Lessons from the Total Eclipse

By Gary Swick

Picture yourself standing on the banks of the Fox River 1,000 years ago. Imagine experiencing a total solar eclipse without any knowledge of what is actually occurring, or why it’s happening. It is more likely that it would be regarded as frightening than interesting or exciting. After it passed, you probably would have a feeling of relief and greater appreciation for the gifts of sunlight. This year we anxiously awaited its coming, and appreciated the eclipse with awe.

Experiencing a total eclipse may be a metaphor for a culture’s shake up resulting in reflections on valuing what we have, and could unexpectedly lose. Experiencing dark times can sometimes help us move forward with better vision.

The United States of America began an environmental revolution in the in the 1960’s. 1970 was a breakthrough year with the establishment of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Clean Air Act, the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act (RCRA), Earth Day and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Since then, environmental regulations have beome more sophisticated with increased scientific understanding and in response to new threats. The result is that environmental quality has in general steadily improved. We have been making progress.

However, not everything has been positive during this era. Habitat loss, influences from invasive species, new forms of pollution, human population pressure, and “over harvesting” have had devastating impacts. My point here is not about the particular threats, but about applying scientific knowledge to make policies that protect our environment.

Environmental protection on a national scale has had its pressures from some administrations. Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House, and the next President, Ronald Reagan took them off. President Obama had them reinstalled. In addition to administration philosophies, special interest groups in agriculture and energy production have challenged and sometimes weakened policies. Generally, the EPA and other related federal agencies have been able to continue to protect our air and water. Politics often determine legislation, but science has been the driving force in environmental policy-making.

Currently, our bright future of enhancing environmental protection through policy (Paris Climate Change Agreement), strong agency control, and scientifically based legislation, is experiencing a growing darkness. Some folks feel like total eclipse viewers from earlier times; fearful and uncertain. They didn’t see this coming, and don’t understand what is happening. Some folks did see this coming beginning in November, and do understand the dismantling of decades of environmental protection efforts. Like the eclipse, we hope the darkness will soon pass, and brighter days for environmental protection will be ahead.

Presidential appointments of personnel into leadership positions that formerly have been adversaries and attacked regulations are making environmentalists feel like we’re living through a total eclipse.

This passing shadow of darkness for environmental protection is making us natives restless. The scrambling is widespread and energized. The US pulling out of the Paris Agreement has been the catalyst for some States to create or improve their policies to counter climate change. Environmental organizations are on high alert, and the public is becoming more active. We understand we must collectively advocate for the environment against threats to dismantle decades of carefully created protective policies.

Friends of the Fox River (FOFR) has been largely an educational and advocacy organization. In these current conditions, our work is now more important than ever. This fall, FOFR is working through a strategic planning process. You are invited to be part of helping us evaluate our work and direction. Members and friends are asked to take our surveys on Survey Monkey. Your participation is important and appreciated. We will compile the data, conduct more in depth interviews, and use that information in our planning retreat.

You are also invited to the Friends of the Fox River’s “Sunset Vision Cruise” on the evening of Saturday September 23rd from 7-9pm. We will be aboard the paddlewheel boat, launching from Pottawatomie Park in St Charles. We have invited representatives from other organizations, agencies, and municipalities to join us and share their visions for the Fox River. We hope these perspectives will also help us in our planning process. Please register HERE to be inspired and glimpse the future!

One thing we have learned from eclipses is that they pass. The current assault on environmental protection is creating a looming swath of darkness. It is upsetting and mobilizing diverse factions in both the private and public sector. FOFR will keep you informed and provide opportunities for you to be involved in resisting and repairing threats to dangerous policies. We must act using science as our guide, not short-sighted political agendas.

Together, we can emerge from this temporary darkness into a brighter future for our watershed and all its inhabitants.