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The American West at RiskScience, Myths, and Politics of Land Abuse and Recovery$
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Howard G. Wilshire, Richard W. Hazlett, and Jane E. Nielson

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195142051

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195142051.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 12 June 2021

Garbage of the Golden West

Garbage of the Golden West

(p.255) 10 Garbage of the Golden West
The American West at Risk

Howard G. Wilshire

Richard W. Hazlett

Jane E. Nielson

Oxford University Press

In May 1970, Look magazine ran an International Paper Company advertisement, “The Story of the Disposable Environment,” which envisioned a time when “the entire environment in which [we] live” would be discarded. “Colorful and sturdy” nursery furniture “will cost so little, you’ll throw it away when [your child] outgrows it,” the ad enthused, adding for the socially conscious, “experimental lowbudget housing developments of this kind are already being tested.” International Paper never addressed where the disposable housing, furniture, and hospital gowns, or the toxic chemicals used for processing raw materials and manufacturing products— or the fossil fuel emissions—would end up. More than 30 years later, we live with the consequences of that vision, which has transmuted the real environment that we depend on into a nightmarish one, dominated by colossal and increasingly hazardous wastes. For nearly all of human history and prehistory, people dropped their wastes where they lived, expecting the discards would largely disappear. When wastes were relatively minor and all natural materials, many of them did disappear through “natural attenuation”—the diluting or neutralizing effects of natural processes. But even after tens of thousands of years, many items in ancient garbage remain recognizable, and poking through prehistoric dumps can reveal significant details about long-gone people and their ways of life. History shows that soils and waters have limited capacities for processing even natural wastes. Garrett Hardin underscored these lessons in his 1968 essay “The Tragedy of the Commons.” From Roman urbs urbii (cities) to nineteenth-century industrial complexes, the refuse dumped in and around larger population centers issued foul odors and helped spread diseases. Public health concerns eventually forced towns and cities to provide sewers, “sanitary” dumps, water treatment, and more recently, sewage treatment. Nowadays, however, our sewers and dumps receive a sizable proportion of synthetic chemicals with unknown properties as well as millions of tons of toxic wastes, hazardous to humans and other living things.

Keywords:   Aquifer, Bioaccumulation, Central Valley Project, Foodchain, Greenhouse gas, Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Inorganic, Johnston Atoll, Khian Sea

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