Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Chasing your tail(ings)?

Some years ago, about 2007 or 2008, I believe, I had the responsibility and the pleasure of driving James Howard Kunstler from Mankato to MSP airport. This was a few years after the publication of his book The Long Emergency, Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, which I had read well before I met the author. It was a pleasant drive full of stimulating conversation. Unbeknownst to me, JHK was a fellow fly-fisherman. We talked about the local (SE Minnesota) fishing and hatches and how those compared to upstate New York. I remembered the book, and the conversation, while continuing to ponder the question of a sustainable Iron Range. One of the points Kunstler raises is that "in general, we will probably have to return to a settlement pattern of towns and small cities surrounded by intensively cultivated agricultural hinterlands." That sounds to me very much like the current development pattern on the Iron Range, if you substitute intensively mined for the intensively cultivated lands. As far as I know, there's enough land to do more cultivation of crops for local consumption. The more the land is mined and used for tailings, the less is available for future cultivation.

northern Minnesota tamarack forest
tillable? probably not          © harrington

Why should I think it might be worthwhile to give some credence to JHK's prognostications? For one thing, he seems to have done a pretty good job of anticipating the current gridlocked insanity that passes for governance in Washington, D.C. when he wrote "It is my view, for instance, that in the decades to come the national government will prove to be so impotent and ineffective in managing the enormous vicissitudes we face that the United States may not survive as a nation in any meaningful sense ..." I'm not suggesting that JHK is anything like infallible. I do suggest that farsighted leadership might want to have lots of local folks read the book and have discussion groups about how well the Range might fare if only 10% to 20% of what Kunstler writes comes to pass. Without a global market for copper and nickel, where does the money come from to provide financial assurance and keep the water treatment facilities operating? Have metals markets served the taconite miners well? I'm going to spend some time rereading The Long Emergency to see if it has any strategies or tactics that look like they might be promising for consideration by those counting on PolyMet for the future. We'll revisit Mr. Kunstler and his ideas in the near future. Outside of northern New England, I don't know of too many places that have tried hard rock farming. Would the Iron Range become Chicago if it could?

northern Minnesota near Lake Superior
tillable? probably not          © harrington

Chicago

By Carl Sandburg 

Hog Butcher for the World,
   Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
   Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
   Stormy, husky, brawling,
   City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
   Bareheaded,
   Shoveling,
   Wrecking,
   Planning,
   Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,
                   Laughing!
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

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