It would be easy if we could simply save the bay and check that project off the list. But as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's new study makes clear, saving the bay is a not a project that can be begun and finished. Rather it is a never-ending process that requires changes of habits as well as a rational reassessment of the economic value society places on its natural resources.
As Tom Horton and William M. Eichbaum, authors of the report, wrote on the Other Voices page last week, this society routinely allocates millions of dollars for sewage treatment plants while declaring that it is not cost-effective to allow a forest to stand undeveloped, even though forest land also performs crucial filtering and cleansing functions for the environment. Obviously, the traditional definition of "cost-effective" is sorely inadequate.
The bay report raises hard questions and poses solutions that, at first bounce, seem harsh indeed. Not surprisingly, there is already criticism of the report's call for a ban on oystering. But which is the worse alternative -- a few years without oysters or a whole future without them?
It's one thing to deplore population pressures on the environment in Bangladesh or sub-Saharan Africa; it's quite another to come to terms with the consequences of population pressures here at home. But for anyone who loves the bay or even acknowledges its irreplaceable value, those consequences are sadly evident. Any significant reduction in population is an impractical solution, of course. But that means it is even more important that society find new ways of living in harmony with the bay.