appalachian son

Visions of a Free Society

Month: May, 2013

The New Academy

chalkboard-schoolhouse-school-days-backgrounds-wallpapers-chalkboard-schoolhouse-school-days-pictureMany economists think that the next bubble to burst in our current crisis will be student loans. Student loan debt is at a historic high, and federal loan rates are about to double, from 3.4% to 6.8% – despite a small effort to have student loan interest rates mimic the rates government grants big banks. This debt is an enormous burden on millions of students who cannot find a job in our current economy. These loans are the burden of middle class, working class and low-income students who cannot afford the ever rising cost of college tuition. This burden is incredibly sinister, as syndicalist Noam Chomsky notes:

Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society. When you trap people in a system of debt they can’t afford the time to think. Tuition fee increases are a disciplinary technique, and by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalized the disciplinarian culture. This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy.

Institutions of higher education are becoming places of privilege that serve to keep people in their desired socio-economic status. Today, the academy is becoming increasingly influenced by special interests. As institutions such as MIT conduct war research (most notable during the Vietnam era) while others sell trustee land to oil and gas companies, it has become apparent that state and corporate interests have invaded our universities. As the developed world has (subjectively) moved to post industrialism, “experts” are being held with increasing regard, workers are being replaced by technology (though there are great exceptions) and many people are going back to school for advanced degrees with the hopes of finding a place in today’s economy. This trend has allowed Universities to become leaders in innovation over the past century, bringing the intelligentsia to power. There is reason for concern over this growing trend.

Technical expertise correlates well with aristocracy. As the intelligentsia comes to power, these “experts” may grow (often are) very arrogant and refuse to admit failure. The new academy acts as any other hierarchy as its influence grows. This is incredibly problematic as intellectuals have a duty to analyze arguments and power structures as they have been uniquely trained to do this task. Academic professionals live a life of leisure that is not awarded to working people. As these experts begin working with the system (dependent on the state for grants & corporations and financial institutions for funding) this debt owed to society can easily be forgotten.

A consequence of the new academy may very well be privatization.  As the state and corporate interests encroach on the public education system this becomes a very real possibility. Privatization does two things, raises money for the state, and benefits the upper tier of society, allowing only those with the most capital to afford high tuition rates while a great majority of the public would only be able to attain lower levels of educational training. What better way to destroy free markets? What better way to capture society? What is happening in our universities mimics the bipartisan neo-liberal economic consensus – push the public out-of-the-way and use state power to advance those with a monopoly on capital.

In a free society, built on consensus and freed market exchanges, the radically opposite would occur. As education advances both the individual and the collective, higher education would become incredibly affordable – and this would be rather easy to do. Just imagine reigning in the war-time state, the trillions spent on Iraq alone would cover the cost of higher education for decades. Education itself, its form, its purpose would also radically change. The system would be more democratic as opposed to bureaucratic, students would be able to follow their interests as opposed to interests deemed worthy by the state. Education would become a life long pursuit of knowledge as opposed to an institution that serves only to prepare society for the work force. As human beings are inclined to labor and be creative, in a freed market, education would serve to advance individual and collective interests.

The academy should be an institution that works for the public good. It should be free from centralized power. It should be a hub for intellectualism. The academy should be a place that questions society and its practices. Education should be dedicated to critical analysis of, as opposed to co-operation with, the state, big business and special interests. To fail in this analysis is a betrayal to the public. Abandoning these principles reflects the moral degradation of the new academy – it resembles an abandonment of the quest for a free society, while joining the ranks of institutions who wish to capture society.

There is growing consequence with the current student loan situation. As many are now burdened with this enormous debt – for just doing what they have been told to do (go to college, get a good job, consume, attain the American dream) – there are also an increasing amount of people who hold higher degrees. There is a growing and new intellectual class – those who cannot, will not, or refuse to join the aristocratic class that directly benefits from their debt. Though many with graduate degrees still come from middle (or above) class backgrounds, in the age of bailouts, growing wealth gaps, wage disparity among the divisions of labor, etc, many of these graduates have a choice to make. To defend the status quo, or to revolt and join the struggle of the proletariat.

The proletariat is growing.


Our Moral Crisis

stein_stop_the_warIt seems official, the United States is a permanent wartime state. Senior Obama Administration officials have stated that the War on Terror, in its “limitless form”, will carry on for another decade, possibly two. Given our role in the world, as an economic and military super-power, and given the economic, social and environmental crisis we see the world in, we must no longer deny that US foreign policy is a great agent of repression. We are a global threat to peace, security, liberty and the environment.

Violence has become our foreign policy – it is the status quo. Our nation-state acts as an agent of terror to occupied territories and lesser states under its influence. The system will stop at no cost. As Bush-era “shock and awe” grew unpopular, the system was able to change the face of its aggression with the Obama era drone wars.

Perhaps what is most disturbing is the support the public lauds on politicians who support aggressive foreign policy. This represents the decaying moral fabric of the nation – the economy, scandals and social issues dominate public thought. Hawks such as Lindsey Graham (waging an all out assault on the Habeas corpus), vulgar Libertarians such as Rand Paul (whose filibuster, cheered as patriotic by the very people who supported the invasion of Iraq, did not call for the end of drone attacks overseas, only to protect us Americans) and lets not forget the most effective evil, the noble peace prize-winning Commander-in-Chief (whose NDAA effectively silences dissent, much more ominous than the Patriot Act – who he himself signed again) are all popular politicians. What has become of the anti-war movement?

Our foreign policy is morally unjust. As our troops are separated from their loved ones, flown overseas, killed and maimed, so too are innocent people in our occupied territories. Towns and villages are bombed, occasions such as weddings, birthdays and funerals are bombed, first responders are bombed, men, women and children are murdered, families are torn apart, hundreds of thousands are displaced, people are indefinitely detained and tortured in detainment. Our tax dollars fund this inconceivable aggression, but what is the scandal – the targeting of political groups? What about state sanctioned murder?

We are laying waste to helpless people, who have often been repressed by dictators and authoritarian regimes we placed in power. Where is our national conscience? We were hurt when people cheered September 11th, but then acted just as barbaric at the news of Bin Laden’s death. How do we not get it?

Change must come from within. The system will obviously still act, regardless of falling public support for the war. But, we are an obedient society. The more we obey the harsher the state becomes, and the more it is able stop dissent. With laws such as the NDAA, the state has defined what is just, but it is the state that is unjust.

The state says in order to uphold the American way we must be strong, and our economy must grow at any cost – this rhetoric is championed by conservatives and liberals alike. We can stand for this no more. We need freed markets, we need to decentralize our institutions, we need to develop alternatives to power, we need to change our moral consciousness. Humanity needs peace.

Our crisis is institutional, but also moral and intellectual. If the government will not stop the war, we must stop the government. Will we?

Changing Institutions

KXLFOCThere are a growing number of complex wicked problems facing natural ecosystems and human civilization. In recent years we have seen that social movements can advance and uphold public welfare, seek justice and progress society. Throughout history, people’s movements have challenged institutions and power structures. Today these movements are beginning to address our most urgent need – the environmental crisis. No longer can we as a species afford to allow those with authority to utilize resources to serve self interests. The growing importance and success of worldwide collaboration and social partnerships indicates the need for an informed and engaged citizenry to change our institutions.

Being that natural resources are a public good and that said resources are neither rival nor excludable, our government institutions perhaps hold the most authority in regard to resource management (Armsworth 2010). This power requires of government, then, to stimulate the supply of these resources in a sustainable manner and to preserve the natural world while providing for the societal needs of today and future generations. If only this were the case.

bureaucratWith a wide range of astounding resources, all tiers of government have become involved in environmental policy (Armsworth 2010). Institutions at the multilateral (World bank, IMF, UN, EU, etc), national (federal government), regional (state governments) and local (city council, municipalities) all work to manage natural resource issues. Using the United States as an example, all branches of government are also involved in Natural Resource Management (NRM). The legislative branch creates resource policy and authors laws that dictate the use of our resources (Armsworth 2010). The judicial branch interprets and decides how these laws are to be applied. Finally, the executive branch with its multiple environmental agencies practice and enforce resource policy (Armsworth 2010). With this system of checks and balances (centralized authority) what could go wrong? Just a few examples of major federal reforms enacted because of social movements are the Clean Water Act (CWA), Endangered Species Act (ESA), Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) – among many others. These mandated policies directly effect NRM. The government also purchases and manages public lands. The federal government owns 650 million acres of land in the United States. This is approximately 25% of the countries total landscape (Armsworth 2010). This has major implications for NRM – as evident by the case of Tim DeChristopher and the auctioning off of public lands to oil and gas companies.

MTR_protestGovernment policies do not always garnish desirable results and in fact, can be absolutely devastating, especially in our globalized neo-liberal world. For an example: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Bush administration in 2002 reclassified mining waste as permissible fill material under section 404 of the CWA. Because of this redefinition, the process of valley fill has been deemed legal and dangerous pollutants such as arsenic, sulfates and selenium found in mine waste have made their way into the streams, tributaries and wetlands of Appalachia. This change in the interpretation of the law has allowed the massive acceleration of mountaintop removal permits and allows mining waste to be dumped into Appalachian waters. Aside from the environmental concerns, this has devastated the Appalachian rural poor by creating mono-economies. This captured markets are controlled by the coal industry, as poverty and mortality rises in Appalachia, billions of dollars are extracted from these communities to line the pockets of special interests. The relationship between our government and corporate special interest has a history of exploiting innocent people and our natural resources. Peoples movements across the country have been evoked due to this relationship.

This brings me to the rise of the civic sector. In recent decades, the environmental movement has strengthened greatly by the formation of both large and small non-profit organizations (Armsworth, 2010). The non-profit movement has been very efficient in promoting the sustainable use of resources at the local level. Their subsistence is imperative to the changing world of resource management. As they can become well-known and respected in their communities, non-profits can implement conservation strategies more effective than the government (an allow them to force government to take sustainable positions).

The non-profit sector has gained considerable power in the past few years as more organizations develop. Environmentally oriented non-profits are growing at a larger rate than any other civic sector initiative (Armsworth, 2010). These organizations have effected many aspects of NRM as there are multiple organizations, with diverse management objectives. The civic sector is composed of large organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, whom operate both internationally and nationally, to local organizations such as the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

PaticipatoryThe growing importance of the civic sector cannot be ignored. Bill Bradly, a former democratic congressman, has repeatedly stressed this importance. In a 1998 article to the National Civic Review, Bradley states: “Never has a real vision come out of Washington and never has a real vision stemmed from just one of our political parties.” Bradley stresses that the civic sector is more effective in defining a common purpose with their local community members and stakeholders. This allows non-profits to negotiate consensus on, and agreements to, resource management issues at the local level. Non-profit organizations are most effective because of their independence from the state controlled market and with the freedom to build consensus (Bradley, 1998). This has allowed non-profits to work for the benefit of the environment and society without requesting or expecting anything in return. The ethos of these organizations have greatly prompted public trust in their approach to NRM and has made them an effective force in the environmental movement (Bradley, 1998).

The rise of non-profits are also very important politically. These organizations, especially at the local level, are composed of everyday citizens that are concerned about the well-being of their cultural and natural heritage. This allows for folks at the local level to organize and discuss NRM in terms of environmental sustainability, public health and the concept of environmental justice. Many non-profits are products of, and continue to build, peoples movements against destructive resource agendas while advocating smart management initiatives to protect our environment, land and people.

Though there have been many accomplishments achieved by the civic sector, these institutions too must be closely monitored by society. New reports suggest that a number of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) are, in fact, not actually NGO’s (Schott, 2010). Instead, these organizations have been classified as GONGO’s or rather Government Organized Non-Governmental Organizations. These particular groups are not only funded by, but fully staffed and supported by government (Schott, 2010). What is most striking about GONGO’s is that being a government operation, they do not seek to bring change to the system, but to control and manage change (Schott, 2010).

“Market” institutions also heavily influence NRM. The current market system includes small business’s and large multinational companies that have corporate policies that directly affect our resources. Some of these institutions consider sustainable resource management as a social responsibility, most enforce policies that are detrimental to our land, water and air.

Though investment in sustainable NRM is on the rise, the current (captured) market and economic globalization have had detrimental impacts to natural resources around the planet. Wendell Berry (author, cultural and economic critic, and farmer) often explains how the growth of factory farms and agribusiness have taken jobs away from local farmers. As industrialization continually forces locally owned farms and business’s closed it removes the ability for communities to produce their own food and other necessities (Berry 2002). In terms of natural resources, Berry explains that rules imposed on farmland from mega-corporations has resulted in soil loss, genetic impoverishment of our crops and contamination of our groundwater. In many cases, industrial economies impoverish communities they move into (Berry 2002). As natural resources in an area are exploited by large industries, the local uniqueness and cultural heritage of the area simultaneously diminishes (Berry, 2002). This is certainly a theft of liberty! For a current example, just recently a unanimous Supreme Court ruled in favor of the corporate giant Monsanto over a local farmer in a patent case. This is yet another example of state privilege granted to a corporate behemoth – and also an example of the state enacted privilege of the four monopolies.


Perhaps in the United States, our greatest benefit is that we live in a fairly open society where folks can (theoretically) sway opinion in their institutions. So we are told. The public’s power to change policy would be very empowering because this responsibility calls for everyday people to become an active force in the advancement of their communities. Although people benefit from having the power to engage their institutions, throughout history, society has been negatively impacted by the power its institutions wield.

A great trouble today is that the public occasionally gets to vote at the ballot box but is forced to vote with their dollar everyday. Government and “market” institutions respond to lifestyle choices – though they hold a monopoly over the choices we can make. People who cannot afford to be environmental are forced to buy products from corporations, protected by laws enacted by the government, that continually oppress the poor. People ignorant to natural resource and societal issues, voting with their dollar, too encourage our institutions to develop policies and practices that further oppression. Our current economic system is responsible for great gaps in wealth and power throughout society. Furthermore, influenced by special interests, government often uses its power to enact and enforce laws that benefit those who possess power and wealth. In order to break this cycle, society must continue to question the myth of a “national interests” and actually existing (state) capitalism/corporatism.

A reconstruction of both public and private institutions is necessary to allow future generations to inherit a world of social responsibility and environmental sustainability. History is full of peoples movements achieving great victories against institutional oppression. Social movements must progress society towards an economic system that does not seek to achieve maximum profit; instead, economic systems should be built by the public, for the public good. Democratic intervention of the economy will allow people to influence the means of production, thus advancing our civil liberties and awarding individual freedom from state/industrial tyranny. Institutions need to use natural resources rationally and equalize their distribution to benefit all people. In a truly free market system, said markets will lead to perfect liberty and a more egalitarian society. If a movement truly engages the market, and frees itself from state intervention and corporate privilege a people’s movement would attain a social, economic, and environmental world that is responsible and rooted in justice.

Mayday-DCThe most important change to be made is to no longer allow corporate and government imperialism to wage war for the attainment of natural resources such as coal, oil or water. There is no greater conflict between people and their institutions than that of war because war ends lives. Utilizing natural resources to build weapons of war for the conquest of more natural resources can no longer be accepted. War as means of resolving conflict must be eliminated because technology today allows for the indiscriminate killing of mass amounts of innocent people. No longer can a “just” war be waged because human beings cannot protect themselves from military’s in possession of great machines and weapons of war. The only absolute way to solve this problem is to transition from, and then abolish the use of fossil fuels as a means of energy production. The United States military is the biggest consumer of fossil fuels in the world. Fossil fuels are also the governments excuse to secure energy resources around the planet. Endless war consumes natural resources and utilizes them in ways that can only destroy and never create.

People need to be continually suspicious of authority and abolish unjust policies. This will create a world in which individuals are free from the ill effects of government and corporate power. In his essay, “The Long Legged House,” Wendell Berry makes the argument for citizens to confront unjust institutions on the grounds of morality, Berry writes:

Since there is no government of which the concern or the discipline is primarily the health of either households or of the Earth, since it is in the nature of any state to be concerned first of all with its own preservation and only second with the cost, the dependable, clear response to man’s moral circumstance is not that of law, but that of conscience. The Highest moral behavior is not obedience to law, but obedience to the informed conscience even in spite of law. (1965)

Berry argues that social movements have the power to create institutions whose primary concern is the health of people and the Earth. This world is, of course, not immediately achievable but the goal can be obtained over time. Global justice should not be viewed as an unworkable utopian view, but rather a philosophical movement of liberation to be achieved in the long-term.

In addressing the environmental crisis, natural/social scientists will play a vital role in progressing social movements forward. This brings up ethical considerations in the sciences that will be the topic of another blog post, but there are scientists (most recent example is Dr. James Hansen) that are becoming outspoken about data, and are treating conservation as a crisis oriented and mission dominated science. This is important because surveys suggest that the general public places great trust in science and further believes that science can solve societal problems while improving the quality of life. Though the public holds scientific information in high regards there is great social apathy, which has led to political gridlock, in the face of problems that affect the survival of human beings as a very species (Ostermier, 2010). The lack of public concern over environmental issues in the age of climate change suggests a great dis-communication between the scientific community and the public (Ostermier, 2010). This is again, a topic for another time, but I would suggest that the media treats the Vulgar Libertarian groups such as ALEC and Cato (along with other front groups) and scientists equally – even though there is overwhelming consensus about anthropogenic climate change in the scientific community. The corporate media is after all, all about debate and entertainment. Scientists must be able to address public misunderstanding or denial of these issues in a way that society begins to recognize the complexity of the problems that must be solved.

The role of communication for new professionals is of utmost importance as humanity will soon have to deal with effects of climate change in our everyday lives. Climate change will impact every facet of global society from NRM to immigration to health care. Incoming professionals need to adopt a communication strategy that pertains to, and inspires, the human spirit such as the message within the closing paragraphs of Arthur C. Clarkes, Profiles of the Future:

One thing seems certain. Our galaxy is now in the brief springtime of its life—a springtime made glorious by such brilliant blue-white stars as Vega and Sirius, and, on a more humble scale, our own Sun. Not until all these have flamed through their incandescent youth, in a few fleeting billions of years, will the real history of the universe begin.

It will be a history illuminated only by the reds and infrareds of dully glowing stars that would be almost invisible to our eyes; yet the sombre hues of that all-but-eternal universe may be full of colour and beauty to whatever strange beings have adapted to it. They will know that before them lie, not the millions of years in which we measure eras of geology, nor the billions of years which span the past lives of the stars, but years to be counted literally in the trillions.

They will have time enough, in those endless aeons, to attempt all things, and to gather all knowledge. They will be like gods, because no gods imagined by our minds have ever possessed the powers they will command. But for all that, they may envy us, basking in the bright afterglow of creation; for we knew the universe when it was young. (1963)

What this passage describes in such a brilliant way is that as a species, one day, humankind will cease to exist. Whether we are awarded the opportunity to evolve into a higher species, or if a cataclysmic event forces our extinction, in time, humanity will be nothing but a memory of space and time. In the great history of an infinite universe and other worlds unknown, perhaps incomprehensible by humankind, we have but one bright and shining moment in time to achieve something great together. The triumphant nature of the human spirit must be inspired and the strategies of all resource organizers, especially new generations, must work to build social movements that progress human civilization towards sustainability.

The current environmental movement is a vast, worldwide movement that deals with complex social and economic issues on a seemingly inconceivable scale. The environmental movement also holds its place in human history as the largest and arguably most important political issue ever undertaken by our species (Roszak, 1995). Beyond the human race, the movement holds great implications for all flora and fauna, mountains, rivers, and all of Earths most vast and wondrous landscapes (Roszak, 1995). As the human race alters and utilizes natural resources we claim a great responsibility in the consequences our anthropogenic use imposes on our land, water, air and biosphere. Human dimensions will continue to grow in importance as we extract, utilize and manage Earth’s natural resources. John F. Kennedy once said: “We all inherit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s futures and we are all mortal.” From issues as small as reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park to the complex issues such as climate change that threaten the very existence of our civilization, as a species we must meet these challenges. As a species we must engage and fundamentally change all of our institutions, ensure they move beyond private interests and work together to achieve global peace and sustainability. It is time for humanity to achieve greatness.



Ostermier, David. Human Dimensions of Natural Resource Management. FWF 412 Lecture Notes. 2010.

Roszak, Theodore. Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. Sierra Club. San Francisco, California. 1995.

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Human Dimensions


As natural resource management (NRM) has evolved over the years, traditional views of the environment and human relationships between nature and sense of place have too evolved. Today, NRM is characterized by certain “wicked” problems making it difficult to place responsibility of certain issues within one dimension of institutional or private decision-making (Hunter, 2007). This complexity of resource problems often fall outside the realm of traditional policy making. As societies ethical considerations of the environment continually grow (even though slowly), so too are the considerations of government.

Human dimensions are growing ever more important to the resource management process as power redistribution from resource agencies to the communities they serve is a growing trend. Human dimension considerations also provide a forum for honest communication among professionals, stakeholders and community members who will be affected by management policies (Decker et al, 1997). These approaches work to promote collaboration between agencies and people, thus promoting democratic decision-making. Engaging the citizenry while calling for public discourse and reasoned debate brings consensus and legitimacy to management decisions (Ostermier, 2010). The public process also has the power to either expose or avoid agency capture, insuring the people’s needs are being reflected, not the interests of our institutions or industry (Ostermier, 2010).

Over the years, there has been a shift in the western world, moving away from anthropocentric utilitarian ideals of the environment, towards a more sustainable ethic. Utility still plays a major role in society, but the recent shift to the ecosystem services approach of resource management reflects an emerging intrinsic value perspective. As western values change, society is beginning to relate more to their natural settings. At the individual level, the emerging human-nature linkage is helping move the social conscience towards sustainability.

LandscapeTraditionally, western civilization viewed natural resources as a means of maximizing utility for mankind (Wilson 2010). This anthropocentric outlook on resources was expanded throughout early history by imperialism and state-capitalism. As western nations, notably the United States, gained power in the world they continually waged campaigns to acquire more land and resources (Zinn 2003). Early US history (from events such as the trail of tears, the war of 1812, manifest destiny and others) reflect the conquering of land from indigenous people or weaker nation states to obtain large tracts of land and new resources (Zinn 2003). As time progressed and the industrial revolution occurred, monopoly capitalism viewed land as a commodity (Wilson 2010). As the natural world suffered from this actually existing capitalism, so too did working people. State-Capitalism during the industrial revolution upheld and expanded the money, land, tariff and patent monopolies.

This system, though, developed a growing social consciousness of the divide between the many poor, and the few wealthy. As a result, society developed an idea of anthropocentrism for all people, and equal utility of the natural world – utility of the natural world for the greatest number of people, for the greatest good (Wilson 2010). Ideas began to emerge in the early 20th century that all human beings deserved moral consideration. Political movements occurred and ideas on human rights began to emerge (Wilson 2010). As thoughts on human rights evolved so did domestic and international policy. This ethical shift demanded that duty and utilitarianism be applied to all living human beings (Wilson 2010). The idea of utility for all then began considering future generations, thus was born (thankfully) inter-generational ethics. The thought of preserving the natural world, and saving resources for future generations sparked a political and environmental movement throughout the western world (Wilson 2010).

leopold13The 20th century also saw the emergence of non-anthropocentric views of the natural world (Wilson 2010). These new ideas extend moral standing to organisms other than human beings. A humane movement has evolved, extending the right not to suffer to all living animals (Wilson, 2010). Along with this, re-emerging views about the intrinsic value of the entire biosphere and ecosystems became again part of the public conscience. These emerging ideas led to thoughts on bio-centrism (theory stating all life has intrinsic value, Peter Singer’s “Animal Liberation”) and eco-centrism (theory stating that all living and non-living components of ecosystems have intrinsic values, Aldo Leopold’s “Land Ethic”), (Wilson 2010). The environmental movement throughout the 20th century and on into the 21st century has reached great heights and is discussed regularly in social, economic and political arenas.

The environmental movement today remains deeply political as western values continue to evolve. Climate change, environmental justice, sustainability and other issues dominate the public spotlight. This growing social conscience has influenced western governments to work for a more environmentally sustainable world. Though the government process has reacted slowly, peoples movements have accomplished great victories. This social environmental movement has spanned centuries. That says a lot about how most people regard the natural world. In increasing urban development, perhaps we long to be close to wild places because throughout our evolutionary history the natural world has always been home. The human-nature linkage may explain the social forces that have for centuries moved towards preserving and restoring the environment.

The growing concern for natural world may be further understood by examining sense of place and place attachments. Being connected to land, or any part of nature can be very powerful. Perhaps Wendell Berry described it best in his story, “Mat Feltners World” about an aging farmer and his land. Berry writes:

As we watch Mat lean against the tree, we sense how like the tree he has become. They are kindred spirits, the two of them, equal enough in age and coming, finally, to the same spot. By the life he has led, standing erect in the light, Mat too, has stood “outside the woods.” Just as the walnut has relinquished its nuts, so Mat has given freely of himself, nourishing the land and giving rise to new life. Like the tree, Mat has sunk deep and lasting roots.

The statement, “Mat has sunk deep and lasting roots,” speaks volumes about the attachment people have to a place. Sense of place can resemble a host of things such as: memories with family and friends, coming of age, solace, comfort, etc. The concept of a human being having lasting roots and an area of land representing those roots, shows deep human bonds and connections to the Earth. In many cases, respect for the land one lives on adds to the importance of place attachments. Often times people equate their land with their legacy. In some cases, people live on land that has been owned by their families for generations, tying the people to their land through a unique historical and cultural tradition. Furthermore, economic benefits, pride and a moral or spiritual relationship with land is experienced by many people (Wagner, 2002).

The importance of place and the attachments people share with them directly affects NRM. Sense of place re-enforces the need of NRM to continue the transformation from anthropocentrism to a sustainable ethic. Respect of the land is a demand of place attachment, furthermore, sustainable land use practices along with community involvement in the land use process is of growing importance (Freyfogle, 1998). Land use utilizes both the public and private realms of our institutions, when this is realized, new visions of our landscapes will evolve to benefit individuals, communities and the natural world. NRM with respect for land and the people attached to it, will maximize benefits to the environment, and to people (Freyfogle, 1998).

In an ever-changing world, the human dimensions of NRM are growing increasingly important to policy, conflict resolution and the achievement of a more just and sustainable world.



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Roszak, Theodore. The Voices of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology. Phanes Press Inc. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1992.

Smith, Daniel B. Is There and Ecological Unconsciousness? New York Times. New York, 2010.

Soule, Michael E. What Is Conservation Biology? American Institute of Biological Sciences. 1985

Wagner, Melinda B. Space and Place, Land and Legacy. Culture, Environment and Conservation in the Appalachian South. Ed Benita Howell, 2002. University of Ih Press.

Wilson, Chad. Evolution of Western Values Toward the Environment. FWF 412 Lecture Notes. 2010.

Zinn, Howard. A Peoples History of the United States. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY. 2003.



Adaptive Collaboration

Adaptive collaborative management (ACM) is a model of conflict resolution developed to resolve complex problems requiring collective action. Going beyond personal points of view, this management style implores science, politics and underlying interests to come together to confront conflict. ACM tries to develop resolutions to benefit all points of view. Though there are some very real challenges to achieving these resolutions, it has become increasingly clear that the challenges facing us in the 21st century will require collective action. These challenges will require differing ideologies to make difficult compromises to ensure our sustainability. ACM is an effective instrument in bringing competing interests together to make these difficult decisions. Adaptive collaboration is a more democratic approach to natural resource conflict resolution, as opposed to the traditional top down, bureaucratic approach

ACM can best be described by a simple model, composed of four levels. As practitioners follow the model, each level is designed to alleviate conflict and promote compromise among opposing sides of a conflict. The model is as follows: ACM first distinguishes what the conflict is about, followed by why the conflict exists, this then implores individuals to develop options for a plan of action, finally, establishes an action plan to potentially end the conflict. Determining what the conflict is about allows each party to voice their perspectives and concerns about the conflict. This allows all members of the ACM process to state their positions while allowing interests, motives and feelings to be heard by the entire group. The groundwork for collaboration is laid by discussing why the conflict exists. First, this process calls for focusing on the problem at hand while considering all underlying interests. This allows the participants to then examine and understand the emotional link to all involved, thus humanizing arguments. While examining different points of view, stakeholders may begin to find common ground. The model then shifts to a more progressive approach to resolve the conflict at hand.

ACM2There are many consequences involved in both succeeding at ACM and in failing. Success in the process leads to a number of desirable outcomes. The most important may be the emergence of pragmatic community leadership. In regards to natural resource management, this is important because it merges differing opinions together to promote sustainable resource use. This, in turn, promotes environmental stewardship and practices beneficial to natural resource management. The new sense of stewardship will positively benefit the development of a community while reducing impacts to the environment. On the other hand, failure to reach collaboration on natural resource management practices will result in prolonged harmful effects to the environment and halt sustainable community development.

Those practicing natural resource management in the 21st century have their work cut out for them. We are approaching a point in Earth’s history where all of humanity will be forced to deal with anthropogenic impacts to the biosphere. We now live in a time where we can physically see and experience the impact of our ecological footprint. There is a true human dominance of all global systems. This dominance is now effecting a range of topics from human health to the politics we address. As we further encroach on natural systems, the transmission of new diseases to humans from animals and insects is growing rapidly (Shah, 2009). A hotbed political issue in the United States right now is immigration reform. Studies suggest that a number of Mexican farmers may start moving north due to the effects of climate change to their crop yields (Cattan, 2010). There are many more examples of the connection between human impacts to the biosphere and current affairs. The question is, how should human civilization address these issues?

The implications of these challenges require the science of resource management to rapidly change in the face of great uncertainty for the future. This uncertainty has been created by global environmental change, neo-liberal economic policy and the globalization of the world economy. We must start questioning the long-term implications of the use of our natural resources, while paying attention to societal demands and well-being in a globalized market (Franklin, 2008). Natural scientists, social scientists, politicians, the private sector and the public must start working together to restore the biosphere, protect bio-diversity and promote sustainability. We must be honest about the limitations of our natural ecosystems and implement policies that best fit the needs, health and demands of an informed society. In doing so, resource managers can help the long-term health of the biosphere. (Franklin, 2008). ACM is one mechanism that, if used openly and responsibly, can merge competing interests together democratically to better the planet.

Perhaps the most important attribute of ACM is the insistent inclusiveness and diversity of ideas. This allows practitioners to move forward with the best plans possible. This diversity, however, has very large implications for traditional leadership. ACM can be used as an argument to promote the redistribution of power, to champion ideas that benefit people, the true market form and the environment. This idea of collaborative engagement will give all citizens a larger voice in the decision-making process as it rejects the top down approach to resource utility. 

town-hall-meeting-hallA case example of this style of leadership is the unprecedented actions by the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), William Ruckelshaus, in 1983 in regards to a copper plant near Tacoma, Washington. The copper plant was owned by the American Smelting and Refining Company (Asarco) and was the only refining plant in the country to use copper ore with high levels of arsenic, which is known to cause cancer. Ruckelshaus was authorized, under the Federal Clean Air Act, to decide what to do about the plant. This was a politically dangerous issue because although Asarco was regarded as a long time polluter, the company had also offered employment to many generations and was a significant part of the local economy. This environmental battle was framed in the context of jobs versus health (Heifetz).

On July 12th, 1983 Ruckelshaus chose to engage the citizens of Tacoma in the decision-making process instead of exercising authority from Washington. This sent waves of discontent through DC and Tacoma. Ruckelshaus took heat from his colleagues at the EPA, from the press and from the citizens of Tacoma. One citizen is quoted: “We elected people to run our government; we don’t expect them to turn around and ask us to run it for them” (Heifetz). This is scary because democracy does not come through governmental institutions (nor corporate institutions). Grass roots initiative is essential to democracy as this truly represents the demands of the public. Ruckelshaus put the authority of the government back in control of the people (well, that is a stretch, but for the sake of argument…). As a result, the public started talking about taking advantage of the situation to diversify their local economy. Instead of choosing between jobs and health, the people of Tacoma chose both. The plant (eventually) shut down and in its place new, robust markets emerged (Hiefetz). This is an example of people collaborating with government; there are examples of collaboration with the market economy as well.


Sadly, we live in an era of anthropocentric use of the bio-sphere. Human consumption trends are at an all time high and with a globalized market show no sign of slowing down. The harsh reality of today is that instead of preserving nature for nature’s sake, we may achieve more for the biosphere if we begin preserving nature for our own well-being (Armsworth ET. Al, 2007). This idea is the basis for capitalist based solutions to conserve the biosphere. The idea that human beings are separate from, or above the rules of nature is not only dated but dangerous. A popular trend among ecologists and conservation biologists is to promote ecosystem services to save bio-diversity. This has the potential to revolutionize the state capitalist system. I do not find this approach to be desirable but the best chance we have at success in the short-term. In the long-term, with the rise of social democracy, I believe resource utility will become community based microgeneration

Though the future is uncertain and an uphill battle awaits us, ACM gives us the tools necessary to effectively manage our future. If used responsibly, in a sustained effort, the model can be used to resolve conflict and promote sustainability practices. ACM is also rather inspiring in that the concept demands an informed and engaged public. A people’s movement to become actively involved in collaboration is central to the models idea of diversity and inclusiveness. Though there are severe challenges in achieving collaboration, we must closely examine our shortcomings to ensure a growing rate of progress. ACM can continually be improved upon to ensure challenges are met and actions are set in motion to better every aspect of health and life on Earth. We will succeed because we must, after all, our species is mortal.



Armsworth, Paul ET Al. “Ecosystem Service Science and the Way Forward for Conservation.” Conservation Biology, Vol 21, No. 6. Society for Conservation Biology. 2007.

Cattan, Nacha. “Climate Change Set to Boost Mexican Immigration to the US, Says Study.” The Christian Science Monitor. 2010.

Franklin, Jerry. “Preparing for an Uncertain World: Talking With Jerry Franklin. The Forestry Source. Corvallis OR, 2008.

Heifetz, Ronald. “Leadership Without Easy Answers.” The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts. London, England.

Robbins, Jim. “Anger Over Culling of Yellowstone’s Bison.” The New York Times. New York, 2008.

Rolle, Su. “Measure of Progress for Collaboration: Case Study of the Applegate Partnership.” United States Forest Service. Ashland, OR 2002.

Shah, Sonia. “The Spread of New Diseases: The Climate Connection.” Yale Environment 360. Yale University. 2009.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Little Book of Conflict Resolution.” UTK Conflict Resolution Program. Knoxville, TN 1995.



Dirty Duke

Duke Energy, headquartered in Charlotte, NC, is the largest power utility in the United States – even the world. In 2012 they merged with Progress Energy and expanded their corporate empire. In many sates, including their home state of North Carolina, they hold a monopoly on the energy market. Recently, Duke/Progress Energy released a long-term Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). This long-term plan proposed by the utility giant will dictate to rate payers how they get their energy. The IRP’s reveal a commitment to high-cost energy from coal, natural gas and nuclear, while backing away from energy conservation, efficiency and investment in renewable energy sources. Under the plans, the utilities would burden consumers with an additional 14% rate hike. The hike would hit residential consumers the hardest, as hikes for business and industry are lower. This, of course, raises a number of environmental, economic and social justice issues.

Many people cannot afford an increase in rates, especially the poor. Low income households will surely be the most impacted from this plan. Due to poor energy efficiency, on average, the low-income have to consume more energy to heat and cool their homes. In these economic times, it has been increasingly difficult to make ends meet for many working families. In this economy, these rate hikes will burden rate payer budgets while increasing capital for the largest utility monopoly in the country. With monopoly status, and no market competition, rate payers are captive consumers. Furthermore, the ecological, environmental, and public health costs will also not be footed by Duke/Progress Energy. Ratepayers will share the collective burden of coal surface mining, natural gas exploration and nuclear investment. Consumers will bear the costs of depreciating ecosystem services.

With more dependence on coal, the public will see environmental degradation and even more moonscape’s where there should be lush deciduous forests. The public will see more communities trapped in mono-economies where there should be market competition. The public will see more natural gas exploration, despite all of the evidence from peer-reviewed journals, government and industry reports that link hydraulic fracturing to groundwater contamination, seismic activity and greenhouse gas emission. The public will see the natural gas boom turn to a bust, and suffer from the economic fall out.

It is truly unjust to force communities to pay for the public and environmental health risks of the extraction of fossil fuels. Across the coal fields, private property value is depreciating, cancer rates are on the rise, and ground and surface water used for consumption is being contaminated. In the oil and gas fields, health risks have been associated with the exploration of these resources, there is growing concern of air pollution, and toxins have been found in well water.  The cost to ratepayers of these fossil fuels also impacts the most vulnerable and low-income communities held captive by the monopoly.

The situation is incredibly troubling because investment in energy efficiency and conservation will lower rates for consumers and benefit not only the environment in Duke’s home state of NC, but all of the South Eastern bio-region – and even globally with less greenhouse gas emissions. Consumers should not be paying for fossil energy when people could be saving money with efficiency and conservation programs. The monopoly, with the help of their friends in the government (favorably regulated by a Utility Commission – here is just one example from their home state and one from neighboring SC), is protecting private profits while the environmental, social and economic costs of this plan are socialized. All of this is coming at a time in our nations history where unemployment and other social programs low-income folks depend on are being cut. In the age of mergers creating large monopolies, rising costs, a growing wealth gap, “too big to fail”and economic bailouts, how much more are working people supposed to take?

On May 2nd, Duke held its annual shareholder meeting. As the meeting began, CEO Jim Rogers spoke about how well the corporation was doing, how they had successfully merged with Progress and ended with the work the monopoly had done to better the environment. In the shareholder meeting, however, was a room full of concerned citizens, in a united movement, to address the social, economic and environmental issues within the long-term IRP and rate hikes. As the question and answer period began it was clear that Mr. Rogers was going to be asked repeatedly to invest in efficiency, conservation and renewables – after all this will foster local jobs, clean water, clean air and lower bills. Rogers was told that cultural and natural heritage, along with folks bank accounts, deserve better than the proposed rate hikes to subsidize dirty energy.

Mr. Rogers fielded many questions during the meeting, but perhaps the most pronounced came from and elderly African-American woman who simply just told her story. She spoke of paying higher rates during the seasons as she lives in an outdated apartment complex – this makes it hard for her to manage a comfortable living level. She spoke of herself and other low-income seniors having to make hard choices, such as paying their utility bills or buying their prescription medications. She then asked the monopoly CEO an incredible question – “is [relying on] Duke Energy taxation without representation?” After all, with no competition and favorable state oversight, the public has no choice. The public interest is very different from the state/corporate interest in the rate hike case. The public has no shareholders to increase profits for. The public has no democratic voice in the current legislative environment. She then told Mr. Rogers that “Duke Energy needs to be held accountable for spending and collecting the public’s money.”

I couldn’t agree more.

May Day

maydayJust a quick post on May Day. Today is not about communism, big government or a nationalist takeover of the “democratic” system. Today is a day to celebrate worker solidarity movements that have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor. Today is every bit as much about labor as “Labor Day.” The big government correlation is  (ironically) the result of anti-union, anti-worker propaganda put forth by the big government corporatists of the Gilded Age. Indeed, today is not at all about government, it is about the struggles of individuals. As independent scholar Kevin Carson notes, it is also as American as apple pie.

Today is also a day of historic celebration, so grab a (locally crafted, worker owned & operated) cold one!

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