Posted by: mesabimisadventures | November 30, 2010

Buncha’ Darn Ingrates

Over at Minnesota Brown, Aaron Brown highlights two recent articles that have come out for and against PolyMet within the past week.  The pro-PolyMet piece was published in the Star Tribune and was written by Kent Kaiser at the Center for the American Experiment.  The anti-PolyMet piece was published on MPR and written by local environmental activist Elanne Palcich.  What I dig about Aaron’s article is that he is willing to admit that he doesn’t know the answer to all of the questions being asked.  I wish more people would do that; we’d all learn a lot more that way.  Instead people begin digging in their heels, repeating the same lines, until people in the middle (like me) feel our eyes glaze over and our annoyance at the polarity grow.

I would have been all peachy and happy, but then I made the mistake of reading the comments on Kaiser’s editorial and Aaron’s blog.  For ten years, environmental work has been my life.  Late nights in grad school researching the biogeochemical cycling of nutrients  in Virginia’s two little urban lakes leading to my move to that same city for work as a college biology instructor and water resources scientist at a local consulting firm leading to a position at a taconite mine protecting water quality.  I’m an Iron Ranger by choice and to read comments that call my chosen home a “wasteland” makes me sad, mad, frustrated, but most of all, unappreciated. 

Without the Iron Ranges of Minnesota and Michigan, we would not have America as we know it.  We would not have had the Industrial Revolution, we would not have won the world wars, we would not have the comfy, cushy, forgetting-where-we-came-from life that we know, love and take for granted.  Where outsiders see a wasteland, I see creation.  Those who came before us on the Range created those original stockpiles, those original pits, those original underground workings and in so doing, created America.  Iron Rangers created the Sears Tower, the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge.  Iron Rangers created the tanks that ended Hitler’s reign of terror, the ships that carried men like my grandfather to Iwo Jima, the planes that brought aid to those ravaged by wars that the US didn’t start. 

 And the Range still creates.  Your high-efficiency washing machine, your hybrid car, your technology that you cannot live without.  Miners create those.  For you.  They brainstorm about how the mines can be more sustainable, how the footprint can be reduced, how they can give back to the community in more ways than just through family-supporting wages and health insurance.  They work with scientists and engineers to find ways to make what they do even better for our communities, our environment, and our local workforce.  The mining industry is dynamic and it’s always improving.

The Iron Range provides the raw materials, the building blocks of our constructed world, so that people can have easier, more “cultured”, fancier lives.  Lives that unfortunately, all too often, result in people forgetting why they have it as easy as they do.  From farmers to truck drivers to Rangers to grocery store clerks to the mechanic that you just cuss at under your breath – it’s too easy for us to be a buncha’ darn ingrates…

You see wasteland.  I see the clothes you’re wearing that were harvested with metal equipment, produced with metal equipment, shipped to you with metal equipment.  I see your food that was also harvested, produced or shipped to you with metal equipment, and heck, probably cooked with it too.  I see your house, your copper plumbing and wiring, your computer.  I see your kids riding to school in a metal bus, playing with a metal-containing iPod.  I see your titanium camping utensils, your stainless steel water bottle, your aluminum canoe, your tent poles made out of of (gulp!) more metal.

You may not like mining, but you most likely really like what it provides for your life.

As someone who proudly works at an iron mine, um, well, you’re welcome.



  1. Well put. The question(s) should be, what are the acceptable trade offs? And how do we go about getting the stuff out of the ground without spoiling something else? And how much should we “take” now and how much should we leave for future generations? It distresses me when people don’t see that you can’t have stuff without it coming from somewhere, in someone’s back yard. (Better education in the schools might help this.) But I’m also distressed by those who see to think that we can take all we want because _____ [perhaps the 2nd Coming will be soon or whatever.] That viewpoint seems like raping the earth to me. Too many people seem to view these issues quite narrowly.

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