Building a Sustainable Tomorrow

John Burroughs, the naturalist of yesteryear,

had the right idea. “If we think

birds, we shall see birds wherever we go,”

he wrote. “If we think arrowheads, as Thoreau

did, we shall pick up the wildflowers in every

field.” I like to go from there to a saying for today

and tomorrow: “If we think a healthy world,

we shall see and create a better world, for

birds, butterflies, beavers, bears, and for we

human beings too.” It may not be that simple, but I can’t think of

a better place to begin than with an image in

the mind. Even now, while our benighted

civilization continues

downhill, destroying

habitats, poisoning

streams, burying and

burning endless tons of

trash, spawning human


and war, and corrupting

government at virtually

all levels, I want to focus

on solutions and belief

in people to make the

solutions come true. I say, let’s be affirmative. The world needs

affirmation, positive, hopeful yea-saying. It

needs an attitude of people working together,

aspiring to the fullness of our potential, determined

to make things better. There is no economic,

political or military power to compare

with the change of mind. By changing our

internal image of reality, we will change the world. It can be done. The plain truth is that

limited expectations

yield only limited results. While it may take

many years to build a cathedral, construction

begins with a vision, and each small step

marks an advance in making that vision come

true. Some politicians and their friends in the

mainstream media keep up a steady drumbeat

of “Jobs-Jobs-Jobs” and try to set up a

bogeyman of “Jobs versus the environment.”

But the claims of hundreds of thousands of

new jobs is clearly inflated and overblown

— corporate propaganda that makes its way

into public thinking and public policy. Anyway,

the kind of jobs they promote is the

wrong kind: building bigger houses in the

wrong places, and high

speed highways with

more and more lanes

to accommodate endless

traffic — all costly

and wasteful — while

schools and libraries

suffer. Instead of catering to

profiteers and polluters,

we need regulations, firm, strong and tough,

reflecting public understanding and demand.

We need laws to protect public health and

safety, to safeguard air, water, soil, forest, fish

and wildlife, to insure a future for the generations

that will follow ours. As I look around our country, I feel that many

people, at all levels of society, want and are

working for a better America. We don’t read or hear much about their persistent and

effective efforts — but people are doing it. Did

you know, for example, that more than 1,200

people were arrested at the White House near

the end of last summer because of their opposition

to a proposed pipeline that would

wreak havoc across the heart of our country?

TransCanada, a Canadian company, wants to

build a pipeline to carry up to 900,000

barrels per day of tar sands oil from operations

in Alberta, Canada, more than 2,000

miles to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The

pipeline would lock our country into a

dependence on this dirty fuel. It would cross

through America’s agricultural heartland, the

Missouri and Niobrara Rivers, the Ogallala

aquifer, sage grouse habitat, sandhill crane

habitat, walleye fisheries and more. Public

water supplies, crop lands, wildlife habitats

and recreational opportunities would all be at

risk of dangerous tar sands oil leaks.

Little wonder that all those good people came

to protest in Washington. Or that Randy

Thompson, a Nebraska farmer, would ask at a hearing: “Will our descendants look back

and say, ‘Thank God our great-grandfathers had

the foresight to protect the resources that we

are now depending upon.’ Or, will they ask,

‘What were the damn fools thinking?’”

The news is not all bad; some of it can be

encouraging too. My friend, Rupert Cutler,

wrote me recently from Roanoke, Virginia,

about the general assembly of that state renewing

its long-standing ban on uranium

mining. Rupert asked the Roanoke city council

to do the same and “to let the world know

where our community, located so close to the

proposed uranium mine, stands on this critical

public health issue.” And so it did, and so

did many other Virginia communities.

I was glad, also, to read early this month of

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s decision to

bar new uranium mining close to the

Grand Canyon in Arizona. He called his decision

“a responsible path that makes sense for

this and future generations.” The announcement

drew immediate praise from near and far. One Arizonan wrote, “I support the

administration’s decision to follow the example

of President Theodore Roosevelt, who

established what is now Grand Canyon National

Park and urged Americans to keep this

American treasure for their children and their

children’s children,” Others hailed the decision as vital protection

for 25 million people in the Southwest who

drink water from the Colorado River and

thousands more who

rely on tourism jobs.

“It is one of the greatest

of the greatest places,”

said a local fellow who

hunts mule deer and

turkeys on the forests

surrounding the park.

“I don’t think we can be

too judicious in how we

protect it.” He’s right. Rob Arnberger, retired

former superintendent of Grand Canyon National

Park, gave this important report: Over the years I have seen continued attacks

by the Arizona Republican delegation who believe

mining, rather than tourism, is the cash

cow of the Colorado Plateau. I have watched an

esteemed Senator from Arizona sell his soul to

money interests by advocating for mining adjacent

to the park and supporting air tour interests

that can destroy the natural sounds of one of the

greatest natural wonders found on the globe.

It is amazing that this giant gash in the land

brings out the very worst and the very best in our

country. The protection of this canyon has always

rested in the hands of the country at large and its

conscience . . .

It can “bring out the best.” Let us exercise

conscience, and be hopeful, not only about

the Grand Canyon, but about precious places

across the country, and to cheer individuals

and groups working to protect them. These

include Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK), conducting a grassroots education

and empowerment project to address threats

of mining projects to the western Upper

Peninsula of Michigan and Upper Great Lakes

watershed with potentially great negative


Here in Wisconsin citizen efforts appear to

have slowed down the lobbyists for an outfit

called Gogebic Taconite. The lobbyists want

to eliminate long-standing environmental

state protection in order

to “jump-start” the largest

open-pit mine ever

in Wisconsin. It would

degrade forest, wetlands

and streams, and harm

air and water with heavy

metal contaminants such

as mercury, arsenic, and

sulfur dioxide.

Human health ought to come first. America

ought to recognize that continuing to rely on

fossil fuel harms human health and the economy,

and that uranium with all its hazards is

not the answer. A basic lesson to learn here is

that a healthy economy depends on a healthy

environment. There is no other way.

We need to work on sustainability, using less

today and saving more for tomorrow, building

community pride in pursuit and practices of

sustainability, leaving something truly worthy

that outlasts us.


and the best is yet to come.