Friday, October 30, 2015

Solving for Pattern: PolyMet?

Today, Governor Dayton is visiting the second of two mines from which he intends to gain insight regarding the potential permitting of the proposed PolyMet NorthMet mine. I wish him a safe trip and, as well, wish that he had with him a copy of a certain essay by one of my favorite thinkers and writers, Wendell Berry, a "Kentucky farmer." The essay purports to be about agriculture, but has been found to be useful by those as disparate as computer programmers and those working for social change. I wouldn't be surprised to find it could also be applicable to decisions about mining. It's offered here in hope it can help the Governor with one of the most controversial and critical decisions he faces during his two terms. The essay I really believe the Governor should read before he makes up his mind on PolyMet permits is titled Solving for Pattern. In it, Berry writes about three types of solutions and goes on to note:

St. Louis River, northern Minnesota
St. Louis River, northern Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington
A bad solution is bad, then, because it acts destructively upon the larger patterns in which it is contained. It acts destructively upon those patterns, most likely, because it is formed in ignorance or disregard of them. A bad solution solves for a single purpose or goal, such as increased production. And it is typical of such solutions that they achieve stupendous increases in production at exorbitant biological and social costs.

A good solution is good because it is in harmony with those larger patterns – and this harmony will, I think, be found to have a nature of analogy. A bad solution acts within the larger pattern the way a disease or addiction acts within the body. A good solution acts within the larger pattern the way a healthy organ acts within the body. But it must at once be understood that a healthy organ does not – as the mechanistic or industrial mind would like to say – “give” health to the body, is not exploited for the body’s health, but is a part of its health. The health of organ and organism is the same, just as the health of organism and ecosystem is the same. And these structures of organ, organism, and ecosystem – as John Todd has so ably understood – belong to a series of analogical integrities that begins with the organelle and ends with the biosphere.
Berry concludes his essay with fourteen characteristics of a good solution, characteristics such as:
8. A good solution always answers the question, How much is enough? Industrial solutions have always rested on the assumption that enough is all you can get. But that destroys agriculture, as it destroys na ture and culture. and

9. A good solution should be cheap , and it should not enrich one person by the distress or impoverishment of another....
"Mill City" today
"Mill City" today
Photo by J. Harrington
The larger pattern Minnesota's PolyMet solution needs to be in harmony with is the St. Louis River basin. Many of its patterns and values are summarized in "The Value of Nature’s Benefits in the St. Louis River Watershed." If you look at the examples of Duluth's economy as well as Minneapolis's need to change current zoning to permit a small flour mill, it's clear that the underexploited values of Minnesota are those that are least consumptive, or at least renewable. How does hard rock mining fit that pettern? Does it truly help a larger economic pattern or is it the beginning of a disease that could soon infect much of Minnesota's north country?

Zen Living

By Dick Allen 
Birdsongs that sound like the steady determined tapping
of a shoemaker's hammer,
or of a sculptor making tiny ball-peen dents in a silver plate,
wake me this morning. Is it possible the world itself can be happy? The calico cat
stretches her long body out across the top of my computer monitor,
yawning, its little primitive head a cave of possibility.
And I'm ready again
to try and see accidents, the over and over patterns
of double-slit experiments a billionfold
repeated before me. If I had great patience,
I could try to count the poplar, birch and oak
leaves in their shifting welter outside my bedroom window
or the almost infinitesimal trails of thought that flash and flash
everywhere, as if decaying particles inside a bubble chamber,
windshield raindrops, lake ripples. However,
instead I go to fry some bacon, crack two eggs
into the cast-iron skillet that's even older than this house,
and on the calendar (each month another oriental fan
where the climbing solitary is dwarfed . . . or on dark blue oceans
minuscular fishing boats bob beneath gigantic waves)
X out the days, including those I've forgotten.


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