11 July 2014

North Dakota Landscape

I'm sitting on a rise in North Dakota (it's pretty flat out here) and admiring the rolling farmland that has supplied our country with grain for so long. After the beauty of the landscape, so different from where I was raised, in the Deep South, what strikes me first is the constancy of the wind. In the three days I have been here, it is always there. From my perch, I would expect windmills as far as the eye could see. After all, who could argue with free electricity? Instead, I'm surrounded by drill rigs, each a tremendous industrial zone on its own "pad" cut out of the farmland. The traffic on this small dirt farming road is constant, most of it being tanker trucks hauling fresh water to the sites and contaminated water away, the process of "hydro-fracking" being such a thirsty one.

Discussions with local people orient mostly around the jobs the industry has brought to the community, and everyone wants prosperity for themselves and their neighbors. Then they might wistfully speak about how the town has changed from a place where no one ever locked their doors to a Wild West boom town with crime and infrastructure overload. There is a tremendous influx of people who have come here for work, from the oil field workers to the waitresses. At a point in history when our country has actively exported so many of its manufacturing jobs overseas, and gutted the middle class, leaving your family to come to ND for a well paying job seems like a good opportunity.

And we are told this is the way it must be. "Progress has its costs." But it's only this way because the people that are making the real money from these extraction industries are preventing any change. The senators who give impassioned speeches about climate change being a hoax, and decrying the conspiracy of the scientists who would impose world government on us are not stupid. They are venal.

Our economy will change. Will it happen at our behest, and evolve into an economy of sustainability, or will it happen in reaction to multiple catastrophic weather events that destroy coastal infrastructure and completely disrupt agriculture, and rising sea levels which force us away from the coasts?

Like all economic booms based on extractive industries, this one will end. The irony is that this could be a boom based on implementing a new paradigm, and that boom would not end. Windmills need constant maintenance, but they don't need water, and they don't cause climate change.