By Edward Santella
I don’t live there but I’m taking sides.
For one thing, few issues are solely local these days. Arrayed for and against the “people who live there”, those whose voices are most often silenced, battle lines are populated by corporations, governments, militaries, NGOs, legal funds and stockholders from all over the world. Remember Standing Rock.
I’m one more “outsider” sticking his nose in.
Call me a tourist, a visitor, or say I have a friend who lives there, or that I’ve met some of the people who live there. Tell me I don’t understand economics or the need for more jobs. Arguably, all those things may be partly or wholly true.
The reason I’m taking sides, though, is that I’ve walked there.
I’ve walked “here” too, here being about twenty-five hundred acres of New England woods known as the Middlesex Fells Reservation: rugged hills, small ponds, scattered ice age boulders, and rock littered trails. Deer, coyotes, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, snakes and dozens of varieties of birds from eagles to chickadees live in these woods. Some nights the cries of the fisher cats can be heard. Hundreds of humans walk the paths daily.
Every few years a developer has a vision of a Walmart, a Hobby Lobby, a bank, a supermarket and a donut shop replacing a few “undeveloped” acres. Battles of experts and lawyers ensue, with varying and sometimes murky outcomes. The motives of the developers are clear, but why do local citizens rise to defend woods?
Because we travel the woods and are comforted. Because we walk among pines and oaks and maples and draw on their patient strength. Because the sounds of birds and animals delight us. Because the depth of the earth beneath our feet reminds us of our own rise and fall. Because “nature”-and I’m not entering the debate about defining “nature”-is where we feel most human.
Because we ourselves are earth, we use words such as “sacred”, “mother”, and “father”. Literalists, mistaking these words for metaphors, laugh. Those who walk on earth know that is where we can be free.
I have walked there: the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This is one of two national monuments-the other being Bears Ears-in southern Utah which the Trump administration and local politicians hope to feed to corporations and their stockholders.
Mountains of layered red, grey and white rock loom over valleys of junipers and sage. In the valleys rivers that exposed the rock water the cottonwoods and grasses. Chunks of petrified wood lie by the trail. Sheer cliffs of pink, red and violet, hundreds of feet high, tower above. Rocks reveal ripples in sand left millions of years ago by a disappeared sea. Plants no longer seen have left their imprints in stone. People come from all over the world to walk here.
A Monument is not a National Park. People live in National Monuments. In the case of Grand Staircase-Escalante, the people are farmers, cattle ranchers, restaurant workers, park rangers, coffee shop employees, teachers, librarians, cooks, waiters, postal workers, artists, auto mechanics. Their livelihood depends one way or another on tourism. These people are not interested in ruining their livelihoods. Tourism depends on the geology of the monument, the weather, the absolutely pristine air, the sparkling water and every living thing.
The polls tell us there is majority popular support for saving Grand Staircase-Escalante. Not so much for Bears Ears. Tribal peoples live there. Some Americans think that tribal peoples may be citizens, may fight in our wars, but they are not part of ‘us’. Taking their land is merely an unfortunate and very repetitive circumstance. They’re wrong. They’re beyond wrong. We’re all human beings, we’re all Americans and we all have the same rights-or is it lack of rights? Tribal histories are buried and inscribed in Bears Ears.
The birth of these monuments were struggles won by some locals and the Clinton and Obama administrations. Since our current President seeks to destroy all things Clinton and Obama, it is not surprising he wants to turn these protected lands over to the loving jaws of private big business.
You see, there’s coal.
I visited Xi’an, China a few years ago, a city surrounded by towering coal-fired generators. The coal could have originated in the United States. Xi’an has a population greater than that of New York City. One day I was there visibility was approximately one hundred fifty feet. Coal dust scratched my eyes, filled my nose, coated my throat. Somewhere coal owners and investors grew richer. Climates warmed. I washed my eyes and spat out black saliva.
Picture not only here but where the coal is burned. The air that is too thick to see more than a hundred feet, lungs, nose and mouth coated with grit, eyes burning and the ground covered with black dust.
China is getting out of coal. China believes there is no future for coal. China was our biggest customer for coal.
Almost no one wants coal. We could create markets for coal by banning renewables such as solar and wind. We could ban natural gas. We could invade foreign countries and force them to buy our coal. Short term, a few people will make money. Long term, it’s a fool’s errand.
Mining coal is like manufacturing buggy whips.
We’ve much experience in destroying land, air, water and people’s lives. It’s what we do, perhaps, best. Perhaps the President will want to put another Trump Tower on one of those mountains. He’s sure to get a deal on the real estate.
The Washington Post reported today (November 30, 2017) that Trump will announce on Monday that he will cut Bears Ears by eighty-five percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante by half. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/11/30/trump-to-cut-bears-ears-national-monument-by-85-percent-grand-staircase-escalante-by-half-documents-show/?utm_term=.cb4ff6e3ccbf
If Trump succeeds, the hotel and the mine will eventually fail. The President and a few other men of wealth will, even after filing for bankruptcy, become wealthier. The rest of us who still live on earth: well, we shall be poorer in so many ways.
The battle is not over. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the organization that successfully lobbied for the monuments, is filing suit in Federal Court. Whether the President has the authority to reduce a National Monument under the law is questionable.
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