By Nate McMurray
Town Supervisor of Grand Island
I was in a public park in San Francisco once and I saw a young woman pray to a tree. Yes, a tree. And it wasn’t even a particularly nice tree. She was covered in crystals, she spoke loudly, and made grand gestures as she said, “Dear goddess, we worship you, and we ask forgiveness for our crimes against nature.” After much of that, she wept loudly.
I want nothing to do with any of that scene. It’s strange and insincere. I’m not going to pray to any trees. I’m no extremist.
But I do believe our climate is being dramatically changed because of carbon emissions. Actually, I know it is. I’ve seen the evidence firsthand. But if you don’t, or don’t care, don’t worry. I’m not going to pick that fight with you either. Believe what you want.
I am going to ask you, however, to stop being a sucker. And I’m asking not just you, but I’m asking everyone Western New York to stop being suckers. Our region has been taken advantage of for far too long. Look around. Despite the incredible natural beauty we see, we remain plagued by crumbling smokestacks, smoldering dumps, and irritating eyesores. And it’s about time we stand up and say enough.
Did you know that not that long ago leafy Beaver Island State Park had the highest tested benzene levels in New York State? Does that make sense? Benzene is a dangerous cancer-causing chemical. It comes from car emissions, yes, but the large doses we saw could have only come from heavy industry, i.e., illegal smokestacks.
Traditionally, conservatism was about preserving what is great about our society and culture and passing it down to future generations. Sudden, abrupt changes to our world were frowned upon, because even well-intentioned changes may have unintentional, ruinous consequences.
Now, that may not be the vision you hear in conservative media today. But that is the core of conservative thought. From Edmund Burke on down – conservatism is about preserving and protecting the great things we do have. If you apply that view of the world to the environment, it makes sense too.
And that’s what Teddy Roosevelt did. He developed a system to make sure that public lands could not be overly exploited for short-term gain. The environmentalist John Muir saw it differently. He preached that nature was sacred and human interaction with it defiled that sacredness. But Roosevelt was more practical. His take was more about not killing the golden goose for dinner when you could sell its eggs and buy dinner. For example, you don’t clear-cut a field of redwoods for a Dollar Store.
What am I getting at? We have something special here in our region. It’s more precious than gold. It’s more precious than oil. It’s what it is essential to life: fresh water, and teeming rivers of it. Plus, we have the glorious Niagara Falls, which still draws millions to its celestial steep.
For far too long we let short-sighted hucksters exploit this region. They built gaudy amusements all over the falls and siphoned money away. And worse yet, they poisoning our air and water so that the children of very rich men could go to private schools and drive fast cars, while our children and neighbors choked on smog and went to schools built over leeching landfills.
Not that long ago, we as a community said that things would change. In 1977, a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, which was the site of a Hooker Chemical Company (now Occidental Petroleum) was exposed as the secret dump of over 21,000 tons of toxic waste. Hooker knew the poison was there, yet they sold the land to the local school board that built an elementary school over it.
Of course, I’m referring to the dreaded “Love Canal” episode. Which more than one observer called, a “national symbol of a failure to exercise a sense of concern for future generations.” We as a region mourned what happened and said no more. But sadly, how many of us even think about Love Canal today?
Yet the exploitation continues. The dark derricks of those chemical plants still blight the Niagara skyline (they must go!), these companies like still spin and make excuses for their recklessness, and we have black plumes of God-knows-what in the river.
It needs to end. Not because we’ve sinned against nature. Not because we need to pray to the trees for forgiveness. And not because Al Gore is ranting about flooding someplace far away. It needs to end because it’s time we stopped being suckers.
So this is what I ask. Let’s stop pretending the ugly and dangerous things around us don’t exist. For example, does it make sense to have that chemical plant along our river still? It’s a huge affront to the real golden goose of our region: tourism. So let’s not accept its continued presence as acceptable.
Let’s get it out, one acre at time! If you’re with me, email me. But no matter what, stop being a sucker. Stop allowing anyone to deprive you of what we deserve – clean air, safe water, healthy homes.