People Don’t Care, and They Never Have.

Diamond summed up the environmental issues that Montana is currently facing as  “almost all of the dozen types of problems that have undermined pre-industrial societies in the past… problems of toxic wastes, forests, soils, water (and sometimes air), climate change, biodiversity losses, and introduced pests” (Diamond, 35.) To elaborate, Montana, and its Bitterroot Valley in particular, is currently facing numerous environmental problems, most of which have a basis in how the land has been treated by people who lived here decades to centuries ago and cared more about their current acquirement of wealth than the lands long-term ability to continue to be profitable, let alone habitable. Abandoned metal mines, numbering in the tens of thousands, and many of which are a century old, leak acids and toxic metals into the ground and waterways (Diamond 36.) Commercial logging began in 1886, and peaked around 1997, with the use of DDT, and clearcutting considered an acceptable practice. Because of the lack of trees, water temperature rose, fish populations diminished, and snow melted too quickly for it to properly nourish the land. There was also an increase in forest fires because of numerous practices, such as not appropriately thinning samplings (Diamond 44.) Other problems with the balance of Montana’s ecosystem included the land being depleted of nutrients from too many years of growing apples and overgrazing land (Diamond 47,) a general shortage of water because of naturally small amounts of rain leading to fighting and resentment between farmers and landowners (Diamond 51,) and issues with native species numbers depleting, invasive species numbers growing, and the spreading of diseases (Diamond 54-55).

 

Bitterroot Valley and the rest of Montana does seem to be a good example of what it looks like when numerous environmental problems compound. I think the biggest factor that makes it a good example of these types of things, however, is just how much of it was caused by people. Montana was, and still is, a beautiful place, and so it attracted newcomers, many of which were ignorant to the fragile balance of the ecosystem in Montana, or simply didn’t want to spend the time it took to care. That kind of attitude has been going on for a long time, in numerous places, and it definitely seems to be a big factor in whether or a not a place will recover or eventually collapse under the excessive stressors and no longer hold the appeal that brought so many people there in the first place.

4 thoughts on “People Don’t Care, and They Never Have.”

  1. I agree with you on the fact that Montana is experiencing environmental problems stemming from a variety of sources (mining, logging, agriculture, urbanization) which makes it a good model. I do think that the level of pollution in Montana is in infancy stages compared with other places in the world like Mumbai, India where extreme population density in addition to immense pollution lead to much more difficult clean-up. Perhaps it is a good model, but I think that most environmental issues in Montana can still be rehabilitated with enough resources dumped into them. Perhaps that may not be the case in other places though due to the amount of destruction that’s already happened in addition to lack of resources to address those issues. Montana is a very privileged microcosm of the world that I don’t think translates to many other areas for this reason.

  2. Although I do agree that sometimes it feels like the whole world is giving a collective shrug of its shoulders and saying “fuck it,” I think that Montana is one place where that maybe isn’t so much the case. Take a look at the Gallatin County Open Lands Program, passed earlier this summer. That’s the people of Montana coming together to say that we need these open spaces, that they are vital for humanity as a species, and we are willing to pay more in taxes to make sure we get to keep these spaces. I’d say people who live in Montana (maybe excepting some of the wealthy landowners Diamond talks about) genuinely care about the land and want to see it taken care of.

  3. Your post had many good points that I definitely agree with. Montana makes for a good example because it has such a diverse area and unique aspect to it that many other places may not experience. I do think though, that if these issues within the state were broadcasted louder and more often, maybe we would see a difference in other states as Montana often feels like a large community that people want to protect and do right by. The issues such as population and dry seasons may be harder to control, but areas such as pollution can be cleaned and prevented, fires can be prevented from getting too large in certain ways, water can be adjusted, and deforestation can be slowed if people are capable of seeing that it is a problem and that it is causing damages to their lives.

  4. Montana is indeed very diverse and varied in terms of its environmental features and wildlife, a point that I had not really considered thoroughly in my evaluation of Montana as a suitable model to discuss the role of environmental issues in contemporary society. Its biome and environment make it incredibly unique.

    But it is this very diversity and its status as a huge source of environmental data and research that makes it valuable, and why we have sites like Yellowstone nearby protected, as well as national parks. Indeed, it may seem that people do not care, but if you look closely at some developments in the past century you may find that that assessment is not entirely accurate. As we have become aware of the consequences, we have begun taking measures (admittedly not as much as we can or should, due to obstructionists and other challenges) to reduce our impact on the environment. We as a society are much more environmentally conscious than before, and this is exemplified in the mass use of energy efficient light bulbs, appliances, biodegradable bags, cities like Seattle banning straws (as ill advised and well intentioned as it may be) and international agreements like the Paris Climate Accords. I would say that history has plenty of human mistakes and errors, but the thing is, I’m optimistic that we learn from it and try to do better as we know more.

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