Environmental Problems are Political Problems

So, what benefit are orchards? I mean to the Earth.

A great place for a coyote to hunt birds in the winter, as you can see from the tracks, so that’s useful. And a great place for geese to hunker down when the lake freezes an flying south is just not in the cards. Also, a pretty grand place for robins to eat unpicked apples. Yes, it’s a good place to get apples, which feed those other Earth creatures, humans, but that doesn’t count. 40 acres have been removed from the life of the valley to produce these apples, the majority of which are shipped out of the valley. Let’s be generous and call that neutral. If the orchard can support itself in the valley’s accounting, it will have to do so on its own. So, let’s see what it all means to the valley.

Feeds coyotes.But sagebrush and grass do better. Weak.
Shelters geese.But wetlands (not filled in for housing, airports or sports fields) do better.Weak.
Shelter deer.Ones that can break through the fence. Thickets do better.Weak.
Block deer.They need to go up and down slope. Now they can’t.Negative.
Feed people.Not here. Negative.
Feed songbirds.Well, robins.Weak.
Feed bees.For one week a year, not 8 months.Negative.
Block bears.Sure does.Weak.
Support hawks.No, the voles and mice are poisoned.Negative.
Employ people.Yes, but people from Mexico. Great people, but from Mexico.Negative.

That’s orchards. Most have now been torn out and replaced with vineyards.

Here, it’s simpler. The vineyard feeds birds and coyotes for a few weeks a year and creates drugs for humans, who don’t live here. Accordingly, its ecological benefit is very minor. In terms of the valley, both of these places, orchard and vineyard, are deserts, drawing on the stock of life and water in the valley but returning only a tiny fraction as life. What they do, however, is provide food (and drugs) for people living a long way away. Isn’t that, in essence, the definition of a colony? After all, aren’t grapes and apples both brought from distant cultures, and under the current model don’t they serve those cultures rather than the valley? It’s not as if the people of the valley don’t want something else. We do. We want local agriculture, healthy food, sustainable production, and a healthy natural world full of insect, birds and animals, to draw spiritual energy from, with clean air and clean water. None of these things are positively produced on the approximately 23,000 acres of fruit grown in the valley by this model. Most are diminished instead. Instead of enriching the valley and our lives, we are left with some pretty views of settler dreams, export the bulk of the energy to the world and keep the desert, even though valley residents, by and large, don’t want an export industry — don’t want a colonial industry — at all. We don’t, in other words, have an environmental problem. We have a political problem.

9 replies »

    • That’s for sure. I like the idea of clearly talking about what people want, as oppose to the government, as a way of getting some clarity about the reach of settler culture, and how the people are evolving to come together, while the government remains steadfast. I think a post about this would be powerful. One on land reform, too, practically considered.


  1. Land use policies/regulations would help us greatly. The fact that we can basically decimate an entire ecosystem to put in monocultures or sub-divisions is a problem. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had to consider the environment in every private land development? Maintaining natural buffers along property lines, protecting even 1% of each landholding for natural capital would be a start. It is tragic how we abuse the land. We forget that nature is really a necessity of the commons for oxygen, wind dissipation, climate control, erosion control, spiritual health etc and that we are all responsible as land stewards to protect it. Such a big issue, thanks for the words.


    • I agree fully, Jovanka. Thanks for the support. Your support has inspired me to write a post about this landholding idea. My cousin’s daughter developed a program similar to that in the German state of Baden. I wrote about it previously, but the fine points of fitting natural systems into intrusive ones, or what might be needed in terms of land use changes, those are good things to work out. For one thing, we need either to accept the wild among us, or allocate large blocks. Icelanders do this for nesting birds. Canada gets an easy out, as it can just allocate most of the Arctic and not face up to the costs further south. Any ideas are welcome.


  2. Harold, enjoy reading your commentary. I am writing from the Upper Columbia, near Invermere. We face similar problems here, however rather than orchard sprawl the valley bottom is being covered in Recreational Homes and infrastructure. Bits of high country are “saved” to provide a smokescreen so that “environmentalists” can sleep soundly while ignoring their impact on the fragile and ecologically diverse valley bottom lands. This is not going to change. Older communities here host a lot of anger, mostly because of the growing class distinction: Recreationists and Servants. Valley residents say they don’t want “colonial industry”; the Recreation Industry is only replacing earlier forms of colonial industry. I mean, who are we kidding. I am thinking about the notion that we, that is the royal we, should be finding our place in nature rather than overwhelming the land and then fitting some facsimile of nature into human spaces. Wishful thinking.


    • Hi, Peter,

      thanks for the comments. I appreciate your comments on the recreation industry as a colonial industry. I get blank looks when I try to talk about similar stuff out this way, because out here in the Okanagan and the Shuswap, we have these problems as well. It’s aggravated by the cultural response to water shortage: rip out the plants that support animals and insects now that the grasslands are totally gutted, and put in rocks. It costs a lot of money and devastates the environment. And then species loss is blamed on climate change. That’s rich.

      The orchards here are mostly converted to vineyards now. Now, there’s a colonial industry.

      Blessings, and keep up the wishful thinking!



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