Editor's Notebook: Our annual environment issue will encompass art and culture
Nine summers ago, we published the first of what would become an annual issue devoted to Illinois' natural environment. With this edition, we aim to start a new tradition.
Each summer, we will assess the evolving relationship between nature and culture in an annual environment and arts issue. We think this is (excuse the expression) a natural next step. After all, our environment is, and always has been, a social construct. It is how we perceive it to be, how we see it or don't see it, and how that has changed over time.
In this issue, we continue to report on efforts to preserve our land, air and water, but we take a look, as well, at the relationship between our wild places and our built spaces. We explore the ways in which we see and don't see nature, and the ways in which we see and don't see the impact we have on it.
Stephanie Zimmermann reports that conservation activists worry Illinois is losing the battle to preserve open spaces, that this state is "falling behind its neighbors in its commitment to acquiring and managing undeveloped land."
Environmental historian Robert Kuhn McGregor returns to one of his favorite subjects, the past and future of our inland freshwater seas, the Great Lakes. He teases out the "ominous scientific fact" that even Lake Superior — so cold it breaks steel ships and buries their dead in icy graves — is beginning to succumb to global warming. But he's moved beyond reasons to results. "The fact that a warming Superior will severely impact weather patterns, influence navigation, alter habitats and affect the supply of a fundamental source of fresh water is more than enough to think about," he writes. "Climate change is occurring, and we should at least try to mitigate the consequences, rather than blundering along, praying that our blind faith in an unchanging natural world is well founded."
Settled scientific consensus also provides the starting point for Statehouse reporter Aaron Chambers. He reviews public perceptions of global warming and arrives at a discouraging assessment. "The news media," he writes, "has helped perpetuate skepticism about human-made global warming by tracking down — and balancing stories with — comments from a diminishing pool of skeptics."
In an effort to meet professional journalistic standards — and this is our own assessment — the media has fallen short on its primary mission to inform the public.
Yet that has begun to change, Chambers concludes.
James Krohe Jr. tackles a more fundamental issue: how we perceive nature itself. We are prone to project onto it our desires and fears — likely it's in our nature to do so.
His analysis that attitudes about sex have historically been reflected in how we see the flora and fauna in our backyards and on PBS nature specials might not surprise. But his argument that there is a relationship between battles over protecting our ecology and our borders might.
"There is an unmistakable echo of nativism of the social, human kind (no doubt unconscious)," he writes, "when non-native plant species are described."
We can promise you this: Krohe's essay is, as always, a thoughtful and interesting read.
And we hope the same can be said of this first environment, arts and culture issue.
Great Lakes Basin
Conservation pact is before legislatures
This spring, Illinois lawmakers agreed to give the governor authority to enter into a compact negotiated by eight states that is designed to begin to conserve water and natural resources in the Great Lakes Basin, which includes the St. Lawrence River in Québec.
The plan, which took years to craft, was spurred by the threat that mass amounts of water from the basin might be diverted and shipped across the globe. A parallel nonbinding international agreement was signed with Ontario and Québec.
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact has the least impact on Illinois because the U.S. Supreme Court authorized the diversion from Lake Michigan used to reverse the flow of sewage in the Chicago River.
However, the plan requires the states to monitor in-basin uses and diversions out of the basin. New diversions will need to be evaluated under a regional standard. Further, the states must create water conservation plans.
The draft was agreed to by Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Before the plan can take effect, it must be approved by all eight of the states' legislatures and Congress. As of mid-June, Minnesota was the only state that had ratified the plan. Illinois was the only state to get sign-off in both chambers. New York had achieved passage in one chamber. Indiana and Michigan had pending measures.
For the latest status of the compact, go to www.greatlakeswaterwars.com.
For the historical and political context, read The Great Lakes Water Wars by Peter Annin and the essay by Robert Kuhn McGregor in this issue.
Peggy Boyer Long can be reached at Peggyboy@aol.com.
Illinois Issues, July/August 2007