To the Editor:
Economic and environmental disasters do not happen by themselves. Every cycle of boom and bust has a crusading editor behind it or the public would never fall for the scam.
As described in painstaking detail by Timothy Egan in "The Worst Hard Times," the greatest environmental disaster of the 20th century was the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and it was entirely man-made. It was fueled by the fantasy that "Crain follows the plough." This slogan was repeated over and over by the government, the railroads and a crusading editor named John McCarty until enough people believed it to move out West to Oklahoma. They plowed up the drought-resistant buffalo grass and replaced it with water-loving wheat, thinking to spin gold from straw. But rain did not follow the plough, only disaster. And so the people suffered, and John McCarty moved to another state, where he started another newspaper.
The power of the press must therefore be considered as an echo chamber for utopian fantasies initiated by industry propagandists and promoted by politicians desperate for an easy fix to economic problems they brought upon themselves (e.g., Iraq war) without raising taxes. Simple-minded government-is-the-problem exemplars aside, crusading editors should stand on higher ground.
Athens' own version of the crusading editor is Terry Smith of The Athens NEWS. God love him, he never tires of promoting the fracking industry and deriding citizens and civic leaders who oppose it. Presumably he thinks that taking a stand on a controversial issue makes him a man of principle. Perhaps that is even true. In editorials spanning the past two years, Smith seems sincerely to believe that deep-well hydraulic fracturing and wastes disposal is coming to Athens County or is already here, and that it will bring many economic benefits to our community.
But the facts in North Dakota and Pennsylvania and Youngstown do not support the substance of Mr. Smith's crusade, nor of the industry, nor of the state government's unjust and privileged laws that place unsustainable industry profits above the needs of the environment and the majority of human beings living here.
Man-made environmental disasters are not hard to predict if only the memory would not fade. A boom based on utopian fantasies is not sustainable and will surely collapse under the weight of geology and market forces and simple physics.
Bill of Rights Committee
Associate Professor Emeritus, Ohio University