Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Disturbing Landscapes

Over at Politics, Theory & Photography, Jim Johnson has posted some haunting photos of once-beautiful landscapes. Documenting uses and abuses of land shows sights that are often hidden from roads and other sight lines.

I would not say that industrial use of the land is always bad. There are dolomite mines in a suburb not far from my house that are hidden behind berms. We need roadbeds, no doubt about it, and I am also glad that the mines are hidden from sight. But there are huge differences in degree between a limestone pit and these images.

Photographs like these move us in ways that words alone, I think, cannot. To see clear cuts in person is even more shocking.


Khadimir said...

I think nothing of the images of clear-cuts. Those are standard; I've seen hundreds of clear cuts in person. The point I would make is the necessity and viability of that kind of harvesting and methodological limits of such.

I say this because I worry that urban/suburban concerned individuals often have little context to understand many agrarian and harvesting practices. Hence, they tend to over-react to such images. Clear cuts are in no way on par with strip-mining.

On the flipside, they do not react enough to--to use a local instance--the viability of wind turbines. That is, in my town many people propose the use of wind turbines. It seems that they have given little thought to the effects that such devices have on the visual horizon, birds, the land under the turbines, etc, or their economic viability.

Latent in my thoughts is that I loudly hear the voices of (sub)urbanites, intellectuals, etc., who seem to have much less of a grasp on the Nature that they're trying to protect. Vegetarians who are such 'cause they love cute animals. Meat-eaters who've never been to a rural slaughterhouse or livestock farm. Save-the-trees people who are either deathly afraid of the woods or ... but I digress.

My frustration is that much environmental care comes from a subculture attitude, an in-group mentality, an ideology, etc. On both sides of the fence. The issues are too important for that.

Evelyn Brister said...

Yes, Khadimir, there are certainly many considerations to take into account in timbering. Some clearcuts are so extensive and on such steep slopes that there is no doubt that the forests will not regenerate. Others, of course, do not raise such strong concerns, especially relative to other environmental harms.

Mountaintop removal coal mining, for example, is a very grave issue.

You raise the question of how much knowledge (and, in particular, how much personal experience) people need to have on a topic in order to be justified in making and voicing an opinion.

On the one hand, we should hope that they have some true factual beliefs and that their moral beliefs have some consistency. On the other hand, we can't expect them to have "complete" knowledge 1.) because we don't know what that would be; and 2.) because a high bar would so reduce the number of people that are qualified to chime in on any issue that we would sacrifice participatory democracy.

What would be a pragmatic approach? When people try getting involved in environmental problem-solving, should we be concerned about the source of their values (e.g. that mammals give them warm fuzzy feelings), or should our emphasis be on helping them to articulate those values, making their belief-sets consistent, and participating in action? Perhaps there is room to have both these concerns--I'd be interested to hear what you think.

Khadimir said...

Yes, there is room for both concerns.

Many people have a concern for the environment, which is good. However, expressions of this value often exists in a discourse that is severed from practice. Hence, participation in environmentally concerned discourse often takes the place of environmental action.

My comments about urban/suburnanites was meant to highlight the fact that their everyday practices are usually not heavily invested in "more natural" environment (allow me the quick but arbitrary distinction). They easily fall prey to the severing of discourse from practice.

On the other hand, I note that many whose everyday practices are heavily invested in an organic environment, i.e. farmers, foresters, and the goliath corporations that fulfill those functions, often view the land as waiting to be used. Hence, agrarian practices often cause clashes with the sensibilities of environmentalists.

I guess that I am disappointed that there are not present more individuals and institutions that bridge these gaps and that can be heard. This goes to your second point. I have little hope in participatory democracy without such institutions (or good institutions in general).

Mountaintop clear-cutting seems to be an over-all bad idea.