We mentioned the group Great Old Broads for Wilderness earlier this week. I belong, instead, to Humble Dames Supporting Thoughtful Dialogue. If there were such a group, and there were a founder, it would definitely be Dr. Patty Limerick, a historian at the University of Colorado, who has had a variety of experience with natural resource conflicts. In one piece, she discusses the similarities between the extractive and recreation economies. When I reread this recently, I also thought of some of the divisions within the recreation economy, including OHVs and now mountain bikes, and even the Upton Sinclair quote “It is hard to get someone to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.“ But of course it’s not just the salary, people prefer recreating on/without motors, people prefer having a full woodpile and/or propane tank when winter weather sets in. When you are telling them they shouldn’t do what they prefer, you are substituting your judgment for their own. And one can reasonably ask “by what authority?”.
We are putting these assertions out for public contemplation partly because, by rattling conventional wisdom, they carry intrinsic interest, and mostly because we believe that this approach can deliver genuine benefits. Westerners have, after all, invested decades in an experiment of conceiving of extraction and recreation as activities usually pitted against each other. The results of this experiment have not been uniformly positive. A different experiment, raising the possibility that these two “opposites” are actually more connected than they seem, might deliver better results and might even hold out the promise of reconfiguring a relationship of rivalry into a something closer to collaboration.
We aim this report at a worthy, ambitious, and decidedly eccentric goal: persuading leaders and participants in Western extractive economies and in Western recreational economies to move toward a level of self-awareness that will position them to put less effort into stereotyping and simplifying each other, and to invest more effort in acknowledging their kinship and in considering alliances and common ground.
For justifiable reasons, enthusiasts for outdoor recreation have seen extractive industry primarily as a force for disturbance of their treasured landscapes. For less justifiable reasons, they have also been tempted to see outdoor recreation as an innocent enterprise, with earnest affection for nature serving as a buffer protecting landscapes and wildlife from any undesirable impact. On the other side, practitioners in extractive industries, when going defensive, have a way of advancing a hard-headed utilitiarianism, trivializing the cultural, emotional, and spiritual power of recreation. We would like this report to open the door to a more forthright and evidence-based discussion, scouring out the self-righteousness and assumptions of superiority that clog the channels of conversation between groups who have more in common than they might think. We hope that opening up these channels will reveal options and alternatives that current habits of thought have foreclosed.
Limerick’s Twelve Zones of Kinship between the Economies of Extraction and Recreation
1) Both economies have demonstrated the capacity to create substantial and consequential environmental disturbances.
2) Both economies are firmly embedded in capitalism and shaped by the drive for profit.
3) Both economies supply essential employment for the region, and both economies have multiplier effects in stimulating other economic activities and also in enhancing tax revenues.
4) Jobs in both economies can be dangerous and unevenly rewarded, and the workers are often invisible to the beneficiaries of their work.
5) People participating in and benefiting from both economies can be oblivious to their impacts, and thereby prey to the temptation to leave the dilemmas, to which they have contributed, for someone else to clean up in the future.
6) Since people in both economies see themselves as innocents, they are correspondingly puzzled and defensive when criticized. They can be equally inclined to grumpiness, defensiveness, and resentment of regulation. Both treasure an ideal of freedom, constrained only by their own will and choice.
7) Both economies are strikingly successful in finding uses, which early generations missed, for remote, difficult Western terrain.
8) Both economies are very dependent on a transportation infrastructure for which they rarely pay, with both relying heavily on fossil-fuel-driven vehicles.
9) Both economies involve “externalities” that are often omitted from calculations of their costs and benefits.
10) Both economies play a big role in the allocation of water and in the honest reckoning with, or the denial, of Western water scarcity.
11) Both economies are historically intertwined. Profits made from extractive economies can position leading figures in industry to be people of leisure who enthusiastically take part in
outdoor recreation and who support the preservation of natural landscapes.
12) Many of the stories, literature, oral history, and folklore of the West demonstrate that hundreds of Westerners have been well aware of the intertwined and interconnected trajectories of extraction and recreation. While seeming to rattle and unsettle established thinking about the region, this report actually reaffirms and ratifies what many Westerners, in the past and the present, figured out for themselves.
Perhaps these are uniquely Coloradan perspective? How doe these ideas sound to other Westerners?