Burns: Dystopia Without Portfolio

By James H. Burns: Can an environmental disaster occur, with no one aware of it?

I grew up in the era of “ecological SF,” but I didn’t read much of it, I must confess. Were there ever any stories where local governments, and the media, and others, just turned their backs to peril?


Two years ago, summer, a few days after our first recent major hurricane in the Northeast, IRENE…

I went body surfing towards the end of the day at one of the beautiful Lido Boulevard beaches in Long Island, New York; only miles away from the more famous Jones Beach.

Just after 6 p.m., when swimming officially ends for the day, and the lifeguards leave their posts, the beach was relatively empty.

I stood at the land’s edge, enjoying what’s always one of our joyous views, the magnificence of the ocean–

When a giant oil drum washed up in the surf.

Minutes earlier, children had been playing in those waves.

Every lifeguard and beach policeman I spoke with later that week told me the same thing, that a grotesque assemblage of debris–the remnants of someone else’s summer, really– began washing up on shore, two days after the storm.

Jones Beach and other parks run by the state, it turned out, had it right, staying closed for almost a full week. while local municipalities were not nearly as careful.

I could only imagine what damage was done in the waters during Sandy. last autumn…

That October, the Bay Park Waste Treatment Plant in East Rockaway was severely damaged, pumping thousands of gallons of waste into the local bay waters for months.

How could there not have been some harm to the beaches, groundwaters and towns, particularly when you learn that waste was surfacing in people’s homes over two towns away?

In Long Beach, about halfway between Lido Beach and East Rockaway, mountains of sand that had blown blocks away from the shore were “treated,” cleaned, before bulldozers returned the dunes to their home.

Were the beaches safe this past summer? I promised myself I stayed mainly away this summer, but by the end of August, I couldn’t stay away. I wound up with a pretty major eye irritation, but that could mean I simply have to start swimming with goggles…  (After all, if no one else was affected…?)

The majority of local newspapers refused to run Op-Eds about the possible residual effects of Sandy, even when it was pointed out that flotsam from the Japanese tsunami was still washing  up on the United States’ west coast, two years later…

I’ve never been an alarmist. But with that Bay Park reclamation center calamity, I was confused:

When waste is being turned out into normal, suburban neighborhoods:

How does the President just not sign an emergency order to send our great Army Corp of Engineers, or someone, to the site, and get it fixed? Only now, has the county government allotted the funds to make major repairs, and even more money might be needed to fully fix the infrastructure.

It’s almost a dystopia without portfolio, or app, disasters with virtually no major news coverage.

All of which pales, really, to another major revelation, courtesy of Scientific American, that water treatment centers around the country have not been filtering out all of the prescription and other drugs that get dumped down the drain.

While one can always switch to bottled drinking water, can it really be safe to be showering in Prozac?

2 thoughts on “Burns: Dystopia Without Portfolio

  1. I have a distiller for water, since the well water here contains a bit too much iron. I might add that it is cheaper than buying the bottles of “whatever” water you can get at a store, and there’s no plastic to throw away.

    Trash is everyday, and therefore doesn’t seem like news. This makes the Charles Platt title GABAGE WORLD seem kind of ordinary. Someone wrote a non fiction book where they search for floating rubber ducks in the middle of the Pacific.

  2. The rubber duckies were from a container from Asia that fell off a ship in the middle of the Pacific for some reason or other; and have washed up on shores all around the world, to the delight of oceanographers who have used them to chart ocean currents and such. Goodness knows I would rather they not have fallen overboard, but some good did come out of the event. When I lived across the highway from the beach south of Cape Canaveral in Florida, I used to find, e.g., light bulbs on the beach–with Russian writing on them, no doubt tossed overboard from the then-Soviet trawlers and freighters that passed not far away on their way to and from Cuba.

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