Mt. Wilson, 14246 ft, in the Uncompahgre National Forest near Telluride, Colorado; July 2007
“Nature makes only dumb animals. We owe the fools to society.”
(Honore de Balzac)
In the United States, Public Lands are, simply stated, all lands which are not privately held or owned. They consist of designated Wilderness and Primitive areas, National Parks, National Monuments, Bureau of Land Management acreages, National Forests, also state parks, state forests, county parks, city parks . . . the list of options is as varied as it is lengthy.
Today’s corporate monsters — those who believe that the most direct way to gain their power and wealth ‘fortunes’ is to extract the Earth’s resources — remain secure in their faux premise that all is well, knowing that even if the Earth should one day decide to fight back, it won’t matter . . . because by that time (in the immortal words of George W. Bush), “We’ll all be dead.” Meanwhile, the planet warms steadily because of the CO2 released when fossil fuels are burned. As a result, hurricanes and typhoons increase in number and power. The polar caps melt. The ocean levels slowly rise and coastal areas submerge even as severe droughts and wildfires devastate once vibrant landscapes nearby.
And the demand to develop more and more fossil fuel resources constantly and continuously increases.
Humans have been here for but an eye’s wink of geologic time, yet ‘we’ consider our tenure more significant than all else combined, even as we fail to realize that Nature will one day soon teach us that she cares not whether we persist and survive. Or perish. One might conclude it would be useful, then, for us to at least TRY to comprehend appropriate details, then act to correct the ‘error(s) of our ways,’ to learn, to understand Nature in her very REAL sense, as opposed to, for example, the Biblical-Genesis non-sense. Such does not yet seem to be the case, however.
Sunrise over the Four Peaks Wilderness, Mazatzal Mountains, Arizona, ca 2005
Regarding our Public Lands, disdain for them as a public resource is not new. It may seem more accelerated today, given the “urge” on the part of the fossil fuel industries to extract ever more carbon from the ground and make ever more profit in the process — a bad thing for sure — but beyond even that lies the Libertarian disparagement of anything other than private ownership, most especially of “Socialist” (read: public [government]) ownership and management. Almost ten years ago, for example, Canadian Libertarian Professor Ronald Homowy wrote, in April 2006, an essay that was highly critical of the environmental movement’s association with (and its support for the concept of) Public Lands. Homowy noted that
“. . . most environmentalists have extended [the] notion of public ownership to the whole of the natural world. They write of the ‘common heritage of all humanity’ and of ‘sharing the world’s resources equitably.’ It is as if each of us, when born, inherits our pro rata share of all the wealth of the world, the land and the oceans of the earth, and all that is on, above, or below it, without regard to the prevailing ownership of these resources. . . .”
Homowy continues his tirade, this time to the disparagement of any form of life that doesn’t contribute its ‘all’ to human PROFIT.
“If we were to accept the claims put forward by . . . ‘the deep ecologists,’ that rights extend to all forms of life and, in some instances, to inanimate objects as well, humanity would be frozen into inaction lest it trespass on the prerogatives of nature. What is particularly alarming is that this senseless conclusion, a clear reductio ad absurdum to most, is actually espoused by many prominent environmental spokesmen, whose antipathy for all human endeavor is one of the more repugnant aspects of their creed. For these writers humanism is a term of derision, which asserts the superiority of human life over animal and plant life and denies to non-human entities the rights that a properly construed morality dictates they possess. . . .”
So environmentalists don’t believe in human “superiority” over everything else? Environmentalists don’t or can’t understand that humans rule, period? And worse, they view “humanism” derisively? They believe that certain ‘rights’ extend to ‘all forms of life’? Gee. Whatever gave them such silly ideas?
Young deer, Apache National Forest near Bear Wallow Wilderness, Arizona; ca 2002
About a year after Homowy wrote the above-noted screed, another Libertarian — Manuel Lora — added his two-bits worth and in the process brought forth the travesty of Public (not PRIVATE, i.o.w.) Land to the discussion. The following excerpts pretty much summarize Lora’s views and attitudes.
“I am not against nature or the preservation thereof. What I am against is the use of the state — the agent of institutionalized aggression — to advance the agenda of the conservation movement. It is imperative that the distinction be made between freedom and statism. While freedom involves property, prosperity, and free exchange, statism involves theft, plunder, and poverty. . . .”
“National parks are socialist parks. The same economic analysis used to determine the consequences of socialism can be applied to national parks, namely, that without a market there is simply no way to determine if the resources dedicated to the park system are being allocated efficiently. . . .”
“A natural park is a higher order good that could have alternate uses such as a residential development. And this is determined by the price that people would be willing to pay for that park or for similarly priced parks . . .”
“Lack of property rights is the problem; the value of endangered species is effectively zero. The state has claimed ownership rights over certain animals and bans their trade. There is no market for the polar bear or the bald eagle. And even though people value them because of their relative scarcity, there is no legal way to show demand for those animals in the market. . . .”
“The case that I have presented is a fairly simple one: the abolition of government parks and nature preserves. Only by having a market can there be a sane profit-loss policy. If we love nature and want to preserve it, true property rights are needed.”
Public Lands are “socialism.” “Residential development” in “a natural park” implies “a higher order good.” Also, private ownership of public lands would allow “endangered species” the chance of obtaining “market value” and hence, possibly even a viable reason to try and save them from presumed extinction. That to “preserve” the “nature” we all “love” there can be no public ownership of lands. Fascinating.
I’m guessing that the undercurrent in both Homowy’s and Lora’s theses is that MONEY is all there is, period, that defines the value of anything that exists anywhere on the planet. Period. No monetary value? Useless.
Dibe’Ntsaa — Navajo Sacred Mountain of the North, San Juan National Forest, Colorado; 2003
The bottom line is that if left to the money-interests and to the far right political movement(s), land preservation — first initiated in the U.S. by that famous Republican President, Theodore Roosevelt — is doomed. As I write this, for example, I’m aware of the effort to officially grant a (foreign – Chilean) corporation the right to jeopardize the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota via Sulfide Iron Mining. It’s the money. Meanwhile, in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, there is an effort currently underway to disallow the formal handing over of access to a parcel of land that is sacred to the Apache people — Oak Flat — to an Australian-British mining company (Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of the largest mining company in the world, Rio Tinto). There is apparently a vast underground copper reserve under Oak Flat, and that clearly means more to the world than do the sacred rights of a defeated tribe of aboriginal savages. It’s the money.
Greenhorn Peak Wilderness area in San Isabel National Forest, Colorado; 2008
There is some potentially good news, however, in re the fight to protect Public Lands from destruction by the corporate money and political power interests. A “Keep It In The Ground” bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Merkley – OR (Lead Sponsor), with co-sponsors Sen. Barbra Boxer – CA, Sen. Ben Cardin – MD, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand – NY, Sen. Patrick Leahy – VT, Sen. Bernie Sanders – VT, and Sen Elizabeth Warren – MA. The bill clearly states the scientific reality that we must keep a significant percentages of earth’s remaining fossil fuel reserves underground to avoid climate disaster, and that if we have any hope of avoiding the worst effects of climate change, we must act to keep publicly-owned fossil fuel reserves completely off-limits.
Can such a bill — one that acknowledges Public Lands are NOT resources to be used by corporate and other private interests, that they are instead the people’s equity — actually pass through all congressional hurdles and make it to the President’s desk for signature? Doubtful, but it’s at least a start, a mega leap over a long history of inaction. Time will tell; we can hope.
“Could we, by some act of common will, change our natures and
become proper stewards, gentle gardeners taking care of all of the
natural life of our planet? I would sooner expect a goat to succeed
as a gardener than expect humans to become
responsible stewards of the Earth.”
(Dr. James Lovelock, author, “The Gaia Hypothesis”)
Sunset over the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, Arivaca Arizona; 2003
Join the fight to save ALL of our Public Lands.