Environmental and Ecological Issues
by John Speir
Southerners and Southern Culture have always been closer to Nature and Nature’s God than any other culture in North America. Our deeply ingrained traditions of hunting and fishing, combined with our Agrarian heritage, have led us into a closer relationship with the entire spectrum of the great outdoors. Because of this, Southerners have a deep and abiding respect for animals and plants along with the soil and the water on which, and in which, they live.
Part and parcel with our ancient human traditions and heritage is the deeply rooted belief that the universe was created by the Sovereign God of the Bible (Genesis 1:1), that this God owns everything in the universe (Deuteronomy 10:14), and that humans are stewards of this Earth (Genesis 1:28). As such we are directly accountable individually for how we manage this Earth. Because Southerners combine an inherent love of nature with the unshakeable belief that “this is my Father’s world,” we naturally want to protect and preserve all of God’s natural resources not only as a matter of stewardship and enjoyment, but as a matter of worshiping the Creator God of the Universe.
Additionally, we just as naturally abhor the squandering, despoiling and/or destruction of any natural resource for mere money, pride or other wrong motive.
At such time as Southerners regain control over our own affairs, we, as a people, would weave environmental and ecological protection, restoration, and preservation into to our daily lives and legislation. We are very aware that, despite our commitment God’s Earth, there are several enormous problems with “legacy wastes” left over from the Yankee government (DOD, DOE, etc), and from corporations allowed to misbehave under their baleful misrule. Some of these problems, such as radiation wastes, will likely take generations to remediate.
The environmental and ecological problems currently afflicting the soil, water and air of the US are so numerous in type, and so diverse in degree, that it would require at least a book to discuss them in the detail they deserve. Therefore, a complete treatment of this subject is beyond the scope of this short paper. Instead, there will only be generalized references to environmental problems combined with a brief mention of some remedies.
Hazardous, Toxic and Radioactive Wastes
After World War II, industrial growth in the US exploded. Not only did American ingenuity outdo itself by inventing a diverse host of artificially manufactured chemicals, but we produced them in massive quantities for use and sale, both domestically and abroad. In the 1950's and 1960's we did not always understand the deleterious effects of these hazardous and toxic chemicals, their by-products, or their waste products. The same is true of radioactive wastes from nuclear weapons manufacture and nuclear power production.
Because of this deficient understanding, these wastes were often simply tossed onto the ground or buried. If these deliberate actions were not enough, there are a host of accidents and negligent acts that have contributed to the spoiling of our environment: leaking underground storage tanks, uncontrolled air emissions from industry, abandoned waste sites, ocean dumping, sloppy hazardous waste management, poor mining and farming practices, ad infinitum.
These releases contaminated soil, bedrock, sediments, lakes, ponds, aquifers, rivers, estuaries, streams, the ocean, the atmosphere, etc. with dangerous chemicals and constituents. (A current example is the PCB contamination of Anniston, Alabama. It is estimated that most of the town is contaminated, to varying degrees, with polychlorinated biphenols.) Numerous medical studies have demonstrated a connection between environmental contamination and disease. The list is too long and too diverse to detail here.
And while industry and government have done their damage, the average individual has his share of the blame to shoulder. As consumers, we have tossed away uncountable tons of unused and spent commercial products. Most of these are in leaking municipal solid waste landfills.
The Southern conservationist heritage has never had to deal with the question of clean air because it was only in recent decades that this problem appeared. However, due to modern air pollution from industrial stacks, internal combustion engines, aerosol products, etc., the issue of clean air has forced itself upon us because of negative health effects on humans, plants and animals, plus damage to bodies of water and the soil and even man-made structures.
The current Clean Air Act identifies 188 toxic air pollutants. At elevated ambient levels air pollutants can cause a wide range of adverse health effects, such as lung damage and diseases, cancer, heart diseases, birth defects, neurological diseases, damage to the immune system, and even death. Children and the elderly are particularly at risk.
Acid precipitation (acid rain, acid snow and acid fog) damages soil, subsoil biota, crops, bodies of water, plants and animals. For example, acid precipitation is responsible for the wholesale destruction of certain species of trees in the Appalachian Mountains, north and south. Historical buildings and monuments (marble in particular) are corroded and ruined in place by acid precipitation. Pollutants also ruin atmospheric visibility in our natural scenic areas, cities, towns and farms by cutting natural visibility in half and colouring the air unnaturally.
Indoor air quality is an issue not only because most Americans spend the majority of their time indoors, but because indoor air can be worse than outdoor air. Indoor air pollutants include radon (naturally occurring), particulate matter, tobacco smoke, dust mites, mold and mildew, asbestos, lead, pesticides, etc. Exposure to naturally occurring radon gas is the second leading cause (after smoking tobacco) of lung cancer among Americans.
While some 70 per cent of the earth’s surface is water, unfortunately it is in the form of salt water that is unfit for human consumption. Of the fresh water in existence on our planet, approximately 75 per cent is locked up in glaciers and polar ice, and is therefore essentially unavailable. Of the remaining 25 percent of Earth’s fresh water, nearly all is stored in aquifers as ground water. (Surface water makes up a paltry one per cent of all fresh water.) That means our largest reservoir of fresh water for irrigation, drinking water and all other purposes is groundwater.
The Floridan Aquifer is one of the most productive aquifers in the world. This aquifer underlies approximately 100,000 square miles of five Southern states: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. It is crucial to Southern agriculture. It is said that if all of Georgia were turned into farmland it could feed the entire US using just the Floridan Aquifer. In a world where the newspaper headlines are declaring water shortages all across the US, the value of groundwater to our continued existence can scarcely be understated.
Humans have shown a truly callous disregard for aquifer protection. For example, in Florida the drinking water of an entire town was destroyed by a single small business when their hazardous waste contaminated the town’s aquifer. But hazardous waste is not the only way to ruin an aquifer. When aquifers are over pumped due to demand for more and more water, chemical changes in the rock can destroy their future recharge capacity. The water demands of overpopulation and excessive immigration will heavily affect this scenario.
Surface waters such as lakes, ponds, rivers, estuaries, creeks, streams, marshes, swamps, and other wetlands are also important. They are an essential link in the entire ecosystem, both aquatic and terrestrial. For example, estuaries and coastal wetlands provide spawning grounds, nurseries, habitats, and food not only for aquatic life, but for terrestrial and avian species as well. Surface waters also provide essential recreation in the form of swimming, boating, skiing, and the time-honored sport of fishing.
But these delightful gifts of God have not gone unscathed. US industry, government, and individuals have used our lakes, rivers, estuaries, etc. as a dumping ground for their waste. The classic case of how bad it can get is the Cuyahoga River which flows through Cleveland, Ohio. It became so polluted that in June 1969 it caught on fire. In Kentucky some folks toss anything into sink holes. These usually connect to cave streams which become polluted.
Before European settlers came to the US the land consisted of forests, shrublands, grasslands, deserts, and wetlands. Now hundreds of millions of acres are “developed” for residential, urban, industrial, recreational, and transportation use. With the building of this infrastructure came the destruction of animal habitats, mass soil wasting from clearing land, and the disruption of surface water pathways.
Land is also lost to the incursion of open water. This is particularly a problem in Louisiana where more than 600,000 acres of coastal, vegetated wetlands have already been lost. The loss of these wetlands is expected to continue at a rate of 16,000 to 19,000 acres per year. Part of this loss of land is due to subsidence from fluids being pumped out by the oil industry.
After the arrival of European settlers, the average topsoil thickness across the US went from nine inches to three inches. A lot of this came from poor farming practices. Unwise management of one’s own land has too often led to mass erosion (for example, Providence Canyon near Columbus, Georgia) with its concomitant loss of topsoil. With this host of problems already in place, Southerners will have to deal not only with damage already done, but also with present processes and actions.
Solutions to many environmental and ecological problems are obvious to anyone with even rudimentary common sense. Most such solutions have been widely published, and need not be detailed here. Simply put, we can not continue “business as usual,” or the very world in which we live will be poisoned beyond recognition. We must practice protection, restoration, and preservation.
Prevention includes a host of activities, chief of which is to not manufacture products that cause environmental damage. This means the product itself as it is used, or once it is used-up and becomes a waste. It also means waste generated by the manufacture of any product. Recycling is a critical practice here.
Prevention means not using land, water and air as a dump zone for wastes. While some manufacturers, consumers and governmental entities have done this to save costs, it increases costs in the long run as individuals, companies and governments have to pay a higher cost for clean-up.
One idea not readily fostered is for humans to move away from the antiquated practice of living in large cities. Cities are a relict of the industrial age, and are no longer financially self-supporting. They are essentially artificial entities, concentrating human problems of every sort, especially environmental. With city living comes a disconnection with nature and Nature’s God, to the ruination of the quality of human life.
A better idea is for the human race to disperse back to smaller towns where a greater sense of community is developed and practiced. In smaller towns people would be better served to have their own gardens where the wholesome natural therapy of growing plants (and raising animals) leads to a world where a connection to the soil is maintained and a focus towards God is sharpened.
We should also take a lesson from nature, and utilize underground space as much as possible. This does not mean taking over existing natural spaces such as caves whose wonder and beauty have often been destroyed by humans. Instead, it means putting as many buildings underground as reasonably possible For example, why should movie theatres (which have no windows) be wasting valuable land surface and habitats? The same applies to a host of other buildings such as store-it-yourself buildings, manufacturing facilities, etc. If these kinds of buildings were built underground they would require much less energy for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. This would save on land and fuel.
Other human activities such as hospitals, churches, and homes must have a surface component for the sake of good emotional, spiritual and mental health. However, such buildings should utilize subsurface space as much as possible. Transportation should also be subsurface wherever feasible. While underground construction is initially more expensive, it is protective against a variety of surface natural dangers. All of this is applicable where conditions allow for such construction.
In conclusion, with the freedom to act in our own interests and not compelled to serve the selfish interests of the Federal government and the vast corporations, the Southern People would do more than develop a balanced environmental approach to living for ourselves. We would create healthy relationships with the various tribes within our borders, and with all other nations. A newly independent South would work diligently with the other nations of the world to protect the oceans we all share and the atmosphere we all breathe.
John Speir is an advocate of sound energy policy and true environmental conservation. Mr. Speir lives in Georgia.
If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.
What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?