Where does all this Stuff Come From, Anyway?

Commentary, Agriculture, Robert Sopuck

All of us are guilty of complacency. We expect food to be in supermarkets and wood at the lumberyard. We’d be shocked to find gas stations without gasoline. Most importantly, we scribblers need the newsprint crushed from forest pulp to discuss the great ideas of the day. But we ignore how these goods come to market.

No big deal, you say? Well, to many it actually is. We should be amazed that our resource industries can deliver us the goods we must have to live well and survive. When I worked at a newsprint mill, I marvelled at how we took scraggy old black spruce trees out of the swamp and turned out finished newsprint. My favourite mill tour started at the beginning, watching the logs get peeled, chopped, pulped, mixed and processed. Once I toured a mine, and it boggled my mind to think that a pile of crushed rock could end up as beautiful bars of nickel. Nickel, of course, is used in stainless steel.

It’s close to miraculous. Why, then, do the rural resource industries which create these values get such a bad rap? Between expletives like “clear cutting,” “toxic mine tailings,” “pesticides” and “oil pollution”, you can read the contempt. Out here in the boonies, we’re doing nothing but gleefully pillaging the Earth.

It’s not quite like that. All natural resource activities like farming, forestry and mining are carried out under environmental licences. If you have a beef about forestry, for example, complain to the government who issued the licence, not the company that is just following the rules. Our highly modern forestry and mining sectors have been around for over a hundred years and responsibly bring us an infinity of useful products. They, and the governments who oversee them, must be doing something right.

Try a simple test. Stop whatever you’re doing right now and look around the room. Try and find something that was either NOT grown or dug out of the ground. You simply cannot do it. Think about how completely our communities depend on resources. And rural people are just as dependent on city folk to buy those goods. This makes the partnership between town and country complete.

Rural economies are intimately involved with the handling, extracting and development of resources needed by service-based urbanites. This makes them all the more vulnerable to pressure from environmental extremists, whose campaigns often produce strangling bureaucratic processes. Over-regulation ultimately weakens the ability of those industries to survive by driving up their costs.

Just ask the citizens of California. They are struggling with rolling power blackouts caused by an insufficient power grid. Due to excessive regulation, energy production has not kept pace with the needs of California’s burgeoning high-tech sector. When you hear unreasonable criticism of rural resource industries, just look around the room.

What would you want to do without?