A thought from Montana historian K. Ross Toole:
“So when the land and its infinite abundance suddenly (and in a very real sense it was sudden, or at least the comprehension of it was sudden) revealed itself to be nearly “used up,” the reaction set in. Land, and often land for land’s sake, became first a value and then an ethic. That, too, is understandable. Because if we have become a great nation by dedicating ourselves to intensive “use,” we can hardly avoid a sense of deep loss when we find ourselves running out of much more to use. What do we do now? What, as a matter of fact, are we now? That is the core of the environmental issue. It is the clash of an old and essentially honored ethic and a new and often strange one.” The Rape of the Great Plains: Northwest America, Cattle and Coal, 1976.
Forty years have passed since the publication of Toole’s critical examination of strip-mining operations in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. Concerns over maintaining the quality of water supplies, irreparable damage to the great plains soil, and exploitation of the west for the benefit of cities back east are addressed. Time has revealed that the clash of these two land ethics is ongoing; cheap energy dominates while concerns are raised. The resistance over the Dakota Access Pipeline is one appropriate example. What are we now? Global outcry and the outcome may help answer the question, though the existence of such a confrontation points to anything but new and strange.