Monday, February 21, 2011

Why Godzilla is bad for our Rochester, NY environment


Strange creatures in our region are evolving quickly to adapt to our toxic soups—those Brownfields and polluted waters we’ve been neglecting in our region for quite some time. Who knew, those Japanese weren’t kidding—Godzilla lives! Check out what’s happening in the Hudson River, just a few biomes away:

“Most people think of evolution occurring gradually over thousands of years, but apparently no one told the Atlantic tomcod. In just 50 years or so, the Hudson River fish has evolved to become resistant to toxic PCBs that polluted the river, researchers reported Thursday. Their secret is a gene variant. " (February 17, 2011) Hudson River fish resists PCBs through gene variant | "

“Monsters in our midst” make for great headlines for local environmental issues that don’t often get many headlines. That’s great because according to mainstream media, a planet that is slowly wasting away due to human pollution and other environmental issues is dull potatoes. Mutant species, though, arising from the gunk we once called rivers, is another kettle of fish.

By the way, most people may think that evolution takes a long time for species to change, but most scientists know that evolution can, depending on circumstances, move quickly. Those who think evolution and speciation only occur slowly over a long period of time should read The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time (ISBN 0-679-40003-6).

Anyway, how creatures can adapt to our Brownfields is not really the main issue—however fascinating this monsterization process is to our dysfunctional media. The real story is why we are not cleaning up Brownfields. BTW: Brownfields are abandoned sites, usually in urban locations, that are tainted by either real or perceived contamination, making them undesirable for private redevelopment efforts. The answer as to why we don’t clean up and stop all those Brownfields is simple. We don’t want to. Read the state of affairs on cleaning up Brownfields in New York State:

Builders make lucrative use of state tax credits meant for site cleanup -- It could take years to fix the state program that, while intended to clean polluted sites, has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into a relative handful of costly mega-projects with mini-cleanups. In three years, the Brownfield Cleanup Program cost taxpayers more than $464 million in tax credits, which are cash payments directly from the state treasury, but created only about $340 million in cleanups, according to a Times Union analysis of annual reports by the state Department of Taxation and Finance. (February 7, 2011) State 'fix' losing credit - Times Union

Anything we can do to avoid cleaning up a Brownfield is how we operate. For example, cleaning up the PCB’s in the Hudson River has been fought tooth and nail all the way. Check it out: The Hudson River PCB Story - A Toxic Heritage Think we’ll clean up more Brownfields now that we’re in the Great Recession and money is tight? Think again. Think Brownfields are just a few isolated incidents where only a few irresponsible corporations trashed our environment, then went bankrupt. Think again:

“Nearly every community in New York State is affected by contaminated and abandoned properties, or brownfield sites. Left untouched, brownfields pose environmental, legal and financial burdens on a community and its taxpayers. However, after cleanup, these sites can again become the powerful engines for economic vitality, jobs and community pride that they once were. Reforms made to brownfield legislation in 2008 make New York's programs smarter and more effective. .” Environmental Cleanup & Brownfields - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation

Mostly, we tend to think that our environment is one big drain into which we can pour our industrial waste, but the horrific contamination in our air, water, and land has given that fantasy a reality check. Our environment is incapable of breaking down toxic waste because three billion years of life on this planet did not evolve to do that. (Want to know where those Brownfields are in your area, check out Scorecard.)

Yet, despite the overwhelming proof that this pollution from industrial waste is poisoning our environment, we wait and wait and let that stuff sit in our environment and do its nasty businesses.

So, it’s weird. One of the things we may not have counted on is that through evolution some species can thrive in our toxic environment—though a zillion normal fish died in the process. And even if you adopt the depraved position that man is a part of Nature and so what he does in natural, then creating toxics rivers where new creatures evolve that thrive in our toxic environment presents a very strange conundrum: If you clean up these toxic sites, those animals and plants that evolved to live there will perish.

What a strange world we are living in. We let environmental degradation go on so long, that we create another horrific environment with new species that will be killed off when we get our act together and clean things up.

There’s an old saying: “Wherever you go, there you are.” That’s where we are. If we just forget about our environment and treat it like a great big garbage can, that’s the world we’ll be living in. But we may not be as tough as that little tomcod.

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