Some safe bets for next year in the West
We humans have long been interested in finding out what lies ahead. The ancient Romans, for instance, employed haruspicy. By examining the livers of freshly sacrificed sheep, they hoped to predict the future. Other methods of yore have ranged from alectryomancy (a rooster picks from grains of corn, set next to letters, and spells out a prediction) to xylomancy (predicting from the patterns of fallen twigs and tree branches).
In modern times we have Ouija boards and crystal balls, and I resort to a variants of those when it's time to predict what will happen in the coming year. Rather than a Ouija board, I run my hands across a Qwerty board, and instead of gazing into a crystal ball, I peer into a liquid crystal display.
Thus empowered by modern enhancements to the ancient tools of necromancy, I feel safe in offering these sure-fire predictions for the West in 2011:
- Petroleum prices will spike for some reason or another, perhaps political tension in the Persian Gulf or a storm in the Gulf of Mexico. Whatever the gulf, this will inspire politicians to demand the immediate development of "America's vast oil shale reserves" in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado.
And of course they will denounce anyone who points out that to date, there is no economical method of producing petroleum from these rocks as they forget the old but true saying that "Oil shale is the fuel of the future -- and always will be."
- High-speed rail proposals will continue to be a source of income for consultants and planners along certain corridors, like Los Angeles to Las Vegas, or Denver to Vail. However, no one will ride a single mile on high-speed rail in the West next year. That's because not a single mile of track will be laid.
- We will continue to read about large and noisy rallies where the speakers urge the audience to "Take our country back," "Reclaim America," "Restore our nation" or the like.
These statements will not come from the Lakota, Nuche, Dineh or other peoples who once held the country. Or if by chance they do, the rally will get little if any media attention.
- A wildfire somewhere in the West next summer will cause millions of dollars in damage to homes built in the urban-wildland interface, aka "the Stupid Zone."
There's an old saying that "Floods are acts of God. Flood damage is an act of man." That's because most of the damage results from human decisions to build in a flood plain. The same holds for wildfires; the expensive damage, the lost possessions, the evacuations -- those are all the results of human decisions to build in risky places.
- Further prediction: Anyone who points this out will be attacked as heartless and cruel. It's unpatriotic to question the American right to build whatever you damn well please wherever you damn well please.
- As Congress tries to grapple with the federal deficit, at least one Republican representative will propose selling off public land in the West.
Others will propose turning the lands over to the states. Environmentalists will be reluctant to support this, even though the land might be healthier under state control, since states cannot afford to offer below-cost timber sales and subsidized grazing, let alone nerve gas and nuclear-bomb tests.
- Home generation of electricity from solar and wind energy will be promoted as the epitome of greenness, even though most such systems rely on storage batteries made with lead, one of the most toxic metals and one that has poisoned miners.
- A Denver-based lobbying group known as the Western Tradition Partnership will continue to promote itself as a grassroots lobby and given the impression it stands for traditional Western values like "live and let live." However, the main Western tradition it will promote is a return to the corporate control of entire states that we had a century ago, as with Anaconda and Montana, or Colorado Fuel & Iron in the Centennial State.
- Portions of the West will suffer from drought, locusts, dust storms, blizzards, flash floods, avalanches, mud slides, meth addiction, wildfires, foreclosures and invading millionaires.
- The Colorado River will continue to be over-appropriated, and someone will propose supplying southern California with water via tanker ships from Siberia or towed icebergs from Alaska, thereby allowing California's share to be used by other states. But no such water will be imported in 2011.
- A hitherto unrecognized but endangered species of plant or insect will be discovered in the path of a planned power line or highway. Or at the proposed site of a reservoir, generating plant or gravel pit.
As the great Yankee catcher Yogi Berra may have said, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." But I feel pretty confident about these predictions for 2011. And if some of them seem rather dismal, there's always the old Russian standby: "This will be an average year. Worse than last year but better than next year."
Ed Quillen is a freelance writer in Salida, Colorado.
Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at firstname.lastname@example.org.