When I was younger my family used to take holidays to a cabin that was owned by a family and friend and situated on the banks of a large lake in the state’s northwest. It was a modest cabin that allowed a holiday of quiet simplicity and its main function was to serve as a place to sleep after spending the day out on the lake in a boat, usually fishing. But we didn’t have a boat and so while the logic of why my parents took us to this boat cabin never really bothered me at the time I have to admit there was something unusual about it and most likely had to do with my father’s legendary cheapskate nature. The first time I heard Bill Bryson describe his own father as one of “history’s great cheapskates” I almost fell of my chair.
And so for all my lack of boating as a child the one enduring memory from those holidays was sitting at the edge of the lake and listening to the sound of speedboats cutting across the water, that high-pitched roar of an old engine throbbing fiercely to spit out fumes into the lake. And the smell of burning petrol, too, is a memory that I can still recall fairly clearly all these years later. I used to love those smells and sounds as a boy, having no understanding of how these things affect the environment. Now when I see a car’s exhaust spitting out black smoke I feel slightly sick at the thought of the way we are destroying our environment with total disregard for the impacts of our actions. Of course I know that a few boats here and there and some old cars with bad engines are not the worst culprits and it’s unfair to take my anger out on individuals. That’s not what I’m trying to do. But it seems to me that those individual examples are emblematic of the attitudes of the human population in general and that the larger polluters like airlines and factories and mining companies are only allowed to get away with the things that they do because of the attitudes of the larger population. So that the few voices that are passionately protesting the way we treat the environment are so much more easily ignored when they remain in the minority.
So its good to see that when I returned recently to that lake from childhood holidays that even though there were more boats on the water than I remember there usually being, there wasn’t the same sound or smell. Something was different. When I asked someone about it, a man bringing his boat in after a day out fishing with his two sons, after telling me that they had to throw most of the fish back because they were too small and that he had been fishing this lake for twenty years and every year there were less fish, he told me that many boats these days were changing their engines over to electric boat motors. There were a number of reasons for this change he said. They were quieter definitely, and he laughed when I told him how I used to enjoy the sounds and smells, he smiled and told me that they don’t smell as much either. But what really made me smile is when he said the reason most people were changing to the electric motors was because of the idea of an environmental impact. Even old fishers not used to changing their ways were moving over. The movement is having an impact on the fishing community, he said.