It has become standard operating procedure in the United States. On a daily basis, and at all levels of government, environmentally-inspired decisions are being made that are designed to prevent, halt, or markedly restrict resource extraction and primary processing of those resources. In region after region the environmental impacts of mining, smelting, drilling, sand and gravel extraction, timber harvesting, and even bottling of water are deemed to be unacceptable. A yard sign in a northern rural community located near a proposed new mining operation sums up what appears to be a prevailing attitude – “Not in Anyone’s Back Yard!”
While to much of American society resource extraction is “out,” consumption is most definitely “in.” Houses, second homes, and vehicles are trending larger at the same time that personal consumption of a myriad of consumer goods is rising. Indeed, the U.S. government has periodically appealed to the citizenry over the past several decades to support the economy by spending and consuming more.
It is apparent that increased consumption requires increasing quantities of resources to support that consumption. The implications of declining public support for domestic production of basic materials in the face of increasing consumption are also apparent: local actions to halt or prevent resource extraction are not halting these activities at all. The effect is to simply shift them to some other location – to someone else’s back yard – a practice that the late Senator Mark Hatfield referred to over 20 years ago as “environmental imperialism.”