Neil Williamson of The Free Enterprise Forum (TFEF) spoke against Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP) [“Albemarle County: Whom are you going to vote off the island?” Opinionated, May 29, 2007]. For the record, I am not affiliated with ASAP. However, I do understand the necessity of ecological preservation, something which Mr. Williamson seems to think is somehow extraneous to our lives as humans.
Inexplicably, many people have the attitude that humans exist independently of our natural surroundings. Although we do shield ourselves from the outside world to a certain extent by spending much of our time indoors, our ability to live is still very much dependent upon a healthy environment. We require clean air to breathe, potable water for drinking, bathing, and washing our clothes and dishes, and uncontaminated soil in which to grow our food. The quality of our life is directly proportional to the availability of these basic necessities.
Yet humans have not taken care of the Earth and as a result, children are now born into a world that is badly polluted. When I was young, it was not a health risk to eat tuna and swordfish, something my Catholic family often ate on the church-mandated “meatless” Fridays. Indeed, it’s a good thing the church did away with this commandment. Such ocean fish are currently so full of mercury that people (especially pregnant women and young children) are routinely warned to avoid eating much of it.
Greed and ignorance have resulted in numerous life forms being overexploited or killed off by habitat destruction (such as the fouling of our waterways due to farm and development run-off). Many of these life forms not only served as important food sources but also as important income sources.
In the 1960s Virginia watermen harvested millions of bushels of oysters from the Chesapeake Bay but only about 30,000 bushels in 2002. Numerous fish and shellfish populations, such as river herring, shad and blue crabs are at or near record lows. As a result, most of the people employed in this seafood industry have lost their livelihoods.
Tragically, as each kind of organism dies out, the functions that it performs for the ecosystem cease, making it all but impossible to revive the system—man’s ingenuity (which is way over-rated) notwithstanding. The once-teeming-with-life Chesapeake Bay is now all but dead, the stories of its past abundance seeming to be nothing more than myths.
Additionally, as the human population overwhelms the planet, agriculture and animal farming have been intensified in ways that are unhealthful for people and inhumane to animals. We ingest pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones that are necessitated by the unnatural methods employed to grow plants and to factory-farm.
The source of all of our environmental problems is far too many people on a planet finite in size and resources. If the peoples of every nation don’t voluntarily control their reproduction, governments (e.g. China) will be forced to do it for them. But long before then, Mother Nature may decide who gets “voted off the island,” employing disease as a superbly effective tool to return human populations to sustainable levels.
TFEF is opposed to Albemarle County government spending $25,000, as suggested by ASAP, to study an optimal population number for our area. Yet this pro-growth group has no objection to the county spending 10 times as much for a “jobs development opportunity fund.”
A supervisor explained that the $250,000 allocated for this fund is money to help people to climb the ladder out of poverty—a well-intentioned but naïve and illogical idea. The folks at the bottom of the ladder have jobs that will always require someone to be working them so there will always be people at the bottom rung.
And, truth be told, not everyone has the ability to climb society’s ladder. To truly help lower-income people, you don’t gentrify their jobs. You gentrify their wages.
Local nature writer and photographer Marlene A. Condon is the author of The Nature-friendly Garden (Stackpole Books, 2006).