Environmentalism, Culture, and Politics

The following remarks are excerpted and arranged from a series of letters exchanged between Ed Marston, publisher of the environmentalist newspaper in Paonia, Colorado, High Country News, and Chilton Williamson, Jr., of Chronicles, in response to questions posed by Mr. Williamson during January and February 1996.

Does a traditional Western culture exist today, and are opponents of environmental "reform" justified in defending their "custom and culture"?

EM: A traditional Western culture existed when I moved to the West in the mid-1970's. It consisted of small towns, embedded in the public lands, and seeing themselves as living off the lands: farming, mining, logging, ranching, light tourism. I say "seeing themselves as living off the land" because only a small proportion of the residents of these towns actually worked the land by the 1970's: insurance agents have always outnumbered cowboys in the West, and by the middle of the decade, retirees outnumbered everyone else in the small-town West. Nevertheless, the West saw itself and prided itself as being attached to the land, and that's what attracted me to the region. Unlike in urban areas, people tended to live in the towns they worked in. If a bust forced them to commute, their commute was likely to be to Saudi Arabia or to a construction job in some distant city, from which they returned,...

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