Looking Beyond the Jobsite at EC06

March 1, 2006

As many of us are heading toward Environmental Connection 2006, IECA’s 37th annual conference and expo in Long Beach, CA, it’s a good time to take a step or two back and look at what we’re accomplishing, as well as what our colleagues around the world are doing. Not every country has the same rules; NPDES is an American phenomenon, and environmental regulations don’t take exactly the same form anywhere else. The differences in approach often seem to divide countries—what does a SWPPP for a construction site in Texas really have in common with a no-till farming project in Jordan, after all?—yet we’re all striving toward more or less the same goals.

What are we working toward? C.R.R. Varma, in his editorial on page 110 of this issue, calls for IECA to become the leading organization that spans all regions of the world and ties together organizations that have an environmental focus. Regulations and individual techniques used may be different from place to place, but as he illustrates with the stanza he quotes, which children for centuries have been taught to recite, respect for the land is an age-old and deep-seated and nearly universal concept.

Erosion and sediment control, as much as any discipline and more so than most, involves paying close attention to local, specific conditions, and by necessity we are usually focused on very specific tasks: complying with local regulations, managing a particular site. But as we work to meet day-to-day deadlines, often not looking much further ahead than the span of a particular project, that idea of respect and stewardship underlies what we do.

In the 1970s, the biologist Richard Dawkins popularized the term “meme”-analogous to the word “gene”-to describe ideas that are passed from generation to generation. A meme is an idea or a pattern of information. A person may or may not pass along genetic material-the physical continuity of oneself-but he or she can still pass along an idea that will be more far-reaching and outlast a single lifetime.

The work ESC professionals are doing can be compared to the meme: Not only the physical ecosystem that we save today by restoring a streambank, but also the techniques we use-some new, some of which have already been around for many generations-will endure. From the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation to Rosgen’s stream classification system, and from no-till farming to a particular construction or live-staking method for stabilizing a slope, our techniques and the philosophy behind their use are the “memes,” as is the overarching idea that we are responsible for the land.

It’s precisely for passing along those ideas that events like EC06 exist. Most likely no one will be planting seed or shoring up an unstable hillside during the conference. But almost all of us will take away a new concept about erosion and sediment control, from a classroom or the exhibit hall or a live demonstration. We might even remind ourselves of the underlying reason we’re doing the work in the first place. 

About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines.