The American West at Risk: Science, Myths, and Politics of Land Abuse and Recovery

By Howard G. Wilshire; Jane E. Nielson et al. | Go to book overview

Conclusion
The Needs of Our
Posterity

Our past history and security have given us the sentimental belief that
the things we fear will never really happen—that everything turns out
right in the end. But, prudent men will reject these tranquilizers and
prefer to face the facts so that they can plan intelligently for the needs of
their posterity
.

Admiral Hyman Rickover, “Energy Resources and Our Future” (1957)

In 1957, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover gave a speech of breathtaking prescience, which warned that the United States would face a resource-depleted future unless it controlled energy consumption.1 Speaking to an audience of American physicians, he advised that the nation needed to turn away from the allure of affluence and take a truly conservative path—that is, the path of conserving resources and carefully planning consumption levels, to keep itself rich in oil and other mineral wealth for many generations.

Rickover’s warnings are especially relevant to the message that we authors hope to convey. The western states have contributed much of the nation’s timber and mineral resources, and most of its major public works projects—including damming of the region’s rivers to provide water supplies and power to western farmers and cities. The whole nation has benefited from exploiting these resources, but now the oil and mineral resources are highly depleted, and clean water also is in short supply. Rickover questioned some of the apparent benefits, however—“Much of the wilderness which nurtured what is most dynamic in the American character has now been buried under cities, factories and suburban developments where each picture window looks out on nothing more inspiring than the neighbor’s back yard,” he said. “The nation’s resources—its lumber, mineral ores, and especially its petroleum—have been used for this remaking of a once-agrarian country into a relatively sterile urban–suburban landscape.”

We can add only that this transition from natural lands to sterile urban–suburban and agricultural affluence is the force that has degraded our air, water, and soils. These are nature’s gifts, open to everyone, which the lives and well-being of all creatures in the western states, including its people, depend upon.

Rickover feared mindless consumption and population growth, observing, “In the 8,000 years from the beginning of history to the year 2000 a.d. world population will have grown from 10 million to 4 billion, with 90% of that growth taking

-365-

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