We have made great strides as a country since I was a child in St. Helens, Oregon, where raw sewage flowed directly into the Columbia River at the local Marina. Twenty-five miles upstream, the Willamette River flowing through Portland received sewage from Portland. The river stank and salmon migrating up the Willamette through Portland could be seen jumping out of the water because of insufficient oxygen to sustain them.
When I began my teaching career at a small Christian college in Pennsylvania in the 1970’s, the acid rain falling from storms coming from the west had an average Ph of 4.3 (7 is neutral on the Ph scale) – acid because of the sulfur dioxide from coal burning power plants in West Virginia and Ohio. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission had ceased stocking 5000 miles of trout stream due to the acidity of the water. Stocked trout died within 24 hours.
Are things better today? In many ways yes. Sewage is processed and The EPA regulates some air and water pollutants. But we continue to play the game of environmental “whack a mole” – you whack one crisis as it sticks its head up and yet another emerges!
In 1968, ecologist Garret Hardin published an article in the journal Science titled “Tragedy of the Commons” where he convincingly argued that unless the “commons” – our air, water, etc. that we all use but no one “owns” — are regulated, the commons will degrade due to overuse, pollution, etc. The early 1970s were remarkable years when a bipartisan congress passed nearly all the major environmental laws regulating our national “commons” including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, and others. Unfortunately, since that time the U.S congress has increasingly become less bipartisan and much more polarized as efforts continue to both strengthen and to weaken the existing laws.
Yes, we have made major strides in some areas, yet the challenges we face today are even more difficult to address. Most solutions are no longer regional where national control can be implemented but are global in nature – climate change and the loss of biodiversity being at the forefront. Confronting global politics is even more difficult than dealing with our own political crisis. Atmospheric and ocean temperatures are global issues! Did you know that July 2023 was globally the hottest month ever recorded based on air temperature and ocean temperature? Ocean water temperature off southern Florida has reached 101 degrees F. The hotter the ocean, the stronger the hurricanes? Yet many in our country continue to deny that climate change is taking place. Did you also know that Toyota is planning to market vehicles with solid state batteries that will travel 750 to 900 miles on a charge with the charge only taking 10 minutes? A game changer? Did you know that the world has entered its sixth major extinction episode with 25% of the world species of plants and animals considered threatened?
We will have much more to say about climate change and the biodiversity crisis in future Creation’s Corners. We are reminded that we should think globally but act locally. We all want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. “See” you again in two weeks.
Thanks for listening.
— Joe Sheldon
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