In 1861, as America entered its first year of civil war, the Government Printing Office published the report of Lieutenant Joseph Ives on his expedition up the Colorado River from the Gulf of California.
On taking a walk on Labor Day, I looked up and thought, "This can't be good." A huge plume of smoke filled half the sky. Boulder's Fourmile Fire was on a rampage, destroying more than 100 homes about 15 miles from my own.
The decision was hailed by some as a victory for the environment, since natural gas, when burned, results in fewer pollutants and greenhouse gases. Some proclaimed the political power of coal on the wane in the West and natural gas ascendent.
Hey, watermelon! Yeah, you. Green on the outside, and commie pinko on the inside. We're on to you.
We found out about your latest evil plan dictated by your UN masters. No, not the one to tax us to death for carbon. And not the one to infringe our liberties by telling us we can't use toxic chemicals in our homes if we want to. Something even more insidious.
America's National Forests, like most public lands, have long been used to generate private sector profit. Logging, mining, oil and gas, and livestock grazing generate cash for companies and individuals, usually at the expense of wildlife habitat, clean water and low-impact recreation.
The ski industry also feeds at the public trough. More than 100 ski areas are located on National Forest land, running the gamut from small family operations to the mega-resort corporations like Vail Resorts and Intrawest.
One of my favorite bloggers, Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic, has a short, sweet meditation on the meaning of BP's huge oil spill in the Gulf. It's worth a full read. I don't always agree with Mr. Sullivan, but I always admire his thoughtful attempt to navigate through the issues of our time. His post asks the big questions. It ends:
These wounds, these temperatures, these destructive weather patterns are symptoms of a planet in distress. At some point, those of us who see our relationship to the natural world as something more than mere economics—as something sacred—need to face up to the fact that our civilization is not taking this sacredness seriously enough. When do we ask ourselves: by what right do humans believe we can despoil the earth for every other species with impunity? By what self-love have we granted ourselves not just dominion over the earth but wanton exploitation of its every treasure?
Is there no point at which we can say: this is enough?
On the Obama administration's second Earth Day, we can look back on some change we can believe in: oil and gas leases near national parks in Utah suspended, a glimmer of progress on slowing the destruction of rivers and streams in Appalachia by coal mines, the beginning of EPA's commitment to slow global warming from car tail pipes.
But 15 months in, the administration appears to have at least one glaring blind spot: how to reduce the environmental destruction from coal mining in the West - both on the ground and in the atmosphere.
More than a decade ago, dedicated conservationists within and without the Forest Service began clamoring for a nation-wide policy to protect the last remnants of roadless lands across the National Forests. The rationales were many: providing solitude for wildlife, preventing wildfires (which occur most often near roads), protecting water supplies for cities and towns, and leaving the last scraps of land unharmed by the buldozer after a century of pressure from loggers, miners, and other development.