The role of government in environmental issues

Then

Today

Jim and I spent Sunday afternoon hiking on Roan Mountain, part of the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests, located along the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. The altitude (6000 feet) offers conditions that allow huge clusters of wild Rododendron to grow in open spaces and along sunny edges of the forest. Hiking trails lead through a luxuriant spruce-fir forest. Yesterday a light fog made the forest seem especially dark and mysterious.

It saddens me to think that a century ago little more than tree stumps occupied this beautiful space. During the 1920s and 1930s logging companies cut all of the marketable timber, leaving the land as we see in the photo above. In 1911 the Weeks Act had authorized the Federal Government to purchase forest land in the Eastern United States. In 1941 the government bought much of the land on Roan Mountain and added it to the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests. Today about 4 percent of North Carolina’s land is National Forest.

These two incidents—deforestation and the establishment of National Forests—represent a current controversy. Is there any reason to believe that capitalism without regulations would not again decimate our natural resources? Already 500 mountain tops have been removed so that mining companies can more cheaply get the coal. Now fracking threatens to poison our ground water and cause earthquakes.

And what should the government spend money on? Had the government not purchased deforested mountain land in the early twentieth century, we wouldn’t have our National Forests.

Personally, I trust corporations far less than I fear Big Government.

My advice to graduates

No one’s asked me to speak at graduation, but I’ve prepared a message for seniors anyway. The theme? The values you’ve been taught—get real. Nobody practices that stuff anyway.

Graduation

Graduation (Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik)

1)     Like those exercises that required you to cooperate, group projects where you practiced team work. Wasted time, given today’s attitude: My opinion is the right one; I refuse to compromise.

2)     And admonitions to always tell the truth.  “I did not have sex with that woman,” one President said. All around you leaders bend the truth to support their point of view or make their opponents look bad. Documenting sources applies only to students.

3)     Remember being punished for name calling? In this political season you hear “Socialist elitist,” “King of Bain.” It’s the adult way.

4)     Countries you had to identify on a map. Their languages and cultures. Who cares? America is superior to them all.

5)     And what about the scientific method, all those pesky definitions about the difference between theories and hypotheses? Even if pains-taking research shows otherwise, the current ethos lets you believe whatever you want: human behavior doesn’t account for global warming, and evolution is just one of many theories to explain the physical world as we know it.

6)     Ever since kindergarten, teachers urged you to be more compassionate. But you’ll find that acceptance of difference, especially if others are homosexuals or immigrants, is so out of fashion.

7)     Sharing, too. What’s yours is yours. People living below the poverty level are too lazy to work, undeserving of food stamps or Medicaid. Tax money is better spent on the military.

Yes, graduates, in case you haven’t noticed, the education you’ve received has little relationship to the culture you’re stepping out into. You can, of course, adjust to the real world. Or you can envision a better way, put what you’ve learned in school into practice, and work for change.

In his inauguration speech in 1961 President John F. Kennedy said, “Let the word go forth from this time and place…that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans….” Every generation has the option—no, the obligation—to pick up that torch and put its own imprint on what it means to be an American. May yours bring a return to civility and respect for community.

The Death of Beauty and the Future of Our Planet

A picture of a mountaintop removal siteWork co...

A picture of a mountaintop removal siteWork copyright released by owner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I fear the death of Beauty.

The beauty of taste. Who’s looking out for the survival of flavors in a pasta sauce cooked all day? Of seafood caught and eaten right away? Today’s kitchen isn’t designed for those who cook but for those who rely on the microwave or order take-out.

The beauty of sound. Who listens to the songs of birds, trees rustling in the wind? Who’s encouraging children to study piano—any musical instrument for that matter? Not so they will become accomplished musicians, but so they will grow to appreciate a melodic concerto, a gentle rhythm inviting them to dance close.

The beauty of sight. Where are the protectors of natural beauty, adults who take time to show children flowering plants, luminescent insects, a brightly colored bird? Who drives amidst the varied landscapes of this country and points out vistas extending for miles? (On such journeys today’s children watch movies overhead.)

The beauty of touch. Who encourages us to run our fingertips slowly along a piece of tree bark, a velvety flower, a spiked blade of grass? Toys and kitchenware, even furniture, are made of plastic.

Most likely my children will read this, so I must be careful not to sound like I’m criticizing their parenting. My concern reaches beyond my grandchildren, though they are my means of glimpsing into current trends. And I want to avoid sounding like an old lady who’s always harkening back to the good old days.

But in my concern for the future of the planet I’ve come to wonder how it can survive if few people appreciate Beauty. To someone who’s never hiked a mountain range, what will it matter if coal companies blast tops off mountains? To someone who’s never waded in a stream, what will it matter if streams are polluted? Can humans feel empathy for animals or plants if they have not been “up close and personal?”

Yes, I fear the death of Beauty.