For Policy not Poses

Conducting an environmental policy or striking a pose?

The above “comic strip” was Walt Kelly’s tribute to Earth Day 1971. Two years earlier, the New York Times had reported that “Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam * * *.” Kelly died in 1973, probably confident that environmentalism would soon change our world for the better. Sadly, almost thirty-eight years later the enemy is still us. We have lots of environmentalists, volunteer and professional, and lots of aggressive environmental arguments and poses, but not much to point to as “success.”  According to Snopes, shockingly, George W. Bush’s house near Crawford, Texas, is vastly more energy-efficient than Al Gore’s near Nashville.  See http://www.snopes.com/politics/bush/house.asp

As a candidate for mayor of Annapolis, I am particularly interested in what the City can do. Well, lighting City buildings is a good place to start. Compact fluorescent bulbs last about ten times as long as incandescent bulbs, use about one-third the energy, and give off about three-tenths of the heat. Better yet, LED bulbs last over one hundred times as long, use about one-tenth the energy, and give off about one twenty-fifth the heat. The queen of England, who so far as I know has never claimed to be an environmentalist, started converting Buckingham Palace to LEDs over two years ago.

Development is another area where the City has a lot of influence, but unfortunately it’s hard for any mayor to resist because it enlarges the property tax base, providing more money without raising taxes. Developers tend to blame chicken farmers for polluting the Bay, but development is more damaging nowadays. Pollutants from septic systems are increasing throughout the watershed as development spreads farther beyond the reach of sewer systems. Likewise, storm water runoff from urban and suburban areas is increasing as more land is developed. On the other hand, runoff from farms is generally declining as farmers adopt nutrient management and runoff control techniques, and also because the overall amount of farmland is declining due to development.

What about yard care? I am not proposing that the City regulate it, but only that it pay a little attention and encourage the public in the direction of reasonable practices. Much lawn fertilizer becomes part of runoff and pollutes the Bay. Did you know that the two-cycle lawnmower your lawn-proud neighbor uses once a week in the summer generates much more pollution than a sports utility vehicle? Two-cycle mowers do seem to be on the wane, but even worse, a typical two-cycle leaf blower emits as much pollution as 80 new cars. That pollution, to the extent it isn’t breathed into plants and animals, settles on the ground and becomes part of the run-off too.

UPDATE: On April 17th, to its credit, the City posted green household suggestions and a certification survey. It mentions LEDs and encourages non-polluting mowers, but doesn’t mention leaf blowers.

Finally, what about “single stream” recycling, apparently the wave of the future for curbside collection? The idea seems to be that if we don’t have to sort things, we are more likely to participate. That seems fair enough, so long as we have a contractor who can sort it all out later. The only thing that baffles me is that we seem to have it already in Annapolis. Although we citizens are still separating paper from metals and plastics, the City’s current recycling contractor throws it all into a regular garbage truck. Is this single-stream recycling, or are we just pretending?


2 Responses to “Conducting an environmental policy or striking a pose?”

  1. Bevin Buchheister Says:

    Gilbert- there are other things the city can do to lead the way towards improving our environment that should not increase our taxes, like requiring the use of pervious paving surfaces wherever possible on all paving projects done in the city. Pervious surfaces allow water to percolate through to be filtered naturally by the earth before the water and all the contaminants reach the tributaries and the bay. They can also ban coal tar sealants on roads and parking lots.

    Also, F.Y.I the State passed a bill last session to require all new and replaced septics in the critical area to utilize a de-nitrification system, sot he nitrogen is not released into the Bay. The flush fee funds are paying the difference between a conventional system and the upgrade.

  2. grenaut Says:

    Thank you Bevin! It illustrates very nicely one of the things I have been stressing — the mayor needs to do a lot of listening in order to keep up with environmental advances (among other things). Unfortunately the City still puts impermeable concrete under brick streets and sidewalks it repairs.

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