Environmental Issues: Killing Civilization since 600 BCE

Located several miles south of Missoula, the Bitterroot Valley is unique in how it represents the problems of the modern world.  Environmental issues are by far the most prominent, represented by frequent wildfires, salinization of soil, and decreasing water amounts and quality. We humans are to blame for much of what is occurring. Our activities improve our lives and generate profit for a few decades at most, but irresponsible use causes severe damage costing far more than the profit generated to repair. The damage may be too severe to repair with our current level of technology, becoming a permanent alteration to the landscape. Such was the case with the ancient Mesopotamian civilization in modern Iraq and Syria. This area, known as the Fertile Crescent in ancient times, was too damaged to irrigate, significantly contributing to the Mesopotamian collapse millennia ago.

The Bitterroot Valley offers a model for understanding some of the environmental issues plaguing the world. The best example is the threat of future drought. As alpine water sources cease to exist due to increasing global temperature, potentially hundreds of millions of people across the globe will be left without accessible water supplies. Some issues in the Bitterroot Valley are difficult to apply outside of the U.S. and Canada. An example is the threat of wildfires, as few continents possess comparable forests to North America, in size and climate.