When you reach a certain age or level of thinking, you start to think about your legacy. What will you leave behind and what it will say about you. You don’t have to be that old to consider it. You don’t even have to have kids. Your legacy can be left to your community, to your extended family, or it can be a few words on your tombstone. What will be said about the path you walked and your time spent here on this earth?
When we think of our grandparents generation, what comes to your mind? Did they survive the hard ships of the depression? Did they fight against tyranny in the second world war? Were they called the Greatest Generation? That’s what comes to mind for a lot of us. Other generations both before and after have their victories: The anti war movement during the Vietnam era; the soldiers who fought in the first World War and ushered in the following decade of prosperity, to name a couple that come to mind.
The Millennial generation has been handed a legacy of both gifts and problems. Problems with origins that stretch back to the early part of the 20th century in many respects. Our grandparents and previous generations have also left us freedom and prosperity, at a cost to them and to us, but we hold the legacy of their sacrifice in our hands and we have choices that we can make, both individually and collectively.
Less than a generation before the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, America’s National Parks and National Forest were created, their boundaries drawn. In the 1960’s the Wilderness Act was passed by congress preserving millions of acres of pristine wilderness for Americans to experience in much the same condition as the first settlers did. People have enjoyed recreating in these incredible spaces ever since. They are the bedrock of our nearly $1 trillion outdoor industry in America. They have served as the sites of untold number of family memories. They have inspired millions of people in millions of ways. They are held up as one of the proudest legacies of past generations, and Theodore Roosevelt’s bust has been carved into the side of a mountain as a testament to the foresight and action that saved lands for ‘generations in the womb of time.’
We find ourselves at a crossroads of legacy. Only this time we have the benefit of history to guide our hand. The path forward is not new and not untested. Each fork in the path has an abundance of historical and scientific evidence and long track records of performance.
One of these forks will result in catastrophic damage to a huge area of pristine wilderness; it will ensure a massive level of destruction to habitat, destroy the local economies which have been sustained on regular and reliable recreation income for the past 50+ years; contaminate the drinking water with sulfuric acid; the property values will crater overnight, and the trail of death, destruction, and contamination will perpetuate for centuries.
The other fork in the path to the future would maintain the wilderness. It will ensure the survival of both the species and community, preserve the water quality, maintain the economic engines for the local economy, and ensure that property values remain stable, and allow for enjoyment by those in the womb of time.
I’m speaking about the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. A private company wishes to use sulfide copper ore extraction mining in our nation’s most pristine and most visited wilderness area. The by product of this mining technique is sulfuric acid. The company, Twin Metals, owned by the Chilean copper conglomerate Antofagasta, has never not had a spill. The foreign company will sell the raw metals to Russia and China among others. According to this article, Minnesota will not profit from the sale of the materials. The proposed site for mining is upstream of the Boundary Waters, and upstream of Lake Superior. That means that all of that freshwater and habitat is at extremely high risk for irreparable contamination and damage. It is literally threatening our nation’s reserve of fresh water at a time when water scarcity is starting to become a real problem.
We as a people have a choice as to which path is taken. Collectively we can stand with the thousands supporting the Boundary Waters and fight for our legacy and fight for our future. Or we can bend over for Twin Metals and allow them to take what is ours, sell it to Russia and China, and leave in it’s wake a massive trail of death, destruction, and economic collapse that will perpetuate for centuries. In one hundred years, what will our descendants think? How will they view our actions and the consequences in this moment? As we enter our twilight years as individuals, will we look back on this as a moment where we defined our legacy as Americans and stood for what was right for the future? Or will this be yet another symptom of unbridled greed at the expense of our endangered planet and we did nothing to stop it? Will our descendants look at us as heroes or with contempt and disgust? Make your choice now.