The View from Below


I shoveled the dock steps the other day.  This was part of my latest health initiative, with the purpose of swimming in the river.

Now, most people don’t have a dock or concrete steps to a polluted river where they can swim.  Most people haven’t grown up on said river and watched it change gradually over the past 60 or so years.  It is a blessing and a curse.

While doing this mundane labor, which with clean-up took about two hours, I had time to ponder many worldwide concerns.  First, I listened to the constant buzz of helicopters at Hunter Army Airfield, only a couple of miles–as the helicopter flies–from my house.  There were also military aircraft flying overhead, as I live only 28 degrees off Hunter’s flight paths, and those planes fly low, low, low over my head. This reminded me that the US is engaged in perpetual wars, and I live in a war zone, what with the strong military presence loud, clear, and constant.

Next, I thought about the Clean Water Act of 1972, when the Army Corps of Engineers got jurisdiction over all “wetlands” including the “hydrophytic” marsh that surrounds my small spit of land.  I wondered if the AC of E would fine me for taking mud off the steps and depositing it in the center of my land, which is mine but not mine in that I pay property taxes but can’t modify it.  This spit of land has been sliding into the river for years and now becomes flooded in spring and fall tides.  The channels in the area are also filling in, because no one dredges them anymore, even though the drainage ditches are perpetually clogged and contribute to frequent, severe flooding in Savannah.


The local movers and shakers would prefer to dump poisonous malathion by helicopter on the entire ecosystem than drain the bogs where mosquitoes breed. That the Army Corps of Engineers pays Chatham County to control mosquitoes, yet operates the largest mosquito habitat in two states does not seem important to anyone but me.  That the dredge material from current harbor deepening project will increase the mosquito habitat at this international port presents no red flags to those who are developing vaccines for mosquito-borne disease but are blithely nonchalant about the cushy habitat they are creating.

This brings me home to the polluted river, which still has fish and shrimp, but not as many as in my childhood.  I figure if fish can swim in it, so can I.  I’ve been stomping around, crabbing, shrimping, boating, water skiing, and swimming in that water since I can remember, so know it well.  While shoveling, I thought about “climate change,” and the claim that the oceans are rising.  I also remembered reading about how land is washing into the oceans and wondered if the oceanic rise is relative to the land’s sinking, in a leveling out that would lead to the oceans’ getting shallower. Shallow water heats more quickly than deep water, as any swimmer knows, and holds more heat, so this could explain some of the climatic changes.

So then I thought about President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord and wondered whether it makes any difference in the long run.  I’ve never been a fan of government solutions to government-supported problems, like the fact that deforestation is a major contributor to climate change.  I don’t believe in paying corporations not to cut trees (as in “carbon credits”) and would prefer instead to reduce demand for paper, like junk mail and single-use packaging.  International Paper, the owner of primo rain forest in South America, and a huge polluter of the Savannah River and air, does not recycle paper.

That got me to thinking about the enormous amount of methane produced by the marsh, the fact that methane and natural gas are the same thing, and that Germany is the world’s leader in recycling (70%).  In addition, Germany has to import garbage to fuel its waste-to-energy plants that provide so much of its heat and electricity. There is also new technology to capture methane produced by landfill, but the US lags behind places like China in its adoption of these promising technologies.  No wonder Angela Merkel was frustrated by Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord. Germany is the world leader in sustainability, and should be so acknowledged.

So, Donald Trump may believe coal gives the US a financial advantage, but this is short-sighted.  Apparently China is the largest purchaser of US coal exports, but China built 431 waste-to-energy plants in 2016, so it may not need our coal much longer.  With the reduced cost of solar, India is also going greener.  China is the biggest carbon-emission nation in the world, and the US is second.  Russia is third, and India fourth, according to Google 2011 data.  Americans probably generate the most waste, though, 4.5 pounds of garbage per person per day, and recycling has decreased, now down to about 30 percent.

So, while I solved my personal problem of how to swim without getting mud between my toes and oyster shell cuts on my feet, I also solved a lot of world problems, and I never had to leave home.





18 thoughts on “The View from Below

  1. navasolanature

    Very interesting to follow your thoughts as you clear your way down to the river. I really hope one day we will all put the environment first and all rivers can recover and there will be a better way of living. Perhaps Germany will lead the way now!
    As for Trump I feel it is better he has pulled out because it seems to pull everyone else together more in going ahead with more sustainable solutions! Hope you had a good swim. I have been in Manchester with my older daughter and now in London with the younger one. The terror attacks shock us and so sad for those involved but when I return to my woodland retreat in Spain I am back in a natural world which is also under attack from our actions. I will go and swim in the reservoir where the levels are low as there had been little rain this year! Take care and loved your river memories and thoughts.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Nava, Good to hear from you. It does seem the other nations are pulling together, so Trump’s departure may turn out well. Maybe those other nations will embarrass the US people, if not the administration, into behaving.

  2. Rosaliene Bacchus

    Katharine, I had no idea that you lived on one of our front lines of environmental fatigue: overflowing river bank, mosquito invasion, and noise pollution. Take comfort! When the war becomes full-blown, you’ll be the first to know, being so close to the Hunter Army Airfield 🙂

    By the way, forgetting the downside, I think it’s cool to have a river in your backyard. In addition to solving the world’s problems, it should also be a great place for inspiration when working on your sci-fi novel 🙂

    1. katharineotto Post author

      thanks, Rosaliene. It has always been a source of inspiration. As I child I used to watch the orbiting satellites and wish they would abduct me. Now, light pollution, traffic noise, and Hunter have all but destroyed the peacefulness. (And the insects, of course.)

  3. katharineotto Post author

    Addendum to the above: My sources at the Army Corps of Engineers remind me that the Corps merely executes directives from the Federal Government but does not set policy itself. In other words, to get the mosquito nest drained or otherwise under control would take an act of Congress. And, if my friends are correct, we will all grow old and/or die before that happens.

      1. katharineotto Post author

        They are government drones, after all. Their jobs are to take orders and execute them, as in all government agencies, or in the military. It’s bad for your career if you challenge or question a superior. I like these guys as individuals, but they will tell you they wanted the security and benefits of a government job rather than the uncertainty of working in the private sector. It’s clear the government competes with the private sector for talent, which they then squash.

      2. katharineotto Post author

        BTW, I just tried for the second time to comment on your latest blog, but WordPress won’t let me do it. I see seven others have commented, but I can’t access their comments, either. Don’t know what’s happening. I thought your blog was yet another inspirational piece and appreciate your directing people like me to writers and poets we may not otherwise ever hear about.

  4. Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    I envy you being able to swim in a river in your backyard, no matter its condition. I swim in creeks and rivers all over the middle of South Carolina and love the feeling.

    I know so many people who have never done more than take a dip in a neighborhood swimming pool and are afraid to so much as wade in the ocean. They, as you know, don’t realize what they’re missing out on.

    Of course, your location means you’ve seen a deterioration in quality over the years, which has to be difficult. Who knows what’s in the sludge on the bottom of the Savannah these days?

    1. katharineotto Post author

      It is a luxury, underappreciated of late, but I’m changing that. Used to be so much busier and is a little lonely now. Some kayakers seem to have found it, though.

      I do wonder what is in the river these days, since drainage ditches flow into it, and who knows what else goes in. The Savannah River is a long way away, but it is officially dead. I’ve heard of people getting chemical burns from falling in that one.

      1. katharineotto Post author

        I believe the Savannah’s worst pollution is at the south end, where there is so much industry. The cumulative effects of industrial discharge, like heavy metals, probably settle here. That’s one reason I’m concerned about the harbor deepening. The dredge material is probably more toxic than any of the proponents want us to know.

      2. katharineotto Post author

        And tritium, leaking from Plant Vogtle, according to some. And we are paying for two more nuclear power plants. Some claim nuclear energy is clean, because the power plants don’t emit carbon. Ye gods, but do people need an education in science . . .

  5. Holistic Wayfarer

    The current administration could use you! Typically, his claims that keeping the Accord would damage certain industries (coal, etc) in our economy were not founded, each depending on so many factors beyond participation in the Accord.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Holistic, Thanks for the compliment. My aim is to by-pass the administration, and appeal directly to individual Americans to curb excess and waste. We could do so much more than we are doing, and don’t have to wait for Congress or the president to act.

      Trump’s win in November was like a sock in the gut to so many (including you, I believe), that they’ve shown little motivation to resume involvement. I’m hoping individuals will see current events as a catalyst for individual and collective, pro-active, environmental awareness, outside government.

  6. Lewis

    Very inciteful. So good to hear someone with reasons for climate change other than “not throwing enough money at it”

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Lewis, Thanks for the supportive comment. “Climate change” is a multi-factorial problem, vastly more expansive than just CO2 and methane. It has more to do with humankind’s disrespect for the earth, generally, including overpopulation, overbuilding, wastefulness, deforestation, over-use of plastic (which also contains long carbon chains), environmental toxins, and misuse of resources, just to name a few. At least the current focus is beginning to wake people up and suggest ways they can curb excesses. This becomes the opposite of “throwing money at it,” and might encourage more resourcefulness, such as watching the sunset instead of driving to the mall.


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