Draining the swamp, ruining the marsh

Jimmy Carter, Democrat, installed solar panels on the roof of the White House. Ronald Reagan, Republican, removed them. Both gestures were more symbolic than momentous, but the symbolism was clear.

George H.W. Bush (R) began as somewhat of an environmentalist, but moved away from the position when his advisors demanded a cost-benefit analysis of any environmental changes. Money, as always, talked.

Bill Clinton’s (D) record was spotty, but he and Al Gore tried to promote the idea that environmental protection and economic growth could coexist. And so the debate has gone, ping-ponging back and forth for the past forty years. One party tries to protect the environment from the ravages of mankind, the other keeps ravaging it.

Hold that thought.

An oily sheen covers miles of navigable inland waterways in Connecticut.

Like most towns near the Connecticut shore, Old Saybrook is dotted with marshes that wind well inland. They’re the home to more wildlife than I can identify, but when I’m paddling  I usually see my share of osprey, egrets, sandpipers, and terns. It’s a great spot for kayaking, calm and quiet. It’s also wide enough so that encountering someone coming the other way does not result in a shipwreck. I used to see people crabbing there also, but this year, none. I’m going to hazard a guess as to why: nobody would eat anything that came out of that water.

Some sections of the channel are worse than others, but all of it possesses a thin, oily sheen, dotted here and there with unidentifiable pieces of scum and other detritus whose source could have been anything from a ship’s bilgewater to the inefficient septic system of a home nearby. It’s ugly and disheartening, and every year it gets a little worse, a little more widespread, a little uglier. And because it isn’t in your face like the water at a public beach, it goes basically unnoticed.

It shouldn’t.

Pictures may be worth a thousand words: the one I included isn’t worth ten. But spread that over miles of marshland across the entire state (the entire country?) and you get a better idea of how grim the situation has become.

That thought I asked you to hold…we are moving toward an era where environmental protection will be a quaint memory, something that rests comfortably at the end of a question like “Hey, whatever happened to?” Trump has made it clear that all regulations that impinge in any way on industry’s need to pollute must be repealed. In Washington it’s already happening; but while we’re waiting to see how bad it’s going to get, I just thought you should know how bad it already is. (And yes, I know, Trump’s policies didn’t foul that waterway, but nothing in his language so far makes it sound as though he would be willing to change things.)

I don’t want to paint with too broad a roller, but it appears that Democrats envision themselves as stewards of the planet, while the modern-day Republican (the evangelical Christian, the Breitbart devotee, the Trump supporter who gets his news from Sean Hannity) envisions the planet as the steward of him. I’m not sure how long that latter philosophy can remain sustainable.

There’s a new swamp to drain in Washington, one more fetid and noxious than any one before it. If we don’t drain it soon, there won’t be any marshes to lament in the future.


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