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.