“Fight for the Bay”: A Political Dead Zone Exposed

51QjOBl3olL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_In his book, Fight for the Bay, Howard Ernst uses the ongoing discussions and efforts surrounding the health of the Chesapeake Bay to expose a larger trend in the American environmental debate. He discusses the “clash of values” between three major schools of thought that leads to environmental conflict in the United States.

  • Ernst argues in favor of Dark Green environmental thought, which argues that humans have an inalienable right to a clean environment—to clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and sustainable natural resources. Just as with the classic American rights of life and liberty, no one should be allowed to infringe upon that right by damaging nature.
  • Light Green environmental thought sees preservation of the environment as a human responsibility, rather than a human right. While the Dark Greens call for government action, the Light Greens encourage actors to follow voluntary environmental goals.
  • Cornucopian thought stands in opposition to both “shades” of green. The economy is the primary human concern. These thinkers prioritize property rights and the right to use nature for economic gain, whether as a means of disposal or as a source for harvest.

Ernst is concerned that efforts to improve the condition of the Chesapeake, as with the U.S. political system, are oversaturated with Light Green thinking. The hegemony of Light Green thought has lead to failed partnerships, leaving the Chesapeake Bay and all of its major tributaries on the EPA’s “impaired” list.

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“Dirt”: Is it Gone with the Wind?

“Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything,” [Gerald O’Hara] shouted, his thick, short arms making wide gestures of indignation, “for ‘tis the only thing in the world that lasts and you don’t be forgetting it! ‘Tis the only thing worth working for, worth fighting for—worth dying for.” (Mitchell, Gone with the Wind)

51IyTk+OHjL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_In a series of vignettes, structurally reminiscent of Jared Diamond’s Collapse, David R. Montgomery explores the history of mankind and its destructive relationship with the most foundational of natural resources:
dirt.

Montgomery demonstrates that a society’s land, not in its area but in its fertility, is one of its most critical resources: loss of productivity in the land inevitably leads to the “erosion of civilizations.” With more than ten billion people expected to inhabit the Earth by 2100, he calls for drastic agricultural reform with and eye down towards the soil and not merely up toward the sky and the changing climate.

With a chilling talent for storytelling and a well rounded understanding of all sides of the issue—geologic, ecologic, economic, societal, etc.—Montgomery brings to the surface a looming disaster that is already under foot and delivers a stern warning: if we, as a global civilization, fail to heed the warning signs, we too will be buried in the consequences of our own making.