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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Republicans, Nature, and the Costs of Complacency

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The second issue of the term, The Carletonian’s viewpoint section tackled the theme of “Environment and Habitat: protecting—or not protecting— where live.” While the responses were, as always, thoughtful and eloquent, I remember feeling at the time that none were angry enough given the issue at hand.

Well, now is as a good time to get angry.

Last week, the GOP took over the Senate and the House. Environmentally, this is bad news bears (literally, this is probably bad news for bears), because it is clear that the Republican Party is hell-bent on environmental deregulation and continuing our country’s pathetic dependence upon fossil fuels. Among the GOP initiatives: attacking the EPA and passing the Keystone XL pipeline, both of which appear, at least to me, as massive and asinine steps in the wrong direction.

Some day, I predict we will reflect upon these types of agendas with the same disbelief and disgust with which we now view the agenda of slave states in the nineteenth century, incredulously asking, “How could anyone believe that?”

If you think this is too drastic of a comparison, consider the way in which our erroneous actions have already wrought immense pain and suffering to human life.

You need not look far before you find the laundry list: the destruction of Burmese mangroves leading to decreased cyclone protection and increased deaths, the rise in global temperatures increasing malaria transmission… The tolls, sadly, continue and grow. The World Health Organization predicts climate change will cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050. That equates to five mil- lion human lives, a seemingly modest estimate, to say nothing of the pain we have and are currently inflicting upon non-human animal life.

And to be clear: the human and non-human animal lives are not separate concerns.

Last summer I lived for six weeks in northwestern British Columbia, two hours south of the Yukon, on an ecological research program with Round River Conservation Studies. I spent a good deal of time hiking up mountains, contemplating humans’ estrangement from the natural environment and what seemed to me as the destruction of manifold life forms in exchange for material comforts.

The program was stationed in Atlin, B.C., a blip of a town with a population of four hundred, located within the Canadian First Nation the Taku River Tlingit’s (TRT) traditional territory. TRT territory spans almost 9.9 million acres, from British Columbia into the Yukon and Alaska, which, to give you an idea, is just slightly less than the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.

From my experiences there, I arrived at two conclusions: first, that we are in the process of destroying the homes of very real and precious creatures, and second, that in that process, we are also destroying our own home.

1. In late July, our group explored a region southeast of Atlin known as Consolation Creek, where we spent a day ascending and descending peaks. Late in the afternoon, we approached a long, finger-shaped alpine lake. A steady rain cascaded across the water, and about 200 feet above the lake, a herd of Woodland Caribou grazed on a mountainside.

The caribou looked down at us in the valley below, their massive antlers silhouetted against the gray sky, and continued their quiet grazing.

Perhaps those caribou knew that something was wrong—maybe they sensed that there were not so many of their kind these days—but likely they did not understand that we smelly, odd things were the culprits.

To see an animal going about its business in its natural habitat, as I was lucky enough to many times over the summer, is to understand that creatures exist outside the realm of our human hubbub. When the animal in question is not a hypothetical polar bear stranded on an ice flow, the fact that our actions cause tangible harm takes on new weight.

2. The Taku is the largest intact salmon-bearing watershed in North America, and harbors all five species of salmon. The TRT seem to have a greater understanding of the way their culture and survival depends upon parts of the natural world such as the salmon population. They do not take environmental interferences lightly, and in the conversations I had with multiple TRT members, repeatedly referred to their traditional land as their “home.”

This is not to say that all the actions of the TRT are somehow “in harmony” with nature, but only to ponder the questions: whern did American society lose that connection with our environment? How did we forget that in destroying the environment around us, we are also destroying our own exquisite and irreplaceable home? The players in this battle—the natural world, non-human animal life, human life—are not actually in opposition, nor do they exist independently of each other. Rather, they rest in a delicate balance and cycle of dependence, which we are in the visceral process of unbalancing.

We will pay a grue- some price for all this po- litical squabbling, for the greed that is only thinly disguised as free market capitalism. For inaction, too, which is at this juncture is frankly unacceptable, both from our political leaders and our peers.

I’m ashamed that Carleton students cannot follow the guidelines of a simple reusable cup program, or even that we believe we’re entitled to such things in the first place. If a conscientious, educated, thoughtful group of young people cannot act responsibly on a rudimentary level, I am deeply worried about our ability to enact larger systematic changes.

But conversely: what is there for us to do? What solution is there to enact those changes? How do we tackle a problem so vast and entrenched on such a limited scale? I do not intend the devalue the importance of small scale efforts such as a reusable cup program, but surely, such efforts are not the solution to our massive and waiting time bomb of environmental destruction and climate change.

I don’t know. Perhaps it’s a rhetorical blunder to admit, but it’s the truth—with regard to a problem so colossal, like so many of us, I’m at a loss. What do know is that I want Carleton students to be voices of passion and clarity in this mess. I want us to tell the administration to divest; to say, as Professor Bob Dobrow so articulately expressed in his viewpoint article last month, that our college, “should not in good conscience be gambling on the increasing profits of the fossil industry,” which as I hope I’ve made clear, is tantamount to valuing money over human lives. I want us to do what we can within our capabilities, however modest they may be.

MLK wrote in Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Even if the injustice is not overly expressed in a law, but in a larger capitalistic and consumerist system that exchanges natural resources for economic profit, I think we have a moral responsibility–to stop futzing around, to get upset, and to get angry.

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