Recently, the Leadership Institute at MSU Bozeman brought Gen. Wesley Clark (Ret.) to speak and participate in a student panel discussion. Clark’s focus was on economic growth and what Montanans should do to improve it. Fracking shale, digging and liquefying coal and building pipelines and power lines were the jobs he identified for us and for our landscape. When he looked at Montana, he saw a smorgasbord of riches to be gobbled up.
He didn’t realize that our unique spot on the map already has a rich, job-providing habitat for humans and wildlife. Or important ecosystem services, such as clean air, water and soils, and abundant recreational and economic opportunities associated with our healthy, sustainable landscape and lifestyles. He was unable to recognize that for most Montanans, being close to wild landscapes is intentional. We are here for a reason: We value our reciprocal relationship with these relatively intact mountains, rivers, forests and prairies. We are already rich.
Some Montana communities learned too late that extractive industries take a huge toll. Once the resources have been exported to global markets, what’s left is a useless, degraded landscape and the enormous social problems that accompany it.
The continued existence of our chosen home as we know it depends upon our cooperation with the natural world. Our community is long overdue for dialogue and a plan as to how to protect this “last best place” from a dominant world view intent upon its exploitation. We are the last vestige of sanity in an increasingly insane world that is headed our way.
Let’s behave powerfully and deliberately to define and defend our riches. Or we can sit back and let others treat us like a goody bag. Our choice. Thanks for the heads up, Gen. Clark.