Sacrifice Zones

This is where the dark ethic of endless expansion and limitless exploitation, of ruthless imperial conquest, subjugation and extermination of native communities, began in the name of profit. Commercial interests set out to obliterate native peoples who stood in the way of their acquisition of the buffalo herds, timber, coal, gold and later minerals such as uranium, commodities they saw as sources of power and enrichment. Land was sliced up into parcels – usually by the railroad companies – and sold. Sitting Bull acidly suggested they get out scales and sell dirt by the pound. The most basic elements that sustain life were reduced to a vulgar cash product. Nothing in the eyes of the white settlers had an intrinsic value. And this dichotomy of belief was so vast that those who held on to animism and mysticism, to ambiguity and mystery, to the centrality of the human imagination, to communal living and a concept of the sacred, had to be extinguished. The belief system encountered on the plains and in the earlier indigenous communities in New England obliterated by the Puritans was antithetical and hostile to capitalism, the concept of technological progress, empire and the ethos of the industrial society. – Chris Hedges

These days, the idea of turning “natural resources” into commodities is so embedded into the minds of people dependent on these resources that little or no thought is given to each purchase, use or abuse of these basic elements that sustain life.

Unsustainable extraction is what capitalism–our economy–is founded upon. The first agricultural city-states cleared forests and plowed prairies, creating the first sacrifice zones. Eight thousand years later, these zones have become so normal to most people that they only get noticed when they appear in your backyard or reach sizes that no one can ignore. The trend for millennia is that each human generation is born into a world with less biological integrity than the previous generation experienced. Nowadays, the speed of the decline is such that the loss is undeniably notable within a decade or two.

Open Salon blogger Steve Klingaman writes:

There’s a quaint little piece in the October 31, 1988 issue of the New York Times; the topic was decommissioned nuclear laboratories and plants that that had been left to rot in Superfund sites. The article stated, “Engineers at the Energy Department have privately begun calling such contaminated sites ”national sacrifice zones.” They grimly joke that some zones could turn out to be larger than many of the 39 national parks.”

Ah, the old days, when a national sacrifice zone was merely the size of a national park. Today, the ever-growing national sacrifice zone found in the Appalachian coalfields is the size of Delaware and growing by the day. [i]

tar sands
While the massive sacrifice zones like the Appalachian mountains and the Alberta boreal forests where tar sands extraction is taking place are easy to label this way, the reality is that the entire world is becoming a sacrifice zone. No living thing can escape the hundreds of toxic industrial chemicals present in our atmosphere, soils and waters. And the cumulative affect of thousands of years of degenerative land management and a few hundred years of fossil-fuel burning have led us to a changing climate that bodes disaster for life on Earth.

We want a world that chooses to transition away from the need for sacrifice zones. We want a world where each year, there are more natural wetlands purifying more water, more “good” air quality days, more land being restored to native plant and animal communities, more topsoil, more songbirds, more beavers creating more diverse and healthy riparian habitat. We can’t get there without a plan. Our governments, starting on the local level, need to embrace transition toward sustainability. We encourage putting this message forward every chance you get.

Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet. – Carl Sagan