Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Kudzu, Colonel Nicholson and Lamar McKay , . .

This article in the Charlottesville Daily Progress caught my eye last week: "Creeping kudzu poses new threat."

According to the article, "Kudzu, a green leafy vine native to Japan and southeastern China, emits the chemicals isoprene and nitric oxide, which combine with nitrogen in the air to form ozone — a pollutant that can be harmful to human health and crops, trees and other vegetation."

We further learn that . . .
A new study has found that kudzu is a significant contributor to surface ozone pollution and the problem is projected to grow as the vine continues to spread. 
“People worried about kudzu invasion previously were worried about its effect on biodiversity,” said Manuel Lerdau, an environmental studies and biology professor at the University of Virginia and one of the study’s authors. “We’re saying there are more worries about kudzu than biodiversity. It has an effect on air quality and human health.”
The study, published this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the invasion of kudzu might increase ozone pollution by so much that it overcomes the anticipated benefits of federal air quality legislation.
I grew up in Kudzu-covered North Carolina. When I was very young, I thought it was pretty, but I didn't have to get very much older to realize that any plant that grew so fast that it made daily, visible progress, was more problematic than your average marigold.

Alec Guinness as Colonel Nicholson in the movie The Bridge On the River Kwai rallies British and American prisoners of war to build a beautifully functional bridge for the Japanese. For Col. Nicholson, bridge building seems to be about duty and honor. It's only when he waits for the first Japanese troop train to cross his creation that Colonial Nicholson faces the reality that it's really been about building a bridge for the enemy. At that moment, the colonel stares at his beautiful creation and asks, "What have I done?"

I've often wondered if anyone who worked at the Soil Conservation Service--the government agency that  encouraged southern farmers to plant kudzu to deal with erosion--ever had a similar moment.

I also wonder whether BP President Lamar McKay, whose company's faulty, exploded, offshore oil well continues its seemingly unstoppable, record-setting pollution of sea and land, ever stops his PR speak long enough to ask himself that same question.

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