Friday, July 9, 2010


ScienceDaily published a news piece today that caught my eye.  The ScienceDaily piece summarizes research from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) that is presented in the most recent issue of the journal Rural Sociology, in an article entitled "Place Effects on Environmental Views."  Larry Hamilton, professor of sociology, senior fellow at the Carsey Institute at UNH, and lead author of the study said that his research found that the places where people live go far in defining how people view environmental regulation and conservation.  For example, "people who live in rural areas with high unemployment rates are less likely to support environmental regulations," Hamilton says.

This research into the conservation beliefs of rural America brought to mind a particular trip I made through the middle of my home state of Pennsylvania several years ago.  I was traveling along Pennsylvania Route 74 in the heartland of the state, down through Cumberland Valley between South Mountain in the Blue Ridge chain and Blue Mountain – the beginnings of the ridge and valley section of Pennsylvania.  If any is, that area is the epitome of rural, conservative, traditional, "red state" America.   And I was struck all of a sudden with the realization that the farms and small villages and the back roads and pastures and woodlands and people in that valley practically oozed the unspoken message of conservation – the message that these people connect with and hold the land dearly to their hearts, and that they want so much to be able to pass those lands and waters and natural areas on to their children and children's children.  That landscape and those people silently scream out the message of connections . . . connections with the land and water, connections in this time and place with each other, and connections through time with past and future generations.

But all too often we miss that message that speaks so loudly of conservation and of connections, as we, the so-called conservation experts, are busy writing and typing and speaking and instant messaging - trying to explain ourselves – not listening at all.  It’s time, I would offer, that we listen attentively to our rural neighbors whose lives  speak of responsibility and accountability, and convey a message of care for the common wealth. And it’s well beyond time that we attend to the whispers of those generations yet to come, which ask simply that their dreams may be fulfilled, hopes realized and opportunities achieved. Because if we do that - if we stop in our frenetic rush toward who knows where - to listen . . . we will hear those calls demanding that we have the courage to create a new vision – a radically new way of doing things - that respectfully takes into account the concerns and interests of all.

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