A Shrinking Big Sky

  1. The Bitterroot Valley faces a host of environmental problems, including increased mining, farming, and urbanization, as well as improper forest management practices leading to wildfires, changing rivers and soils, and decreasing air and water quality. The original “keepers” of the land (native tribes) were driven out by hunters, trappers, loggers, and miners, who in turn, were driven out by developers and vacationers who had little use for the actual land. These problems are both historic and very present problems. Diamond argues that perhaps the most pressing problem is toxic waste, first from mining, and now from agriculture. He argues that because the problems seem like they are “in the past,” modern taxpayers don’t want to pay for cleanup of toxic mining sites, and modern companies don’t want to be burdened with these same costs of cleaning up after themselves.
  2. I thought the Bitterroot Valley a good model, though flawed. The valley did not experience growth like many other American communities, where European settlers moved in and built their wealth and resources, slowly expanded up and out, and eventually connected with other settlers doing the same. Instead, the “settlers” of the Bitterroot Valley (miners, loggers, hunters, fishermen, etc.) who, it could be argued, caused many of these problems in the valley (toxic mines, agricultural runoff, damming rivers, over logging, etc) were driven out by an already established, extraordinarily wealthy upper class, who only wanted to see the very best of Montana and who did not want to pay for the mistakes of the people whose land they had taken over. So the question becomes should these wealthy landowners be morally obligated to “pay it forward” back into the beauty and preservation of the state?

2 thoughts on “A Shrinking Big Sky”

  1. Hello Sorcha. While I think the Bitterroot model still provides great overview of environmental issues at large, I agree that it’s not without its flaws. For example, we need to consider the cultural side of the problem. The issues are still present here, but there is clear concern for the environment from both the locals and the newcomers. Compare that to certain countries, particularly those in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, which do not take much initiative to regulate things such as palm oil production or even littering. Asia in particular contributes to a large portion of the plastic found in our oceans. At the risk of being controversial, could the dominant cultures in those societies play a role in this apathy?

    The question you pose is a difficult one, but I would have to say “yes”, wealthy landowners should contribute to preserving the environment. Not because they’re wealthy, but because we should all take responsibility to care for the nature surrounding us. It isn’t fair that we were born into a world polluted and destroyed by the people before us. But if we want ourselves, our children, and the other creatures we share the planet with to live long, healthy lives, we have to act.

  2. Hi Sorcha,

    I really enjoyed your point about the Bitterroot Valley being a good model, but flawed. I think most of Montana constitutes as a “good model” because of the huge biodiversity throughout the state. Your question is a difficult one to answer. It is a question asked throughout the United States in general. Do the wealthy have an obligation to “pay back” to the communities they are a part of? It is interesting how people pay attention to Amazon (who does not) but pay little attention to Starbucks who has thousands of programs throughout the world. It is undeniable that one of the reason men come here is to hunt, and the out-of-state permit is significantly higher than an in-state one. But is it something we should consider raising? Along with the prices for fishing permits? It is possible that would deal with some of those coming here and polluting our rivers. However, it would also harm the tourism sector which is a huge part of Montana’s economy…

    It’s interesting to think of all the aspects behind a single situation! Thank you for your post and question 🙂

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