Posted by Fred Tutman
Being something of a science fiction fan, and admittedly a recovering “Trekkie” I am always intrigued by depictions in film and in literature of Utopian societies where humans have turned their attention away from sparring with one another and plundering the planet for cash and instead devote their lives to efforts to spreading peace, goodwill and humanitarian aid throughout the galaxy.
Of course in literature and in media there seem to be far more fictional visions of post-apocalyptic societies where some form of human folly or another such as nuclear war, over-population or environmental collapse has left the planet in ruins and the environment has been reduced to a scarce commodity. Which ecological future seems more likely? I am almost afraid to say, but it often occurs to me that the future of the Chesapeake Bay is a sort of cliffhanger where it is uncertain whether good sense or human foibles will prevail. It is no consolation to me that in all likelihood the ultimate outcome will probably be decided beyond my own lifetime. I think I can say with a certainty that unless real change in aims and methods occurs—things look rather bleak. And the mere fact that I share responsibility for stewardship of these resources with a few millions of my nearest friends, neighbors and residents does not blunt my personal sense of obligation. The reality that I share this lifeboat with lots of others makes me no less concerned and with no less of a sense of responsibility for the outcome. At some point the collective “we” will have to grasp that the very structure of our society and economy is unviable. How we live, how we play, how we work and how we interact with nature leaves the sort of footprint that can only lead us collectively toward ecological ruin.
Recently while driving through wild and wonderful West Virginia and while inspired by the mountains and the vistas there, it occurred me to there are some among us who just will be unwilling to start thinking about conserving anything until we have first run out of it (basically when it is too late). Anything with a finite supply inevitably becomes depleted unless we start planning proactively to save these things while there is still time to do so. While there is still something left worth saving.
So the real choices we have to confront is that the choices are not really between choosing paper or plastic shopping bags, or between a “ride” that uses regular unleaded gas and electric hybrid cars, but fundamentally between a world that in decline or one that flourishes. Between a society heading for sustainability or oblivion. Implicit in an economy that thrives on waste and consumption (instead of on renewal and sustainability) is that we confront and solve these problems or else we will impose deeper suffering on ourselves and those we share our world with usually in the name of some self-centric value like profit or property values or some such.
Notwithstanding, even a repentant sci-fi nerd like me can see that eventually we will run out of mountains to blow up to get coal, or places to clear-cut the trees, or clean waterways to dump our waste in and even fresh air to absorb the fumes of our “economic development.” Surely we do not have to be a utopian society to have one where people and communities prosper while the environment thrives. I refuse to believe that we have to wreck the planet in order to have jobs or bankrupt the economy in order to restore resources of incalculable value and worth. Nor is there any requirement that we solve these problems overnight, only that we make steady and progressive steps toward the only outcomes that spell survival for the world and ourselves instead of doom and gloom to those who will inherit this world from us.
Not everybody has the spine, the courage, the foresight or even the pragmatism to see this. There are entire interest groups of people who think the sole reason there are too many cars on the road is not because of sprawl but because there are not nearly enough shopping centers or parking lots for those people to drive to. Some of us see a problem that desperately needs solving even while others see a business opportunity. All of us do not place the same values of sense of importance on a clean and healthy environment. The tension in society is often between those of us who think and know these problems should never have been allowed to get to this stage, and those on the opposite end of the spectrum who think tomorrow is soon enough or that it is someone else’s job to sort these things out.
So in the world of “Trekkies” and science fiction buffs we could fire up the double talk engines and reverse the ill effects of the “plague” that threatened our heroes at the outset of the teleplay. But we cannot warp drive ourselves into a better Chesapeake Bay or spin the dial in order find a happy ending in another fantasy. This clean water stuff is as real as it gets. In real life the solutions are much more difficult albeit incredibly simple. We just have to stop doing the stuff that is destroying us piecemeal and inexorably. The solution to dying ecosystems is to stop killing them. The antidote to growing mass of trash in our rivers is to stop putting it there in the first place. The solution to sediment in our Bay is to change how we affect the land and so on. Change starts with a vision and a plan. Read on…..