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Monday, April 2, 2012

April Fool's Day Twenty-five Years Ago

I was away from the keyboard on the first of April. My unfolding life had taken me into the heart of Superior Country. Twenty-five years earlier I had embarked on my bicycle ride around all five Great Lakes, it just felt right to be back along the shore of the greatest of lakes to celebrate the occasion. Even though I have helped to keep the ideas of conservation alive, the changes we have seen over the past quarter century have been quite a bit less than I had hoped for when I started out on my voyage intended to educate and increase awareness of issues that threaten the health of this ecosystem. Back in 1987, I was nearly two years into a course of study focused on The Great Lakes Ecosystem. My preparation for the trip began with physical geography, cultural geography and combined my own extensive knowledge of local pollution issues as well as those documented throughout the region by both the USEPA and Canadian Ministry of the Environment. Armed with insight into sustainability, conservation and the possibility of restoring balance to this troubled region, I felt confident that sharing my insight would ignite the passion of local residents around the lakes to usher in changes that are only now starting to be seen.
When I spoke to the issues associated with transportation twenty-five years ago, I would encourage folks to walk or ride bikes, use mass transit and demand more train availability. Oddly enough, the doubling of fuel costs since then has done more to reduce our driving than my encouragement seems to have done. The insights that I had about reducing energy use by retrofitting old housing stock and designing homes from the ground up to be more energy efficient is still just beginning to take hold. Another generation of vacuous multi-thousand square foot residences has been built, much of it sitting empty because of the housing crash, but forever in need of massive energy inputs if they ever do get used. The agricultural issues that confronted the region back in the late eighties have mushroomed and are in even more urgent need, although tiny steps in the right direction are taking place in pockets across two nations. Even the alternatives to household hazardous waste that I urged folks to adopt have languished, out-advertized by multi-national corporate interests.
On the bright side, the recent crash of the world economy has slowed the pace of destruction in some areas and a growing number of people world wide are beginning to re think the bigger is always better mantra that has led us down the halcyon path of technocracy. It is funny to see the yawning chasms of un-built homes, empty foundations dotting the suburban landscape, the "neighborhoods", some completer with unattended gate houses, ghost towns before their time. People are finally beginning to realize that to have their little house in the country, on five acres, would require several hundred dollars per month for commuting in addition to several thousand more in depreciation and insurance, tax, title and license on another car. Cities are regaining a bit of their former luster, if only for being affordable. You may have to throw in with "those people" but when you can eliminate a car or two from your budget, making ends meet gets infinitely easier.
The recent decline in carbon emissions from some of the more developed countries seems to be more a result of economic depression rather than any ecological awareness. My hope, and I am still extremely hopeful for the future is that as we learn to reevaluate the extreme costs of agricultural, industrial and real estate policy decisions, we will begin to make the changes that I had encouraged two and a half decades ago. It is never too late to change. The Learning Curve may seem steep at times, but the understanding of what has gone wrong is spreading like wildfire. Sure there are people who want things to return to pre-recession conditions, but larger and larger numbers of people are starting to understand that there is really no going back. Our future depends on rewarding smart decisions rather than stupid ones, true conservatism, not unbridled exploitation of resources. Corporate welfare and environmental callousness have come to an ungainly end. Sadly, too many of the rich and powerful just want one more fix of big money before they try to wean their desire for everything. The most heinous traits that the media projects onto addicts can be found in the wealthiest among us. Oddly, in them, we are led to want to make those traits our own. The ever-more popular legalized gambling houses are proof enough that we all want to dream of cash induced "happiness".
On my trip to the water's edge, I was able to carpool up and most of the way back. Technology now allows carpools to form faster than ever, reducing fuel use and wear and tear on our fleet of vehicles. spending time with others who share our commitment to saving Mother Earth any more disfigurement and trauma is leading to better decision-making, lower carbon footprints and increasing the possibility of charting a course to a more sustainable way of life. The local food movement has begun to make headway across the region with untold benefits from soil conservation to more efficient resource use. These decisions are not only helping the environment to heal, but is influencing our health positively as well. It has been a long time coming, but the principles and ethics that my trip sought to popularize are finally coming to pass. Sadly, the pain that has led us to tighten our belts, and the melt down of Fukushima are terrible results of the old way of doing business. Those who made beneficial changes twenty-five years ago are old hands at doing these things, but now, the majority are taking a second look at what tree huggers were doing to make ends meet a generation ago. The same things can work today, but we have to be willing to question the conventional wisdom that has been handed to us by those who would profit from our belief in them.

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