Thursday, November 27, 2008

big sprouts in big pavement

Susan Freinkel's American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Treet is an easy primer on the situation. Castanea dentata was decimated by a fungus in our great-grandparents' time. Since then, humans who appreciate it's amazing fecundity and generosity have struggled, pulling it off death row and now back into the forest. One way they are doing this, now that the tree is close to having been selectively bred for sufficient blight resistance, is to reclaim abandoned mines by starting chestnut groves on top of the rubble. According to the author, these experimental plantings are growing with tantalizing success. However, she feels that working in tandem with "King Coal" is morally dubious.

Sometimes when idealists get passionate, our eyes lose focus and cause and effect run together. This is useful for seeing that humans have colonized every terrestrial ecosystem on the planet, and in too many cases degraded their productivity (a big idea). Retooling for an energy industry that isn't radically unbalancing, and instead is regenerative and extropian, requires planning for the processes that are certain to occur. This applies to small-scale biofuel like our woodburning stoves- timber stand management for the good of all in suburbs- as well as coast-hugging windfarms, and possibly to nuclear reactors whose waste gets pitched into the sun. People at my school are doing scientific legwork on chestnut mine reclamation, and since I want to play with the tree this is interesting work whenever ethical.

Environmentalist get very upset about MTR, and with reason. The local impacts of mountaintop removal are equivalent to carpet bombing. A mountain gets cut in half and out goes the deep seem of coal. Naturally, the absence of any kind of ecosystem will pull down biodiversity in the surrounding forest. The mountaintop gets dumped in streams that were formerly on the mountain's side, and when sulfites decoct out of the tailings, these streams undergo acidification to the point of undrinkability and sterilization. Sludge ponds from coal processing are left behind and pose long-term health hazard to local humans. Also, consider the coal's intended combustion releases serious atmospheric pollution. Katuah coal is high in sulfur, so burning it releases gaseous sulfur oxides resulting in acid rain, carbon dioxide and particulate matter that triggers asthma. A volcano may as well have erupted, except that the fire is in hydrocarbon-burning factories. There are many other effects to consider, but that's a start: a stretch Earth of gets totally wrecked by this resource extraction.

The mining industrialists would like to ignore these problems, in practice. They attempt to meet shallow government-mandated atonement standards, such as planting lawn grass over abandoned mines. In good conscience, we cannot condone MTR until it is has been ceased and made up for. We can't yet forgive them for the what they continue to do. King Coal defends its actions on the basis of its contributing role in domestic energy production, but that's not nearly good enough- didn't keep us out of Iraq! The type of restoration they must undertake is in kind: to truly make amends requires powering the switch to green energy. That's why chestnut restoration should be treated as an honestly separate process. There's a big forest opening in the wake of MTR's ruin, and Nature will take a long time to scab it over. We'll expedite that function, and benefit mutually from a new woody friend. The process is hopeful. After decades of thoughtful work going into this, culmination should be wholesale "green job" creation around chestnut's gifts of nuts and timber. That our Victory occurs on what was once an old killing field shouldn't disgust us- our own bodies are made of recycled material.


abby said...

mucho <3

vivir vino veritas said...

"White House, EPA approve changes to mining buffer zone rule"

not good

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Miss you Badger.
Hope all is well with you (lost your email address)