When we visit or move to a lake or other semi-natural environment, we commonly are seeking a desirable emotional state. That emotional state differs for each of us, may not be easily achieved and is easily damaged. Our activities and just our “normal” way of life marginally degrade the qualities that attracted us to this place. Our actions contribute to a depletion of the qualities of the environment that we move into with effects comparable to those of an industry that extracts minerals and degrades the surrounding. Our depletion is slow and gradual and often unnoticed until the effect reaches a tipping point in impoverishment when cry out for a cure.


If we live around a lake or in lakeland forest, scenic views of the landscape (or lakescape) probably are fundamental to achieving the emotional state that we seek. But the qualities of those scenes that are acceptable vary over a wide range. For some, any built structures can spoil the view. For others, a complete lack of built structures is just too scary and spoils the sensation. Placement of buildings and their dimensions and even their colours and textures have been regulated in urban settings. But around the lakes constraints on building placement or geometry are applied only for steep slope or other unstable footing. Blocking out the view of the sunset is not subject to regulation. Ordinary living or lifestyles that have been inappropriately imported can surreptitiously erode the characteristics that brought us to the place. Substituting monetary decisions for moral judgements hastens the process.


At night, some folks like some friendly lights to temper the unusual isolation and make an easier transition from lighted urban nights. But any light other than stars and moon prevents many from gaining the solitude that they seek. Even a little stray light from an unshaded fixture is enough to spoil it for those who have knowledge and affection for astronomy.


Noise is somewhat similar to light. We have come to accept a higher level of noise as part of our environment. Carefully muffled noise of repairs has been replaced by the staccato explosions of the pneumatic nail gun. Our adaptation to noise has brought us to a fuzzy social norm of noise in daylight but not so much after dark. The intensity of noise that is considered “normal” has been allowed to increase in urban settings and that behavior has been carried into the lakelands without much thought. This insidious increase of acceptable noise has done much to degrade the environment for many, sometimes putting their desired emotional state out of reach. The extraction of the quality of silence. The depletion of solitude.


Garbage and other “exudates” of our lifestyles have received more attention than many other depletions of desirable lakeland environments. Most of the attention has been on easily visible output wastes, such as coffee cups and old tires, whereas molecular and other hidden but more damaging wastes get less attention. At least partly this is because wastes such as phosphorus overflow from septic systems are invisible without technical testing. Invisible wastes also get less attention because their effects are not easy to visualize until their impact hits us. Until aquatic plants are dense enough to make swimming messy, the connection between inspection of septic systems and the beauty of lakefronts is not intuitive. We extract the beauty and the functionality of a lake’s ecological system. We deplete our chosen environment.


Similarly, the intensity of our use of a lake or its watershed seems abstract until it is overused and overbuilt, and then it is too late to regulate. How can intensity of use be measured? Each of the ideas mentioned above can be analyzed and counted in terms of how often does it happen and how intense is the effect. But such an analysis has to have some response that can be used to measure the effect. What should we use to measure intensity of the effect of our actions as we attempt to fit ourselves into the lakeland environment? Can we use nature intensely without depletion of its valued qualities?


Without a morally acceptable way of valuing how our actions affect the quality of our lakeland environment, an evaluation is being forced on us. Our consumer economy insists that the only valid way to evaluate how we are affected by our time at the lake is to put our lakeside retreat on the market. The economic business model insists that the only defensible value is the dollar value and we must pass real property through the real estate marketplace to establish a value. This is both dictatorial and faulty.


It is both lazy and profitable to stick with the assumption that the only value is the dollar value when we know well that there are many other values evident in our lakeland environment. Market valuing of the real property does not evaluate the experience given to us by a place. Lazy because we have not exerted all the effort that we could to try to incorporate other forms of valuing into our personal and municipal behaviour. Profitable, for commerce and speculators because if we accept the assumption that the only usable value is the dollar, they have a license to make profit on anything they can legally market – – even solitude. Just as with other industries extracting natural resources, this less dramatic method is just as certain to deplete the environment of its values.


As with our use of any natural resource, we don’t need to stop but we do need to realize that there are limits to our rates of use and the absolute amounts that we use. And we must recognize many resources that we have treated as “free goods” are not unlimited. We may think that many qualities of our environment are too abstract to compare to removing minerals or cutting forest but loss of a view of the sunsets or loss of quiet or loss of unpolluted darkness are real resources that we mine just as we mine minerals. And they may be more valuable.



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