Earth Day at 50
Sewer pipe blocked the protest but not the mission.
By Mark Taylor, SynTerra President (Posted April 21, 2020)
The 50th anniversary of Earth Day has prompted deep personal reflection. The first Earth Day marked a turning point in my life that shaped career and personal choices, including attending Deep Springs College prior to Harvard. Among other pursuits, I chaired a Greenville Chamber conference called Balancing Greenville’s Growth (1998), introducing the concept of sustainability to the Upstate. I was also one of the four founding board members when Brad Wyche started Upstate Forever the same year.
I was a sophomore at Greenville High in April 1970. Several friends, including Brad’s sister, decided to canoe down the Reedy River to experience and document the pollution. It had been a wet April like this one, and finding a place to put in was a challenge. We hauled two of the Wyches’ canoes to Cleveland Park, got them in the water, and were carried downstream at a rapid clip. Approaching the Woodland Way bridge, we could see a huge black sewer pipe crossing the river about a foot above water level. Fortunately, we aborted mission (that one, anyway) and got off the water before slamming into the pipe. What a statement!
Lame as the protest was, it ultimately influenced SynTerra. When we worked through the book Good to Great more than 10 years ago, we boldly stated: We can be the best in the world at balancing technical, economic, and social considerations in environmental decisions. That pipe was a stark lesson in the many ways we must balance a wide range of considerations in our work.
Stephen Jay Gould captured the art of balancing in Wonderful Life – a book devoted to exposing the ways that our preconceptions shape our understanding of the world around us:
I strongly reject any conceptual scheme that places our options on a line, and holds that the only alternative to a pair of extreme positions lies somewhere between them. More fruitful perspectives often require that we step off the line to a site outside the dichotomy.
Thankfully, the annoying sewer pipe still carries wastewater across the river, not into it. As a kid, I had to step off Gould’s arbitrary line to understand the unsightly utility of the pipe. And all these years later, the judgment needed to balance competing demands remains a hallmark of the work performed by SynTerra.