If you visit American city,
You will find it very pretty,
Just two things of which you must beware,
Don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air.
— Pollution (song, 1967), Tom Lehrer
Journal Entry, August, 2043:
It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since my wife and I took our son and daughter on that wonderful August camping trip to Crystal Clear Lake in the old American Mountains National Forest.
Ah, the memories. After paying a few bucks for our secluded campsite, we set up our tent among the lofty pines under a blue afternoon sky. Our son was eight then, and there was no stopping him from running around, clambering over the logs and rocks and jumping into the pristine, sparkling water. Our girl was just six, but she showed amazing patience for fishing. I’ll never forget her beaming look of pride when she caught her first trout.
Our family’s been lucky, and recently my wife and I had a chance to take our grandkids to the same campground we visited with our kids in 2018.
Of course, things are different now. 2018 was the year the Great Deregulation began, and by 2020 the Great Selloff was underway. Both have had their effect on the environment and the grandkids, but we’ve tried not to let that bother us.
The Great Deregulation, which eliminated most of what they used to call “outdated” environmental regulations from the 1960s, didn’t have any obvious effects at first. I guess that’s why people let it go as far as it did.
The air and water pollution accumulated gradually, and in the beginning it seemed to hurt the wildlife more than it affected people. The amphibians died off first; then the fish were choked out of the streams and lakes, along with the animals and birds that lived near the water. But you can still see frogs and whatnot at the zoo, so most folks didn’t notice.
At first it was hard to prove the effects the pollution was having on people. By the time that became clear — or as clear as it could be without any government studies to make the connection between contamination and disease — it was too late to do much about it. Did I mention that two of our grandkids have asthma so bad that they can’t play much? And that the youngest, a boy who lives not too far from a power plant, has something wrong with his nerves and can’t stop twitching?
So, the grandkids didn’t seem to mind that they couldn’t do much when we got to Crystal Clear Lake — they’re not very fit. And of course, since we wanted them to have a good time, we didn’t tell them what the lake was like before the Great Selloff. That was when our national forests got privatized and ended up mostly in the hands of foreign investors. (Funny, they charge the local ranchers a lot more than the U.S. government did to graze their cattle on the land.)
Arriving at Crystal Clear Lake — which the locals now call “Opaque Lake” — we found our pricey “campsite” was a parking space between RVs in a vast gravel lot. The heat was oppressive and, since the pines are gone and you can’t swim or fish in the polluted lake, there was no relief from it — so the grandkids stayed in the “Guest Lodge,” a warehouse where they played “Campground Massacre” on a big screen there.
But you know what I really missed? The bald eagles (our national bird) that used to swoop down and catch fish on the lake. The eagles were once protected by something called the “Endangered Species Act” that brought them back from certain extinction in the 1960s. But that went out with the Great Deregulation — as did the last of the eagles at our ecological house.