Kentucky Resources Council, Inc.
Post Office Box 1070
Frankfort, Kentucky 40602
(502) 875-2428 phone (502) 875-2845 fax
December 2, 2003
Written Statement of Tom FitzGerald, Director, Kentucky Resources Council, Inc.
on receiving the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission
2003 Biological Diversity Protection Award
Dear Commissioners and Staff:
I am honored and humbled to be the recipient of the Kentucky Nature Preserve Commission's prestigious Biological Diversity Protection Award. My only concern was that, after looking at the seven previous recipients of the award, my only concern was that by adding my name to a list that included the likes of Julian Campbell and John MacGregor, the Commission might have lowered the bar.
I have, as you know, a profound respect and admiration for the work of the Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission – for the accomplishments of a relative handful of talented and dedicated individuals, guided by a diverse group of citizen commissioners, in protection of our natural heritage, the advancement of knowledge of our natural heritage, and the contribution to our understanding of the value of biodiversity.
I will confess a certain envy of the Commission's role. On my best day, all that KRC accomplishes is to stop harm from occurring – to keep the landslide at bay or to prevent land, air or water resources from becoming fouled. More often, we at KRC are engaged in seeking for those whom we assist, a crude approximation of justice as we attempt to restore the damage already suffered and to make business and government more accountable for the environmental and environmental health impacts of economic decisions.
The commission, through its education efforts, can illuminate truth and change hearts and minds, and that is where real change occurs.
Even as I am heartened by the efforts that have been undertaken by the Commission, in partnership with state agencies and the private sector in protecting the biological diversity of the state, I am troubled a heart by the persistence of the myth that has driven our short-sighted environmental policies during the past few decades – the myth that protection of environmental quality including species diversity is a value at odds with and always to be compromised to advance short-term economic gain – that we can cut corners in ecological protection without consequence.
We Kentuckians, we humans, are a dangerous mixture of arrogance and ignorance for nature, plunging ahead in our bottomless pursuit of creature comforts, upending heaven and earth to get at natural resources, to pave and widen roads to move us more quickly from one place to another; filling in wetlands and river headwaters, and reshaping the face of the earth in with little consideration of the limits imposed by nature. We exhibit an ignorance bordering on contempt, at times punctuating our destruction of natural features in our land development by naming the new development after the most prominent natural feature we have obliterated.
We are, as Paul Ehrlich noted, in a spaceship hurtling through space, pulling out the rivets of species diversity from the hull and discarding them, one by one. And it is thankless, endless work in which you are engaged, educating the young and reminding industry and government daily that we cannot sustain true economic progress if we deficit spend our natural capital, our children's natural capital, as if it were expendible surplus.
After thirty one years of doing this work, you would think that I had heard it all – but even I was floored to recently hear a legislator ask a state agency official why the Cabinet believed it important to establish remediation standards for hazardous releases that would protect ecologically significant resources. It was an awkward moment, underscoring that environmental education must be is a lifelong process.
With apologies to David Letterman, and with appreciation to the authors who prepared this list, (www.reptileinfo.com/ten.html) here are the top ten reasons:
* The tinker's argument, or "don't pop the rivets on the spaceship";
* The economic argument, or "there's gold in them thar hills";
* The aesthetic argument, or "isn't nature beautiful?";
* The genetic strength argument, or "diversity in the gene pool";
* The research argument, or "bread mold in my petri dish", recognizing that more than one half of all modern medicines are traceable to wild organisms
* The education argument, or "inquiring minds want to know"
* The recreation argument, or "it's better than television"
* The philosophy argument, or "consider the lilies of the field"
* The legacy argument, or "Where there really great apes and whales?"
* The moral argument or "because we didn't create it and we have no right to destroy it".
We stand at the beginning of a new administration, one in which there is a significant apprehension concerning the direction and priorities that will be set for environmental quality. Environmental protection, once a nonpartisan goal embraced across the political spectrum, has unfortunately become a wedge political issue in recent years. Let us hope this new state administration will exhibit, in its choice of leadership, legislative agenda and budgetary priorities, an independence and a wisdom that places a greater value on protection and enhancement of the diversity of species and the health of the ecosystems that are the real capital of our state's economic future. Let us together create a "climate change" in which mediocrity is unacceptable, in which species and habitat loss due to ignorance and avarice will not be tolerated.
Let us approach our stewardship of God's creation and our children's legacy, with reverence, and our management of a natural environment whose intricacies we but dimly understand, with humility.