It costs what it’s worth

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange is generally pretty philosphical about change; but not when it comes to our natural environment.

(Lange) Scientists, who for lack of clear evidence have long equivocated on the subject of massive climate change, now seem to be approaching consensus that it’s happening. Northern New Englanders, who are beginning to find ticks on our dogs, are fairly sure it is. The Inuit along the north coast of our continent, and the Innu along the northeast, are positive it is. Even allowing for hyperbole, it’s clear to me the impact of the human species is increasing exponentially. I wouldn’t buy ocean-front property or shares in a ski resort.

Let me suggest a proposition you’ve heard before: You get what you pay for. I’ve been in the construction business long enough to know that if you cut corners or use cheap materials, you’ll end up paying at least the same in the end as if you’d done it right in the first place. Another way of putting it might be to say that everything costs what it’s worth.

Water is currently cheap, but what’s it worth? In some parts of the country, development is depleting or polluting underground aquifers that took thousands of years to fill. As the aquifers die, the price of water will finally rise to what water’s worth. If you’d like to know what that is, go through a day — even half a day — without any.

Until we recognize that the piper will be paid, the ultimate cost will continue to climb. If you take coal out of the ground on the cheap, everyone pays in the loss of once-beautiful country; in dead, sulfurous, orange-stained streams; in vanished wildlife. If you restore the land, coal costs more. But that’s what coal costs.

The problem isn’t science; we have plenty of that. It isn’t money. It’s politics. Sustained by contributions from businessess without the vision to see the ultimate cost of their ambitions, lawmakers have little stomach for environmental leadership. There will be no leadership from the current executive branch, either; its legalistic quibbles with proposals designed to mitigate our environmental problems reveal a selfish, narrow spirit. It knows hundreds of ways to say no. There’s only one way to say yes.

No other issue is as important in the end as the earth’s physical viability. But most decisions about environmental regulations are made by people who live in air-conditioned capsules. They need to inhale some Boston air during rush hour, tramp across a northern New England clear-cut on a hot day, and take water samples from ruined streams. There’s only one way to make them do that, even if only figuratively. You’ve got to ask the people asking you for your vote where they stand, and listen carefully to what the answer actually says. Then show them where you stand.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire.

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