The Mountain Manifesto (Page 5) 2017-02-27T14:59:39+00:00
Lowell Mountain before. Photo: Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

SHIFTING BASELINE SYNDROME

Shifting baseline syndrome, a technical term, describes how individuals perceive the environment and ecosystems over time, from generation to generation and from one period to another. Each succeeding generation respectively forms its own “memory” of the natural environment as it first encounters it. For instance, not too long ago, someone standing almost anywhere in Chittenden County could gaze at the night sky and see the Milky Way. It looked as if a clumsy celestial being had stumbled and poured a bucket of milk across the heavens, a thick stream of stars spilling from his pail. Now, the term “Milky Way” has lost its meaning as light pollution from Burlington and its suburbs obscures the stars. Similarly, someone who last saw Lowell Mountain ten years ago would not recognize it today; a person now seeing it for the first time might shrug his or her shoulders and think it is normal. “This is what Vermonters do,” they might say. They will never know the mountain as it once was.

Lowell Mountain before. Photo: Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

SHIFTING BASELINE SYNDROME

Shifting baseline syndrome, a technical term, describes how individuals perceive the environment and ecosystems over time, from generation to generation and from one period to another. Each succeeding generation respectively forms its own “memory” of the natural environment as it first encounters it. For instance, not too long ago, someone standing almost anywhere in Chittenden County could gaze at the night sky and see the Milky Way. It looked as if a clumsy celestial being had stumbled and poured a bucket of milk across the heavens, a thick stream of stars spilling from his pail. Now, the term “Milky Way” has lost its meaning as light pollution from Burlington and its suburbs obscures the stars. Similarly, someone who last saw Lowell Mountain ten years ago would not recognize it today; a person now seeing it for the first time might shrug his or her shoulders and think it is normal. “This is what Vermonters do,” they might say. They will never know the mountain as it once was.

Inevitably, the ecological norms of previous generations — open fields, unspoiled mountains and clear lakes — are replaced by a new generation’s “normal” — paved parking lots and endless strip malls, hills degraded by ski areas and power companies, and once-blue lakes turning green with algae.

Environmental baselines can shift slowly, almost imperceptibly. Over time, the changes can be enormous and portentous: Environmental death by a thousand cuts. At other times, the shift in those baselines can be swift, changing jarringly and seemingly overnight as modern machinery and powerful explosives devastate a ridgeline over a few months. Lingering decline or a quick execution: The consequences, though, are significant. Stray too far from the natural baseline of environmental health and bad things happen. Kill too many passenger pigeons, and they go extinct. Fish too many cod, and the fishery collapses. Pulverize and pave over too many mountainsides and eventually, the Vermont we know ends with a whimper and a bang.

Lowell Mountain after. Photo: Steve Wright.

Inevitably, the ecological norms of previous generations — open fields, unspoiled mountains and clear lakes — are replaced by a new generation’s “normal” — paved parking lots and endless strip malls, hills degraded by ski areas and power companies, and once-blue lakes turning green with algae.

Environmental baselines can shift slowly, almost imperceptibly. Over time, the changes can be enormous and portentous: Environmental death by a thousand cuts. At other times, the shift in those baselines can be swift, changing jarringly and seemingly overnight as modern machinery and powerful explosives devastate a ridgeline over a few months. Lingering decline or a quick execution: The consequences, though, are significant. Stray too far from the natural baseline of environmental health and bad things happen. Kill too many passenger pigeons, and they go extinct. Fish too many cod, and the fishery collapses. Pulverize and pave over too many mountainsides and eventually, the Vermont we know ends with a whimper and a bang.

Lowell Mountain after. Photo: Steve Wright.
Wind turbine highway, Lowell Mountain. Photo: Mountain Occupiers.
Wind turbine highway, Lowell Mountain. Photo: Mountain Occupiers.
Wind turbine highway, Lowell Mountain. Photo: Mountain Occupiers.

We are remodeling the Alhambra with a steam shovel, and we are proud of our yardage.
— Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac

Those men who send the bulldozer blades into the mountainsides bear the awesome burden of responsibility for an act that no one can fully comprehend, much less justify.
— Wendell Berry, The Landscaping of Hell

Where the wild things are!

Pittsford Ridge photo: Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

Habitat Matters!

(hab-i-tat /ˈhabəˌtat/: from the Latin words meaning “it inhabits”, “to have, to hold.” It is the natural environment in which an organism lives. Simply put: It’s home!)

Illustrator Maurice Sendak unwittingly wrote a good, if incomplete, description of habitat: “Where the wild things are.” But, habitats are more than just wild things. They are complex communities of life, an intricate interaction of organic life and inorganic features exceeding humankind’s complete comprehension. In plant biologist Frank Egler’s words, they “are not only more complex than we think, they are more complex than we can think.”

Where the wild things are!

Pittsford Ridge photo: Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

Habitat Matters!

(hab-i-tat /ˈhabəˌtat/: from the Latin words meaning “it inhabits”, “to have, to hold.” It is the natural environment in which an organism lives. Simply put: It’s home!)

Illustrator Maurice Sendak unwittingly wrote a good, if incomplete, description of habitat: “Where the wild things are.” But, habitats are more than just wild things. They are complex communities of life, an intricate interaction of organic life and inorganic features exceeding humankind’s complete comprehension. In plant biologist Frank Egler’s words, they “are not only more complex than we think, they are more complex than we can think.”

Sue Morse knows this instinctively. A nationally-known naturalist and tracker, Morse is literally and figuratively at home here in the Green Mountains. She understands them, their inhabitants and their habitats as well as anyone. When she looks at our ridgelines, she sees with a discriminating, sensitive eye:

“I describe ridgelines as preferred travel routes…. In Vermont, a lot of our core habitat includes the ridgeline” and “animals — birds and mammals alike, and insects — use ridgelines as travel routes to get from one place to another.”

In an era of climate change, she reminds us, “biologists now know that we need to maintain connectivity between core habitats across whole nations in order to provide some means for plants and animals to adapt…. So, what are we doing fragmenting the very same habitats that we now scientifically recognize are essential?”

“We’ve made excuses from the time we set foot on this planet for the way we’ve used our natural resources … and abused them. I think it’s time to stop.”

— Naturalist Sue Morse

Where the wild things are not!

Lowell Mountain wind project photo: Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

In an era of climate change, she reminds us, “biologists now know that we need to maintain connectivity between core habitats across whole nations in order to provide some means for plants and animals to adapt…. So, what are we doing fragmenting the very same habitats that we now scientifically recognize are essential?”

“We’ve made excuses from the time we set foot on this planet for the way we’ve used our natural resources … and abused them. I think it’s time to stop.”

— Naturalist Sue Morse

Where the wild things are not!

Lowell Mountain wind project photo: Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

“… where too large a proportion of the surface is bared of wood, the action of the summer sun and wind scorches the hills which are no longer shaded or sheltered by trees, the springs and rivulets that found their supply in the bibulous soil of the forest disappear…. the vernal and autumnal rains, and the melting snows of winter, no longer intercepted and absorbed by the leaves or the open soil of the woods, but falling everywhere upon a comparatively hard and even surface, flow swiftly over the smooth ground, washing away the vegetable mold as they seek their natural outlets, fill every ravine with a torrent, and convert every river into an ocean.”

— George Perkins Marsh, Vermont’s Prophet of Conservation

Excerpt from his address to the Rutland County
Agricultural Society, 1847

“… where too large a proportion of the surface is bared of wood, the action of the summer sun and wind scorches the hills which are no longer shaded or sheltered by trees, the springs and rivulets that found their supply in the bibulous soil of the forest disappear…. the vernal and autumnal rains, and the melting snows of winter, no longer intercepted and absorbed by the leaves or the open soil of the woods, but falling everywhere upon a comparatively hard and even surface, flow swiftly over the smooth ground, washing away the vegetable mold as they seek their natural outlets, fill every ravine with a torrent, and convert every river into an ocean.”

— George Perkins Marsh, Vermont’s Prophet of Conservation

Excerpt from his address to the Rutland County
Agricultural Society, 1847

“… where too large a proportion of the surface is bared of wood, the action of the summer sun and wind scorches the hills which are no longer shaded or sheltered by trees, the springs and rivulets that found their supply in the bibulous soil of the forest disappear…. the vernal and autumnal rains, and the melting snows of winter, no longer intercepted and absorbed by the leaves or the open soil of the woods, but falling everywhere upon a comparatively hard and even surface, flow swiftly over the smooth ground, washing away the vegetable mold as they seek their natural outlets, fill every ravine with a torrent, and convert every river into an ocean.”

— George Perkins Marsh, Vermont’s Prophet of Conservation

Excerpt from his address to the Rutland County
Agricultural Society, 1847

Road cut for Lowell Mountain industrial wind installation. Photo: Mountain Occupiers.
Road cut for Lowell Mountain industrial wind installation. Photo: Mountain Occupiers.

In Vermont, when you look at a mountain, you see a forest. The two are almost indistinguishable. Here is what the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation tells us about their vital importance.

In Vermont, when you look at a mountain, you see a forest. The two are almost indistinguishable. Here is what the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation tells us about their vital importance.

Photo: Bruce S. Post.

Floods: Forests can remove as much as 70% of incoming precipitation. Forested watersheds yield lower peak flows and smaller volumes of runoff over a longer period of time than non-forested land cover. Accordingly, flood damage in forested areas—and in areas downstream—has the smallest impact among all surface conditions. This will become even more important as storms intensify as the climate changes.

Clean Water: Forests provide clean water for drinking, recreation and habitat. This contribution reduces, and in some cases eliminates, the need for expenditures related to man-made infrastructure designed to ensure clean water.

Clean Air: Tree leaves serve as sponges for many air pollutants removing them from circulation where they do harm to humans. Fine particulate air pollution has serious human health effects, including premature mortality, pulmonary inflammation, accelerated arteriosclerosis, and altered cardiac functions

Climate Change Mitigation: Forests pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil, trees and other vegetation. This process of carbon sequestration regulates atmospheric carbon, thereby moderating the rate of climate change and its associated impacts. Vermont’s forests are estimated to sequester almost as much CO2 equivalents as Vermont’s annual emissions.

Now tell us again why you want to destroy forests and ridgelines!