; to do so would make apparent the urgency and the sacrifices we must make to right all the wrongs we have done to our planet.

The Element of Our Survival

Astronomers have downgraded planet Pluto, and we are degrading planet Earth, the only conceivable place we and our descendants have, and will have, to live. Call this Chicken Little talk if you will, and keep the head in the sand — but when you ultimately pull it up above ground and look around you will see ominous changes.

Global warming, befouling the atmosphere, degrading land and water, clearing forests, wasting natural resources such as oil: All this is for real. As Cecil Andrus tried to alert us decades ago, “conservation is no longer a pious ideal, but rather an element of our survival.”

The longer heads remain in the sand, the longer the time we will need to correct our wrongs, and the more costly and with greater sacrifices will be the job of maintaining our earth as a place to enjoy life. Or even live.

I deny a label such as Prophet of Doom; in my eight decades on planet Earth, I have witnessed many miracles in science, big miracles. But while we were making the quality of life better for humankind in the short term at least, we were and continue doing just the opposite to the health of planet Earth, which is — as the American Indians would remind us — the mother and the essential ingredient of our lives.

In these days when so many of us blindly trust that Mother Earth has the resiliency to compensate for any damages we are doing, methinks what we need most are more Chicken Littles. We have many, too many of the kooky type, but too few in the right places. We need more influential, convincing and forceful Chicken Littles with credibility.

On local, regional, national and worldwide levels, we need leaders with backbones and convincing arguments to pull our heads from the sand.

But for the most part, our leaders are like us; their heads, too, are mired deep. Rare are those willing to risk losing reelection by introducing or supporting legislation that would require real sacrifices on everyone’s part to correct our rape of planet Earth. Everyone seems to think that paying more than three bucks for a gallon or fuel, coughing up more for utility bills and spending more for cleaner energy, land and water is already too much of a sacrifice.

Does it not seem that Richard Buckmaster Fuller had it only half right when in 1969, he wrote in Design Science: “Change the environment, do not try to change man?”

Would it not be more appropriate today to say Change man, or at least his way of thinking so that we can change the environment for the better?

Elect Environmental Bulldogs

I thought of this the other day when, in preparation to vote in the primaries next week, I checked on the positions of candidates from dogcatcher to the U.S. Senate. They talk of schools, crowded highways, crime, service to constituents, infrastructure, taxes, budgets and the like. Rarely mentioned are costs, sacrifices or anything substantial about cleaning up our environment — other than to pronounce themselves in favor of it.

’Tis long been said charity begins at home, but is that not just another half truth? Much more begins at home, from educating our children to saving planet Earth. Yet politicians don’t want to tell us this because we resist all change other than that which will bring better quality to our lives in the short term.

If so many things begin at home, why not in-depth planning and programs for the Chesapeake? Is it not in our backyard? Is its health not part of the big puzzle that involves planet Earth?

We can’t expect a candidate for, say, County Council, to talk about solutions for global warming, though it might well be the biggest threat on the horizon for all of us. But we should expect more than lip service to correcting environmental ills touching the Bay. That is part of what global warming is all about.

We might say scientific warnings of global warming and its consequences are not yet proven, but we cannot say evidence is lacking to support deep concern. We cannot wait for science to conclusively prove its coming. That could take too long; in the meantime, too much damage will be wrought and too little time to correct it left.

Methinks what we need on all levels of our political leadership are more environmental zealots, bulldogs who will grab environmental issues by the tail — and not let go. This would not exclude them from working for social remedies but would allow them to forcefully and effectively work for the environment.

What good are social changes in the long term if we are making planet Earth uninhabitable? Do we not need more risk-takers more concerned about the welfare of planet Earth than about election or reelection?

In 1895, Rudyard Kipling wrote in The Nativeborn, they change the skies above them, but not their hearts that roam.

We have changed the skies. We have so polluted our atmosphere via emissions that everything, from the Bay in our backyard to planet Earth, has become endangered. Now we have reached the stage where roaming hearts are easier to change than the darkened skies above us. Enough said.

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