Luftwaffe, go home

  • Not stealthy: German Tornado

    U.S. Air Force photo
 

The noise began as an explosion, then quickly matured into the scream of engines. Racing across the sky, provenance obscured by speed, the jet rocketed away, leaving the blast echoing in my skull like a loose tire iron.

Count me among the 13 percent of residents in areas of rural New Mexico, Texas and Arizona who will remain "highly annoyed," according to a new environmental impact statement, at an expansion of low-level military overflights intended to accommodate the training needs of the German Air Force (see Hotline, page 2).

I moved to an enclave of private land bordering national forest to be able to taste apples from my yard, to learn to distinguish a gray vireo from a warbling vireo, and to watch lightning dance on nearby mountains unsullied by street lights. With such advantages at hand, I regard quiet not as a luxury but as the soul's own substrate.

Currently, the overflights are infrequent, and if military planners were to rate me, I'd only stack up as "somewhat annoyed." But under the new proposal, minimum flight altitudes will be lowered to just 100 feet - tree-top level - and their frequency will increase dramatically at all times of day and night.

The issue is larger than the annoyance of a few lovers of quiet. As the environmental impact statement notes, the German Air Force is training over the Southwest as part of a larger process of integration of European and American military forces. In Germany, military overflights are banned below 1,000 feet. So the neo-Luftwaffe first turned to Labrador. But protests by indigenous Inuit people reportedly limited training flights there. In response, former President George Bush offered to open up American skies to German training. In return, I suppose, if the Inuit ever give us any trouble, we'll be able to count on the Germans.

I've never gotten into a quarrel with an Inuit, and if they have something I need, well, I suppose I'd just better downgrade my needs accordingly. Open markets probably do lead to open skies, and that's precisely the problem. With no place exempt from the inexorable rules of commodification, the globe becomes a giant Monopoly set, and the atmosphere above a game of Risk.

I can probably live with being highly annoyed. My cholesterol level is low and I don't work at the post office. But what about the rest of the living world? Desert bighorn sheep, a state-listed threatened species in New Mexico, evolved hearing sufficiently acute to detect the breath of a mountain lion in ambush. The EIS states that as long as people don't stay out of doors 24 hours a day, "there is little possibility of hearing loss' from the overflights. It adds that "protective noise criteria for animals (should) be taken to be the same as for humans." Even if that did reflect accurate biology, bighorn sheep might have to build themselves soundproof shelters to minimize their chances of going deaf.

I suppose that's only fair. While the rest of us pay rent or mortgage, the critters are getting a free ride. (Little-known fact: Bighorn sheep don't even pay grazing fees, much less contribute to the Democratic National Committee.) Why should there be places - vast, unproductive places, at that - dedicated to the sounds of water trickling down a canyon, birds warbling, or pine needles soughing in the wind?

We need to develop a vocabulary that can answer that fundamental question without resorting to the "Nimbyism" that first comes to mind when we hear the frightful cacophony of 21st century mock warfare. The ongoing militarization of the Southwest has everything to do with our gargantuan appetites for the world's goodies, be they oil, or uranium or coffee. And sating those appetites deafens us to the losses all around. We must learn to turn off our cars and televisions and coffee grinders much more often if even the most eloquent exponents of silence are ever to be understood.

Listen. The night sky is speaking. An ancient world strains to be heard.

Michael Robinson, a former HCN intern, is communications director of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity.

High Country News Classifieds
  • MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    For more information visit www. wyofile.com/careers/
  • THRIVING LOCAL HEALTH FOOD STORE FOR SALE
    Turn-key business opportunity. Successful well established business with room to grow. Excellent highway visibility.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    For more information, visit www.wyofile.com/careers/
  • SONORAN INSTITUTE, CEO
    Chief Executive Officer Tucson, Arizona ABOUT SONORAN INSTITUTE Since 1990, the Sonoran Institute has brought together diverse interests to successfully forge effective and enduring conservation...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a high-impact, nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 27-year legacy using...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Position Summary Join our Team at the New Mexico Land Conservancy! We're seeking a Project Manager who will work to protect land and water across...
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Upper Missouri Waterkeeper seeks an Outreach Director to play a key role designing and leading activities and initiatives that engage citizens in water resource decisionmaking,...
  • WILDLIFE HAVEN
    Beautiful acreage with Teton Creek flowing through it. Springs and ponds, lots of trees, moose and deer. Property has barn. Easy access. approx. 33 acres.
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...