The Arrogance Of Conservationism


Bismarck-based humanities professor Clay Jenkinson – author of books few people read and rambling, long-winded Bismarck Tribune columns most like to ignore – is quoted in a USA Today article covering a topic that has already been covered ad nauseam by both local and national media. Namely, the impact of North Dakota’s oil boom on western society and the environment.

But what’s striking about Jenkinson’s point of view is that he seems to not have a lot of respect for private property owners developing the resources they own:

North Dakota’s still-accelerating energy boom is “one of the best things that’s ever happened to this state,” says Bismarck-based humanities scholar Clay S. Jenkinson, author of For the Love of North Dakota.

Yet that economic juggernaut, he says, also is creating the “wholesale industrialization” of a subtle landscape often ignored by travelers passing through on Interstate 94 to such marquee destinations as Glacier or Yellowstone national parks.

The area’s undulating prairies and furrowed, pockmarked buttes — formations frontier soldiers described as “hell with fires put out” — are an “acquired taste,” Jenkinson allows. Many residents of the state’s more populated Eastern half (also known as “Greater Minnesota”) even dismiss the Western region as “Godforsakia,” he jokingly adds.

Now, Jenkinson worries, the lyrical emptiness of “America’s Outback” is under seige [sic] — and “no one is going to say, ‘Gee, honey, let’s vacation in the middle of an oil boom.’ “

It’s one thing to want to protect the environment – we all want clean rivers and clean air – but it’s quite another thing to impose some cosmetic standard on property owners. People like Jenkinson, who don’t actually live in the oil patch by the way, liked it when western North Dakota was desolate and empty. Now it is neither, and they’d like to see it return to that.

This is no doubt why Jenkinson was part of a sponsoring committee behind a measure which would have created a board of environmental activists in our state government, controlling an enormous slush fund of oil tax revenues, if voters had approved it (it won’t be on the ballot thanks to the criminal activities of a group of NDSU football players have been charged with). A group like that could not only funnel money to non-profit environmental activist groups which use lawsuits and other tactics to throw a monkey wrench into fossil fuel energy development, but it could also make grants to buy up land to keep it out of the hands of oil developers.

All so that they can keep western North Dakota empty. And desolate. Because that’s how they like it.

There is an enormous sort of arrogance in that which goes far beyond mere environmentalism.  And by arrogance I mean the presumption to impose your cosmetic and social preferences on other people’s lives property.

I would like to think that, had their measure made it to the ballot, North Dakotans would have had the good sense to vote it down.

Rob Port

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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