Chapel Hill: Opinion

Steven Earl Salmony: Ecology must come before economy as we become a city

By Steven Earl Salmony

If you listen, it is possible to hear the sirens singing, “Grow, grow, grow. Merrily, merrily we go...” Economic growth is worshipped today just as much as the dollars that support it and the profits derived from growth. There appears to be little more of a chance at stopping growth than resisting the songs of sirens. So sweet the sounds. How satisfying the monetary returns of a robustly growing economy.

But with this seemingly unending growth comes problems that only a few are ready to acknowledge much less address. There is a loss of much more than the character of a town with the rise of a city. Biomass is converted into human mass. That means we take biomass for human purposes and in the taking leave fewer trees, adulterated water, less wilderness, more air pollution. It also means more people and more buildings as well as fewer places for living things to roam free.

There are many ways the growth of human mass in Chapel Hill contributes to much larger problems associated with economic growth activities in North Carolina, the United States and worldwide. The townspeople of Chapel Hill are contributing our fair share to the creeping ecological degradation of the air, land and water in the town, the state, the country and the world. Economy precedes ecology everywhere.

Chapel Hillians are allowing the town to be changed into a city with all its attendant problems. Virtually anywhere we go people in other towns can be seen doing the very same things: growing villages into towns, towns into cities, cities into standard metropolitan areas and SMAs into megalopolises. The trajectory cannot be maintained on a planet of relatively small size, finite resources and frangible environs of Earth because our ways of envisioning and planning for sustainability are themselves unsustainable ... because economy precedes ecology in our thoughts and actions.

Another path has to be found and taken. Perhaps that path takes us toward dedicating ourselves first to cleansing the air, soil and water of human waste; to recognizing human limits as well as accepting the “rules of the house” of our planetary home; and to connecting with the community of non-human living things on Earth.

Just as the absence of war is not peace; so, too, doing less harm to the planet and its biodiversity is not the same kind of behavior as doing good for the Earth. Doing good things is doing things in ways that actually and primarily foster first the preservation of biomass as well as the protection of all great and small living things, regardless of economic benefit or lack thereof. Ecology precedes economy. Although doing good things is achievable, it is not easy. Some believe doing good things is too hard. Better to be clever and make lots of money than do good, they say.

Somehow a new way will be found that leads to change in priorities and the choice of another path. But first of all we will be required to hear the calls and see the needs to fundamentally alter the business-as-usual way we are doing things now. Perhaps meaningful change in which ecology precedes economy is in the offing. Doing good is already alive, visible and well in the world. Engage in the struggle by doing good things while there is still time for the necessary preservation of Earth’s ecology to make a positive difference in the quality of life for our children, their kids and future generations. Spread the word.

Steven Earl Salmony lives in Fearrington Village.