Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Value Of Things

I had plans to do a really awesome Earth Day message but this isn’t it.

I’ve been so angry at our Tennessee state legislature over its asinine mountaintop removal mining inaction and the even more asinine commentary we heard from these nimrods up at the legislature.

Folks like Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, who said:
"If we're going to have elk, you gotta have somewhere for them to stay. If they don't stay up in these highland balds, they're going to be down on the highways and they'll be down on my farm and spreading disease and tearing down fences and getting out on the road killing people. An elk weighs 1,500 pounds. A deer weighs 300 pounds. If you hit an elk, the people in the front seat are probably dead, at least one of them."

”Highland balds?” For elk? Are you kidding me? There’s just so much stupid in that comment I don’t even know where to start, but how about the fact that habitat destruction is why we haven’t had free roaming elk in the state of Tennessee since 1865. We just reintroduced them to the Smoky Mountains in 2001 and you’re already worried about the roadkill? Yeah, let me just say I’m laughing my ass off at you.

One of the things that annoys the hell out of me about the whole coal debate is when people say it’s “cheaper” than other alternatives right now, so goshdarnitall, we’ll just have to suck it up and blow the tops off those mountains and dump the tailings in those streams because we have to stoke the furnace of progress! You know, I’ve already blogged about how that’s cooking the books, about how these figures always ignore things like Tennessee’s $1.2 billion+ coal ash spill, all of the other leaky coal ash ponds, not to mention miners dying in Massey Energy coal mines, health problems like cancer and heart disease downstream from surface mines, and on and on and on.

But it’s bigger than that. We also don’t factor in the value of what we’ve lost when we destroy those mountains and streams. We don’t consider that a forest isn’t just a piece of land or something pretty to look at or even the economic value of its timber. It’s a living system and it performs a function. Forests and streams provide water storage, flood management, even reduce the severity of floods. Trees take the Co2 and pollutants out of the atmosphere and replace it with oxygen, earth’s natural breathing mechanism provided to us, free of charge.

And here’s the thing: we haven’t invented a substitute for these natural living systems! When they’re gone, we’re all screwed. We have no air-scrubbers, no one has created the photosynthesis machine. The reason we can’t put a value on this is because it is truly priceless. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Removing a mountain top to mine the coal is like taking all the sinks and toilets out of a new house and selling them at a yard sale. Sure you got some cash for the fixtures, but where are you going to pee and wash your dishes? You can’t keep borrowing your next door neighbors’ bathroom and sink because, ironically, they sold their fixtures at the same yard sale.

Maybe once upon a time we thought one little ol’ mountain didn’t matter but we’re at a point where we’re throwing things out of balance. Water is getting polluted, our weather patterns are getting disrupted. People are getting sick.

And to not care about that reality of life on earth just to score a political point, punch a hippie, throw your friends at Big Coal a bone, or whatever is just so ignorant and short-sighted. It really boggles the mind.