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Caring for the environment is politically out of fashion

Weeks after the weird June 29 windstorm that swept the Mid-Atlantic, I can't shake the feeling of being in an episode of "The Twilight Zone," the 1960s TV series that warned of living selfishly. A dash of Rod Serling spiking a large dollop of Catholic guilt.

With a mighty crack, a piece of the giant maple that has reigned in my front yard since Abe Lincoln lived in a log cabin nearly crushed my house during the derecho. Meanwhile, the rest of the country looked like it was burning up.

In fact, the whole abused planet seems in desperate need of relief. The only real question is if anyone in charge is paying attention.

No matter what happens, though, I'm not getting rid of what's left of my trees.

I let the trimming go too long; that's why I'm feeling the need for penance. Trees are good for the soul and, not incidentally, vital for the Chesapeake Bay. The message I get from Rod Serling is that we have to be very careful during this current frenzy to cut them down. These leafy guardians cool our air, give us oxygen to breathe, limit pollution runoff into the waterways, and, oh gosh, let us hang a swing from their boughs.

But maintaining the status quo is not nearly enough. Since 1980, developers have replaced some 750,000 acres of forestland in the bay watershed with houses, shopping centers and offices. The watershed continues to lose 100 acres of forest every day, according to a 2006 study by the Conservation Fund.

And, most of the forests that remain are fragmented, crossed by roads or power lines and sandwiched between developments. That makes their job of cleaning the air, absorbing rainwater and providing wildlife habitat so much harder.

Trees don't get nearly enough respect. Just last year, the city of Baltimore allowed Grand Prix organizers to cut down dozens of trees near the city center to give race fans a better view. But of course, it was city officials who were short-sighted. The Grand Prix went bust and the taxpayers are now footing the tab to plant new trees.

What's more frightening is that the aggressive environmental action needed to mitigate our selfish ways is now politically out of fashion.

Don't blame Republican Mitt Romney alone; neither of the major presidential contenders is talking about trees, or clean water or clean air.

The last time the nation really got worried about the environment was 1969, when Cleveland's Cuyahoga River caught fire. Rivers aren't supposed to burn. The nation was so scared that Republican President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, which gave rise to the national Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. No president has done more for the environment since.

But 40 years later, it's not enough. Sewage treatment is much improved, but water quality remains poor. The Clean Water Act needs to be tightened to include the runoff from farmland, and urban and suburban streets. The Clean Air Act needs to do a better job of curbing smokestack and auto emissions.

Sadly, no relief will be coming from the federal government any time soon. Even though there have been lots of folks out on the streets lately cleaning up debris, trimming trees and otherwise performing what might be called "green" jobs, they don't seem to make it into the statistics of a political jobs bill.

Our presidential contenders and their political backers seemed to be obsessed with some other kind of economic measure.

What we really need is a modern-day Johnny Appleseed — a guy who just travels around the country planting trees. They're cheap, they're easy, they're clean and they cool the air and water for nothing.

But while we're waiting for Johnny, here's a thought: We've got a presidential contest tied at dead center. What if each of the candidates was asked to address a real problem like climate change or scarce energy resources and pledge to win support for probably painful potential solutions?

OK, OK, too much "Twilight Zone." Look for me under my maple tree.

Karen Hosler, a former editorial writer for The Baltimore Sun, is a reporter, commentator and talk show host in Baltimore. This article is distributed by the Bay Journal News Service.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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