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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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Conclusion: The Needs of Our Posterity

Conclusion: The Needs of Our Posterity

(p.365) Conclusion: The Needs of Our Posterity
The American West at Risk

Howard G. Wilshire

Richard W. Hazlett

Jane E. Nielson

Oxford University Press

In 1957, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover gave a speech of breathtaking prescience, which warned that the United States would face a resource-depleted future unless it controlled energy consumption. Speaking to an audience of American physicians, he advised that the nation needed to turn away from the allure of affluence and take a truly conservative path—that is, the path of conserving resources and carefully planning consumption levels, to keep itself rich in oil and other mineral wealth for many generations. Rickover’s warnings are especially relevant to the message that we authors hope to convey. The western states have contributed much of the nation’s timber and mineral resources, and most of its major public works projects—including damming of the region’s rivers to provide water supplies and power to western farmers and cities. The whole nation has benefited from exploiting these resources, but now the oil and mineral resources are highly depleted, and clean water also is in short supply. Rickover questioned some of the apparent benefits, however—“Much of the wilderness which nurtured what is most dynamic in the American character has now been buried under cities, factories and suburban developments where each picture window looks out on nothing more inspiring than the neighbor’s back yard,” he said. “The nation’s resources—its lumber, mineral ores, and especially its petroleum—have been used for this remaking of a once-agrarian country into a relatively sterile urban–suburban landscape.” We can add only that this transition from natural lands to sterile urban–suburban and agricultural affluence is the force that has degraded our air, water, and soils. These are nature’s gifts, open to everyone, which the lives and well-being of all creatures in the western states, including its people, depend upon. Rickover feared mindless consumption and population growth, observing, “In the 8,000 years from the beginning of history to the year 2000 A.D. world population will have grown from 10 million to 4 billion, with 90% of that growth taking place during the last five percent of that period. . . .

Keywords:   Externalized costs, Federal subsidies, Resources depletion, September

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