3,000 Miles of Missed Opportunity

I drove south from Missoula, Montana, down the Bitterroot Valley, up Lost Trail Pass, and through the Big Hole Valley. Dodging snow squalls, I connected with the I-15 south near Dillon and followed it all the way to Salt Lake.

I arose early, heading south, took a wrong turn and wound up driving East along a 25-mile-long dirt road through scrub-desert back to I-70.

In the late afternoon, I followed Utah 191 South to Moab and found a place to stay the night. Leaving before first light, I headed toward Monticello, then South by Southwest to cross the scant corner of Colorado. After lunch in Durango, I headed South again and soon crossed the state line into New Mexico.

From Farmington to Albuquerque, I felt the pull of O’Keefe country. After a short stay in Albuquerque, I headed south on I-25 all the way to Las Cruces, before slowly making my way north through New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.

Crossing into Nevada, I explored Great Basin National Park, and then headed due West through a spring snowstorm. I accidentally sprayed myself with gasoline in Ely, and then travelled for about 450 miles across the breadth of “the silver state.”

Skirting Reno, I headed for the old mining town of Nevada City. A late snowfall, followed by a torrential downpour chased me out of the Sierra foothills, so I headed up I-5 all the way to southern Oregon, where, miraculously, it wasn’t raining. Mist steamed along the Umpqua River as I followed it to the sea.

The Pacific coast led me all the way to the mighty Columbia River, and eventually, to the sinuous curves of its tributary, the Clark Fork — and the Clark Fork led me home.

The most consistent landscape feature of these 3,000 miles was empty space: empty of people, empty of cars. Empty of houses, cities, and towns. There weren’t even very many cattle. Three thousand miles of mostly empty space, steady winds, and clear, winter sunlight. What was missing?

Solar arrays on flats, and windmills on ridges — three thousand miles of potential green energy, with no accompanying need to dig up sensitive desert vegetation, farmland, and range. No need to disturb nesting meadowlarks or sage grouse leks. Renewable energy projects lay comparatively lightly on the land: Cows can graze nearby without the need for contamination ponds or haul roads. Building these projects generates jobs in the green economy, jobs that don’t contribute to rising CO2 and resulting climate change, while helping us develop energy independence. So, why aren’t we doing this on a massive scale?

I contrast my experience of this vast emptiness, this huge, almost unlimited potential, with the selfishness and ignorance of continuing to pull fossil fuels out of the ground and burn them — to the detriment of our planet.

By supporting the corrupt, fool-hardy, short-sighted, get-rich-quick policies of President Trump and his administration, we are enabling a ruthless few to profit from the destruction of our planet and the ultimate benefit of no one. History will judge us harshly, as it should.

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