What kind of world do we want? Wisconsin as metaphor

Posted March 8th, 2013 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on What kind of world do we want? Wisconsin as metaphor

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Meaning and Culture

by Margaret Swedish

A very aggressive, nasty mining company called Gogebic Taconite (GTAC), owned by the Cline Group, just did the following to my state of Wisconsin: first, it began an aggressive campaign to promote its plan for a vast open pit iron ore mine in nothern Wisconsin; second, its owner gave generously to the political campaigns of Gov Scott Walker and several key state legislators; third, it had a substantial role in authoring a bill that rewrites Wisconsin’s mining regulations to ease environmental protections and grant generous leasing rights with lessened public scrutiny and public hearings, and the Republicans, holding power in all branches of government in large part by way of undemocratic (and still legally challenged) redistricting, went ahead and passed the bill in both houses, though polls show the majority of citizens in my state oppose it.

Today it will be signed into [anti]law by our guv. And then the legal battles begin.

Hey, I know, let's dig a huge open pit mine here!!!

Hey, I know, let’s dig a huge open pit mine here!!!

Thank God for the federal government. We still may be able to stop this thing.

If you follow this blog, you know what I’m talking about. GTAC, owned by the Cline Group, a coal mining company based in Florida that has done its share of blowing up Appalachian Mountains and contaminating valleys and streams, wants to open up a 4-mile long 1,000 ft+ deep, open pit iron ore mine. Actually, that 4 miles is only the first stage. They want the rights to 22-miles to destroy over the next several decades, smack through the magnificent Penokee Hills, loaded with streams and wetlands that feed into Lake Superior, among other things.

What they have in store for us. The Empire iron ore mine in Marquette Co., Michigan

What they have in store for us. The Empire iron ore mine in Marquette Co., Michigan

Digging a pit of this magnitude requires dumping an enormous amount of waste rock – hundreds of millions of tons of the stuff – somewhere. Somewhere. Where? You can guess. [See what they have in mind for us here.] As the linked article explains, “it takes 3 tons of iron ore to produce 1 ton of ore pellets.”  Imagine the amount of waste rock we are talking about here. That iron ore is locked in sulfide rock, and the waste piles will contain huge quantities of it. When exposed to air and water, it becomes sulfuric acid, and mines have a nasty habit of leaching the stuff – forever – despite the not reassuring promises of mining companies – leaking it into groundwater, streams, and whatever is fed by these waters…

…like the communities, the wild rice beds, the drinking water, the fisheries, of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who have lived longer than historical memory on this precious watershed.

Testimony of Mike Wiggins, 1-23-2013

But we don’t live in a democracy anymore, and our state government is owned by corporate lobbyists. We have a grand experiment underway here in Wisconsin – to see how far this agenda will go before our people care enough to put a stop to it. In a state where Tammy Baldwin and Barack Obama just won their elections by comfortable margins, we are being ruled by a party representing narrow, earth-wasting, poor-loathing, urban African-American disdaining, interests. Walker was famously caught by a phone video camera saying he would destroy the public sector unions through “divide and conquer” tactics (he said this to a Beloit-based billionaire), and he has continued to use them masterfully. That we are falling for it shows the weakness of the citizenry and the lack of any effective leadership that can mount a popular challenge to this agenda.


Madison, Feb. 2011. It felt like it at the time…

That Wisconsin “uprising” of 2011? A distant, loving memory. All that energy that went into an ill-advised recall effort? Demoralized. The WI Democratic Party? Pretty much useless at this point in countering the takeover of our state by corporate interests who see our natural “resources” as a treasure trove to be mined, ripped out, polluted, torn up, and destroyed if there is profit to be made.

This didn’t happen because we are richer than other states in precious resources. Yes, we have lots of iron ore – for steel – for China’s and India’s industrial development (where most of this stuff would be headed). But what we have here that is nearly unique to us is one-party rule and ineffective political opposition.

However, since I don’t put much hope in political parties, I look elsewhere for it. The threat of the mine has brought about some inspiring leadership from the Bad River Band and environmental groups, like the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and the Midwest Environmental Advocates. Tribal chairman Mike Wiggins has earned notoriety here – now thousands of people in this state know who he is – because of the work he and the tribe have done in public hearings, on their website, in moving and eloquent presentations, backed by these and other organizations.

Today, Brian Pierson of  the Indian Nations law team at Godfrey & Kahn, S.C., which is representing the tribe in its legal challenges, was offered the official editorial space in the Journal Sentinel to give us all an education on treaty rights, rights and law being trampled by our Republican state government (I have to insist on the Republican nature of this because in both houses of the legislature, there was a strict party split with all Dems opposing the legislation). It provides an education for us white folks, and tools to use as we continue this struggle to stop GTAC from coming in to destroy the Penokee Hills and its watershed.

Iron Mine’s Fate May Hinge on 19th Century Treaties

By the way, have you ever heard the stories about white people trampling on the treaty rights of indigenous peoples living on this land long before us? Ever hear of that? Maybe we could do something to heal some of those historical wounds by offering our solidarity now against mining and mining equipment manufacturing interests.

Meanwhile, as I have also blogged about here, some of our western counties are being torn up and rich farmland forever ruined by frac-sand mining. You see, nature sadly put exactly the right kind of sand down in those counties over thousands and thousands of years that the fracking industry needs to mix with water and toxic chemicals to pour down those deep wells to force up natural gas and oil in shale rock.

Frac-sand mining in western Wisconsin

Frac-sand mining in western Wisconsin

Lucky us! Lucky Wisconsin to have such a treasure! It is making some people rich, while it has divided farm communities (between farmers taking the leasing money from the companies or selling their land at high prices, and their neighbors who want to, you know, farm). It is kicking up silica dust which blows over the land and the crops of those remaining farmers and provides a potentially lethal threat in the form of silicosis, a deadly lung disease.

Meanwhile, as we have also written about here, TransCanada and other Alberta tar sands industries are planning to build a couple of sections of pipeline across our state and to the deep ports of Maine (yes, I will show you the map one more time). Also, there is a new proposal to expand the refineries in Superior, Wisconsin, to allow more crude to be processed and then shipped by supertanker through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.canadas crude oil pipeline - source Occupy Canada (sm)

I wish I was making any of this up.

And so, my friends, I am honing my focus here to this awful world we humans are making – to this vast destruction of our earth to support our industrial society. In workshops and presentations, I will do everything I can to make this visible. I will have a special focus on the tar sands later this year, to be a witness, and then to show what this means for the Upper Midwest all the way to New England.

Right now, the State Dept under the leadership of John Kerry seems poised to approve the Keystone section of the pipeline network. But I’m telling you, they could try to tamp down political opposition by rejecting or delaying approval, and it would have only an annoying impact for them on their plans to ship this stuff across our world, across our oceans, as global temperatures rise, as Canada’s boreal forests and magnificent Athabasca River, along with wetlands and streams, are destroyed and contaminated forever.

So I come back to my headline: what kind of world do we want, using my state as metaphor or example? Because we have to decide this right now. Because I gotta remind us all – if you think bad stuff like this is happening in the US and Canada, I could tell you stories from Nigeria and Niger, from vast swaths of China and Indonesia, from El Salvador to  Brazil, that would keep you awake nights with sheer terror. What we are doing to this planet to feed industrial society (and I mean all of us, from those traveling around the world, to those of us with smart phones and iPads, and enormous TV screens in every room of  the house) is nothing sort of ravage, violent ravage of nature – and we have to decide when this stops.

Because it only stops when we decide to live differently, to need differently, to love differently, to root ourselves in this earth differently, to believe differently (if our beliefs enhance the harm rather than stop it, we simply must change them because they are wrong), to want differently, to desire differently.

This is about the most fundamental change the human can make. We can’t do it alone, or merely one by one. We don’t have the time, nor is that ecologically truthful. Everything is interconnected, and unless we are willing to emerge out of the self and individualism to learn to love those interconnections more than the self (because that is truthful, the isolated individual is not), and to care for them as our nearest and dearest loved ones, I don’t see how we have a chance of stopping the destruction.

I just want to share this insight, too. It will be a better way to live. We will be happier, more buoyant. There will instantly be more meaning in our lives. Yes, everything we do will be charged with meaning. It will be perhaps the most important thing humans have ever done.


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