We Can Do Better Than This

| 12/18/2012 4:07:18 PM

As I wrote this, in late July, most of the United States was in drought. But my garden, on a finger ridge in southern Appalachia, was lush and productive. It was eerie this season, reading news about drought elsewhere while we had almost daily rain, alternating with plenty of sunshine.

Sure, it was goshawful hot—and steamy! But southern and central Appalachia is now, as it has been for tens of thousands of years, a place of relative climate stability. It’s never been scraped by glaciers or flooded by ocean. Its mountains are millions of years old. Its forest is the most biodiverse temperate hardwood forest in the western hemisphere. And there are still people here who practice ways of living rooted in thousands of years of sustainable human habitation.

Appalachia thus has a wealth of resources, human as well as wild, that we might look to and learn from in this time of global climate change. But those resources, both the land and its people, have long been abused by rapacious mining and timber industry practices. In recent years, that abuse has escalated far beyond the capacity of this most resilient place and people to recover and flourish.

The central question of our time

That question is this: How can we move beyond our use-it-up-and-move-on economy, to more just and sustainable ways of living and making a living?

By “use-it-up-and-move-on,” I mean the pattern of extracting commodities wherever industry can profitably do so, regardless of the long-term cost to land, water, wildlife—and people, too. We see this pattern with industrial agriculture as well as with mining and other extractive industries. It’s a pattern that presumes that after you’ve trashed one place, you can move on to someplace fresh, without paying too much of a penalty or cost.

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