Are you better off than in 2008?

Published 6:40pm Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The question that seems to be going around now is “Are you better off now that you were in 2008?”
The answer for many is “no,” but the opposite is also true for many of us. The recession has required many of us to re-evaluate our priorities, to change jobs, to share jobs or do something else altogether. The assumption of the media is that to be “better off” means to make more money.
The recession has forced many people to decide what it really means to be “better off.” Maybe it means to have more time at home with our children, or to have a rewarding job that pays less. I hear people bemoan the fact that the younger generation does not seem to have the same work ethic as the older generation. I sort of think that they have seen how working 60 hours a week for a big paycheck does not necessarily bring happiness to a home. Maybe they have discovered by watching us that quality of life is measured by more than money.
As far as conservation is concerned, the recession can be seen as a good thing. Large tracts of land no longer face the threat of being gobbled up development. Those days are over and will not be back for a long time; the greed factor has been erased. People are beginning to think more about how to use their land in some sort of a responsible forestry or agricultural way, and see value in local products. Instead of thinking that someone from outside will come and give us big money for our land, we’re thinking about what we can do ourselves.
The old days are over, and that is good for the environment. My fear is that we will be duped into thinking that we can bring back the good old days when gas was 79 cents a gallon. Those “golden years” came to us at great expense to the environment; now we are paying the price of years of irresponsible land use.
One in four Americans lives within a mile of a dump. Acres of land both here and in third world countries are contaminated by waste and devastation created by industries that fueled growth and jobs of the good ole days. When the Superfund was created by congress, dump clean-up was paid for by an oil industry tax. In 1995 that tax was ended, which was a great plus for the oil industry; but now clean-up is funded by the taxpayer, and the funds are running out. Our children are left with leaking dumps and no money for clean up.
In the past 18 years the National Park System has lost 40 percent of its funding. Consequently, roads and trails damaged by storms and fire are abandoned or closed. Crews of workers have been laid off, joining the ranks of the unemployed. Our national parks are one of our greatest treasures, yet we are willing to let them go because we do not want to pay the cost of maintenance. All the while we are willing to pay $3.90 for a gallon of gas, but not pay taxes to maintain our parks.
Streams that were once loaded with fish are filled with sediment sent downstream during our residential housing boom from 1980 until 2008. Many of you reading this column live in those houses, and you want to see our streams run clear again. The one-mile streambank restoration project on the North Pacolet River cost taxpayers $1.6 million, fixing problems caused by those great jobs since WWII, building roads and houses. Those jobs have given us a higher standard of living than our grandparents could imagine, as well as giving our educated children environmental problems equally unimaginable to our grandparents.
I would hesitate to say that our polluting actions were altogether irresponsible, because I am not sure that we actually understood the environmental havoc being created. But today it’s a different story. We know what fracking does, and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Isaac brought up blobs of oil from the 2010 BP spill, reminding us that the blobs are still there. To return to the old way of doing things now that we know the environmental consequences of the ways of the “prosperous years” would be irresponsible at best.
Quality of life is not all about jobs and money. There are jobs out there that will benefit the environment and build a better future for our grandchildren, but they are not the same jobs that have built up our military industrial society, and they may not pay as much. We may need to give up the second car and the second job in exchange for time to sit on the front porch and breathe clean air.
It’s all about choices.

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