Alice In Vacationland
By David Van Wie
In Through the Looking Glass, Alice and the Red Queen run and run and run. When they stop to rest, Alice realizes they are still under the same tree. Explaining to Alice, the Red Queen says:
'Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere, you must run at least twice as fast as that!'
Keeping up with environmental protection is a bit like running the Red Queen's Race. As our state grows and prospers, we must make a commitment to continuous improvement in environmental quality so that we can enjoy "the way life should be."
Imagine a small city or a group of towns in Maine. The town council and local chamber of commerce would like to see the existing businesses grow and prosper as well as attract some new businesses and grow the tax base. The citizens of the town want to maintain the quality of life as they know it.
Let’s work the numbers. Say the existing businesses grow by 5% per year, and the town is successful in attracting new businesses that account for an additional 3% in economic growth. What town wouldn’t be thrilled with 8% growth in a year? The new and growing businesses create jobs. New people move to the area, build homes and shop locally, adding to the good economic times.
Sounds great. But the growth doesn’t come without an impact on the environment. The citizens want to maintain their quality of life, but they find that growth leads to new roads, filled wetlands and an expanded sewage treatment facility. Development around lakes near the town adds sediments and nutrients that cause algae growth, robbing the lakes of their beauty. As the local economy grows, pollution also grows - at about 8% per year! That means pollution and other environmental problems will double every 9 years.
What can be done? Well, we don’t have to stop economic growth, nor do we have to accept a degraded environment. The community can meet its economic and environmental goals by making a commitment to continuous environmental improvement. In order to maintain the quality of life in their town, every business and every citizen must do their part to "make room" for the economic growth.
In my example, businesses must find ways to reduce their waste and emissions - by 5 or 10% per year - just to keep up, just to keep the quality of life and the local environment the way it is today! The town must find ways to use infrastructure more efficiently and reduce erosion entering the water from the roads and driveways. Citizens must learn how to create buffers around lakes and ponds to reduce polluted runoff from entering the water from their property.
Pollution is not someone else’s fault anymore. We all contribute. Environmental protection is everyone’s responsibility.
When it comes to protecting our environment, many people feel a bit like Alice. It takes all we can do just to stay in the same place. If we want to actually improve the quality of our environment, we must work at least twice as hard as that.
David Van Wie
Director of Bureau of Land & Water Quality
Maine Department of Environmental Protection