Thinking About Natural Resources and the West: I
On my Solstice trip, I drove from Colorado to Sacramento, California. Driving from Colorado, (where marijuana is legal) to Utah (where alcohol is heavily regulated) to Nevada (where gaming is legal) to California (where there are many, many people compared to the other states) is a lesson on “more or less the same biota, but strong sociopolitical differences.”
At the same time, I was listening to “The Killing of Crazy Horse” on CDs. I recommend this story, especially to those who frequent Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota. Weaving together my departure from Golden, Colorado to a point west of Placerville, California, hearing about the gold rush in the Black Hills (people were responding to a depression at the time) , touched home with the story of the west as a story of using our natural resources. Mining, water, agriculture, wood, fish, wildlife. You can stand on a peak in Colorado’s Rockies and see evidence of mining and water engineering almost anywhere you look (as in the above photo by me).
Some might say “exploiting” but according to Merriam-Webster there are two definitions:
1. to make productive use of : utilize
2. to make use of meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage
I am not sure that #2 has meaning in terms of gold or other resource development, but utilizing resources seems like a good thing. Or at least it did in those days, and I wonder why we are not as enthused about it today. It seems like there are two fundamental trains of thought nowadays.
1. We need to use natural resources and we should be careful of the environment and make sure we protect it while extracting and using those resources. We are lucky to live in a country with so many, because we can develop them in an environmentally sensitive manner, create jobs that contribute to our communities, and trade products with other countries who want what we have, for things we want from them.
Now I’m not saying that everyone agrees on the details of “protecting the environment”; I participated in discussions vis a vis the Forest Stewardship Council certification standards, so I have some clue about how much debate there can be. However, the principle is that you can cut trees, graze cattle, pump out oil and gas, and be environmentally friendly.
2. We should not use those natural resources because of environmental impacts in our country. Since people do use resources, this really means that people will either use different resources, or the same ones (say wood, or gold or molybdenum, or oil) from elsewhere.
My hypothesis is that public research funds are used to study environmental impacts of different practices, but not so much to improve practices. It would be interesting to take a use, say, grazing, or oil and gas development, and look at 1) who’s doing what research and 2) who’s funding it, and 3) how much is targeted to improving practices, rather than saying “impacts are bad, so you should stop doing it.”
This kind of research does happen, though, and maybe should be highlighted more in the press (?). However, “practices can be improved” doesn’t have the drama of “practices will destroy the environment.”
I did run across this interesting roundup of new technologies for oil and gas development in Andy Revkin’s Dot Earth blog.