We all live in paradox. That’s what our instructor Joe said at the beginning of this section as we rode all together in the van to Escalante, Utah. That statement confused and saddened me. It left me wondering about why we live this way and how I might live like this in my life. So, as this section went on, the meaning and role of paradox in my life became more clear. Starting with our journey to Glen Canyon Dam and then to the Hopi Reservation, paradoxes were illuminated in our studies of these places. I explore this topic as a way to deal with that conflicting feeling in my gut, and discuss possible solutions based on some of the topics explored throughout this section.
In the dictionary, paradox is described as a person or thing displaying contradictory qualities.
Glen Canyon Dam was our first stop on our search for knowledge in our front country section. This dam is widely appreciated and respected for its clean energy production. During the production of hydropower there are no CO2 emissions. However, there is important information missing in this clean energy assumption. Building the dam was extremely energy intensive and has had unfortunate ecological effects. For example, it prevents species of fish which rely on migration upstream to spawn, and it changes the fundamental processes of the river, like flooding, which requires energy intensive management downstream. So, standing there looking at what I once would’ve viewed as a great structure, I felt that paradox feeling. Something that is supposed to be beneficial to the environment has many costs that may or may not be worth it.
Similar arguments could be made for other “clean” energy sources like uranium. Extraction and enrichment of uranium is damaging to ecological systems above the ground and is also very energy intensive. Additionally, the radioactive waste resulting from the production of electricity from uranium poses a risk for the health of humans and other species. It’s paradoxical that in our search for better resources we end up using a lot of energy. And despite the proven problems that arise from overconsumption, we continue our search for resources instead of reducing our consumption.
So much of our American culture is based on material wealth which we can only get by using resources. Barry Lopez hits the nail on the head when he says, “There is not the raw material in the woods, or beyond, to make all of us rich. And in striving for it, we will only make ourselves, all of us, poor,” (15). That’s a paradox in itself. In this search for wealth, we realize it’s not sustainable so we turn to “clean” resources. But this isn’t helping the problem, only postponing it.
The next part of our journey led us to the Hopi reservation where we studied the culture of the Hopi people. Dorothy Denet, our host, and Bucky Preston, another community member, gave us some insight on their way of life and thinking. They both emphasized the value of treating the land with respect and humanity as well as local community being vital in holding up their values. During these discussions I found myself with another one of those gut wrenching feelings that I couldn’t figure out what to do with. Isn’t it funny how I traveled so far away from my home to hear about the importance of community in holding up the environmental values I possess? In addition, all of this traveling I have done, flying from Minnesota, and using a van to travel in the Four Corners area in order to learn how other people interact with the Earth has added an extensive amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. Isn’t using all of this fuel for travel going against my very goal of reducing my footprint on this Earth?
It is hard to navigate these paradoxes that are apparent in my life, especially as I have been immersed in a culture that directly contradicts some of the values I possess. How does one deal with these feelings, this duality, that we face everyday? I’d like to do my best to treat the Earth with respect but I find myself acting in ways that don’t align with my beliefs. I suppose the way I deal with this is trying to counteract the things I have done, that I may not have been able to avoid, with more environmentally friendly choices in the other aspects of my life. Here is where I turn to a concept introduced to me by Donella Meadows in her article “Dancing with Systems.” She emphasizes the expansion of time horizons. This idea encourages me to think beyond the short time frames we focus in on as a society, most commonly a couple of years or a generation. Therefore, it becomes important to look both further into the future and in the short-term. So then, my emissions now will never be counteracted unless I take the same amount out of the atmosphere. But using the tools I have learned on the course I have the ability to add to the “good side” of my paradox, working with another system in the future. In this way of thinking, every little bit counts until large scale change can be made and potentially reduces the paradoxes I face in our society.