The National Parks should be privatized.
Climate change either isn’t real or isn’t caused by humans.
But the laughter brought on by these phrases probably is not the kind of laughter that the writer of the Challenge list meant.
Actually, these two phrases make me want to punch someone. And sadly, both are WAY too complicated to be adequately discussed in one blog post.
But tonight I will present just one or two thoughts on each of those two laughable statements, in the hopes of spurring on my mind towards longer, more detailed blogs about these topics in the future.
First, let’s talk about the National Parks. I don’t remember life before the parks. I remember the big mountains of the west. Rivers and trees. Elk, squirrels and birds. Fields of wildflowers tussled by the wind. Stories of men and women of indomitable strength and courage, eking out a life in a rugged and unforgiving landscape.
These are the places I want to be and the people that inspired the younger me.
So when someone tells me these sacred places, these places that belong to everyone, should be privatized, I simply ask, “Do you want to visit? Will you be able to afford to visit once it is commercialized beyond recognition?”
When we sell something precious, it becomes only as valuable as the price it will fetch. And yet, those prices, no matter how ridiculous they might seem in terms of property values, are only a tiny fraction of what the resources mean to the formation, function and future of an entire country, much less a continent.
It is only when we realize their ageless value to humankind that we can adequately turn our backs on the embarrassing institution of capitalism and say no. There is a reason we make fun of people like Donald Trump. No matter how much money he has, he is embarrassing to listen to and holds no more value to the majority of people on earth other than entertainment value. He is the king of capitalism and consumerism, and yet, we make fun of him. Perhaps we ought to reconsider the dollar value we place on parks like Yellowstone and Denali, and start realizing that, no matter how much money we save as a nation, we cannot replace the clean air and water, the majestic landscapes that draw people from all over the world to awe and wonder, and the opportunities to connect with the real world that our National Parks offer every day.
We simply cannot pave paradise and put up a parking lot.
Next, I will propose a challenge: prove to me that climate change is NOT caused by humans. Perhaps you will cite such truths as weather comes in cycles.
But I will ask you to consider one (of many examples) that prove we have a hand in changing our climate and world: the last decade (or maybe 15 years?) of die-off of the western pine forests.
You know what I mean. Lodgepole and Ponderosa Pines from the southern Rockies all the way north through Canada and west to the coast. Yes, let’s blame the pine beetles. Dendroctonus ponderosae can be an easy scapegoat, but yet this little endemic species is just like any other species: fighting for survival and taking advantage of favorable conditions.
I have read that, historically, this species might have taken out as much as 10% of any given pine stand along the backbone of the Rockies in any given year. The females lay their eggs between the inner and outer bark, and the larvae overwinter in and eat this inner bark. Complicating this process is the fact that these beetles carry a fungus. So while the beetles themselves are attacking the phloem of the tree, the fungus is busy spreading through the xylem – together these two organisms successfully cut off the water and nutrients upon which the tree depends.
So the beetles are killing our forests? What’s the big deal?
- As I said, the beetles might have killed off a small portion of trees every year in this manner. However, I left out a key fact: the tree has to be of sufficient size to provide the right conditions of bark and health for the beetles to infest it. Trees that are young/small enough are not always infected. So this would point that a forest stand with trees of many different ages and, thus, sizes would see less mortality. But guess what? We humans have successfully eliminated most of the natural processes that force forest stands to be multi-aged (and thus, healthier): we eliminated wild fires from our ecosystem. Fires, floods, and huge natural disturbances like these serve to cull the weak from the botanical herd, as it were. If we eliminate these forces, as we have fought for 150 years, the forests grow crowded, with smaller specimens and less nutrients for each member of the community. Crowded forests are wonderful hosts for insects, like the pine beetles, who must move from tree to tree, looking for new housing and nutrients every season.
- We have altered the water tables and arteries (rivers) of this continent. It is my firm belief that our natural water system no longer functions as it was designed. For examples, please study the Ogallala aquifer under the great plains and the Colorado River along the backbone of the continent. Our natural water supply is sufficiently messed up, and this is, without a doubt, human-caused. We water our lawns way too much. Industry doesn’t help the situation either. Do we really need some of the stuff we are producing, using up all of this wonderful water? Really?
- Our weather patterns are facing a change – even if you believe these are cyclical. With warmer, dryer summers, our trees become drought-stressed. Such stressed trees do not produce as much sap (or resin). This is a key to the tree’s ability to ‘push out’ the burrowing insect and protect itself.
So we have drought-stressed trees that cannot defend themselves and we have forced unnatural crowding upon our forest communities. Why wouldn’t the beetles take advantage? Wouldn’t you?
With the die-off of forests, we have lost a huge mechanism for clean air and clean water – plants absorb things like carbon monoxide and heavy metals and release clean oxygen for us humans. (If you need to, now is a good time to review what carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and heavy metals ultimately do to us, our localized environments and earth’s atmosphere.)
Seriously, we need to have respect for the life-giving systems that were well in place long before we were born. We need to act as though we desperately need clean air and water – because, of course, we do. This is our fault, and we need to take responsibility.
Otherwise, we might end up like Donald Trump – ridiculously rich with nothing to sustain life.