Edging West

Adventure + Culture + Environment

Tag: Politics

Increased Graffiti in National Parks: How Detached, How sad

There was a troubling article in the New York Times last week about the growing rise of graffiti and vandalism in National Parks. According to the article, park officials claim that this escalating trend is hard to enforce, expensive to clean up (especially with ever-dwindling budgets), and fueled, possibly, by social media since violators can now quickly share and gawk at their perversions online. Yet, the social media linkage is only speculative; the cause for this rising issue remains unknown.

I wonder if the cause is a broader reflection of how perceptions of nature evolve over time. Today “being green” is vogue (and I do not mean that cynically), but our “greening” of the world often remains an incredibly industrialized process. People, young adults especially, relocate to high-tech centers, wear recycled, expensive clothing, eat localized food, and worry, slightly, about climate change. However, this ethos does not necessarily translate into a deeper understanding or appreciation of wild spaces. For the complex symbiosis of an ecosystem transcends all boundaries. There is not a single region of wilderness in the entire world that escapes the impact (for good or worse) of modernization. However, nature is instead perceived as an “other” or something far away. The world is compartmentalize and we sever an important perception…and detach.

Perhaps I over analyze? Maybe the attention seeking vandals are beyond any understanding and representative of a fringe counterculture? And other larger issues remain. Development and fossil fuel extraction continues to ring the perimeter of national parks, forming small islands of preservation. Zoos are created instead, and the budgets and personnel needed to manage it are sequestered collateral damage. We also enter a deeply suspicious and cynical era where so many fault the government for all their woes and blast contempt at the very notion of a public good. This all hovers under a blanket of procrastination since major world leaders fail to address epic environmental problems of the day.

The graffiti is an ulcer of disappointment. It is hard to understand. Shifting perceptions and a limited appreciation of nature may warp an individual. But whatever the rationale, these violations are also metaphoric signs of pending pressures and looming dangers from much greater vandals.

As budgets squeeze for the National Park Services, cleanup efforts, like this Arches National Park, will dwindle. Image credit: Andrew Kuhn, Flickr

As budgets squeeze for the National Park Services, cleanup efforts, like this in Arches National Park, will dwindle. Image credit: Andrew Kuhn, Flickr

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Lessons from the Manhattan Project

I have an entrenched bias: I believe that a critical study and evaluation of history is necessary for understanding and grappling with where we were and what we aspire to be. Although  nuanced in countless ways and perceived and debated to serve whatever purpose, our history breaks and flows in a constant direction of almost scientific quality. The evolutionary spirit bends towards justice, peace, and democracy.

Current times seem violent and conflicted, but we should take solace knowing the days of long, epic wars of world powers clashing (hot or cold) seem over. That evolutionary spirit is one of progress. Children grow up today not fearing nuclear annihilation as they did in the 50s and spend less time hovering under desks. Gone too, the era when nuclear testing was a sideshow attraction where tourists rented top floor rooms in Las Vegas hotels to gawk at mushroom clouds glowing and rising in distant deserts of sand and glass.

And we should keep learning. Today NPR reported that the US Congress considered national park designation for three sites pivotal to the Manhattan Project. This too should be viewed as a sign of progress-an indication that we transcend a darker past. Although the initial bill failed, proponents hope for a retry. There is a chance these sites will become a national park in the future and it should be designated so, not as a means to glorify or sanitize our history (as was stated by critics), but as a call to action-an opening for healthy debate on how to engage and reconcile our past. Or maybe a reminder of how we came so close to losing it all?

* * * * *

Years ago, traveling the dry side of the Sierra Nevadas, I visited the Manzanar National Historic Site in California, one of many designated Japanese internment camps used during World War II. American citizens spend long winters in this high desert locked away without Due Process. American citizens!

A shack of Manzanar

A shack at the Manzanar National Historic Site.

Today much of Manzanar is left for ruin. It is a dilapidated, shadow city of abandon, rundown shacks in perfect rows,  beaten hard against long years of open sun, wind, snow, and sand. Rusty metal scraps scatter the site, along with occasional broken shards of glass from old windows.

Metals scraps left in the yard.

Metals scraps left in the yard.

Despite the standard visitor center, the National Park Service leaves much of the site, by design, to decay slowly, untouched. They strike a perfect balance and succeed, reverently, in managing this site and commemorating a wayward era of compromised principles  I suspect that the National Park Service would do the same with the Manhattan Project National Park. And we should keep learning.

Near the visitor center.

Near the visitor center.

Wanting More: Thinking about the Presidential Debate

The presidential debate was a dizzy shotgun of policy (the sidestepping and/or noodling around information) and rehash of the timeless and tedious exchange over tax policy. With the growing and serious environmental and societal challenges facing the next century, that conversation seemed somewhat removed. That is not to say the discussed topics are not vital, but they are often all we ever hear. Measured citizens seem to agree: tax reform is inevitable, entitlement reform is a given, Romneycare and Obamacare are more alike than different, and creating jobs-ever the mantra-a must.

The theme of the event was the economy, and the topic of energy naturally and swiftly recited (on both podiums) with usual tokens: clean coal, natural gas, some green, domestic oil. And energy independence, also the mantra, as if we didn’t live in a globalized market, spouted. But where was the inspiration-the opportunity to redefine a new society geared for longevity? Even some in China, as described by Thomas Friedman in his recent column, have begun to recognize the need for a new understanding of sustainability.

Our plans include some investments here, deregulation there, and short-term visions of incremental change. Where is the revolution? Not a green revolution, for that trivializes the gravity of it all, but a seismic shift in thinking-a holistic revolution! One not centered on “more” and getting “more”, cheaper, but on the shared sacrifice of making hard choices and banding together around a shared vision of long-term prosperity. A new life-style. New values, that really are as old as time. Where is our “go to the moon” moment?  We are starved for a renaissance of public works and long-even more-for an increased cultural value placed upon sound corporate citizenry.

Colorado could not have been a better location to forge this conversation. Not only is it geographically center, but representative of our transitioning energy economy and the challenges, impacts, and successes of related technologies. It is also representative of the major global challenges of the next century: climate change, water resources, food resources, and population growth. Critical conversation and mediation of all these interwoven topics are integral to the future and the future economy for that matter. Lets begin that debate!

A Continued Destiny

The Western image is one of prosperity and self-reliance. When Clint Eastwood swaggered onto the Republican National Convention last week it was to images and sounds of the lone gunfighter-a commander of place and situation. Regardless of political persuasion, it is hard not to embrace (if only slightly) this western myth and how it was so immortalized by painters in the beginning, and John Ford later on. That myth is a simpler understanding of the world, of right versus wrong, good versus evil, and trials justified by faith and destiny. It is one of wild futures, needing to be grasped, staked, and tamed, person, land or otherwise. That mantra has carried our conflicting history and continues on. It is our success as a nation and our darker conscious too.

Monument Valley, the icon of Western image.

Today that relationship with land is more complex, but at the essence embodies a similar timbre. Leaders of the political arena (bi-partisan, too) recognize that the last great frontier is energy. Of course the great irony is this exploration is not for national self-reliance, but contribution to a very global market and highest bidder. Regardless, conservation, a very conservative ideal at its core, escapes discourse. Instead, the narrative is driven by rugged expansion and the quest for more. The 2012 Republican Platform embodies this Western image perfectly, and advocates  “an all-of-the-above diversified approach, taking advantage of all our American God-given resources”. Once again it is a destiny, a Manifest Destiny, a continued rationale for how we understand and interact with our land.