Author: Howard R. Ernst
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009, 164pps
In Fight for the Bay, Howard R. Ernst’s follow-up to his 2003 book, Chesapeake Bay Blues, Ernst sharpens his focus on the Chesapeake Bay and examines the reasons behind country’s failure to restore the Bay. In addition to Ernst’s in-depth analysis, he includes his suggestions for returning the once vibrant ecosystem to its original state. Throughout the book, Ernst cites specific evidence of the failing Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, which he cleverly uses a metaphor for the failure of the political and economic machines to produce any enforceable regulations for its mitigation. Throughout the book, he insists a stricter regulatory approach is essential to managing and improving the bay.
He begins with an overview of the three different schools of thought within modern environmentalism and uses them as a basis for the rest of his book’s central arguments. The Dark Green Movement, which Ernst suggests as the only effective approach, believe that humans and nature are inseparable. The Dark Greens’ core principle is that humans have an inherent right to a healthy environment and an obligation to protect it. The Light Greens believe that humans and the environment are separate entities, and that maintaining a healthy environment is only a responsibility, not a right. The Cornucopians, whom Ernst holds primarily responsible for the degradation of the Bay, put their economic self-interest first and believe that any environmental damage they create is a necessary means to an end.
Ernst categorizes the past and present movements to protect and restore the bay as Light Green, because they fail to achieve any enforceable regulations. He cites the lack of regulation of certain sectors of agriculture such as the poultry and fishing industries as examples of how the Light Green approach has failed to protect the bay. In one of many frightening examples, Ernst tells the story of a fish called the menhaden within the context of Garrett Hardin’s famous Tragedy of the Commons. With oyster populations depleted, the menhaden is one of the Bay’s last filter feeders able to recycle the excess nutrients that are depleting the Bay’s oxygen levels and killing off other fish. However, the annual menhaden harvest is larger than all the other Bay species’ harvests combined. The majority of menhaden are being used to produce Omega-3 fish oil and the rest are sold as products such as fertilizer and livestock feed. Ironically these products end up back in the Bay as excess nutrients. The immense profits of menhaden make it near impossible for lawmakers pass any legislation that would decrease the menhaden harvest and restore balance to the sensitive ecosystem.
Ernst also includes a satirical view of state senators, congressmen, governors, and even our nation’s presidents that have made empty promises to enact legislation to protect the Bay. This section exemplifies one of the most depressing and honest arguments of Ernst’s book – industries and individuals are destroying the Chesapeake Bay with virtually no financial or legal repercussions.
Ernst concludes his book with an interesting collection of essays by prominent figures sharing their experiences of working for environmental advocacy within the Bay. Although Ernst seems to offer little hope for the future of the Chesapeake Bay, he provides an excellent overview for readers interested in grasping a better understanding of the current political and economic systems that prevent progress towards the restoration and increased protection of the Chesapeake Bay.