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181 Afterword An American Sacrifice Zone jedediah s. purdy TheAmerican relationship with nature is fragmented and divided against itself, and that division has shaped the land. Americans invented the ideal of wilderness, land forever protected against roads, buildings, and engines. Our laws consecrate more than a hundred million acres to that ideal, most of it in the West, where you can wander for days without seeing a sign of “development .” Our national parks mark the first time a democracy chose to set aside revered landscapes in the name of all the people—and for their use and pleasure .President Theodore Roosevelt, a macho bully,imperialist,and champion of executive power, created vast acres of wildlife preserves, quite possibly in violation of the Constitution, because he loved birds. But joy in nature, and reverence toward it, are half the story at most. The United States was founded on the belief that the natural world exists for human use, and that the noblest activity is to make nature economically productive —to turn it to human needs and human wealth. This idea has always implied a certain mercilessness toward other views of the nonhuman world. Early Americans justified taking the continent from the Indians on the theory that tribes that did not settle and clear the land could not own it, because ownership had to be earned by development. The American Revolution, too, was justified partly by the British government’s forbidding the colonials to settle beyond the Allegheny Mountains—denying them, in other words, the human right and duty of development. This view of nature has often been at Jedediah S. Purdy 182 war with the first: in loggers fighting environmentalists, cattlemen who resisted the parks and wilderness system, and Westerners today who want to kick the federal government out of the national lands in their backyard.Those who work the land for wealth have often felt that preserving it from use is not just inconvenient to them: it is an insult to their way of life. Then there is a third ideal, which really came into its own in the suburbs and culture of consumption afterWorldWar II.This is the clean landscape: unpolluted , free of rank smells and waste, safe for children to run in.The wish for the clean landscape helped inspire the great antipollution laws of the 1970s, including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act,which did indeed make life safer and healthier in much of the country. But this was also a segregating ideal. It drove working nature out of sight and out of mind,excluding farming,making things, and burning things for energy from the places where people lived. The logic of all this is to create sacrifice zones—the places where we produce food and energy, with little regard for the health or beauty of the land, to maintain our clean and convenient lives. American farmland has become more and more like an industrial waste system over the last fifty years, and its fertilizers, pesticides, manure, and soil erosion account for much of the country ’s failure to meet its announced standards for clean air and water. Since the mid-1990s, central Appalachia has become the country’s purest sacrifice zone.Energy from coal runs laptops,iPhones,and supergreen electric cars, plus high-efficiency air-conditioning—all the conveniences of the clean world. At the same time, that energy comes from a use of the land that treats it as disposable.In the Appalachian coalfields,Americans do not treat the land as a people would who expected to live in a place for generations, or for more than a few years.When dynamite blasts apart a hilltop and draglines heap dirt in the surrounding hollows, the land is being classified as a place that we ruin forever, in return for a few years of convenience. The movement against mountaintop removal has failed again and again in court, though at the time of writing it may be starting to see some success in politics. Its clearer success, though perhaps a pyrrhic one, has been to raise Americans’awareness of the sacrifices their energy economy entails.This comes at the same time that the industrial food system is increasingly visible, so that plastic-wrapped hamburger and pork chops have indelible associations with pools of liquid manure, industrial-scale antibiotics that produce drugresistant bacteria, and confinement that denies animals the basic pleasures of movement and fresh air and seems to drive them mad. These changes in...


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