Thursday, May 22, 2014

Planting seeds of sustainability

We've written several times about sustainable mining on the Iron Range and suggested some resources on sustainable mining. Yesterday, we noted that Molly Priesmeyer blogged on the Star Tribune's web site about "Ensia, a print and online magazine published by the Institute on the Environment and the University of Minnesota".... The online version has an article that begins to get at something I've been thinking about for some time: What Does a Sustainable Future Actually Look Like? It has some worthwhile links but the bottom line, as I read it, is "it depends." Since we spent time over the past weekend planting saxifrage and a marsh marigold and an elderberry bush and some other  things at the fringe of the back yard "wet spot," I began to wonder how long those plants might last, whether they will become self sustaining, and how that fits with my ideas of sustainable living, since life spans, although longer for people than for many plants, are still finite.

newly planted marsh marigold
newly planted marsh marigold       © harrington

Then, yesterday evening, I was rereading John Tester's Minnesota’s Natural Heritage An Ecological Perspective. He writes that the land that is Minnesota was once at the equator; and eons later under an ocean. That certainly limits the kind of time frame I'd put around sustainability. It makes the Native American concept of taking into account impacts seven generations into the future make a lot of sense. These days that would be somewhere between 150 and 200 years. I doubt that these saxifrage will last that long, but their descendants might.

newly planted saxifrage      © harrington

This starts to bring us back to the Iron Range where, we know, some day the ore will be played out. In the meanwhile, the economy will be subject to boom and bust, depending on global commodity prices for steel. Loggers who counted on old growth timber, coal miners, and many others in extractive sectors are each faced with the question of "Is this what I want for my kids?" No matter how traditional the work, it's sustainability over the next seven generations is questionable under a business as usual scenario. The impacts of global economy decisions is often brutal on today's and tomorrow's generations of families. I was raised to believe that a big part of the American Dream was a better life for my kids than I had and my parents had. Maybe we should set up a program to explore with the children of the Iron Range what they hope their future will be like, as these children in West Virginia's coal country are doing. Those are the kind of seeds I'd really like to see planted, and have us understand time as Whitman does.


By Walt Whitman 

Who includes diversity and is Nature,
Who is the amplitude of the earth, and the coarseness and sexuality of the earth, and the great charity of the earth and the equilibrium also,
Who has not look’d forth from the windows the eyes for nothing, or whose brain held audience with messengers for nothing,
Who contains believers and disbelievers, who is the most majestic lover,
Who holds duly his or her triune proportion of realism, spiritualism, and of the æsthetic or intellectual,
Who having consider’d the body finds all its organs and parts good,
Who, out of the theory of the earth and of his or her body understands by subtle analogies all other theories,
The theory of a city, a poem, and of the large politics of these States;
Who believes not only in our globe with its sun and moon, but in other globes with their suns and moons,
Who, constructing the house of himself or herself, not for a day but for all time, sees races, eras, dates, generations,
The past, the future, dwelling there, like space, inseparable together.

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