Big Sky Big Problems

The Bitterroot Valley of Montana faces the same environmental issues that plague and have plagued societies across the world. The most dominating and prominent of these issues include the aftermath effects of the mining, lumber, and agricultural industries on the quality of air, water, soil, and biodiversity in the Big Sky State. Every one of these issues were introduced by humans and continue to get worse as the population continues to rise. I do not think that these issues can be considered historical in nature, due to the problem of the people. Not only did the increasing population work in tandem with the growing industries mentioned above, but when those industries collapsed or died out, the population of the Bitterroot Valley (and Montana in general) passed blame from person to person until the topic and money became exhausted, and the issue was shoved under the rug until someone is forced to bring it up again. Other issues with the population include public relations (as seen with fire suppression techniques), lack of financial responsibility and the “ignorance is bliss” view that Diamond claims outsiders and tourists have.

Diamond claims that Montana will serve his purpose as a case study to demonstrate five themes in his book. These themes include climate change, human impacts on the environment, importance of society’s response to its issues, a society’s relations with neighboring societies, and exposure to potentially hostile societies. I feel that Diamond failed to demonstrate the last two of these themes through his discussion of Montana, but the first three were unfortunately representative, especially the importance of how a society deals with the environmental issues it is faced with. Montanans and “outsiders” are not the only group of people to distance themselves from issues that they created.

3 thoughts on “Big Sky Big Problems”

  1. I agree with a lot of what you have written, though I would disagree that every environmental issue has been exacerbated by population growth. The reason I say this is because even though the population in areas like the Bitterroot Valley have continued to rise in the past years there have been numerous new regulations and rehabilitation projects put in place. I believe that the best example of this is the after effects of mining; though still present these effects have been diminished due to acts such as the Superfund site in Anaconda and other remediation projects. I strongly agree with your statements in the second paragraph, especially when you state that Diamond failed to clearly represent the last two themes of his book.

  2. I agree with most of what you have written. I disagree with you on two points. One, the decreased soil quality (caused by a drastic increase in salt levels) has a historical precedent. As Diamond mentions in the reading, a similar situation millennia ago transformed Mesopotamia (modern Syria & Iraq) from a green, fertile paradise, to the desert terrain it is today. Diamond also notes that this was a major contribution to the fall of ancient Mesopotamia. The second point is similar to Daniel’s answer, not every environmental issue can be traced to overpopulation. I recall an example from the reading, stating that Diamond’s old bosses on a ranch took care of their land, and were certain not to overgraze it. Meanwhile, a neighbor who knew absolutely nothing about ranching overpopulated his ranch, hoping that he could quickly make his investment back. I would say that human stupidity and impatience play an important role.

  3. I agree that Diamond did not really address the last two causes of the decline of civilization being relations with neighboring civilizations and exposure to potentially hostile neighbors. It would be interesting to see a case study of the Bitterroot Valley or other society that had the last two effects in play. These last two causes are perhaps the quickest way for a society to decline. However I do disagree that the human causes of the decline of the Bitterroot Valley were not “historical”. It depends on how you define history, but it seems from the reading that the human induced causes for Montana’s environmental problems were caused over several generations making them in some way historical as they happened overtime and as you say the responsibility was passed from party to party.

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