I haven’t been to the beach yet this summer. The way things are going, I may not get there at all, at least not without a surgical mask, latex gloves, and “water shoes.” Water shoes protect your feet when you’re at the beach, pool, or lake. Protect them from what? you may ask. Good question. It was my question. When I heard the answer, I lost not only my desire to go to the beach, but my appetite.
It turns out that many beaches are contaminated with nasty critters like hookworms, parasites, bacteria, and viruses, not to mention animal feces and human garbage. Think of streptococcus bacteria and the dreaded norovirus, named after Norwalk, Ohio, where schoolchildren suffered an outbreak of acute gastroenteritis in 1968.
Just last week a hundred people got sick with norovirus at a beach in Maine. I suffered an attack last Christmas after eating stuffed red peppers. It wasn’t from the peppers, but I still avoid them at the grocery store just the same. Let’s just say they made a lasting impression.
The problem is everywhere. In New York City, eight beaches were closed last month because of high levels of bacteria. Two weeks ago hookworms infected a middle school student at Pompano Beach in Florida after his friends buried him in the sand. The local authorities not only showed little sympathy for the student but admonished him for not heeding posted signs. This prompted the Sun Sentinel to report the incident in an article entitled, “Forget Sharks; Hookworms are Lurking at the Beach.”
And beaches in France near the vacationing Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, were closed due to pollution. The only thing beachgoers could do was sit in the sand, lather each other up with ultraviolet cream, and wonder about the future of la république. Bonne chance with that.
I wish it ended there, but we now have a disintegrating coral reef in Australia, a mass of floating plastic in the Pacific Ocean twice the size of Texas, and the appearance of two-headed sharks, which ought to crinkle anyone’s plastic water bottle. Toxins abound from food preservatives to cell phone parts, increasing the incidence of cancer and decreasing sperm counts.
As much as I like Milton Friedman and limited government, this is one area where we cannot leave the solution to the market. Pollution like this will not correct itself. Government must intervene to help communities and companies change, even if it means mandating them to do so. I never thought I would say this, but I think even Friedman would agree that the situation has become so dire as to constitute a threat to our survival. Defense against such a threat is the purview of the state, not Jeff Bezos.
The problem is not overpopulation but an attitude of consumption that not only devours the earth but dissolves our souls. We work frenetically, market obsessively, and consume without restriction. In fact, we are encouraged to do so, because consumption proves our worth. But we don’t need validation from Google, Amazon, or Apple to prove our worth. This cycle has led to the situation we now find ourselves in. We can’t go to the beach anymore to dream or be inspired. And if we go, we have to schlep along a hazmat kit so we’re not infected or fried.
According to Pope Francis, “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” If the external deserts are expanding, it is only because “the internal deserts have become so vast.”
So, what will I do for the rest of the summer? Thankfully, I’m only eight subway stops from Yankee Stadium.