Old Habits Are Hard to Break

As the Beatles sang, it’s getting better all the time. At least that’s what the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council told us this week in the 28th annual meeting of that august body, whose members are three governors, the mayor of D.C., the administrator of the EPA and assorted top government officials.
    We’ve heard versions of the same story for so many years, so why should we care this time around?

What’s That You Say?
    Only wonks could love the reports made at the meeting, full of detail about what each state in the watershed has been doing for its part of cleaning up the Bay. TMDL is the new buzzonym for Bay cleanup, representing Total Maximum Daily Load, which specifies how much of various sorts of pollutants each member jurisdiction can send Bayward.
    All the states are making progress toward limiting pollution to their Total Maximum Daily Load, the Council announced.
    Maryland, for example, is 79 percent of the way toward reaching its goal of retrofitting 3,130 septic systems by the end of this year. We’re over goal for animal waste management systems for runoff control. Those are only two of 24 goals toward reducing nitrogen by 3.75 million pounds and phosphorus by 193,000 pounds by year’s end.

You Mean Me?
    The words of the Council’s new president, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, are a little easier to translate.
    “The focus of our discussions today was on empowering every citizen in the Bay watershed to be part of restoring these important waters,” she said.
    “The actions of federal, state and local governments are just the beginning of revitalizing the Bay. We are also counting on the partnership of millions of people who live in this region to join in protecting the waters that support their health, their environment and their economy.”
    What does that suggest to you?
    I’m hearing the positive version of the old Pogoism: We’ve met the enemy and he is us.
    Trouble is, old habits are hard to break.
    I’m struck by how many of our habits begin in ignorance and stubbornly stick around long after knowledge should have routed them.
    Smoking was one of those habits. If you were ever a smoker — or still are — you know that knowing what inhaling is doing to you is not enough to make you quit. So I’m not counting on the lurid new photos on packs of cigarettes to scare many smokers out of the habit.
    Sweets and sodas and fast food? That’s good clean fun, just like smoking used to be. Reports on the causes and rise of obesity are not nearly as persuasive as the instant gratification to our taste buds with treats habitualized by the art of advertising, just as smoking had been.
    We fought our Civil War over one habit formed in ignorance, owning slaves. Nowadays, an uncivil war is brewing over our right to keep other habits formed in ignorance. Its rallying cry — Can’t nobody tell me what I can and cannot do! — is heard on fronts from grocery shopping to health care to property rights.
    Property rights are the issue in Bay restoration, Chesapeake Bay Executive Council President Jackson is telling us in honeyed words.
    How we live on the Earth, and on the Bay, is the composite of a huge set of habits formed in ignorance and since set in stone by repetition. This land is our land we’ve believed since our boats first bumped its shore. No matter how advanced we are, we believe that principle just as pigheadedly when our rights are the ones on the chopping block.
    What do you mean we should all get new septic systems!
    Or replace the habit of buying lawn fertilizer with a thought-out system of lawn care, beginning with soil tests, as the Bay Gardener routinely advises in these pages!
    Sure we should cut down our use of fossil fuels. But don’t expect me to buy a new lawn mower or a Smart car.
    Like old habits, ignorance is comfortable. Learning how to properly fertilize a lawn or how to choose a solar water heater is uncomfortably like work.
    If that’s what the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council means by partnership, I’d rather slide.
    While I’m sliding, I think I’ll eat another piece of cake.
    Otherwise, I’m going to have to ask myself what my role is in this partnership. Because I don’t yet know what I’m doing to reduce my Total Daily Maximum Load.
    That’s my next question to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council. I’ll ask for a list of answers, and I’ll share them with you. Then, heaven help me — make that us, as apparently we’re all in this together — I’m going to have to break some easy old habits and make some hard new ones.
    I’ll let you know.