Saturday, September 29, 2012

Climate change: the mess we are in

Imagine an alien from Mars asking you: what is the fuzz about climate change all about? You don't need the help of a noble prize winner to explain; a good journalist will do the job and give our extraterrestrial  friend an insight into the mess we are in. The climate mess is in fact an everyday story, like this one about artificial snow in an American ski resort:

"This coming ski season", the New York Times reports, "the resort, Arizona Snowbowl, will become the first ski resort in the world to use 100% sewage effluent to make artificial snow". The reason for this is climate change: Snowmaking is necessary to remain competitive, to guarantee the resort is open on Thanksgiving or Christmas latest, and to have a consistent ski season.

For many years now, 13 American Indian tribes and environmental groups are fighting against "the ski resort's expansion plans in the San Franciscan peaks that include clear-cutting of 74 acres of forest and piping treated sewage effluent onto a mountain to make snow." The protesters "consider the mountain sacred and view the wastewater snow a desecration". Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity, says: "It's a disaster, environmentally and culturally".

On the other side, the owner of Arizona Snowball says if the resort lost its legal bid to make snow, "radical groups would achieve their ultimate goal of control of our nation's resources". The land is owned by the United States Forest Service:
 “Snow-making has become necessary because of climate change,” (a forester) said. It allows for a more consistent ski season, bringing money into neighboring Flagstaff, which contracted to sell Snowbowl the water from its sewage treatment plant.

For the city of Flagstaff, it's good business; they claim that the sewage-turned-into-snow is almost of drinking water quality.  Protests, hunger strikes, multiple arrests and people pushed aside by bulldozers are collateral damage. Klee Benally, a member of the Navajo tribe, prays in the mountains, chains himself to excavaters, and gets arrested:
 But Indians, who pray and hold ceremonies on the mountain, feel their concerns are too easily swept aside. “Our culture can still be reduced to something that is less important than the profit margin on a ski resort,” Mr. Benally said. “That’s a very, very hard place to be in.”

It's easy to see that there is a power play going on, and obviously the outcome reflects the one-dimensional dynamics of  current market-oriented societies; the economic interests and the booming recreation industry will succeed, cover public grounds with sewage-turned-into-snow and thus prevent those "radical groups" from controlling the nation's resources:
“It’s an Old West mentality: let’s go forward and assess the damage later,” said Mr. Benally, referring to the unregulated mining that went on for decades and left a legacy of environmental degradation. That reality is particularly acute on the sprawling Navajo Indian reservation bordering Flagstaff, where Mr. Benally grew up. Forty percent of the population there does not have indoor plumbing; one out of three does not have access to clean drinking water."

Here we have it in a nutshell for our friend from Mars, the mess we are in. There is no easy way out of the climate change trap. Or, as Leslie MacMillan, the journalist, puts it: "The dispute runs deeper than water."

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