The American West at Risk: Science, Myths and Politics of Land Abuse and Recovery
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Richard Zartman, Journal of Environmental Quality
38:1780 (2009) DOI: 10.2134 / jeq2009.0004br
© 2009 American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America,
and Soil Science Society of America

quoted with permission

Review of The American West at Risk

"This book, as its title states, is about the American west at risk. The authors start out by citing Garrett Hardin's The Tragedy of the Commons and expand this theme to the 11 western states. The tenor of the book is that "we," the people of the United States, use the common lands owned by the U.S. government to our own personal advantage. This personal advantage takes place at the expense of our diminished common resources.

After a brief introduction entitled "Obeying nature" there are 13 chapters that span historical time and document the natural resources of the western states. Early chapters ["Once and future trees," "Harvesting the future," "Raiding the range"] are concerned with the plant community. As the book progresses, less emphasis is placed on the quality of the resources, as expressed as the tragedy of the commons, and more emphasis is placed on the depletion of resources. The authors often cite the speech of Admiral Hyman Rickover "Energy resources and our future." The chapters "Digging to China" and "Routes of ruin" are concerned with mining and roads, while "Legacies of war" and "Creating the nuclear wasteland" discuss the impacts of military activities. The remainder of the book emphasizes the human population influence on the west ["No habitat but our own," "The last drops," "Garbage of the golden west," "Tragedy of the playground," and "Driving to the end of America's birthright"]. The final chapter is entitled "Nature's way."

This is certainly a very well documented book with 149 pages of notes and references cited within the text. Additionally, it has an eclectic series of appendices. The titles of the appendices are as follows: "Conserving U.S. Public Lands: A chronology," "Best intentions: Federal waste disposal laws," "Everything comes from the earth," "Biochemical war and you," "Destroyer of the worlds," "Plutonium fields forever," "The bunker buster fantasy," "U.S. and them: The United States and world oil reserves," and "Democratizing energy: Hydrogen fuel cells."

The book is best summarized by the authors' own statement: "We authors have tried to point out that natural forces are ever present and respond to everything we do." While their effort is restricted to the western U.S., other regions of the country could have similar books written about those areas. The authors express concerns about natural resource abuse and the schizophrenic concept of the west. The politics of the west that the authors describe in the book are the vastness of the space and the lack of water. These two opposing concepts play out on the pages of this book with the tragedy of the commons the authors' story to tell. No other region of the country has received the largesse of federal monies while suffering the long-term pollution and permanent land degradation caused by federal policies. Chapters entitled "Creating the nuclear wasteland," "Garbage of the golden west," "Tragedy of the playground," and "Driving to the end of America's birthright" document the American west at risk. Sometimes the authors' zeal to prove their case has them taking statements out of context and extrapolating concerns beyond scientific relevance.

If you wish to be informed, enraged, enlightened, and appalled about the American west, this is the book to read."

THE BOOK

The American West at Risk: Science, Myths and Politics of Land Abuse and Recovery

The American West At Risk summarizes the dominant human-generated environmental challenges in the 11 contiguous arid western United States - America's legendary, even mythical, frontier.

It now faces depletion of many of these resources, and potentially serious threats to its few "renewable" resources.
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Purchase Here at Oxford Press

   

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Dr. Howard G. Wilshire, Geologist; Dr. Jane E. Nielson, Geologist; Richard W. Hazlett, Geologist


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