22 April 2015: Time to give thanks to Mother Earth

Time to give thanks to Mother Earth

Forty-five years ago on April 22, 1970 20 million Americans gave a bear hug to Mother Earth.  Since then, significant accomplishments have been made to save our planet.  Perhaps the most important are raising consciousness worldwide that the environment of our home is fragile and easily impacted by human behavior, and people coming to understand they’re morally obligated to protect it.

While meaningful progress has been made—e.g., banning DDT, cleaning up toxic dumps—the work remains unfinished as our thirst for consumer goods and cheap energy remains unquenched.  Coupling that with burgeoning population and consequential environmental degradation, locally and globally, we find ourselves with enormous work to be done.

“Think globally, act locally” has become a mantra of those whose priorities are not predicated upon amassing earthly treasure.  The exhortation is about understanding that our role is one of caretaker, not as owner or purveyor of tinsel wealth.

Over the course of Clear Creek history, we have economically evolved from mining epicenter to recreational paradise.  There was a downside to our mining past: The industry left a legacy of pollutants and toxins discharged in its tailings and other waste that were catastrophic for the well-being of all life.

Tourism and recreational activities create their own environmental challenges in turn, ranging from landscape erosion from hiking boot tread and off-road vehicles to building roads that interfere with wildlife migration.

One of the most traumatic environmental impacts human activity has had on the Clear Creek Valley is I-70, the 30-mile asphalt ribbon spanning the county.  What was once an obstacle-laden burro and wagon trail for pioneers and eventually a two-lane road for motorized vehicles has morphed into an expressway that alternates between being an adequate traffic corridor—97 percent of the time—and a congested corridor of toxin-belching vehicles going nowhere during the other 3 percent.

The economic colossus of Clear Creek since 1976 is Henderson Mine, which contributes about 80 percent of the tax revenues.  Like every mine since the Iron Age, Henderson has a shelf life, which looks to be within the decade.  We’ll learn more next Wednesday, April 29, at the community meeting, sponsored by the Clear Creek Economic Development Corporation and held in the high school auditorium.

Decisions made today with regard to both entities will have profound effect upon the Clear Creek community for generations to come.  Our collective goal, whether left or right of center politically, should be envisioning what a sustainable Clear Creek community will look like in the year 2025.

A starting point for me requires painting a red line in front of the CDOT asphalt-laying juggernaut and saying, “This far and no farther.”  I often wonder how many bungled enterprises it will take for us to wake up and smell the tar.  The eastbound Vail lane is tens of millions over budget; the exit 240 project continues to flounder in the toxic waters it unearthed; and the now-starting exit 241 reconstructions could make the 240 project look like a work of precision and efficiency.

By the way, Idaho Springs: Good luck with that roundabout when a killer snowstorm hits.

Once that project’s completed—sometime in 2016?—CDOT has its sight set on creating a westbound Vail lane from the Veterans Memorial Tunnels to Empire Junction.  Imagine another 3500 vehicles joining the 7000 already idling on or crawling along that 8-mile stretch on a Saturday morning, belching tons of additional toxins into our breathing space.

If you’re not able to conceptualize or visualize that scenario, take a ride on what were once nostalgically called the Valley Highway, I-25 through Denver, and the Boulder Turnpike to see firsthand their new incarnations as concrete canyons and cannonball expressways.  They’re our future if the madness continues.

Earth Day 2015 is the perfect time to consider the challenges confronting us.  What kinds of growth, if any, would be beneficial and which would be injurious?

As my old professor Dr. Haas taught me: You can’t just do one thing.  Population, economics, housing, health care, and environmental impacts are intricately interwoven.

Then there’s the law of unintended consequences that reminds us to be thoughtful and deliberate before taking action, even with steps that seem benign.  For no matter what one does, there’s a tradeoff.

Take time today to reflect on your place and role in Clear Creek, in the world in which you’re blessed to live, a denizen morally obligated to attend to its well-being.  And when so doing, offer gratitude for that blessing.

Happy Earth Day!

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