Sacrifice is key to Earth’s well-being

I have a confession to make.

Some months ago, a neighbor circulated a petition in my neighborhood asking the City of Bainbridge Island to grant her a waiver from current waterfront development restrictions; she wants to shore and/or build up her bulkhead, which, apparently, under current guidelines she is not allowed to do.

I signed that petition because I very much value good neighborly relations. I thought it was the polite and supportive thing to do. And while I still want to encourage and maintain polite and supportive relations with that particular neighbor, and all of my neighbors, I wish I hadn’t signed that petition. That’s because even as I was signing it my little voice of conscience was whispering, “But what about the environmental impact of bulkheads?...

I’ve been thinking a lot about my regret since reading The Review’s Aug. 2 article, “Islands split over shorelines.” That article focused on our community’s spectrum of responses to proposed restrictions on shoreline development. But it could just as easily have been about the spectrum of responses from individuals, or indeed entire nations, to any number of environmental protection proposals and efforts.

At one end of the spectrum are those who protest limits placed on their property rights and/or their lifestyles even in the face of potential or current environmental ill. And at the other end of the spectrum are those willing to make bold changes precisely for the sake of environmental protection.

I imagine most of us fall somewhere between the two ends of the spectrum regarding environmental protection; few choices or proposals are seen in black-and-white terms. How much, and what, we are willing to change and sacrifice depends upon how immediate and grave we perceive any particular environmental issue.

My dilemma with my neighbor’s petitions is a fine-enough case in point. I was torn, to be sure, but I chose to sign the petition (so as not to risk her disappointment) instead of doing what I really consider to be the better choice – not signing the petition. (Yes, I think these bulkheads threaten the health of Puget Sound.)

As I think about the similar dilemmas any of us face, I am aware of the uncomfortable and ever looming irony in environmental protection matters: the more we try to maintain our primarily self-oriented lifestyles (the less willing we are to change our environmentally damaging ways), the more our environmental troubles are exacerbated, and the more difficult it is to protect our property and our practices…. A deadly cycle for all the life on this planet.

But cycles can be broken. And confessions can be followed by repentance. Has the time not come (let’s hope it’s not too late), when more of us, more often, can and should move ever closer to the end of spectrum that places greater value on choosing and doing what benefits Earth’s whole web of life? That end of the spectrum is, after all, ultimately in our own best interest.

Long-time Bainbridge resident Jennifer Merrill is an active member of Eagle Harbor Congressional Church.

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