So much water has been taken
from the once-mighty Colorado
River that it's delta is dry during
summer. NASA Photo
Detroit Free Press (MCT)
DETROIT — E-mails arrive daily warning of new efforts to open huge acreages of Western wilderness to gas and oil drilling, clear cut forests on mountains vulnerable to erosion, destroy major fish stocks in the ocean or pollute the skies and waters with mercury and greenhouse gasses.
Continuing threats to the places where we hunt, fish and camp illustrate that while things are better than 30 or 40 years ago, all we've really done is slow down the rate at which we are destroying our environment.
Sometimes efforts to turn it around get harder, as under the administration of President George W. Bush, perhaps the worst environmental knuckle dragger in living memory. But even under the better administrations, things have gotten worse, because our system encourages politicians to sell out to those who profit from environmental degradation.
There isn't enough money or public interest to solve many of the problems. But one thing we can do is to concentrate our efforts on ending the continued introduction of exotic species into the Great Lakes by ships coming in from the oceans.
On this one, the good guys are winning. States are passing stricter ballast control measures than the Environmental Protection Agency, which has sold out to the businesses that want saltwater ships to continue to come into the Great Lakes with little or no controls.
But we have hard evidence now about how much damage they cause. John Taylor at Grand Valley State has shown us how much more they cost our economy than they add to it.
And we know from the work of David Lodge at Notre Dame that not only is the threat from ballast water inside the ships greater than we thought, the growths on the outsides of ships may be an even more significant source of invaders.
Politicians are loath to afflict the well-connected, and most bureaucrats are too timid to upset the politicians. So it's imperative that we see that researchers, such as Taylor and Lodge, get the support they need to continue their studies.
It's that kind of solid economic and scientific data that allows the private groups that are the real protectors of our environment — the National Wildlife Federations, Sierra Club, Audubon Society, American Lung Association and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership — to do two things that are important.
One is to sue bad guys and the government when necessary. The other is to make the public aware of failures of government, because politicians won't bite the hand that fills their campaign coffers unless they are afraid of losing races.
We will also need to protect our lakes from envious drought-ridden states within a very few years. Only days ago, a federal judge imposed new restrictions on the millions of people who use Colorado River water for agricultural, industrial and domestic purposes.
So much water has been taken out of that river that it no longer reaches the sea at its mouth in Mexico. What was once one of the richest river deltas in North America for wildlife production is now cracked, dried mud for much of the year.
There is almost no hope for any kind of natural relief in those Colorado River states because the amount of rain and snow that replenishes the river has decreased during the past few decades.
So while it won't hurt to make the usual New Year's resolutions about losing weight and stopping smoking, why don't we all add this one: 2008 will be the year in which we see the Great Lakes provided with meaningful and effective protection at all levels of government.
(c) 2008, Detroit Free Press.
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