Roger von Butow
“I been cheated, been mistreated, when will I be loved?”
-- The Everly Brothers
Our part of Planet Earth, South Orange County, has been singing these
lyrics recently. Yet politicians and public agencies continue to spin a
rosy tale of celebratory action that is contradicted by the increasing
degradation of our surroundings.
To paraphrase comedian Henny Youngman: Take the parameters and
guidelines pursued in regards to “environmental compliance,” please. Take
them away as examples of “ahead of the curve” behavior.
Implementing the decrees of the statutory regulators is like getting a
“D” in your high school chemistry class. You did not excel, you just
didn’t flunk. Now we have “pass/fail” classes, based on this same
Know anyone who brags about just barely squeaking by? Well, the
parties entrusted with starting aggressive programs and enforcing our
laws are braying endlessly without any work product. Not one municipality
or entity in the whole county has ever totally met the Stormwater Permit
(NPDES) standards mandated, integrated the programs outlined or let alone
obtained a “C.”
A good place to begin “debunking” the facade of preventive measures is
with the studies. A veritable plethora of monitoring continues, clearly
necessary for any long-term, scientific database for ecologically related
This enables researchers to have a benchmark of where we are, and then
we can reflect upon our subsequent actions as having made a difference.
The separation from proactive versus reactive emerges quickly.
Observing the Titanic go down might provide valuable insights that
could have precluded future disasters in the North Atlantic shipping
lanes. Not much solace, however, for the passengers, the band or the crew
County and city officials, be they appointed or elected, continue to
typify our environmental crises with words like, “We’re studying the
problem intensely,” “We’re headed in the right direction” or “We’ve
turned the corner,” all predicated upon looking without doing.
Put a stethoscope on a dying patient, say to yourself “Yep, he dying.”
Have you cured the patient? I don’t think so, and neither does the
terminally ill. Consider “non-point source pollution,” known as urban
runoff, acknowledged by the Environmental Protection Agency in terms of
distress that caused the NPDES process to begin originally around 1987.
We know what’s in it, how it happens, and why it’s bad. It’s been
studied ad naseum. The agencies with the responsibility for cleaning it
up act as if it were only recently brought to their attention. Surprise.
As a society we’ve been looking at the real culprits in the mirrors of
our homes and businesses for years. Us. You and I. Time to be held
accountable, time to be responsible adults, time to clean up the mess
When a child, you couldn’t wait to be a grown-up, thinking it equated
with limitless freedom. Think again. Maturity brings the burden of
behavior that mandates discipline, preceded and succeeded by appropriate
gestures. When we’re ready to accept the challenges that necessitate
correction of our environmental faults, when we’re poised to restore and
preserve, only then can we boast of our compliance prowess. Going that
“extra yard,” lifting the bar so to speak, is a goal we need to set. Life
is more than paying attention or producing chest-pounding rhetoric and
brochures. With global warming, we’ve got enough hot air. Effort needs to
supplement cheerleading. Words matched by action.
Take Zeno of Elea, who formulated his “Paradox of the Half” that begs
the question before us: Halve the distance between two objects or points
in space ad infinitum. They never meet or touch, no matter how many times
you halve that distance into eternity. Approaching compliance is no time
for champagne corks to pop. Until we apply what we’ve already learned,
let’s not get complacent, or we’ll be playing catch-up forever by merely
complying and getting that big red “D” on our report card. Not really
something you’d proudly take home to mom, is it?
* ROGER VON BUTOW is Founder of the Clean Water Now! Coalition and
co-founder of the South Orange County Watershed Conservancy. E-mail: