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To Repair the Environment, Rehabilitate the Body Politic

“Environmentalists aren’t wrong to urge us to break with fossil fuels. The balance of nature has been tipped and there’s no question we’re weakening the system with our bad habits.”

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Hi, I’m Laura Flanders of GRITtv.

I’ve been out of commentary mode recently, in part because I’ve been recovering from knee surgery and in part because I’ve been traveling.

In early February I tore a tendon. Painful, but fixable, once I decided to actually do something about it. The shocker about knee surgery isn’t the surgery, it’s the preparation in advance and the recovery afterwards.

But right after the knee drama I was on the road, in Kentucky for a story about coal, and then in North Dakota for my first glimpse of the Bakken oil boom. You could say, I’ve been on a slightly limping tour of the fossil fuel economy, complete with physical therapy and ice packs.

What did I learn about knees? Get them in good shape before you operate and they’ll recover pretty well. I’ll take a little trauma over an injury that’s just going to weaken the whole system.

As for the economy. We’re limping there too. The beautiful mountains of Kentucky are looking pretty battered from all the mining, and the same could be said of the rolling plains of North Dakota. They’re dotted with drilling rigs, hundreds of them, pecking away at the landscape.

Environmentalists aren’t wrong to urge us to break with fossil fuels. The balance of nature has been tipped and there’s no question we’re weakening the system with our bad habits. Surgery’s probably required. Still, it seems to me that there is very little chance of fixing the environment if, like the knee, we don’t first strengthen the body politic.

Consider Kentucky. There, they’re talking about the first $100 million senate race in a state where poverty tops 30 percent in some coal counties. No one ever loved the extraction economy but the same industry that poisoned the water put food on the table. $100 million could do a whole lot to strengthen the muscles of an alternative.

Up north, the Bakken oil fields just produced their billionth barrel of oil, 80 percent of it from North Dakota. Alongside the drilling, there’s the flaring. Millions of cubic feet of natural gas are burnt off day and night into the atmosphere. Local people are concerned about the price they’re paying for the boom, but it’s hard to deny the profits to people who’ve already endured more than their fare share of damage.

Of the Bakken Shale, the richest deposits of oil seem to fall beneath tribal land, belonging to three Native American tribes who lost 150,0000 acres of their most fertile fields in a man-made flood when when the Army Corps of Engineers chose right here to dam the Missouri River.

Environmental trauma is not only on its way, it’s here already, but there will be no environmental repair without a whole lot of political rehabilitation. In the mean time, I’m back home in a city that burns up a ton of fuel and I’m not changing my habits. Without refrigeration, after all, where would I get those ice packs?

Gain without pain… As the physical trainers say, it’s our favorite delusion.

I’m Laura Flanders of GRITtv. Find out more from me at

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