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Summer 2009 | Caring for creation

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Mount Haggin and the Anaconda Smelter
Mount Haggin (left) and the Anaconda smelter stack. The smelter closed in 1981 and, along with the copper mines in Butte, was to become part of the largest Superfund cleanup area in the nation.

Drew Van Fossen
Drew Van Fossen (Communications)
The gospel of green
By Drew Van Fossen
Director of Communications and Design

What I knew as a young boy was that which formed the boundaries of my existence. I knew that 10,500-foot Mount Haggin rose up and up and up from my back door, a granite sentinel along the Continental Divide. It presented the proverbial picture of the Rocky Mountains – inspiring, beautiful and steadfast. Nestled along each of its ridges lay crystalline alpine lakes, teeming with trout and surrounded by giant boulders and scrappy alpine fir.

On the opposite side, out my front door, stood another sentinel, the Big Stack – the smokestack for the copper smelter. At 585 feet, it was the world’s tallest freestanding masonry structure. It was 60 feet in diameter at the top and its sole purpose was to carry three to four million cubic feet of exhaust gases from the smelter into the air each minute, every hour of every day.

I was born and raised in the small smelter town of Anaconda, Montana. Anaconda existed to refine the copper ore that was mined 25 miles away in Butte, also known as “the richest hill on earth.” In 1898, America was going electric, the mines in Butte were producing more than 40 percent of the world’s copper, and names like Hearst, Rothschild and Rockefeller were clamoring to get their piece of the market.

By the time I came along more than a half-century later, the prosperity of America’s greatest copper boomtowns was pretty much history and the extent of their damage to the environment were yet to be discovered.

Such was my early introduction to the argument between the economy and the environment. I liked the mountain because it was majestic and beautiful. I disliked the smokestack because its smoke made my mouth taste like sulfur. Yet, I was willing to accept the taste because all my friends’ fathers worked at the smelter. This simple,childhood rationale was the precursor to the questions I would ask as an adult. Is it possible to have a deep, abiding reverence for both the Earth and for the means its people must use to survive (and prosper)? Can we be stewards of both resources and progress? Can we maintain an attitude of thankfulness and humility for our providence and for the land that supplies it?

Ultimately, we all face such questions. When we think of environmental degradation, the green movement and sustainability, we tend to go right to the macro level – world hunger, overpopulation; ecocatastrophes like global warming, desertification, deforestation, ozone holes, toxic waste and species extinction.These are big, weighty, complex issues, and it is easy, even expedient, to blame them on corporate greed, inept governments or some other faceless entity, and to stand in disbelief that any of us can really make a difference in moderating human impact on the earth.

The truth is, the vast majority of these issues are not a result of conscious decisions to destroy the environment, but rather of the actions of people who have not discovered a compelling reason to modify their thinking or behavior away from self-interest. In examining the problem, maybe we could start with the environment of our hearts.

Imagine an approach that relies on mutual esteem, trust, faith and responsibility. Imagine one of open dialogue, consultation and collaboration. Imagine a commitment to the well-being of others – lives lived after the model of Jesus Christ.This imagining is found in the avowed mission of St. Norbert College. That mission, aligned with the Catholic intellectual tradition, the liberal arts tradition and the charism of the Norbertine order, make an admirable place to start.

From there, each of us can choose to be part of what C.S. Lewis called the “good infection,” the life and love of Christ lived out in humility: in action toward our neighbors, one person at a time; but also in stewardship and care for our neighborhoods, in small incremental ways, one action at a time. This was Norbert’s way, it was Christ’s way and it is a good way. Through the good infection, complete healing can be possible even where great damage has been done.

Summer 2009 magazine

Web extras Look here for web-only content that expands on topics presented in the current St. Norbert College Magazine (PDF).

Audio Fresh Ink
Original compositions by student musicians.

Photo Gallery Commencement 2009
A gallery of images from this major event in the academic calendar.

Text Extra Environmental ethics
Excerpts from a new work by Larry Waggle (Philosophy).

Text Extra An ocean of change
Tim Boyer ’89 on research honored with the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Video A green collaboration
Student researchers talk about their plans for an environmentally responsible science facility.

Photo Gallery Lines of connection
A vibrant multicultural community depicted in new artwork on campus.

Photo Gallery Faces of Japan
Examining traditional and contemporary ideals of beauty.

Photo Gallery Fifty years at St. Norbert Abbey
A half-century of history celebrated this summer.

Story ideas? Your ideas for future magazine stories are most welcome. Write to the editor with any suggestions or comments.

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