Aesthetics Matters

About the author: John Lehrter is a research ecologist with the Office of Research and Development in Gulf Breeze, Florida, who joined EPA in 2004. His research activities examine the sources, transport, and fate of pollutants from watersheds to the coastal ocean.

photo of John Lehrter in front of his houseMy wife and I have been painting the exterior of our house over the last month or so. It has been a hectic and challenging task. We get home from work, throw on our painting clothes (soon to be retired), and paint until the sun goes down. On weekends we vie for trips to the hardware store to catch a respite from the endless brush strokes. All in all, though, it has been a good experience and the best reward is that we love our house again.

As I was painting on Earth Day it struck me that aesthetics, like a freshly painted house, are very important in how we perceive our surrounding environment. As a water scientist at the EPA, I am often asked the “Why?” question. Why is it important to safeguard water quality and quantity? My typical response is to cite the ways that we are dependent on water resources such as clean drinking water supplies, fisheries resources, and the large number of other natural services provided by freshwater and marine ecosystems. Usually, I forget to even mention aesthetics.

Really, though, the environmental issues we’re most often confronted with on a personal level are aesthetic. During the spring, especially, the natural world showcases its beauty. As we ride to work or run errands we’re visually inundated with scenery. Green scenery, like a city park or a coastal marsh, evokes feelings of well-being. While other scenes, like urban brownfields or heavily eroded hillsides, indicate environmental problems and challenges.

In a lot of cases, training in the environmental sciences is not required to recognize a “good” or “bad” environment. It is rather confusing, however, about what an individual might do to improve things. Educational resources about the environmental issues related to water and what you can do to lessen your impact are available from EPA’s website. Generally, actions that improve aesthetics are a step in the right direction.

Now that we’ve nearly completed painting the house, it is time to start rethinking our yard … and the rest of our environment. I guess I won’t be throwing away those work clothes after all.