OPINION: Guest writer
Stand for the river Factory farms and the Buffalo
by ROBERT MOORE SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Arkansas finds itself faced with a neat conundrum: Whether to take up arms (figuratively) against a ruthless and ruinous tyranny, or to do nothing and allow one of our most precious treasures to remain vulnerable to the grasping, voracious, insatiable hunger of the giant corporation.
Our Legislature has voted to not make permanent the protection of the Buffalo National River watershed from the incursion of factory hog farms and their like, possibly leading to irreversible pollution and degradation of a local and national treasure.
One needs to place this consideration within its larger context, which is the unchecked power of corporations to damage and destroy the natural world in the name of profit and with the specious argument that what they do is "for the good of the people."
I begin by quoting Mr. Wendell Berry, acclaimed poet and essayist whose writings about the natural world have placed before us a moral code which arises from a balanced, bonded, deeply respectful and nuanced relationship with the earth. In "The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry," he speaks of the factory hog farm and its relationship with the natural world: "Like a strip mine, a hog factory exists in utter indifference to the landscape. Its purpose, as an animal factory, is to exclude from consideration both the nature of the place where it is and the nature of hogs. That it is a factory means that it could be in any place, and that the hog is a 'unit of production.' ... [T]he explicit purpose of the hog factory is to violate nature. ... But when you exclude compassion from agriculture, what have you done? Have you not removed something ultimately of the greatest practical worth?"
The factory hog farm which placed the Buffalo River in grave danger--and which is still endangered because of the Legislature's refusal to make permanent a ban on such agriculture within the Buffalo River drainage basin--was permitted by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality without geological, biological, or environmental study, without public debate, and without any consideration of its possible effects upon the Buffalo River; even the most cursory examination of the landscape in which this hog farm was placed would have revealed that it was to be built upon a geological karst formation, which is porous limestone perforated with holes, caves, and fissures which allow a free runoff and underground channeling of field waste into the surface and underground water table. Such runoff can and does travel for miles downstream, and eventually into the Buffalo River.
After little more than a year, it was already revealed that the enormous amount of hog feces sprayed across local fields, housed in large catchment basins, and aerated into the atmosphere had already impacted the river. Algae blooms of the kind which this waste produces were seen in the streams that feed the Buffalo River and in the river itself.
But Mr. Berry raises a much larger question here as well. It is a moral question about the presence of compassion in both the agriculture industry and in the regulatory bodies which provide regulations checking the influence and effect of large factory farms upon the natural environment.
Ultimately it is about the voters of Arkansas and the presence of compassion in them when it comes to protecting the Earth, and in our case, one of our most sacred and precious treasures: the Buffalo River.
Are we so blinded and hardened by our superficial political and ideological prejudices that we will allow our Legislature to continue to endanger and refuse to protect the long-term beauty and sanctity of its natural treasures? It appears that our political representatives have sold their souls to the highest bidder, whether the payment is in money or power or position. There is no lie bald-faced enough to make us believe this decision was made "for the good of the people."
Finally, I quote again Mr. Berry: "The hog factory attempts to be a totally rational, which is to say a totally economic, enterprise. It strips away from animal life and human work every purpose, every benefit too, that is not economic ... to be replaced by a totalitarian economy with its neat, logical concepts of world-as-factory and life-as-commodity."
A compassionate heart, a compassionate electorate, a body of voters whose love of nature and of the Buffalo River is great enough will not, must not, cannot allow others to rationalize about the "good-for-the-people" uses of such a farm, but will repudiate any such use of public land for the sole purpose of corporate profit.
My heart is in the river, and I am making a stand for her.
Dr. Robert Moore is emeritus professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.