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LAY OF THE LAND

Safety in Numbers | 10 reasons not to drill | Crisis Vultures | Future Farms | Rail resurgent | Coho salmon | Bold Strokes | Cheese Sticks | Panama Canal North? | Value of Nature | Updates

Congressional Notebook

The Value of Nature

by U.S. Representative Jay Inslee

In nature we find peace, even in the face of war. A house finch taught me this lesson. At the end of a long week in Congress last September, I sat in my Washington, D.C., apartment watching the horrific images of man's madness on television for the ten thousandth time. I was despairing at the possibility of someday gaining a lasting peace, when I happened to glance up and see a house finch serenely perched in a maple tree at my window. That little bundle of feathers took me away from the darkness of the week's horror. He was thinking about seeds and lady finches, not terrorist cells and exploding planes. It was a comfort to be so close to a creature that could sit enjoying the morning sun, and greet it with a song--things I was incapable of at the moment. If I could have thanked him for the minute's respite, I would have.

We need nature for ourselves, not just for itself--perhaps more than ever during the trials of war. In this time of new personal and public priorities, we must continue to work to protect nature. Places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should not fall victim to the terrorist attack on America. It is true that our nation should shift its energy policy, but not from one hole in the ground to another in our search for oil. Just as a man addicted to cigarettes can save his life by quitting smoking--but not by switching brands--we can save ourselves by increasing conservation and use of alternative fuels. We should reduce our addiction to oil from any source.

It wouldn't be difficult. We could set vehicle mileage standards for SUVs and light trucks at 40 miles per gallon and save eight times as much oil as is economically recoverable from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We could invest in wind turbines, which are so efficient that Denmark has decided to produce 50 percent of its electricity in this manner by 2010. We could work toward a hydrogen-based transportation system, as Iceland is doing. We could re-examine solar power technologies, which have made great strides over the past decade. There is a connection between nature, energy, and war--between the golden plovers that migrate from the Arctic Refuge and the societal troubles in foreign countries that migrate to America's shores. Nature can help provide us with a kind of peace that lasts for more than a moment. If our intense feelings for the wildlife of the Arctic inspire us to wean ourselves from oil, we will certainly enjoy more nature and more peace. Henry David Thoreau said it grandly, "In wildness is the preservation of the world." A house finch said it simply.


Jay Inslee (D) represents Washington State's first congressional district.

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