I SEE IT / JOSH FIRST
child for squandering our
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Sept. 11, 2001, is a day I will
never for get, not only because of the events themselves, but because
of what I
did as a result, and how I now see the world around me.
At that time I was the
Pennsylvania director for a national non-profit land
group, and on that morning I had just begun to give testimony to the
House Environmental Resources Committee on the importance of conserving
Pennsylvania's scenic and historic landscapes.
Just a few minutes
into my testimony, the
committee chairman, Rep. Art Hershey, banged his gavel, looked at me
most serious face and apologized for interrupting me. Was my testimony
that bad, I thought?
Rep. Hershey announced
that during the
preparation for our hearing that morning America had been dramatically attacked, and that
was to be evacuated.
Back at the office
minutes later, we
gathered around our computer screens and watched the now-famous images,
us raging out loud, others sitting in shock.
After viewing again
and again the scenes of
Flight 93's smoldering rubble in a Shanksville field, and hearing its
story over the following two weeks, I found myself in Shanksville with
from the National Park Service and Somerset County.
Over the following 24
months I worked with
the families, a mixed group of volunteers and professionals, locals and
interested people, and eventually the Flight 93 Task Force was formed.
was to develop a site protection plan for creating the Flight 93
to meet with all of the landowners adjoining the crash site to begin
arrangements to purchase their lands.
While much of that
work remains, I did
negotiate the purchase of the 800-acre PBS Coals parcel that now forms
area of the planned memorial. It was one of the highlights of my career
environmental protection and land conservation.
The Flight 93 memorial
is all about American
heroism, pride, sacrifice, and our national identity; it is a very
symbol indeed that many citizens and foreigners have come to visit
days after the crash. It is very nearly a shrine.
NOW, ALMOST EXACTLY
four years later the
nation has endured yet another crushing blow, this time from Mother
the city of New Orleans. And to
many of us observers, the city has been turned into an unwilling and
symbol of America's occasional environmental deafness. For
long our beautiful, powerful, wealthy nation has embarked on expensive,
foolhardy and poorly planned land development that has destroyed
natural resources and scarred forever our nation's best landscapes.
is a prime example, perhaps the best example. Built
and allowed to grow on a stormy coast with no bedrock and far below sea
the physical city is symbolic of America's worst habits. And the messy aftermath
Katrina in New Orleans has
been as corrosive to our national character and identity as the
destructive to the homes, buildings and people in its way.
America's love affair
fixes like dikes, pumps, levees, engineers in hard hats, big machines,
roads to nowhere, and artificially cheap fuel and energy to keep Mother
at bay or out of our way, at any cost, is a symbol of our nation's
near-juvenile mentality when it comes to asking and answering the tough
questions about who we are and how we live.
unnecessarily large gas-guzzling
automobiles to support a way of life that often undermines the feeling
community and the good values that tight communities produce, America's
environment almost always places an emphasis on living expensive and
lifestyles, separate from other people, and is based on consuming huge
of non-renewable energy for the most trivial undertakings. We take too
In short, America's frontier identity has worked for us in
past and is now working against us. We are unthinkingly squandering our
natural resources. New Orleans is
today's poster child.
Given the immense
human suffering we have
already experienced, and the astronomical cost to the nation to rebuild
city, perhaps New Orleans should
be permanently evacuated, bulldozed, naturally flooded by the waters
and left as a national memorial to human folly.
FIRST is president and
CEO of Appalachian Land and Conservation Services Co. of Harrisburg.
2005 The Patriot-News.
Used with permission