This piece on the threat of a large copper mine to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a sign a failure in the larger wilderness debates, which is not creating buffer zones of limited industrial activity that would allow some economic functions but also keep the core area ecologically secure. To be able to place a destructive and awful copper mine on the edge of a place like the boundary waters would have a huge impact on the water quality in the wilderness. Similarly, the plans of developers to build thousands of housing units on the edge of the Grand Canyon National Park would have been utterly disastrous. Luckily, the government stepped in to stop the latter project. I do believe that the Department of Interior won’t allow this mine to be developed, but it shouldn’t come to this. We need stronger buffer zones around wilderness areas.
There are many reasons to support the legalization of marijuana. For me, one of the most important reasons is to get growing operations out of the national forests and national parks and under a regulatory structure. That probably means corporate control over a lot of it and a lot of local operations that are operating in a horrible manner going under. This is a good reason why:
Northern California is home to numerous wildlife species which are dependent on the unique critical habitat attributes that public lands within this bioregion provide. Some species of conservation concern that inhabit this region include Northern spotted owls, fishers, and Coho salmon. It is also home to numerous terrestrial big game species including black-tailed deer, American black bear and elk.
Therefore, in addition to non-game wildlife benefits this area offers, game species are reliant on the large tracts of public lands in order to sustain viable populations for both natural resource and recreation use benefits. Specifically, all three Roosevelt Elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) hunt zones are located within this area. Unfortunately, northern California is also experiencing a sizeable amount of clandestine marijuana cultivation on public lands, much of it entrenched in prime elk habitat.
These illegal cultivation sites on public lands have a long list of deleterious impacts towards natural resources upon which many wildlife species are dependent. They divert large amounts of water, fragment landscapes in order to cultivate marijuana plants, and contaminate native plants, soil and water resources with either legal or illegal pesticides not intended for use in remote forested areas.
Finally, due to the clandestine nature of this activity, armed growers occupy many of these sites for several months who in turn poach and maliciously poison wildlife.
For example, in 2015, Integral Ecology Research Center (IERC) and Law Enforcement agencies discovered several black-tailed deer does and bucks that were illegally harvested or poisoned at grow sites. In addition to deer poaching, IERC research staff documented several black bears and non-game species like gray foxes maliciously poisoned. Occurrences of fawns bedded down in contaminated plots or deer illegally snared were also common and frequently documented. Finally, remote camera systems have detected numerous game species browsing within cultivation plots, raising the question of the potential contamination risks these sites may pose towards human-harvested game.
There are growing operations throughout the northern California forests operating in this manner. There is a horrible environmental price to these. Marijuana needs to be legalized, placed under a regulatory framework,* and those continuing to grow in the national forests need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
* Yes, I know that there are lots of problems with agribusiness and with the regulations of the agricultural industry. It’s still way better than this.
According to professor Liu, the Chinese word for pollution, 污染 [wu ran], has a very specific meaning. The first character of the word, 污 (wu), consists of 氵, the three dots of the ‘water’ radical that signified a meaning related to water, and the word 亏 (kui), which on its own means loss, or deficiency. The second character of pollution, 染 (ran), which also has the ‘three dots of water’ in it, means to infect, or to dye. In this sense, pollution in Chinese implies an action in which something foreign intrudes into something else, and by that, disturbs its purity. Taken literally, pollution is what happens when a foreign substance is mixed in with water, causing it to become impure.
Even though it might seem that the pollution is a recent problem, its seeds were sown much earlier, before China overtook the United States in 2015 to become the world’s largest economy, before China’s booming years in the 1990s when it became the world’s largest factory, and even before former leader Deng Xiaoping opened up China’s economy in the late 1970s to private enterprises and the rest of the world. According to the Professor, it was Mao who essentially changed China’s relationship to nature.
“In the past, Taoists believed that everything in the world, including humans, had to follow the rules of nature,” he explained. “But since Mao, we came to believe that we can manipulate the world to our own will.”
After the People’s Republic of China was officiated in 1949, Mao set out to transform the new nation from an agricultural society to an industrial powerhouse. Using newly developed scientific ideas and technologies, with much of its early stages based on the Soviet model, natural resources were all subjected to rapidly expand heavy industry, a maniacal increase in steel and coal production, and an amped-up agricultural yield by collectivizing traditional farms into agricultural co-operatives. Human lives were seen as natural resources too, and between 1958 and 1961, tens of millions of lives were lost in a famine caused by The Great Leap Forward, a Mao-led movement that urged farmers to prioritize steel production over farming, forcing many to melt their pots and pans in make-shift backyard furnaces to reach the steel quotas. The Professor traced the lineage of contemporary large-scale production and the technological conquering of nature back to Mao’s legacy.
“In the Mao era, [mankind] didn’t just think that [it] could manipulate nature, but believed that [it] should.”
These questions were very urgent to contemporary Chinese philosophers.
“What we care most about is: Is this the necessary road for humans, going from an agricultural to an industrial and then to a developed society? And in that, do we have to pollute?”
Of course, this was all just another way to get at the connections between personal wealth, national glory, and modernization, all of which has prioritized pollution over sustainability.
Read the whole, etc.
For whatever reason, I have a lot of small stories about global environmental issues in my blog list so let’s do them at all at once.
Between poor governance and drought, Zimbabwe’s wildlife refuge are evidently overpopulated with large mammals the nation can’t provide for and so the nation is going to sell off a bunch of elephants to other nations. Given that they sold a bunch to China last year, a nation that routinely violated CITES in order to turn rare animals into consumer products, this probably will not go well.
In Nicaragua, drought and climate change are adding to discomfort over the Chinese building a shipping canal across the nation and have led to large-scale protests against the project. This is one way where we see climate change interact with other social and political problems to create higher tensions. That the center of these protests is in the heavily indigenous Atlantic side of the country is also important here, given the Sandinistas war with the Misquitos in the 1980s and the long-standing tensions between the Pacific and Atlantic sides of the nation.
Myanmar is banning logging. The military government used the nation’s vast forests to fund itself, mostly selling the wood to China. Deforestation is rapidly becoming a major issue in the nation. The new government banning logging is a real challenge to the military’s still significant power. We’ll see if the government can enforce this.
Today is African World Heritage Day. This is an interesting piece on how climate change could impact Africa’s cultural heritage:
The threat posed to Africa’s world heritage sites by climate change was the subject of a recent story by the Voice of America’s Africa Service. A full audio clip of the story can be found by clicking the link below. In the story, reporter Adam Phillips looked at the threat and what’s being done to address it — including interviews with several US-based professionals who are working with African colleagues to safeguard the continent’s heritage.
Coastal Africa is obviously affected by rising sea levels said WMF’s Ackerman, impacting places like Cape Coast in Ghana, another fortification on the water. Ackerman adds that many of Africa’s cultural and historic sites are threatened by lack of water due to human-caused climate change, not too much water. The result is drought or creeping desertification that threatens sites like Mauritania’s Chinguetto Mosque, where the World Monuments Fund is at work. The site was a great medieval center of Islamic learning that sits on a landscape that has become so dry it can no longer grow food.
US/ICOMOS member Adam Markham, deputy director of the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a co-author of UCS’s Landmarks at Risk report, was also interviewed for the story. According to Markham, rising sea level causes increased flooding for cities on or near the coasts where most people live. And the storm surges that result from increasingly frequent “super-storms” and other extreme weather events make severe floods extremely likely.
Climate change impacts know no national boundaries, with otherwise-unconnected communities facing common climate change risk profiles. Desertification threatens places as divergent as Africa and the United States while coastal communities across the globe face a common threat from sea level rise. This dynamic places an enormous premium on cultural heritage professionals who can share learned experiences internationally.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi is urging India’s prime minister Narendra Modi to crack down on the human trafficking in children, which has increased because of India’s worst drought in decades.
“Owing to this drought and the on-going water crisis, children are becoming increasingly vulnerable. In the coming months, there is an increased risk of lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of children becoming victims of these circumstances.”
The government estimates more than 330 million people – almost a quarter of India’s population – have been hit by the scarcity of water in states such as Maharashtra in the west and Karnataka in the south.
As crops wither and livestock perish, ten of thousands of people are migrating in search of food, water and jobs, leaving behind women, children and older family members who are vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers.
Figures given by Satyarthi’s office showed the number of children dropping out of school in the ten drought-affected states had risen by 22 percent, while child trafficking cases had increased by 24 percent.
When we think of soil conservation (a topic I know is near and dear to all LGM readers!) we think of the Dust Bowl as the central event. And in many ways that’s true, but it has deeper roots, which is fantastic erosion created in the Southern cotton regions. Above is Providence Canyon, Georgia. This is one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders. It is also completely created by erosion from cotton growing. The historian Paul Sutter expands upon this and previews his new book on Providence Canyon by looking at Soil Conservation Service head Hugh Bennett.
Only a couple of years later, in 1913, Bennett traveled to Stewart County, Georgia, just south of Columbus, where a soil survey team was struggling to map a landscape wracked by the most extreme gullying he had ever seen. Again, Bennett and his colleagues mapped tens of thousands of acres of “Rough gullied land.” Some of the county’s gullies were more than 150 feet deep and hundreds of feet wide. The published “Soil Survey of Stewart County” highlighted a gully that locals called “Providence Cave,” a place that would later come to be known as Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon.”
Witnessing such erosion convinced Bennett that something needed to be done to save the region’s, and the nation’s, soils. But several factors limited the effectiveness of his proselytizing for a federal soil conservation bureau. Federal conservation programs on public lands had developed during the Progressive Era, but instituting a program to regulate resource use on private lands had proven more difficult. The interruption of the First World War and the more conservative political climate of the postwar years also thwarted his ambitions. Bennett had to contend with another problem, too: the head of the U.S. Bureau of Soils, Milton Whitney, refused to take soil conservation seriously. Instead, Whitney repeatedly insisted that “the soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the Nation possesses.” Everything Bennett had seen in his travels around the South had convinced him otherwise. “I didn’t know so much costly misinformation,” Bennett lamented, “could be put into a single brief sentence.”
Whitney’s death in 1927 brought on a flurry of soil conservation activity, including a formative government report, Soil Erosion: A National Menace, co-authored by Bennett in 1928. Bennett also began, as he put it, to “howl about the evils of soil erosion.” His campaign built strength over the next five years, especially after 1932 because of the Roosevelt administration’s willingness to wed federal work relief and soil conservation. Bennett continued to use the massive soil erosion he had witnessed in the American South as rationale for a soil conservation agency, citing the cases of Fairfield and Stewart County repeatedly.
The cause of soil conservation, then, was ascendant well before the first dust storms rolled off the Great Plains and into the nation’s consciousness. The devastated soils of the American South had a particularly formative influence. The Dust Bowl certainly played a major part in the final passage of the Soil Conservation Act of 1935, but it was a latecomer to the stage – the latest disaster in a long history of destructive human-induced soil erosion.
Trish Kahle has a really great essay in Dissent on how the roots of our unwillingness to do anything meaningful to fight climate change are also the roots of our current income inequality–corporate dominance over both the environment and workers. Moreover, the austerity program undermines workers’ economic stability at the same time that we need to fight against climate change, convincing unions to support anti-environmental positions, even though it will do nothing for them in the end as mining and auto companies will cut their jobs anyway. That said, there is still hope that labor and environmentalists will work together to create a path forward for ecologically responsible jobs that don’t poison people and actually put people to work to allow them a middle-class life.
Clinging to the fossil fuel industry can only lead to a dead end for workers. It is time for a different approach. Already in recent years, several unions have hinted at such a method, echoing the all too short-lived efforts of Miners for Democracy. In February 2015 more than 6,500 oil workers joined in a strike at fourteen refineries and a chemical plant spanning from Ohio to California. The strike, led by the United Steelworkers, was primarily a conflict over workplace safety: USW Vice President Gary Beevers pointed out that workers were being put at risk by “onerous overtime; unsafe staffing levels; dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrence of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions.” But it went far beyond that, with the workers positioning themselves as the first line of defense against spills and pollution in surrounding communities. Steve Garey, president of a USW local in Washington, explained that by outsourcing maintenance work to less experienced, non-union contractors who lacked the training and work protections provided by the USW, the industry was also putting communities and the environment at risk.
The workers who took part in the strike would know. Some of them had witnessed a 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery, which killed fifteen workers and injured 180 others after management bypassed safety procedures during hasty repairs. Others had witnessed the 2014 oil spill at BP’s Whiting refinery, which dumped as much as 1,600 gallons of oil into Lake Michigan, Chicago residents’ source of drinking water.
In a critical step forward for U.S. environmentalism, several key green groups expressed support for the strike, including the Sierra Club, 350.org, and Oil Change International, as well as smaller grassroots organizations like Rising Tide. In Martinez, California, members of Communities for a Better Environment as well as of the local nurses’ union joined refinery workers on the picket line. At the end of the six-week strike, the USW claimed victory, citing “vast improvements in safety and staffing.” There were signs that the strike could also lead to a more enduring militancy within the union. The USW’s threat of a nationwide strike, if unrealized, was itself notable at a time when this tactic has all but disappeared from unions’ arsenal. During the strike, Beevers said, “Our members are speaking loud and clear . . . If it takes a global fight to win safe workplaces, so be it.”
In the wake of the strike’s success, an article posted on the USW website called for unions to help steer the economy away from profits and toward a system “based not on selfishness, greed, and contempt, but on ethics, on giving people the justice they deserve.” This, at its core, is what a just transition is all about: reframing the economy entirely, placing workers at the center instead of profits. “The successful strike by the oil refinery workers,” the article continued, “is on behalf of that justice and shows that unions still have power.”
Indeed, behind workers’ apparent vulnerability lurks enormous potential. As they extract fossil fuels, load them onto railway cars and into tankers, transport them thousands of miles, refine and process them, package and sell them, workers have a unique ability to bring the industry to a halt. And, thanks to the deep integration of fossil fuel products into the modern economy, if the fossil fuels stop moving, so does the rest of the world.
From teachers to nurses to rig operators, the array of workers confronting the nexus of social and ecological destruction is rapidly growing. But much remains to be done. Environmental politics must become generalized in the labor movement, and vice versa. The language of climate justice has already begun to infuse a sense of class politics into environmentalism, and green groups’ support for recent labor struggles is a promising step forward. Initiatives like the Labor Network for Sustainability, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and the BlueGreen Alliance are helping to connect the dots. But environmentalists must go further, acknowledging that there can be no real solution to the energy crisis without the input and leadership of the people who already do the work. Understanding the climate crisis as part of neoliberalism’s larger attack on public welfare and democracy (with the impacts, like all social failings in the United States, experienced more acutely by people of color and particularly by African Americans) can help expand the terrain on which both unions and climate activists struggle.
No one is ever going to claim that meaningful alliances between organized labor and greens are going to be easy. But they share a common enemy: predatory capitalism. Recognizing that is an enemy, which both sides often struggle with, is the first step to coming together for a sustainable and dignified future.
The damage off Kiritimati is part of a mass bleaching of coral reefs around the world, only the third on record and possibly the worst ever. Scientists believe that heat stress from multiple weather events including the latest, severe El Niño, compounded by climate change, has threatened more than a third of Earth’s coral reefs. Many may not recover.
Coral reefs are the crucial incubators of the ocean’s ecosystem, providing food and shelter to a quarter of all marine species, and they support fish stocks that feed more than one billion people. They are made up of millions of tiny animals, called polyps, that form symbiotic relationships with algae, which in turn capture sunlight and carbon dioxide to make sugars that feed the polyps.
An estimated 30 million small-scale fishermen and women depend on reefs for their livelihoods, more than one million in the Philippines alone. In Indonesia, fish supported by the reefs provide the primary source of protein.
“This is a huge, looming planetary crisis, and we are sticking our heads in the sand about it,” said Justin Marshall, the director of CoralWatch at Australia’s University of Queensland.
Bleaching occurs when high heat and bright sunshine cause the metabolism of the algae — which give coral reefs their brilliant colors and energy — to speed out of control, and they start creating toxins. The polyps recoil. If temperatures drop, the corals can recover, but denuded ones remain vulnerable to disease. When heat stress continues, they starve to death.
Damaged or dying reefs have been found from Réunion, off the coast of Madagascar, to East Flores, Indonesia, and from Guam and Hawaii in the Pacific to the Florida Keys in the Atlantic.
The largest bleaching, at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, was confirmed last month. In a survey of 520 individual reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef’s northern section, scientists from Australia’s National Coral Bleaching Task Force found only four with no signs of bleaching. Some 620 miles of reef, much of it previously in pristine condition, had suffered significant bleaching.
In follow-up surveys, scientists diving on the reef said half the coral they had seen had died. Terry Hughes, the director of the Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland, who took part in the survey, warned that even more would succumb if the water did not cool soon.
Meanwhile, it is slightly chilly in the North American east, meaning that climate change is a hoax. Brilliant climate scientist and Oklahoma senator James Inhofe will tell you so.
This is the grave of Howard Zahniser:
Howard Zahniser was the long-time head of the Wilderness Society and the architect of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which he dedicated his professional life to getting passed. Zahniser grew up in small-town western Pennsylvania, which he always loved and considered home. He began exploring the forests of his home state as a child. In the 1930s, he worked for USDA Bureau of Biological Survey (the precursor to the modern Fish and Wildlife Service) and during World War II worked for the Bureau of Plant Industry, Soils, and Agricultural Engineering. During this period, he started writing for nascent environmental journals and magazines. He then became Executive Secretary of the Wilderness Society in 1945, turning it into an overtly political organization with the agenda of making federally-designated wilderness a real thing.
Zahniser led the fight against the Echo Park Dam, beginning in 1949, that would have flooded a major portion of Dinosaur National Monument as part of the larger Colorado River Project. Along with people such as the Sierra Club’s David Brower, Zahniser managed to squash that project, a huge early victory for environmentalists. This also gave momentum to a wilderness campaign that would preserve swaths of land from any development such as dams, logging, and mining. The bill slowly gained momentum through Zahniser indefatigable work lobbying for it, building relationships with Congress, working with recalcitrant developmentalist legislators, and dedicating his life to this single goal.
Unfortunately, Zahniser also had a bad heart. Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act of 1964 into law on September 3, 1964, designating 9.1 million acres of public land as wilderness. But Zahniser had died on May 5, 1964.
Howard Zahniser is buried in the Pennsylvania woods and hills he loved. His grave is at Riverside Cemetery, Tionesta, Pennsylvania.
Bill Clinton enacted the Northwest Forest Plan in 1993. This marked the logical ending point for the Northwest Timber Wars between environmentalists and the timber industry that had riven the region for the previous 20 years. This closed most national forest land with old-growth timber to logging in order to save this sensitive species from extinction and to save the last ancient forests. During this whole period, the timber industry claimed protecting the owls would decimate timber employment. Meanwhile, employers themselves were destroying timber employment through a combination of automation, overharvesting and resultant need to find new forests to exploit, and log export policy that created fast profits by selling unprocessed logs to Japan instead of paying American workers to process the wood before exporting it. Long before 1993, timber employment plummeted. In 1978, the timber industry employed 136,000 people in Oregon and Washington. Four years later, that number declined to 95,000. Very little of that was from environmental protection. Weyerhaeuser invested $400 million to modernize its mills in Everett and reduced its work force from 900 to 500. The number of workers needed to produce one million board feet of lumber fell by approximately twenty percent, from 9.1 between 1976 and 1982 to 7.4 between 1982 and 1991. By 1970, over 2.5 billion board feet of timber was exported from west coast ports, a number up 16.6 percent from the previous year. 96.2 percent of that timber went to Japan. Exports exploded during the Reagan years, peaking in 1989 at 1.944 billion board feet of timber, twice their peak during the Carter administration. Between 1979 and 1989, lumber production in the Northwest increased by 11 percent while employment dropped by 24,500 jobs. All of this information comes from my book Empire of Timber: Labor Unions and the Pacific Northwest Forests, which amazingly is actually on sale for $25 on Amazon right now. Considering it is usually listed at $100, buy it now!
But for loggers facing the end of a work tradition, it became easier to blame greens than their own employers or complex export policy. Companies successfully shifted blame to a minor cause of unemployment. Between 1983 and 1988, average timber employment in Oregon and Washington was 105,000. By 1994, it was still 91,000, even though old-growth logging had fallen to near zero because of the spotted owl lawsuits. Yet these lies about why jobs disappeared remain tremendously powerful in conservative communities, including the logging towns decimated by corporate and political choices about forest policy in the second half of the twentieth century. If you want to read the lies told by conservatives about these issues, you can read this. I won’t embed any of it because it’s garbage, but the only facts provided are the spurious claims of a CEO. But these arguments make me really angry because they are outright lies that cover up corporate malfeasance and greed.
The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased at a record pace last year, US government scientists reported, raising new concern about one of the top greenhouse gases and the effects of global warming.
The measurement came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.
“The annual growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide… jumped by 3.05 parts per million during 2015, the largest year-to-year increase in 56 years of research,” said a NOAA statement.
Last year also marked the fourth consecutive year that CO2 grew more than two parts per million.
As of February, the average global atmospheric CO2 level was 402.59 parts per million. This is a significant rise over pre-industrial times. Prior to 1800, atmospheric CO2 averaged about 280 ppm.
“Carbon dioxide levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years,” said Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.
“It’s explosive compared to natural processes.”
Assuming written civilization survives climate change, our descendants will be interested in 21st century mythology about things called “forests” and “winter.”
Sometimes I read about art projects dealing with socially conscious themes and think “wow, this shows a real lack of self-awareness.” That’s how I felt when reading about this:
Nick Brandt has been photographing the grandeur of East Africa’s stoic wildlife since 2001, but during his many trips he has observed a troubling pattern:
“The destruction of the natural world was occurring at an alarming rate — faster than my already pessimistic imagination could have anticipated,” Brandt said from his studio in the Santa Monica Mountains.
His forthcoming series of photos, “Inherit the Dust,” was conceived as his elegy to Africa’s natural world. He came up with the idea of photographing displaced animals in places where just three years earlier they used to roam — but no longer can because of rapid urban sprawl. Factories, garbage dumps and quarries now stand where elephants, lions, rhinos and cheetahs once lived.
To compose his latest photos, Brandt had life-size prints of the animals transferred onto giant panels and erected in situ — once familiar ground where people are oblivious to the giant creatures in their midst. Like ghosts in a landscape.
“It was an effective way of showing this level of present-day dystopia that humans are creating,” Brandt said.
For his ghosts, he selected never-before-published black-and-white portraits including one of his favorite subjects, Craig, a 40-year-old Amboseli bull elephant.
Photos printed in California were shipped and glued to aluminum and plywood frames. The panels, up to 30 feet long and sometimes rising even higher, were loaded onto trucks and driven to their designated sites. As many as 23 men worked in heat that reached 100 degrees to set up and strap down the panels in often rugged terrain. Horizon lines were carefully matched up with the composition of the original photo and contours of the land.
What does the art intend to convey?
Filmmaker and conservationist Dereck Joubert said every photographer-conservationist struggles with the dual desire to show beauty in the wild while protesting what is happening in formerly pristine lands. “What Nick has done is combine the two in a way that sends a visual protest but doesn’t detract from the beauty inside of each wildlife frame,” Joubert said, calling the result a “juxtaposition of celebration and regret.”
Brandt’s “Wasteland With Elephant” depicts an elephant walking through a river of garbage in central Kenya. “Just three years ago, zebras, gazelles and impalas could be seen roaming through these places,” he said.
Sitting in a trash-filled alleyway next to a stagnant pool of fetid sewage, a solemn chimpanzee lowers his head as if mourning the loss of his former home.
Where does this horrible sprawl remind the photographer of?
Brandt compared the “out-of-control development, overpopulation and crowds” in some parts of modern Africa to that in parts of China and India. “I never thought I’d put Africa in the same category,” he said.
And where will Brandt’s art be shown?
An exhibition of “Inherit the Dust” will open March 24 at Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles and will run through May 14.
Well, it’s a good thing that the art is going to be shown in Los Angeles but he has nothing to say about sprawl in California. Clearly that was environmentally sustainable and totally didn’t destroy habitat for wildlife!
None of this is to say that the massive sprawl of African cities isn’t terrible for wildlife, not great for people, and isn’t something that westerners shouldn’t address. But there are so many assumptions at play in this artist’s work–that Africa is inherently natural and should be maintained that way for the enjoyment of the western mind and tourist, that there’s no need to ask actual Africans what they want their world to look like, and that the problems over there are completely different than our world. So this artist can live in the Santa Monica Mountains and come to Los Angeles all the time where eighteen million people have decimated the environment over 5,000 square miles and he can completely ignore the vast poverty where he lives while talking about the degradation of Africa.
Now, I don’t want to assume too much here. Obviously, some of the problematic framing of all this could be on the reporter and it’s possible the artist does care very much about these issues in California. I don’t want to castigate the man for expressing real concern about real problems. And certainly he is aware of how this pollution affects the people who live in these slums. But there are also some red flags raised that need addressing.
While the Bundy boys and their band of idiots are mostly in jail or have left the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, there are still a few diehards holed up in there. I do worry about these people committing acts of violence, on their own and leadership and desperate. Hopefully this gets resolved very soon.
But the larger issues around Sagebrush Rebellion extremism have not gone away. At the core of the rural western discontent is an ideology of individualism that rolls through the region and its iconic mythical figures from Hank Stamper to John Wayne. The idea of individual white man (or sometimes woman) and hardscrabble families making it on their own from a hard land is deeply imbued in how ranchers and loggers and miners and western farmers think about themselves. What the Bundys and others are pushing is a rather extreme example of it, but the broader phenomena is real enough throughout the region.
The problem with it is that their foundational myth that places them at odds with the government also erases a government that subsidizes almost everything about their lives. Whether the government stealing the land from Native Americans, investing in water projects, handing out timber contracts, never revising a system that allows the government to collect almost no money from mining on the public lands, or allowing ranchers to graze on government land for incredibly below market prices, rural westerners are the ultimate welfare recipients. Our tax dollars are funding their lifestyles, which I don’t per se have a major problem with if said recipients didn’t then commit armed takeovers of federal buildings while ranting about government tyranny. But the government created the modern West so that people like the Bundys could have their lifestyle in the first place.
It’s hard going, and one reason is the cowboy political tradition represented by Ammon Bundy and his pack of revolutionary wannabes, who want to pay zero in federal grazing fees and end the federal ownership of land. Even reformist Western politicians still have to tiptoe around the fact that the federal government is simply an inextricable part of how the West functions and has been since the beginning. That Bundy has confused one of the primary spigots of rancher welfare with a rancher-smashing tyranny is only a wild exaggeration of a typical view, rooted in Western myth and broader American conservatism.
The issue of broader American conservatism is important as well because the oil companies and other natural resource industries are looking to destroy the past century of American environmental law. The same thing that is happening to labor and is happening to civil service exams–the destruction of a century of reform in order to return us to the Gilded Age–will almost certainly happen in the environmental realm if the Republican Party wins the presidency this fall. The Bundys could get their way, not through occupying the Malheur, but simply by having any bog-standard Republican win the presidency.