Thursday, September 22, 2011

Must-see TV

Wilderness: “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” - The 1964 Wilderness Act
I just watched a program on our WPSU World station (a super-PBS station which rocks) called "Wilderness: The Great Debate." You can watch the entire video here. A point-counterpoint between everyone from Utah politicians to Robert Redford, the film documents the growing debate between environmentalists who want to preserve American wilderness as wilderness, and those whose main concerns appeared to be jobs, energy, and personal "rights." The emphasis was on the Colorado Plateau of the American West, mainly southern Utah's many wild areas.

Here's a nice summary from Utah's KUED, the creator of the film:
The core of the debate is reflected in the film’s open. “Is the West going to be reduced to just photos and films to show young people how it used to be, or are there going to be places where they can go and see the way it used to be, like wilderness and like national parks?” Redford asks. On the other hand, Mark Habbeshaw- Kane County Commissioner, says, “This is a war for rural people, for state and local sovereignty, to protect what little sovereignty we have left as a rural people; to protect our traditions, our culture[,] our ability to manage our lives with a diversified economy.”
It's an interesting film, and it gave me insight into the teabagger types with their "don't tread on me" flags, whining about how government is trying to take away their land and their rights by daring to attempt to preserve our beautiful natural places from their ATVs, their cattle, their oil rigs, and their development.

Of course you know I was yelling at the oil and coal industry types, the ranchers, the "rural people" who are "puttin' protein back into the economy and feedin' people, puttin' out bales o' hay, and takin' care o' God's creation" (also known as overgrazing, corporate-controlled ranching and farming, and CAFOs). But after it was all over, I decided to look at an image:The original image is from here. Even the areas discussed in the documentary are largely lit up or surrounded completely by cities. Development has overtaken almost every bit of land in this country. Perhaps the line in the film that hit me the most was the assertion from a Utah politician that politicians from New York and Illinois should "clean up their own states" before they try to tell people in Utah how they can handle their public lands issues.

My point is this: As this photograph illustrates, it's too late for people in New York and Illinois to deal with their own states, their own wilderness. It's gone. Gone. So, although it might cost some people their "sovereignty" or their family livelihoods or their economic prosperity, we have to choose the wilderness. We can either preserve our wilderness as it is, with no development and extremely limited access, or we can have an entire country that looks like this:This is the continent of Europe lit up at night. Teabaggers and pro-Amurka types are constantly railing against Europe over issues like public healthcare and other such "socialist" policies. Remember how repugs starting talking about "freedom fries" when the French pissed kick-ass Amurkans off by actually speaking against the first Iraq war?

Yes, Europe is filled with socialist pansies who basically know nothing. Yet, if we allow development wherever it is economically expedient, profitable, and desired by whoever decides such questions, we will end up looking like a version of Europe.

Of course, it would only be "a version," a pale version at that. Where Europe has the remains of civilization's beginnings -- Greek temples, Roman colliseums, and other architectural wonders -- our development in America doesn't look anything like that.

No, our development looks like this:

Europe's wilderness is pretty much gone, the victim of thousands of years of development. America's development began only a few hundred years ago, yet we hurry to plaster our sprawl and our footprint all over everything.

And the American West? The sweeping vistas of Utah, Montana, the Badlands? Forget it! Let's just fence it off and put cows on it, let ATV riders hotdog all over it, criss-cross it with networks of roads, put oil derricks and shale-oil fracking operations all over it, and focus on what the land can yield financially instead of what it gives to our souls and our imaginations.
"...what are you going to have left to develop if you don't preserve something, and also what are you going to preserve for the dignity and the stature of your country in terms of its heritage?” --Robert Redford


r scott said...
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r scott said...

As a whole, America seems to have no desire to preserve man-made or natural beauty. Convenience and the Bottom Line are always the dominant considerations.

I don't know if you've spent any time in Europe, but in a lot of places its totally different. In my own experience, France is the most beautiful and most unlike the United States.

I saw no cheap strip malls, no endless plots of tract housing with fake shutters, no highways lined with endless billboards..

When cities and towns are built slowly, and around castles and old infrastructure, people are less likely to rush for the sake of instant economic gratification.

In most American towns, people could not care less if Fast Food Joint X went out of business and was replaced with Fast Food Joint Y. We have no loyalties to these chains, because they're not local establishments run by people who are supporters of our community. Instead the are part of an ambient background noise that just comes and goes with the tide. We give our money to these places when its convenient, because its convenient. Not even necessarily because we like their product.

Really, how much American man-made infrastructure and architecture is worth preserving? Even the beautiful old city buildings are almost nullified by the development all around them. Its terrible.

The United States is focused on artifice and superficiality. I've seen worse (well not in person, but perhaps the facade of opulence in places like the UAE), but our disease hasn't yet spread to the rest of the (older) developed world.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, and have decided to (eventually) move to Europe. Generally, there's more respect for history, art, and real culture.

I've got about a hundred images I've saved from street view of France that show even some of the most mundane areas look considerably more inspiring than the best of the US.