Randi Kreiss

Fixing the environment cannot wait


"It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.” —Ansel Adams

Are you sick of Trumpism? Distressed by the criminal convictions of his associates? Worried about North Korea and Iran? Heartsick over the president’s racist rants? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the chaos churning in and around the White House.

So it came as an odd kind of relief to realize that one issue supersedes all the others, and requires our focus, activism and funding. That issue is the survival of home base, our beloved planet. Our best efforts must go toward protecting and preserving the air and water and open space we have left. Presidents come and go, the national conversation changes over time and American values evolve. But once we squander our wilderness and pollute our waterways, there will be no going back.

In our home communities, we survived Superstorm Sandy, but it changed our coastlines and it changed lives, too. People rebuilt or moved. The sand under our feet shifted that night in October 2012, and it keeps shifting. Sea levels are rising, and that matters when you live on the ocean and bays and inlets of our towns. To reject the science that proves climate change is to choose ignorance over compelling research. Look at the photos of the shrinking Arctic ice cap. Read the lists of endangered and extinct species. Watch for the dark clouds of the next superstorm heading our way.

From Day One, the Trump administration has been eviscerating environmental regulations, opening public lands to oil drilling and mining, and challenging the evidence of climate change. Perhaps worse, the president and his people have communicated a reckless and immoral disregard for nature.

Out West, where I am now for a few weeks, we get daily warnings about the extremely high risk of wildfires. In our particular town, near Lake Tahoe, we had two weeks of heavy smoke trapped in the Tahoe Basin. It came from the Carr Fire, which burned more than 200,000 acres, and the Ferguson Fire, which burned 96,000. When I look around the area where our rental house sits, the concept of a wildfire suddenly seems like a real and present danger. The bushes and branches are tinder. The air is dry: 15 percent humidity.

When folks were voting in 2016, environmental issues took a back seat. There were so many other Trump problems to deal with. But two years later, as Trump and his team have changed conservation rules, chipped away at public land protection and peddled wilderness to big oil and mining companies, the fate of our planet emerges as the single most critical issue.

Before my trip out here, a friend recommended that I read “The Emerald Mile” by Kevin Fedarko, a history of the Colorado River and the story of human impact on America’s mightiest rivers, for better and worse.

The fruit we eat every day and the vegetables in our markets come from the vast central valleys of California. This agricultural region, larger than Denmark, would not exist if not for the Colorado River, which has been dammed and diverted and siphoned over the years to provide irrigation. But messing with Mother Nature comes at a cost.

According to Fedarko, people ran the rapids and flat water of the Colorado as long as men and women have walked the land. But in the 1800s and 1900s, it all changed. It’s as if the day the first white man stepped onto the shores of America, we began spending the nation’s capital — our land, rivers and forests — as if it belonged to us. And as if it would never run dry.

We Americans have a damning history of resource abuse. But we have also had leaders who advocated for the environment, men and women who passed laws and regulations preserving open land and cleaning up waterways. We were making a start before we elected Trump.

In “The Emerald Mile,” Fedarko writes, “On talk radio and cable TV, environmentalists are derided as ‘wackos’ and ‘extremists.’ The country has swung decisively toward something smaller and more selfish than what it once was, and in addition to ushering in a disdain for the notion that wilderness might have a value that extends beyond the metrics of economics or business, much of the nation ignorantly embraces the benefits of engineering and technology while simultaneously rejecting basic science.”

Truly, this cannot wait. Clean air and water and green space are moral imperatives, as immediate to our everyday lives as the kitchen tap.

We can and must make the environment our top priority when electing our leaders.

“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed . . . We need wilderness preserved — as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds — because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed.” —Wallace Stegner

Copyright 2018 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.