Several decades ago, I found myself on the construction site of a new housing scheme.

It was exciting.  The scheme involved family homes built to last, stylish yet affordable.  It was thrilling for a youngster to experience a scheme under construction and to learn how houses were built.  Many decades later, The Old Ball and Chain was driving her 10 year old son, The Computer Whiz, through Liguanea when a chicken ran across the road (yes, the chicken did cross the road) in front of the car.  “What’s that?” asked The Computer Whiz.  Old B.C. had to teach him that “chicken” was a living creature and not what he saw in a supermarket wrapped in cellophane.

That’s what it was like for me long ago on that site.  It was fascinating.  I remember being especially impressed by the “modern” soak-away cesspits constructed with blocks, stone and concrete covers.

Now, decades later, we’ve realized that soak-away cesspits, so popular in the 1960s when they were introduced sans conjunction with even the most rudimentary sewage treatment septic tank, contributed greatly to the contamination of underground water supplies resulting in the decommissioning of many wells.  Also, these cesspits, built without reference to soil suitability, started chain reactions ending with the discharge of effluent into rivers and the sea where the adverse environmental effects were multiplied.

Even now, when letters are sent electronically and telephones (cells) can imprison brains, we’re still far behind in ensuring that every home is connected to a proper sewage treatment system.  If this basic tenet of healthy environmental practice is too difficult for us, it’s no wonder that Environmentalists, usually easy targets of critics’ jokes including mine, frequently get their knickers in a twist regarding every real or imagined affront to environmental well-being in the name of development.

Protecting the environment is a genuine essential.  So is Development.  What’s required is to find the correct balance.  We can’t go bananas over every environmental encroachment because, while progressing from Caveman travelling on foot through Nobleman on horse and buggy to Government Minister in SUV, the Earth must lose some of its shine.  But, we must be careful to ensure that development’s urgency isn’t satisfied at the cost of a savaged environment.  No point crying about drought, soil erosion, crop failures or food shortages after systematically deforesting mountainsides to the greater glory of construction and furniture industries.

They took all the trees
Put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
a dollar and a half just to see ’em.

We use explosives to take the sport out of fishing and make it easier to catch more fish but it’s extremely destructive to the surrounding ecosystem, as the explosion often destroys the underlying habitat (such as coral reefs) that supports the fish.  Then we cry when there are no more fish in the sea.  Don’t get me started on bird shooting.  I often pray that somehow, someday, these defenceless birds will have U.S second amendment rights. Then “sportsmen” everywhere will be running for cover.

Why do we choose concrete over grass every time?

Don’t it always seem to go
that you don’t know what you’ve got
’till it’s gone.
They paved paradise
and put up a parking lot

In the name of greater agricultural productivity, we use dangerous pesticides then cry about increasing cancers.  We inject our fruits with dye to make their colour brighter and weep when the dye turns out to be carcinogenic.

Hey farmer farmer
put away that DDT now.
Give me spots on my apples
but leave me the birds and the bees

Joni Mitchell’s 1970 plea for proper environmental practices is as relevant today as it was then.  We must listen to environmentalists.  Also, our environmentalists must listen to reason.  Before we complain about the North/South link based on speculative reports by academics, take a look at the hundreds of roads already built in far less auspicious circumstances.  We should focus on the health of our water supplies; rivers; seas; coral reefs and find a way to reduce toxic emissions into our atmosphere.  Housing developments must have green areas.  Commercial developments, especially multi-storey types, ought never to be allowed in residential areas.  But, let’s not ride our horses and buggies over Mount Rosser just to increase our blood pressure whenever we come upon a truck in a steep, narrow, tight corner.  It’s time to retire that treacherous journey. Let’s improve both our infrastructure and environmental practices.  It can be done.

Peace and Love


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