Ever since Rachel Carson spoke to the masses through the 1962 publication of her treatise Silent Spring, insightful observers of our “environment” – that thin layer of biosphere surrounding the planet that we call home – have tried to steer the course of human action on behalf of its survival. In the intervening decades, visionaries like James Lovelock (Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth) and eco-activist Bill McKibben (The End of Nature and other books) have alerted us to the dire facts of ecosystems failure – specifically, the we’re-all-in-this-together nature of the environment. If one species goes extinct or one geosystem breaks down, the entire life-supporting environment is affected in ways that we are only beginning to understand.
For many people, this is grim news. Turning the tide of human activity worldwide to stop the extinction of bees or to repair the causes and effects of global warming, for example, seems like an overwhelming proposition. Others choose to face the facts and take action. Karen Schneller-McDonald is one of those others. This Hudson Valley-based environmentalist with Hickory Creek Consulting in Red Hook works to help us understand the challenges that we now face to our own survival. Connecting the Drops: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Water Resources is Schneller-McDonald’s book outlining those challenges in user-friendly language; you don’t need to be a scientist to comprehend her message. She presents the basics of water resource protection, which includes ecology and watershed science; techniques for evaluating environmental impacts; obstacles to protection and how to overcome them; and other tips for successful protection strategies.
Current reports emerging around the country about the contamination of community water supplies bring the issue front and center, underlining the importance of Schneller-McDonald’s work. Connecting the Drops explains connections among natural cycles, watersheds and ecosystems, and she describes how specific development activities (think oil pipelines) affect water quality and supply. More important, perhaps, is her “how-to” guidance: what grassroots strategies work, how to take action as individuals and small community groups, how to interpret scientific information and Environmental Impact Statements.
In a November 2015 Huffington Post interview, Schneller-McDonald talks about the impasse often faced by people working to protect natural resources against industrial development that harms the environment. She notes that regular citizens feel powerless when dealing with large corporations or moneyed interests. She emphasizes that we need information rooted in science to be able to address economy-versus-environment issues.
“Without a sustainable environment, we cannot have a sustainable economy,” she maintains. “It all goes together. People don’t know who to believe. Experts differ on the facts of the situation depending on who hires them. I found I needed to provide a different sort of information for people that went into critical thinking and asking questions and how to interpret facts.”
Working as an environmental impact assessment consultant for 25 years, Schneller-McDonald has helped local governments, planning boards and other groups to understand and protect their own natural resources while supporting development that does not destroy them. Understanding how the networks of wetlands, streams and watersheds function can give us the knowledge to choose and regulate land-use activities, to avoid resulting ecological damage, flooding, water pollution and reduced water supply.
“We need a healthy environment that sustains our personal and community health; we also need vibrant and sustainable economic development that does not destroy the benefits we derive from nature. Our ability to accomplish both depends on how well we can ‘connect the drops.’”
Karen Schneller-McDonald presents Connecting the Drops: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Water Resources, Friday, April 8, 7 p.m., Inquiring Mind Bookstore, 65 Partition Street, Saugerties, (845) 246-5775; Sunday, April 17, 4 p.m., Inquiring Minds, 6 Church Street, New Paltz, (845) 255-8300; https://thewetnet.net.