Wednesday, May 18, 2016

An Outcry ahead of Mourning for the Fading Wild

What we have we tend to take for granted; I am of course thinking of remaining lands and waters, and all the animals and plants, especially the kinds a person finds only by going to places of specialized soil minerals and hydrology, far from any town. Places where we can still catch and eat the fish become more precious as we keep adding two to three million people to the U.S. population in a year's time. Precious too is the narrowing, ever-more-encroached-on habitat of many legendary creatures--the big canines and wild cats, many weasels and rodents of peculiar lifestyles, and birds and reptiles and fish--spillover from our enterprises is poorly if at all tolerated by many of these creatures. Individuals who go in search of these living things may find, at least for the while that they're in the dwindling habitats, a closer identity with the resident species than with humankind back in our population centers.

The St. Louis River watershed including Lake Superior is under threat nowadays from irreversible mercury contamination. The ultimate reason connects with humanity bent on occupying more and more of earth and using up minerals, water, soils to sustain, globally, our million human offspring every 4.5 days along with all our money-making enterprises. We pretend that this endless growth is sustainable, and that, in all of its dimensions, economic growth matters more than the processes of earth itself. Our industrial leaders, in their officially sanctioned flights of fantasy, beguile their public into believing that we need all the mineral wealth that can be clawed, pounded or suctioned out of the ground wherever that ground is and whatever pathway to extinction the process may impose on living communities around it.

Water Legacy, the grassroots non-profit organization that formed in Minnesota in 2009 to counter the notion that sulfide mining stands for economic progress and is good for the region, gives us the numeric scale of the travesty that the proposed Polymet Sulfide Mine would wreak on the Lake Superior watershed. Five hundred thirty-three million tons of rock sprinkled with ore would be blasted and dug out of northern Minnesota over an estimated period of 20 years. The mineral deposit is considered low-grade, much more of it sulfur than ore of copper or nickel, so that over 99 per cent of the dug-up material would be waste. The mine pits left behind by the process would linger on as permanent basins leaking pollutants into northern Minnesota's porous, sandy, peat-laden soil. Seepage from the rock pile, estimated to cover 526 acres, would require at least 200 years of water quality treatment, which treatment the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates at having a 93 per cent potential of failure. Since at some point within or beyond the estimated 20-year life span of the mine it would be depleted and abandoned--mining being a boom and bust venture--the failure of water collection and treatment would be assured--it becomes a matter of just how soon.

                                                            The Saint Louis River

Insistence that we have to grow the economy for more people's material needs is a delusion parallel with the notion that we have no choice but to infinitely expand food production to meet ever-growing dietary needs, a kind of noble challenge to feed the hungry, bring on more hungry, the more the better, all God's children, He who said 'Go forth and multiply.' At what point do we admit we're limited in this capacity? Given the scenario forecast by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, cited in the Los Angeles Times, that by 2050 two thirds of the world's population, an estimated 6.3 billion, will struggle or languish in cities, worldwide food production will have to increase by 50 to 60 per cent, even as building to contain all these people, their industry, croplands and transit will take over soils ever more subject to eroding and nutrient impoverishment from overuse. Ramifications include shortages, either localized or widespread, and increased water diversion, meaning the take-over of  lakes, rivers and acreage within small private landholdings used for growing food. Meanwhile we consider letting sulfate and mercury wash downstream from rivers such as the Partridge and Embarrass from the Polymet mining site, and down the still-fishable St. Louis River, which, along with many other streams in the Lake Superior watershed, already has enough methylmercury to warrant fish consumption advisories by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. With food shortages impending due to higher and higher cost of food products, why would we agree to make fish too poisonous to eat?

Even low exposures to methylmercury impair the developing intelligence of children exposed to the toxin through the mother's blood chemistry before their birth, affecting the child's concentration, memory, speech and language and visual-spatial skills. So we are as a species to a stage where the urge to grow our numbers despite all common sense drives us to sow our bodies and our only home, lavish in beauties and in the potential to co-evolve new forms of life, with poison throughout its water system, which all life forms in common rely upon. Water itself, not chemical broths with water as their original base, is our life support, a must for ourselves, and all animal and plant life on earth. We can imagine we're transitioning to a fictitious planet where this is not true, since many who live on the earth today appear to prefer imaginary environments over what gave rise to us, the animals and plants.

                                            Smallmouth bass and perch, food from north of Lake Superior

Water Legacy's recent fact sheet goes on to sum up environmental injustice in the region, its victims the Lake Superior Ojibwe bands of native people and endangered wildlife like the wolf, Canada lynx and moose, with 914 acres of wetlands subject to utter destruction and another 8,608 acres facing severe impairment or destruction if Polymet is permitted. Lastly the effect on the climate is described as 'staggering.'  Fossil fuels to run heavy equipment and the physical plant are the estimated source of a total 707,342 metric tons of potential carbon dioxide emissions per year.  Reduction of and infringement on bog lands and rarely-encountered wildlife are to me the saddest outcome, right alongside the outright poisoning of water, basis for aquatic food, in waterways so far some of the cleanest left in the continental states.

Listed at the bottom of the fact sheet are three steps a person can take to defeat the Polymet sulfide mine:
  1. Oppose issuance of any permits for the project; 2. Insist that existing mining pollution be controlled by Minnesota state agencies with emphasis on clean-up; and 3. Support the recycling of copper, which relies upon only 10% of the energy expended on extracting raw ore and is cheaper than mining copper.
Water Legacy has a pair of take-action forms on its web page.

I agree with Karen Shragg, author of Move Upstream: A Call to Solve Overpopulation (Freethought House, ©2015) that non-profit organizations whose purpose is protecting a resource base, wildlife or the climate seldom if ever link the issues they are working on to the phenomenon of our own overpopulation. The Polymet scheme is a symptom of the presumption accompanying population explosion that we can and must continue to grow our numbers, that to do so is the only acceptable condition of our ongoing prosperity. This prevailing belief embodies not only sanctioned greed but circular thinking that legitimizes more jobs, more resources for more people so as to boost more production of more for more people. The victims, instead, will be more and more of those people as well, most poignantly for me, as the animals I mentioned above.

(Karen Shragg's book emphasizes that 'trend need not be destiny' and that overpopulation, both in terms of exponential growth with no end in sight and too many people for earth's natural processes to sustain, is a solvable problem, via a humane plan undertaken globally to limit our fertility, which she outlines in the book.)

When I drew and painted a Minnesotan wolf lately I positioned the creature as I saw it alongside the county highway, abashed at being viewed by a human in a car no matter how silent and motionless, no matter the faint-to-absent sound given off by the electric idling of that car. I wanted this art piece to advertise not the proud resilience of the wolf or its hunting prowess but instead its vulnerability expressed in the body language of canine shyness, with a hint at the wonderful springy gait of a wild canid leaving a scene--because the animal's survival depends on its musculoskeletal excellence, unlike our self-maintenance in our cosseted way of life. By means of art I want to confront and help overthrow societies' belief in our manifest destiny in terms of expansion, which endangers all that's wild in whatever habitat is left to it--unless the dangers we pose to ourselves catch up with us before earth's climate is shot beyond livability for anything with flesh, fur, feathers, etc.

Wolf, A Distant Neighbor is the title of this little mixed-media watercolor measuring 12.5 x 6" or
31.75 x 15.24 cm. unframed. It can be viewed alongside other works or purchased at