October 2010


Here’s a little-known fact about Montana: it is the only state in the USA with a constitution that guarantees state citizens the right to a “clean and healthful” environment.

In 1972, when Montana’s current constitution was written, the state was (for that matter, still is) recovering from ongoing plutocratic rule. In particular, the captains of the mining industry had run wild, poisoning entire communities, using extra-legal violence to break unions, and leaving little wealth behind but what they put in the pockets of their bought-and-paid-for officials. The clean and healthful environment provision was one those put into the constitution to prevent this from ever happening again.

Unfortunately, right now poisoned communities, violent thugs, and an oligarchy of the rich seem to be politically popular in certain circles. And Montana has a call for a new constitutional convention on the ballot, with backers who explicitly wish to see the state made more ‘business-friendly’, even friendly to those businesses who wish to physically harm the citizens of the state.

That’s why I’m going to vote on Tuesday. No matter what state you’re in, there’s probably at least one issue out that that should prompt you to do the same.

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It’s with great pleasure that I announce that Corey, Charlie, and Mike over at 10,000 Birds, being gentlemen of obvious sagacity and exemplary taste, have asked me to be one of their new beat writers. I’ll be covering the Interior West on a biweekly basis.

My hope is that this will create a synergy that will prompt me to update over here more often as well. Even if not, rest assured that I don’t intend to let Great Auk- or Greatest Auk become extinct. But for my deep thoughts on issues pertaining to my new home, as well as updates from some of the other finest bird bloggers out there, definitely check out 10000birds.com.

I am not a desert person. I love water above all things — be it on a pelagic, or along a river, or tromping through the much in a brackish swamp. That said, I have always been aware of, and fascinated by, the vast desert regions of the American Southwest. Almost certainly it was book that tipped me off, or a show in PBS perhaps. At any rate, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know that the desert was a rich and fascinating place.

Most people, it seems, don’t know that. The use desert as a synonym for empty or impoverished: “food desert”, “desertification”. This is not at all dissimilar to the way that the word wilderness itself was used by early European invaders on this continent – the phrase ‘howling wilderness’, now rarely heard, denoted the same sort of space that could only be improved by the most drastic interference. Since then, we have learned better when it comes to wilderness. Not so much when it comes to desert.

Via Chris Clarke, I have been following with some trepidation the controversy over solar energy in the Mojave desert. In this place, the word desert has been overlaid on reality and used to make a bad decision: namely, the wrecking of pristine, rather than degraded, habitat for development. That the development in question is the construction of solar panels rather than malls and condos is but small consolation for the species to be displaced.

It is easy to forget what energy is. It is never free. It is always accompanied by the destruction of matter, or by the loss of energy transition from one form to another. Solar is a vast improvement over what we have now, but is not a panacea, because there is no panacea. At the very least, we surely have a responsibility to know what we are compromising, what we are choosing. Defining our words poorly does not help with that.

ETA: As I write this, I see another example of solar development with the potential to destroy habitat that birders may well be interested in.

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