The Haw River Paddler

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There is no music like a little river’s… It quiets a man down like saying his prayers.” Robert Lewis Stevenson

A Healthy Economy Depends on a Healthy Environment (An article taken from the County Line Newspaper – January-February 2016 edition)

By now, if you have read any of my previous articles, you know that I like to reference quotes from thoughtful people. To quote Dr. Guy McPherson, “If you think the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money.”

Why is it that we often think we must sacrafice the “environment” for the sake of the “economy”? In the dictionary you will find the word economy defined as the wealth and resources of a country or region. You will find the word ecology defined as the branch of biology that deals with the relationships of organisms to one another and to their environment. Obviously, there is a connection between the words ecology and economy. They both start with eco which is Latin from oeco which means house or household. For me, it does not take much brain power to come to the conclusion that if we have a healthy environment, then we will have a healthy economy. Another way of saying that is “keep your house in order and things will go well. Don’t keep your house in order and expect that things will get worse”.

For over six years the world’s nations grappled over the issue of climate change. In this country, many conservatives just did not see the connection between human actions and a warming climate with wild changes in weather patterns and changing sea conditions. Six years later, there are still non-believers. I suppose that after Christopher Columbus returned to Europe, there were still those who believed that the world was flat. Why is it that change often comes so slowly even in the face of facts?

One of my favorite books is “Ishmael” written by Don Quinn. The book begins with a classified ad that reads “teacher seeks pupil, must be willing to save the world, apply in person”. A man in his mid-life answers the ad and finds that a gorilla named Ishmael becomes his teacher. Like all good teachers, Ishmael trys not to directly answer the man’s questions. He leads him to seek the answers. Most of the questions of why things are the way they are is because Mother Culture has always done it that way. Ignoring the facts, it is Mother Culture that judges things to be a certain way. It is Mother Culture that kept people thinking the world was flat. It is Mother Culture that keeps us believing that we can continue to poison the earth and alter our environment because the economy is more important. Mother Culture is failing to see the connection between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.

Mother Culture has a lot to learn from Mother Nature. Take the Haw River for an example. There was a time when the Haw River changed colors daily depending on what dyes the textile mills were using. It was Mother Culture that said polluted water was necessary for a healthy economy. Today, Mother Culture is saying that a plan to clean up Jordan Lake to improve drinking water for thousands of people living in the Triangle is too expensive or too restrictive and will hurt the economy. The Clean Water Act passed the U.S. Congress over 40 years ago. In the Act, our government made a promise that all of the Nation’s waters would be swimmable, drinkable and fishable in 20 years, but Mother Culture says we can’t afford to clean up our act. It will hurt the economy, so we must delay. How long do we have to wait? At what point does it become so costly that Mother Culture says we must do something because the economy is suffering? Do people have to become sick? Do water bills increase so much that water becomes a major living expense like electricity is today? Doesn’t it make more sense to make sure that Haw River water entering Jordan Lake is healthy in the first place and does not need to be treated? Ever hear someone say that “an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure”?

The Haw River is much cleaner now than it was at the time the Clean Water Act passed. It still carries too much nutrients in the form of phosphorus and nitrates, the major cause of algal blooms and fish kills in Jordan Lake. Mother Culture is very slow in recognizing that what is good for conservation is good for business and that a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand. By the way, we are Mother Culture. It is time we stop sacrificing the environment for the sake of the economy.