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Chip Ward, Rewilding the West

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

 

Here's a nifty trick that's been on my mind lately. In case you hadn't noticed, the weather news this season has been pretty grim. Tornados so large and destructive that they would have given Dorothy pause, 500-year European floods, massive rainstorms rolling across the land, record heat in California and Alaska, late snowfalls that boggle the imagination, wildfires that dwarf past ones in the American West. I could go on, but why bother since anyone who has been watching primetime TV news can't but notice that staggering weather has been the lead or second story much of the time all spring and into the summer.

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You're probably wondering right now: But what's the trick? I'm surprised you haven't noticed yourself. All of this weather has a new, made-for-TV label. It's now regularly called "extreme weather" or "severe weather."  And that's anything but inaccurate. The weather has been both "severe" and "extreme" this spring. The trick is that, as a label, "extreme weather" has managed (with rare exceptions) to obviate the need even to mention that any of this could have the slightest thing to do with climate change, with our overheating, over-greenhouse-gassed planet. Think of it as a fabulous form of recognition and denial wrapped in the same package.

The TV news gets all the benefits of night-after-night, eyeball-gluing drama in which the weather goes nuts, houses are destroyed, and people weep (or are stoic) about ruined lives. It gets to bring in the tornado watchers and the weather people in their raincoats and waders.  (Have you noticed that the TV news can't report a flood without putting some reporter with a mic knee-deep in water?) It gets to focus nightly on those daunting weather maps with their blazing red danger zones, and offer warnings about what potential disaster tomorrow might have to offer, all the while remaining in official, blissful denial about what's happening on this planet of ours. Somehow, it has managed to incorporate the possible effects of climate change into the nightly news as a major story, while excluding just about all serious discussion of it. Tell me that isn't a doubly nifty trick!

Of course, if there's nothing but "extreme weather" happening and that weather has no extreme context, no extreme meaning, then none of us have to worry our little heads about what's to be done. Those trying to remedy the degradation of conditions on this planet can also be ignored, which is why we couldn't be more pleased that TomDispatch regular Chip Ward introduces us to such a person today. Tom

Trek West for the Big Picture
Saving the Land One Footfall at a Time
By Chip Ward

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My home sits at the gateway to a national park in Utah, a source of envy among tourists who gather along Capitol Reef's "scenic drive." But after 40 years of living in one desert or another, I know firsthand that America's iconic desert landscapes, places like Monument Valley and Arches National Park, are the exceptions, not the rule. The rule is that we dig up, dump on, dam, bomb, drill, over-graze, and otherwise abuse our deserts, most of them public lands owned by you, the taxpaying citizen. Generally, our management of the nation's public lands is a disgrace and deserts are exhibit A. 

But let's skip the grim survey of how humans are overloading the carrying capacity of our original earthly Eden that usually opens a report like this. The intent of such a recitation of folly is to compel the reader's attention by underlining the dire importance of the topic at hand. But I assume you understand by now that you woke up this morning on an overheated planet of slums threatened by ecological collapse. 

So instead, let's get right to the point: what do we do about it? How do we begin to heal the wounds?

The crises we face and that our children and grandchildren will endure long after we leave them invite a visionary response.  On the other hand, the world is already awash in well-intentioned tinkerers.  Yet dysfunction and destruction still reign.  Maybe it's time to leap to a new paradigm.

Enter John Davis and Trek West.  At this very moment, Davis is walking, biking, paddling, and horseback riding 6,000 miles through a chain of mountain ranges that stretches like a spine across North America from the Sierra Madres of Mexico through the Rockies of the American West up into Canada.  He started this winter in the Sonoran desert we share with our southern neighbor and has been heading northward for months.  He will cross many of our most treasured national parks like Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, the ones that tourists love, but his trek is no sightseeing adventure. 

Davis and his Trek West partners along the route are advocating for what they call "landscape connectivity" on a continental scale.  Two years ago, Davis trekked from Key West to Quebec, 8,000 human-powered miles.  Same theme: conserve and connect.

A Conservation Revolution

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Gone are the days when conservation was all about bullets, hooks, and cameras.  Fishermen and hunters are still an important constituency in the conservation community, but birdwatchers now outnumber them. Ecological criteria increasingly frame any debate about how to heal degraded habitat.  What the nineteenth century naturalist and Sierra Club founder John Muir knew intuitively -- that everything in the universe is "hitched to everything else" -- has been confirmed beyond doubt by hard science.   

Davis is one of the founders of a new school of thought called conservation biology.  Its proponents argue that it is not faintly enough to preserve scenic rock and ice parks and isolated islands of wildlife.  Wild creatures need room to roam so they can find the necessary water, food, and mates.  In the long run, many of America's wild creatures from salamanders to bears will survive only in Disney movies if we box out genetic diversity, block migration routes, destroy nesting grounds, and save only carefully preserved, isolated populations of a species.  Connectivity is the keel of an emerging conservation ethic for helping to heal this country.

John Davis envisions an unbroken chain of wild lands spanning North America from Mexico to Canada.  When completed, a necklace of "core" areas, including national parks, wildlife reserves, and protected wilderness areas will be linked together and buffered by national forests and private lands.  Creatures now boxed into wild islands surrounded by a sea of development will have room to roam

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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