Stuck in Time
One of our saddest shortcomings in coping with unresolved contemporary environmental problems is failure to apply solutions that were actually produced in the past.
What is behind the reluctance to put past proven solutions into play today?
Inherent in human nature is a resistance to shift from the relatively comforting status quo to a future fraught with risk.
Examples of this rigidity are persistent rebuilding on flood plains and barrier islands where structures are repeatedly demolished by climate-change-related weather extremes.
Take the case of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, which in June 1972 was inundated by extreme flooding. The city was situated on a highly vulnerable flood plain, yet residents returned to rebuild on the original site. Well-known mitigating measures such as relocation to higher ground and creation of an absorbent wetland buffer zone have been ignored to this day. Familiarity all too often instills a fatalistic Pavlovian streak.
Another reason “proven solutions” in the past have not been passed on to the present is more mercenary in character. Many landowners are not prepared to pay to protect their properties by financing revegetation of coastal wetlands and possibly having to move their structures inland to higher ground. To protect their assets in the short term, they expose themselves to repeatedly drowning their way into bankruptcy.
Perhaps one of the most glaring omissions to implement “proven remedies” of the past is failure to adhere to the precautionary principle – “better safe than sorry”. This basic concept of the Environmental Movement places an emphasis on knowledge of the actual risk and is a lesson of the past that we had better promote in the present or end up adhering to a reality hopelessly out of date.
Tom Gilbert/Tulsa World via AP