FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Living Green on the High Plains

by JULENE BLAIR

Environmentalists get a bad rap in farm country. Many farmers complain that environmental regulations interfere with their property rights and ability to feed a hungry world. To that end, these farmers want unfettered access to chemicals and genetically engineered seed. On the semi-arid High Plains, where I grew up, they also want all the water they can pump.

Yet only those who ignore science news can deny the human threat to every natural system on which life depends, be it climate, water, air or soil.

Carl Jung, who pioneered our understanding of the subconscious, wrote that when humans are unaware of their “inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposite halves.”

We externalize the side of us that we do not want to own. We look for scapegoats. Instead of getting upset about the possibility that humanity’s present course could end civilization as we know it, we get angry with those who name the problems.

Environmentalists speak the other side of our own consciences. We vilify the messenger to drown the message. If we heeded the message, few of us would avoid implication.

I should know. If I wish to place blame for the most disturbing crisis on the High Plains, I need look no further than myself.

That crisis is depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, the huge groundwater reserve underlying the Plains all the way from South Dakota to Texas. In some areas of western Kansas and northern Texas, the water usable for irrigation is already gone.

My family sold our Sherman County, Kansas, farm last year, but up until then, we were irrigators. Most of the water accumulated in the aquifer over 10,000 years ago. It took us only four decades to reduce the reserves under our irrigated fields by one-third. If the new owners keep pumping at the rate we did, drawing the water table down one foot per year on average, they can continue only approximately 60 more years.

In most years the 158 irrigation farmers in Sherman County, only one of several dozen High Plains counties where irrigation predominates, use more than half the amount of water consumed by the 1.12 million people served by Denver’s main water utility. And for what? To grow a notoriously thirsty crop — corn — which is mainly used for livestock feed and ethanol.

If farmers continue pumping at current rates, they’ll be forced to revert to dry-land agriculture and livestock grazing within decades. With encouragement from government farm policy, they could make that switch now. Then, limited primarily to domestic uses, the aquifer could continue supporting life on the High Plains for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

My father embraced irrigation’s arrival, as did most of our neighbors. The water seemed limitless, and it removed one of the many wild cards that make farming such a gamble. Before and after he died, I complained about the waste. But he left other heirs as well, and not irrigating would have reduced our farm income by two-thirds. I found it very difficult to war against my family’s financial interests.

Not only are farmers implicated in environmental problems. Many city dwellers water lush lawns in desert climates, spray those lawns with chemicals every time a dandelion appears, and buy unsustainably grown food that travels 1,500 fuel-consuming miles to reach the supermarket. They drive SUVs to work for companies that also waste resources and pollute.

Yet most of us would like a healthy environment and want our resources conserved. A 2005 Roper poll found that 90 percent of SUV owners want government to require higher fuel efficiency.

Fortunately, we still live in a democracy where we can choose lawmakers who will pass environmental protections. Only such government action can halt or reverse the damage we’ve done.

Instead of demonizing the environmentalists, we should vote for them. But making that choice in the voting booth requires that we acknowledge our own internal debates. Instead of dividing the world into “opposite halves,” we would then begin to appreciate the unity of our self-interest and that of the general good.

Julene Bair, of Longmont, Colo., is the author of “One Degree West: Reflections of a Plainsdaughter” and is nearing completion of “The Whole Song,” a book on the Ogallala Aquifer.

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 24, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Reflections on DC: Promises and Pitfalls in the Anti-Trump Uprising
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Developer Welfare: Trump’s Infrastructure Plan
Melvin Goodman
Trump at the CIA: the Orwellian World of Alternative Facts
Sam Mitrani – Chad Pearson
A Short History of Liberal Myths and Anti-Labor Politics
Kristine Mattis
Democracy is Not a Team Sport
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Mexico, Neo-Nationalism and the Capitalist World-System
Ted Rall
The Women’s March Was a Dismal Failure and a Hopeful Sign
Norman Pollack
Women’s March: Halt at the Water’s Edge
Pepe Escobar
Will Trump Hop on an American Silk Road?
Franklin Lamb
Trump’s “Syria “Minus Iran” Overture to Putin and Assad May Restore Washington-Damascus Relations
Kenneth R. Culton
Violence By Any Other Name
David Swanson
Why Impeach Donald Trump
Christopher Brauchli
Trump’s Contempt
January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail