Posted by: mesabimisadventures | June 23, 2010

What Values are Most Valuable?

Give me paper, but spare the forest.  Give me steel, but spare the landscape.  Give me culture, give me skyscrapers, give me convenience, but spare the riparian zones, the wetlands and the prairie.

A few months ago I attended a professional conference where Jim Miller presented information about the Duluth Complex, the geological formation providing Northeastern Minnesota with a mother lode of metals and a bit more than a dash of controversy.  In the audience sat a gentleman and his wife who are not professionals in the field the conference was intended for, but instead are environmental activists on the Iron Range.  As I listened to the presentation, I gazed over at him to watch his reactions because I had more than a suspicion that they’d be slightly different than my own.

As Jim discussed the inevitable mining of this resource (which you can also read here in an awesome MPR article), the gentleman across the room furrowed his brow and shook his head.  Whether it was in anger, sadness, frustration or a combination of all three, I really can’t say, but I’d safely venture a guess that it was one of them.  And I felt for him at that moment because the thought of mining this area for metals that have never before been mined in Minnesota bashes against his priority values.  And values don’t rearrange just because of a well-done PowerPoint presentation.

What values are most valuable?

Mining proponents do not all tie beautiful women to train tracks while wearing top hats and twirling handlebar mustaches, cursing “foiled again!” when another obstacle is placed in the way while trying to obtain permits.  Not every mining opponent wears hemp necklaces, smells like patchouli oil and cares more about the peatlands than your neighbor’s opportunity to support his family.  We are more similar than we care to admit and our values overlap more than they may seem.

We don’t want to recognize our common ground, because then we’d have to admit that we aren’t that different than the other side.  The vast majority of us have the same values with our battles arising because of individual ranking systems.  As humans, it is inherent in us to care about the Earth, our health, our fellow creatures, our families, our ability to provide for those families, our neighbor’s ability to provide (partly so that they aren’t asking for handouts, but I digress).

What values hold the greatest priority for us though and for what are we willing to sacrifice?  It is easy for a retired person with a comfortable pension or a person with a desk job that is far removed from raw material extraction to rearrange personal priorities so that job creation on the Iron Range is low on their list.  “Easy for you to say” goes the saying.  It is also easy for those of us blessed to live on the Range to rearrange our priorities so that not impacting wetlands (in an area of the country absolutely LOADED with them) is pretty darn low on our list.  These rearrangements don’t mean that the pensioner doesn’t care about jobs or that I don’t care about wetlands.  It’s just that those aren’t our top priorities based on our personal situations or points-of-view.

I am (obviously) a mining proponent.  I believe in environmentally responsible mining and no, I do not believe that is an oxymoron.  I believe that we can extract society’s necessary raw materials in an environmentally-conscious manner that provides for this generation, while also looking out for the future generations.  I believe in being global citizens, which means that we should pay the environmental cost for our consumption habits.  I believe in environmental justice; poorer countries should not suffer because Americans choose to be greedy and selfish.  I believe that people have a right to earn a living and that people should not have the right to dictate what may be done with land that they choose to use only as a playground.

Give me all that I want, but ask for nothing in return.  Give me all the material goods to support my quality of life, but ask me to make no sacrifices.  Give me a clear conscience, but make it a delusion.

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