Water Closet for December 9, 2016
[pullquote]”Of the seven places Blackwell visited the most unnatural and depressing, perhaps even to him, is the arc of refineries on the Texas coast in the Beaumont-Port Arthur area. “[/pullquote]Judy Schmitz, Middleton Conservation agent from 2011 to 2014, sent the old Closeteer a book entitled Visit Sunny Chernobyl by travel writer Andrew Blackwell. Blackwell is a ‘card’ who many in environmental fields might say should be ‘dealt’ with. He makes fun of us in delightful ways with his sharp observations, oddball sense of humor and surprising sentences. Like a good reporter he questions much that has become environmental doctrine. A very good writer, his sentences are insightful and smooth flowing with frequent jabs to get us out of our boxes. At times he strays far from orthodoxy and has us rereading and stopping to ponder. Here for example, are several self-effacing questions from the banks of a feces and urine filled tributary of the Yamuna, a sacred river in India near Delhi. “Are you not to venerate it merely because it smells? Why not worship it, suspended solids and all? What could be more sacred than a river that springs from inside your neighbor’s belly?”
And what could be more unorthodox than visiting the world’s most polluted sites in order to write about them? No spotless tame touristy European alleys or medieval castles like Rick Steve’s for Blackwell. The places this perverse pied piper leads us often stink, even to the point of gagging. Other places, not smelly and hardly seen, like the “Garbage Patch” of plastic in the Pacific, depress us. Perhaps while out of sight, too much in mind. The seemingly most dangerous place by far visited by Blackwell is the large area radiated by Chernobyl when it ran out of control during tests in 1986. Above the reactor and its doomed first responders, it spewed radiation out a thousand miles to Lapland where it then rode jet streams around the world. The heroes, whose actions saved thousands, died terrible deaths within a few weeks. Twenty years later only a few humans, tourists who go in and out and some old timers whom wouldn’t leave, can be found among the plants and animals that thrive despite gamma rays. The short-term danger for tourists like author Blackwell was vodka and cognac shared by the Ukrainian guides and officials whom he befriended.
Blackwell doesn’t rail against all polluters as so many of us do. He recognizes them as part of the places and therefore “natural.” They are living among circumstances out of their control. Many are out to make a buck, ruble, peso, or rupee. They like us are part of a larger economy not understood. Is it the mine workers’ fault in the awful Alberta oil sands mines that Americans insist on cheap gasoline for their several cars? Is it the fault of the poor “coin men” who dive among the piss and shit for jewelry and valuable metals from cremated remains dumped in the Ganges? Is it the soybean farmers’ fault for the destruction of large portions of the Amazon rain forests in Brazil? The loggers’? Blackwell after spending time in these places and seeking out the alleged villains usually finds people, many good, just struggling for a living. Isn’t this what people here and most places naturally do?
Of the seven places Blackwell visited the most unnatural and depressing, perhaps even to him, is the arc of refineries on the Texas coast in the Beaumont-Port Arthur area. Between the belching rusting pipes live people on the only land they can afford. These, poor blacks, without political clout, are surrounded by enormous refineries leaking poisons. The refineries’ owners and those with good jobs in the industry live well away out of sight. As he does almost everywhere, Blackwell makes friends and learns of their lives. He asks questions of them but doesn’t blame. The big shots aren’t available to him. Those are the people he should be talking too. He tries but is blocked by their underlings.
Likeable Blackwell gets the protestors and some victims of pollution and ecological damage to talk with him willingly. He quite naturally approaches and then eventually asks tough questions. They tell him of their discomforts doing what they are doing and how the systems are not working. For example in India the judiciary approves strong environmental regulations which are not enforced. The rivers become sewers. In Brazil the government allows some road building which provides access to the rain forests where terrible damage affecting world’s atmosphere is done. Loggers follow. Cattle ranchers follow them. Soon the once lush cool tall forests with thousands of species end up with one species on shadeless fertilized fields where soybeans are raised for Europe’s farm animals. A few machines have taken over where people and lots of other animals once lived.
And speaking of where people live, Blackwell visits cities in coastal China that receive our electronic castoffs. In places like Guiyu, family homes are also recycling factories. Computer motherboards are stripped of valuable metals which are melted down with all the attendant fumes. Family members and neighbors accept their dangerous air and water as does their government. Guest Blackwell spent a few hours with his host’s ten year old son taking motherboards apart.
Blackwell, unlike many environmentalists, accepts the fact that people are a part of all these places. “It is the way things are,” said one Closeteer’s kin when he caught the Closeteer complaining about perceived poor conditions. Blackwell faults many environmentalists who advocate wildness, wilderness, and preservation while ignoring people they think shouldn’t be there. Blackwell doesn’t preach or harangue. He tells us what he finds and questions in the places our “bottom line” economic systems have fouled. He is the best kind of teacher for he educates us in new ways. Even amidst grief, he sometimes has us chuckling. Blackwell raises many questions as wise teachers do. He doesn’t worry too much about answers. After two centuries of experience with industrial pollution and one century of research and action many of the answers are known.
We enthusiastically recommend this eye opening and at moments very sad book subtitled Adventures in the Worlds’ Most Polluted Places to you. The author like many with a funny bone is deeply sensitive and perceptive.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||3.37||3.77||4.40||4.55|
|2016 Central Watershed Actual||2.14||1.85||6.81||4.1**as of Nov 30|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Dec 1, 2016 Normal . . . 67 CFS Current Rate . . .79 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Oct.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Nov.
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584