Unbelievably we have come to the final moments of a unique and thorough exploration of the Chesapeake Bay. As such, we would be remiss if we did not attempt to conclude our efforts by bringing closure to the perspectives and experiences we have been exposed to during the semester. Now that we have been exposed to a plethora of such input, it is necessary to connect it all in order to arrive at greater truths and a more complex understanding and ethical perspective about the Chesapeake Bay. Conveniently, prior endeavors have created a great opportunity to do so. At the beginning of the semester, we contemplated our idea of a personal ethical perspective related to the Chesapeake Bay. At the time, I didn’t really have a developed Chesapeake ethic beyond the common-sense awareness that, essentially, all roads lead to the bay. Anything adverse that we do as a result of our existence in the environment can percolate through the surrounding world, into the bay, and ultimately harm the environment as a whole. Also, I believed that an absolute, cut-and-dry, suite of proper ethical practices for the bay couldn’t be feasible. Since the bay is such a complex, dynamic system the only thing we can do is to leave no stone unturned. We must look at such a dynamic situation in an equally flexible way, striving for balance, defined here as cognizance of the physical and social aspects of our existence in proximity to the bay and responsible action toward the implications that those can bring. Also, I needed to know whether the pressures the bay faces are inevitable, and whether they could be addressed with ethics instead of panoramic cultural change. There are so many interests and perspectives at work in the region, that it seemed as though the fluidity of the development of a particular Chesapeake ethic, and consistent and healthy practices in relation to it, was something of an inevitably unresolvable endeavor.
Now, at the end of all this experience, I have come to realize that the pressures faced by the bay are indeed inevitable, and largely requisite of panoramic cultural change. Ethics can help the situation on an individual basis, but there is no absolute solution or magic bullet. As a result, all we can do is strive for the least common denominator in this intersection between nature and culture that is so integral to the region and the program. We must inform ourselves with relevant knowledge, be aware of implications accrued from actions or decisions, and keep in mind the relations between things. Interestingly, I have ended up reaffirming the kinds of ideas I had set myself in the direction of even at that earliest point of the semester. However, to particularly develop a perspective on this idea, a set of humanistic and ethical perspectives coupled with experiences from this final journey can provide a better and more complex understanding of the Chesapeake. The humanistic and ethical perspectives of context and relationships along with the practice of collaboration and citizenship seen during the journey provide us with a better and more complex understanding of the Chesapeake, as well as the potential to extend to it the proper social and ethical practices as much as possible to allow the bay to exist as well as it can.
During the course of the journey, the most vital issues, ideas, and experiences that inform our progression toward the end of our endeavor here, were related to resources and regulations of the Chesapeake region. Specifically, we were exploring what the various resources are, how they are produced, and how they are impacted and regulated by human activity. Whether those resources are agricultural, natural, urban, or rural, the issue and experience is much the same. From a social science perspective, we are living in an era of exponential growth. As we cram ourselves into such fragile areas as the coastline of the bay and the continent as well by tens of millions of people, astronomical pressure is put on those areas because of the intense demands related to consumption as a result of that population trend. As a result of this trend indicative of the intersection between population and consumption, it becomes necessary to regulate and manage such resources and activity. Yet, that becomes incredibly complicated because there is always an issue of theory compared to reality here. From a humanities perspective, thinking back to Horton, people always want the best of both worlds. They want things to be easy and abundant; prosperous and infinite; aesthetically pleasing and habitable. We all know that we should treat the world, and our environment responsibly, but in reality we end up being unable- despite any progress made- to let go of our desires, preferences, and amenities in order to do that. Also, with regard to resources from a humanities perspective, those who are immersed in the reality of the region have different and more personal ideas and beliefs about the region and its plight, as a result of that immersion, than those who are trying to regulate it and manage it based on theory. These two realms are very difficult to connect for this reason as well. According to Horton (2008),
“All this lends ammunition to those who would restore our environment solely by reforming how we live. But other factors, including the fundamental nature of the Chesapeake estuary, make it unlikely that we can grow endlessly while improving and sustaining the environment” (9).
As a result, we must attempt to gather as much context as possible about issues related to population, consumption, and resource regulation and management as a result. Also we must be aware of the relationships between nature and culture and how fragile and connected those two realms are. The way in which we do that is through collaboration and citizenship, and looking at issues from multiple perspectives and experiences. In order to have sustainable fisheries we need to take the personal experience of watermen into account when developing policy. When regulating crops or agricultural products, we need to take into account the demands required of farmers. Finally, whether we like it or not, we need to change our culture as much as we can because eventually something has to give. The bay is not invincible. Referring back to Tom Horton’s Bay Country (1987),
“Changing course in the way we use the land and water across an immense watershed can take a generation or more. And during that time the causes of the problem continue to grow. It is one reason that we end up progressing at William Hargis’s three knots against that unrelenting five knot current” (215).
At the end of the day, the pressures faced by the bay are inevitable and requisite of panoramic cultural change. There is no absolute way to fix the situation or approach it as an entire society. However, through the humanistic and ethical perspectives of context, relationships, obligations, collaboration, and citizenship, small steps in a more responsible direction can give individuals a more complex and better understanding of the Chesapeake Bay that hopefully will spread to others. As long as I am around the bay, and within the confines of the watershed, I hereby make it my ethic to practice the perspectives we have discussed over the course of the semester and to extend the most responsible practices to the bay that I can as an individual. I will strive to be aware of the issues plaguing the wellbeing of the region, be aware of their implications and effects as to people and processes required to create them, and strive to make the most responsible decisions I can as a result. This is the least I can do to apply this complex and improved understanding I have now with regard to the bay, to future aspects and experiences of life. I would be remiss if I did not do that as well, having gone through this program. This isn’t very likely to make a considerable impact or be very easy to do consistently, but every little bit helps, and I look forward to exploring opportunities and avenues by which to move in that direction that I believe and hope, with varying levels of confidence and inspiration, may be possible for me very soon.
Horton, T. (1987). Bay Country. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press
Horton, T. (2008, August). Growing! Growing! Gone!: The Chesapeake Bay and the Myth of Endless Growth. Paper prepared on a grant from The Abell Foundation, Baltimore, MD