Aerial Footage of Marcellus Wells in Northern PA

I watched this today, and I thought of two things. First, what is the value of natural gas? Second, what is the value of the land?

We can get into all of the economic bean counting that compares the total economic value of natural gas and its services. Then we can compare them to the total revenue brought in by people traveling to the land where gas drilling will take place, the revenue of farms, the dollars saved with clean air and water, and the economic value of active farms. Environmental economists can and will spar with each other, with energy economists, and supply chain economists, and so on about the best way to account for natural gas's economic value and the land's value. Doing all of that will require a lot of bean counting, future discounting, statistical modeling, and more to assess its utility or instrumental value. That is no doubt useful for economists and politicians seeking to make a case in a marketed world built on numbers rather than notions like beauty.

When I write value here, I don't just mean the cost in dollars and cents of a volume of natural gas and the taxable value of the land. By land here, I mean what people think of as "the environment" that is in some way productive in and for its own right and has not been mechanically developed...at least not overtly. What's its value? By value I mean something more than revenue. By value I mean its intrinsic worth to itself, its subjective worth in experience or reverence, and its worth as a common thing outside of dollars and cents.

Think of Aldo Leopold, one of the fathers of American conservation, who wrote about this better than anyone. In A Sand County Almanac he wrote:

All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.

This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter downriver. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have
already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species.

A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these 'resources,' but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state.

Ethics and morality are a question of value. So I ask you now a third question in light of Leopold and that video: Can we value natural gas and the land in a way that balances our demand for gas with the notion that we ought to cooperate with the land?

I posted a version of this question over on Facebook page. It prompted my friend Aaron to say, "What an absolutely ghastly video!!! Sickening. We belong to the land, its value is us."

What about you?

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