On Aug. 28, Land Stewardship Project board member Tex Hawkins spoke to a busload of LSP members and friends who visited a farm near Dodge, Wis., to witness firsthand the effects of frac, or silica, sand mining on a neighboring piece of property.
I live in Winona. I’m on the LSP Board now, and have been a member and partner for many years. Since the 1980s, LSP has helped defend family and beginning farmers, as well as rural communities, against corporate abuse of land and rights. LSP has led the fight for local control to protect water resources.
I spent about 50 years in the conservation business — half of that here in the Blufflands. I hate to see conservation efforts reversed here or anywhere else. Yet the hired guns and grunts of the energy industries are doing just that.
Here is a recent half-page editorial from the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, apparently taken verbatim from the Chicago Tribune, which quoted the Wall Street Journal and its apparent source, some magazine called “The American Interest.” The article is titled, “An American Energy Bonanza.” This is apparently the new meme being spread by the fossil energy companies and their well-compensated PR firms, media outlets and politicians.
The hired guns and grunts are spreading the word that a new fossil fuel boom is on the horizon, that fraced supplies are virtually limitless, and that conservation-minded people are standing in the way of progress. It is a familiar message signaling growth and prosperity — at least for the executives of the energy industries and their bankers. Frankly, these are the same kinds of lies that have gotten the U.S. into its current predicament — there ARE limits, largely imposed by escalating costs of extraction, energy waste and externalized costs to society.
So while we don’t need or want energy dependence (with military bases and operations all over the world, gobbling our remaining fuel resources in a desperate effort to restrict rightful access of others to THEIR energy resources), we don’t really need energy independence either, as companies frantically try to mine, drill, frac, pipe and ship this nation’s remaining fossil fuels all at once, in a desperate effort to extract, consume and exhaust resources that rightfully should belong — at least in part — to future generations.
What we DO need — in my view — is energy inter-dependence, with decentralized and diversified energy sources, democratically networked for security and efficiency. We DO NOT need monstrous and destructive sources that are geared toward infinite growth and perpetually increasing demand. We DO NOT need our energy supply and its profits to be routed through corporate pockets for obscene profits. And we sure DON’T need the corruption.
But we DO need emergency conservation regulations and policies, as well as fossil energy taxation and financial incentives for businesses and homeowners to reduce demand and consumption. And we DO need to accelerate development of appropriately-scaled technology for alternative and renewable energy sources. These actions will help slow global warming, buy time and reduce threats to life. These actions provide a pathway to a more resilient society and a more sustainable future.
I said that conservation is a business too, and it has to be — a multi-level effort, local state and national. So is ecotourism — that’s a business too. So are all the service businesses that depend on a clean, healthy environment. Same with family farming. Frac sand mining is not the only source of jobs and income in this area. There are better, more sustainable jobs. Should good jobs, livelihoods, health, rights and property values be sacrificed this way?
Today, I’d like to contrast the radically — and some would say irreversibly — altered landscape represented by a single farm’s sand mine across the valley, with the wildly beautiful and naturally resilient land protected and managed on this farm, and on others like it. To what extent, realistically, is that altered landscape recoverable — can it ever be restored to ecological form and function? And on a broader scale, isn’t this damage driven by outside corporations?
Now, to what extent can THIS farm, and the landscape it represents, be protected from further fragmentation, degradation and obliteration — without organized resistance and institutional intervention? We have witnessed what happened in coal mining country with mountaintop removal, poisoned water and destroyed culture. We are seeing it happening again in places like Williston, North Dakota, and Fort McMurray, Alberta, and we don’t like it.
What we see across this valley is just the tip of a tsunami. On a recent flight over the Blufflands, from Red Wing down to Dubuque, I saw many white scars — pits evolving into strip mines — connected by freshly constructed roads leading to storage and processing facilities. And beyond that, I could picture in my mind’s eye thousands or drilling pads, pipelines and refineries stretching from the Arctic Ocean to the Tar Sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, blighting shorelands and coastal wetlands from East to West, on Great Lakes and major rivers.
Knowing what science is telling us about climate projections and risks, fossil fuel demand and consumption, global warming effects on polar ice melt, sea level rise and acidification, desertification, starvation and spreading epidemic of extinction—knowing all of this and more, as most of us do in spite of the propaganda assault, we have to ask ourselves, “How lucky do we REALLY feel today? Lucky enough to ignore the Precautionary Principle?”
And I have to ask YOU to consider which of the landscapes before you is the more ethical and sustainable? Beyond that, does our society really understand the connection between ethics and sustainability? In land use decision-making, is one even possible without the other? Shouldn’t we be having this discussion right now?
Without an ethical framework, how do we know that Bill McKibben is telling the truth when he says that energy companies intend to use this silica sand to extract and burn several times the amount of fossil fuel it would take to render this planet uninhabitable? How do we know whether James Hansen, the nation’s top climate scientist, is not lying when he tells us essentially the same thing? How do we know when “a thing is right?”
Luckily, you and I — and millions of others — already know the answer to that question. We have read the writings of Aldo Leopold, who said that a thing is right when it tends to preserve (OR SUSTAIN) the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community, and it is wrong when it tends otherwise. This responsibility to ALL life has always been a Native American tradition. We need to incorporate it into our post-industrial culture as well.
I submit to you today that what you see on the far horizon here and across this continent is the creation of energy WASTE, not supply, when we consider hidden costs, as well as creation of profits for a few at the expense of many. Are these realities ethical or sustainable? Shouldn’t frac sand mining be studied with a full GEIS? Wouldn’t it be prudent to consider reallocating vital resources to renewables for a sustainable energy future?
Before he died in 1948, Aldo Leopold left us his land ethic as a guideline — a measuring stick — to use in the decision-making process as individuals — and as an inclusive community of people and living landscapes. Right now is our golden opportunity to apply it and change the course of history.
Thanks and my best hopes for a sustainable future to you all.