The rural Southwest feels vast and empty. Driving from Los Angeles to New Mexico, my wife Susan and I saw sweeping landscapes of alluvial fans and sheer cliffs, and mesas that stretched as far as we could see. Just the idea that people carved out a way of life on these lands left us in awe of our ancestors and, before them — centuries before them, millennia even — the first people who lived here.
People still live on this arid earthscape. They populate the small towns along the railroad tracks. They dwell in pueblos at the tops of mesas. They survive tucked into corners of cliff sides and in the bottomlands of rivers. Driving through such rugged beauty made us aware of the power of nature and the relative powerlessness of human beings in that kind of environment.
A common refrain among opponents of clean air, water and endangered species is that environmental regulation kills jobs. From some perspectives, they’re occasionally right: Go talk to a coal miner in Kentucky staring down the Obama administration’s new rules for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, or an Oregon tree-feller on the topic of spotted owls. When rules to protect nature and public health kick in, whole economies sometimes die.
But it’s also true that people living in poverty suffer disproportionately from industrial pollution, and that wealth benefits from the long-term protection of resources — without restraint, after all, one day there’d be no forests to log. So a United Nations’ Brundtland Commission in 1987 proposed another way of looking at the situation, one that wouldn’t pit laudable values against each other, but would instead regard economic and environmental health as inseparable. The Brundtland participants coined the term “sustainable development” and,
One day late last year, retired police officer Robert Mitchell took several visitors on a tour of the West Fresno community where he has lived for decades. But it was hardly a nostalgia excursion.
This is an encore posting from our State of Inequality series
First, there was a stop at Hyde Park, a former dump. There was another at a sports complex and fishing pond built on a Superfund cleanup site. And still another at a controversial meat-rendering plant operated by Darling Ingredients Inc. that residents say has spewed foul smells into nearby residential areas for more than half a century.
“You constantly had the horrific odor of the processing that occurs here at Darling,” said Mitchell, a thoughtful man with a bushy white beard and deep voice. He and his visitors stood outside the Darling plant,