Our Faustian bargain
To the editor:
If there is one unforgettable lesson all of us took away from the horrific red tide event on Sanibel last summer and fall it is that paradise is vulnerable. I remember the morning, July 22, 2018, when I went to the beach to witness a 21-foot whale shark flopping lifelessly in the surf. For the next few months our shores were littered with dead and decaying fish, shellfish, red drift algae and the constant stench of an unrelenting bloom of Karenia brevis. As a real estate agent I knew this was going to affect me directly because when a Gulf-front location becomes a sewer-front location the impact is hard to ignore. A year has passed and the Sanibel and Captiva real estate market is still recovering from this eco-disaster. We now know that this event was fueled by excess nutrients, or fertilizer pollution, and that it could easily happen again.
Today, on a far grander scale, the United States is well into the process of dismantling many of the environmental policies have been put into law since the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire in 1969. These include the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (1970), the Clean Water Act (1972), and the Endangered Species Act (1973). The current argument against these protective regulations is that they put an undue regulatory burden and associated cost on the industries who must adhere to strict pollution standards. With this new policy of short-term profits taking precedent over the long-term degradation of our environment the end result is a bargain with the devil, our Faustian bargain.
A recent article in the New York Times (June 7, 2019) identified 83 different environmental rules being curtailed or eliminated by the current administration. These rollbacks cover everything from car emissions (CO2) to drilling (fracking), from dumping (coal ash, toxic chemicals) to wildlife (the Migratory Bird Act) and infrastructure (mining and logging in Parks and Public Lands). While the industries involved are more than willing to take advantage of dismantled regulations we should all take a deep breath and remember the days before the Cuyahoga River burned. Remember the time when breathing the air in L.A. was deadly and the Silent Spring of Rachael Carson (DDT) was destroying our eagles, pelicans and songbirds.
So while we smile at the latest Wall Street earnings report and bask in the recent stock market record highs shouldn’t we ask ourselves what we plan to do with all this paper wealth? With half the beaches along the Gulf Coast closed due to fecal matter, flesh-eating bacteria and harmful algae blooms surely a weekend at the beach isn’t worth the risk. With nearly 300 dead dolphin since February of this year we are just starting to see the cost of rampant deregulation. This year the dead zone (eutrophication) of the northern Gulf, from the record runoff of the Mississippi, is expected to be larger than the state of Massachusetts. As the name changes from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Environmental Pollution Agency these dead zones and mass dyings will only worsen. Heat waves, polluted streams, rivers, lakes, estuaries, silent springs and extinctions are the unspoken costs of this deal with the devil we have entered into. Wealth without a healthy environment to enjoy it in is poverty. True riches are streams you can wade in without fear of contamination, air you can breath without choking and food you can enjoy without concern for pesticides, herbicides or worse. The ashes of the Cuyahoga River are still smouldering. How long before they burst into the flames of short term profits once again?