Consumption undermines ecological health

By Robert and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

We have observed the decline of people’s interest in nature as their consumption habits grew.

Several years ago, we inherited the family cottage in Wisconsin which we use for brief visits during the summer. Since Bob’s mother had worked for a decade before marrying and accumulated some money, she decided to buy a lake property and had a small cottage built so she could raise her sons in the country.

She feared that the economic depression of the ’30s would not end and if her husband lost his job the family could survive in the small cottage and raise a garden and catch fish for food. Her family had emigrated from Germany after losing their grain elevator business during a depression.

Her brother bought an adjacent lot; wives and children spent the entire summer there for about a decade. Swimming, fishing, catching frogs and rowing around the lake occupied much of their time. They built rafts and tree houses. On rainy days and in the evenings they read or played card or board games. The boys visited a nearby family dairy farm and became involved in many of the chores and activities.

There were only a few cottages around the lake. Two taverns with dance halls featured local bands on weekends. The outdoor food stand was a place to hunt for lost change on Sunday mornings.

At the end of World War II, the lake culture changed dramatically.  Suddenly larger boats with motors arrived towing surfboarders around the lake. They were soon replaced by water skiers towed by still larger boats and motors. Rules were written to control the traffic. One property owner found it took 75 gallons of gasoline to keep his two sons entertained for a weekend.

Outhouses were being replaced with indoor toilets and young people began showering after a day in the water. Cottages were raised; basements and additions were built to increase building space. Cottages were winterized and snowmobiling became the new winter activity.

The jet ski craze soon arrived and the noise level on weekends became similar to that of an auto racetrack. Gradually larger year-round homes began popping up around the lake occupied by retirees who spend their winters in warmer climates. Their children and grandchildren visit them during the summers adding to congestion and consumption. The new owners bring their urban/suburban culture to the area adding fertilizers and herbicides to their lawns, polluting the lake and contaminating their wells.

Agricultural practices surrounding the lake have also changed, leaving traces of farm chemicals and wastes to pollute the waters. The lake has had occasional algal blooms and chemicals are now added regularly to control weedy growth. Large dairy farms have replaced small farms and bursts of pungent odors far exceed those from former smaller operations.  The evening skies are dotted with blinking red lights of wind generators sitting atop the drumlins formed when glaciers last covered this area – another attempt to satisfy our insatiable thirst for energy.

Bob’s first ecology course had a dramatic impact on him as he began to understand the landscape in which he had direct experiences as a youth. Given today’s culture we doubt that this formerly rural setting would enable families to survive a depression or produce youth with an ecological conscience.

We have witnessed increased consumption, increased waste and diminished appreciation of nature at a place where people come to enjoy the outdoors.

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