40 Years Since the Mistake on the Lake
Some of the best American cities are in the Midwest. Chicago happens to be my favorite city in the US, and Minneapolis, Kansas City, and St. Louis can hold their own. And even Cleveland—I’ve only been there once, downtown during a 4 hour layover, but the architecture was beautiful, the people friendly, the history everywhere. Cleveland’s had a rough ride. It has a huge foreclosure problem, and symbolizes the struggles of the rust belt. And it used to be worse. Forty years ago on this date, the river caught on fire. Yes, that’s right. The Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it caught on fire June 22, 2009, for half an hour. It wasn’t the first time that a body of water in North America went into flames. America used to abuse its rivers and lakes horribly. But on that awful day, the environmental movement, already nascent with the writings of Rachel Carlson and other activist, was, well, sparked. Americans became more conscious of their soiled nation, and in the long term, the Clean Air and Water Acts, the EPA, and other government agencies and legislation can track their origins to that thirty minute fire. Unfortunately, Cleveland was not the first city to have such an embarrassment. Oddly enough, the fire did not attract much attention initially, and it was buried in the news between Ted Kennedy’s little auto accident and the moon landing. But the story ran in an American magazine, the news spread—like fire—and a couple generations later, we are better for it. Cleveland had a little celebration today to mark that date. Now there are over 80 species of fish, people go kayaking and boating, and the river and Lake Erie, to which the Cuyahoga flows, invite—not repel.v So here’s an important lesson to be learned—no matter whether it’s cleaning up an environmental mess or revamping our energy infrastructure—the results take years, but are well worth the time. And that’s why the time to start is always NOW.