• Ed Flattau

Lessons Not Learned

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” It is a venerable adage indicative of mankind’s failure to benefit from past environmental lessons.

In the aftermath of recurrent natural disasters, solutions to reduce the damage become obvious yet continue to be ignored by the public. The will to act is often sabotaged because of the perceived notion that crippling sacrifice is involved. Yet the “sacrifice” that is resisted is no more than living in harmony with Nature. That requires elevating public health over materialistic values, an arrangement in which wisdom should not be mistaken for deprivation.

Nature provides salvation for those who respect it. Keep in mind that Nature’s ruinous outbursts are ecological regenerative agents as well as destructive forces. Thus, hurricanes rejuvenate freshwater supplies, and their gale-force winds build up protective coastal sand dunes when not hindered by rows of beachfront houses.

Another way that Nature provides relief is through the natural buildup of coastal marshes to reduce the impact of storms. In an ideal world, permanent structures would not be built on unstable barrier islands during their gradual migration to the mainland.

Our frequent failure to live in harmony with Nature despite past lessons is illustrated by the sustained loss from ill-advised replacement of settlements in the paths of periodic volcanic eruptions, intense forest fires, inundation of flood plains, and coastal hurricane hotspots from rising sea levels and ocean temperatures. Nature’s solution for coastal residents is to retreat to higher ground. If, after being wiped out, homeowners decide to stay and rebuild in the exact same place at water’s edge, they should bear the full cost. It is an application of the “polluter pays” principle which serves as a disincentive to engage in an ultimately losing battle with the elements.

Bottom line: Nature is a first-rate teacher. It is the will of its human students that all too often falters, turning them into lemmings hurtling towards a future of unrelenting misery.


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