My Chesapeake Ethic

I have spent this last semester traveling around the Chesapeake Bay. Within that time I have met many people who work on or for the bay. After talking to these people I have learned that there is no one out there who does not believe that the bay is in trouble. The problem arises with trying to find the best way to save it. Looking back at my first blog about my Chesapeake ethic, I ended it by saying that my ethic was to do everything you can to save the bay but know that you cannot do everything. While I still believe that, I have learned this past semester that most ideas that people have to try and help end up getting dismissed due to the negative short-term effects that they will have on people. At this point, however, the bay’s health needs to be put first and people need to adapt to the negative impacts that may have on them. This stance needs to be adopted by all for two main ethical reasons. The first is that the generation that caused (and is still causing) the degradation of the bay has a responsibility to clean up the mess that they made. The second is that all people are ethically responsible to clean up the bay for the future generations to be able to enjoy it like the generations that came before them did.

When I was a child, I was a klutz, always spilling my drinks and making a mess. Whenever I did, my mother would make me mop up the floor. The mopping that I had to do taught me a valuable lesson: if you make a mess you have to clean it up. Multiple times this semester we have spoken with people who have apologized to us for their generation messing up the bay.  This goes to show that we know and they also know that it was them who messed up the bay, yet many people in that generation not only actively pollute the river ways that end up in the bay but they also fight against anyone or anything that could possibly help to reduce the amount of pollution. When you make a mess you have to clean it up. Why is it ok for the people who have admitted to messing up the bay to sit back and leave their mess for future generations to clean up for them? The generation that made the mess has an ethical responsibility to clean it, not only for themselves but also for the generations that have and will come after them. The next generation, and any that come after them have the right to have the bay available so they are able to get the most enjoyment out of it that is possible. This right is slowly being taken away from the future generations with the way that the bay and the land surrounding it have been used. “We hold its waters and their denizens to be a public trust, to be held in stewardship for future generations; while the surrounding land, most of the massive 64,000-square-mile watershed, remains a free-market commodity, its highest and best use largely determined by the short-term economics of individual gain” (Horton, 1987,  pg. 212). The contradictory life style that is present in the watershed is ruining the chances for the bay to be used by the future generations. When the water is “protected” but the land around it has roundup sprayed on it every farming season, or has chicken manure put on to it twice a year, the pollution in the bay is still going to increase, eventually rendering it unsafe for future use. The generations that have polluted the bay in the past and continue to pollute it today are failing themselves and the future generations that have not even been born yet.

An argument against putting the bay first is that in order for it to work many changes would have to happen. This would include ending all wild harvest of the animals that live in the water, and stopping the use of round up and chemical fertilizers. Both of these would harm people’s lively hoods to the point where they would not be making any money from them. However, from the struggle that would be presented new technologies will come out to create and sustainable farming tactic. So while there would be unethical processes that would have to occur eventually in the long-term it would be for the better.

The bay needs to be cleaned up, everyone agrees on that. People, however, do not want to see it cleaned if it is going to hurt them in the short term. The short term mindset that many waterman and farmers have needs to change if the bay is ever going to be cleaned. It is too late to have the “best of both worlds” where the bay and the land in the watershed are heavily exploited in a way that does not cause harm the water. The bay needs to be the priority, and those who are causing the harm to it have a moral responsibility to clean up after their mess to ensure the bay can be used by future generations. Putting the bay first is the only way that it will ever be saved. While the argument might be made that it is unethical to cut off people’s livelihood it is more unethical to allow the bay to continue down the path of destruction that it is on.

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