Cleveland’s Environmental History in a nutshell

by Paula Apynys for About Ohio

In terms of general environmentalism, we suspect that the major cities around the state have had experiences broadly similar to Cleveland’s.

An article of interest we came across is an entry called “Environmentalism”, in The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. It provides a brief history of environmentalism in Cleveland.

“When Connecticut settlers first arrived 200 years ago, they viewed the estuary of the (Cuyahoga) river either as a miasmic, disease-ridden swamp or as a green valley full of life. Those with the latter opinion left accounts describing clear waters, bountiful fish spawning grounds, rich bottom lands, and abundant wildlife.” But the commercial possibilities of the area were evident and the Cleveland area was quickly developed and industrialized.

Efforts to deal with growing air pollution began in the 1850’s and from that time forward there have been periodic efforts by various groups to deal with air and water pollution. Since the 1970’s there have been efforts to stop the increase of Nuclear facilties and nuclear waste incinerators as well. All these efforts have been met with mixed levels of success as well as varying levels of opposition.

Two highpoints have been the creation of the Cleveland MetroParks in 1917, and 57 years later, in 1974, the creation of the Cuyahoga Valley Recreation area. Both of these efforts have preserved acres of lands from commercial development and made them available for the public to enjoy.

The article concludes: we

“… have dramatically reduced some of the most obvious pollution problems. The Cuyahoga River, for instance, is now choked with pleasure boats rather than oil slicks, and Lake Erie has come back from the dead and has a thriving sport fishery.

On the other hand, less obvious–but often more insidious–environmental problems remain. They are often problems that don’t come from a specific “point source” like a smokestack, but come from countless, diffuse “nonpoint sources.” These include runoff from urban streets and farm fields, or the general burning of fossil fuels that contributes to global warming. Or they are lingering problems created years ago, such as contaminated sediments at the bottom of rivers and lakes or the thousands of abandoned industrial and commercial sites contaminated by previous uses. Or they are caused by urban sprawl, which destroys green space and makes people dependent on automobiles. Or the problems involve invisible chemicals, such as dioxin and PCBs, which can impair reproductive and developmental health in concentrations that can scarcely be measured.

Tackling such problems involves more than fighting a permit application, more than pointing a finger at one company. It may involve watershed management programs involving numerous municipalities and land owners, regional land use planning to reduce sprawl, or the phase-out of a whole class of industrial chemicals, such as those based on chlorine, the common element in many persistent toxins. To make headway, environmentalists are increasingly finding themselves working on collaborative projects with their traditional corporate adversaries…”

The key point, in the end, is that the problems we face everywhere are more complex than ever, and require coordinated efforts to tackle. Cooperation means many stakeholders have to agree on the nature of the problems and the approach(es) for solving them. Hopefully simple common sense and a reasonable grasp of potential consequences will drive efforts towards solutions(!)

From our first Ec-Ohio site, 2008.

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