Revolting Developments

Our language seems to have a built-in bias against nature.

I’m thinking of the words “develop” and “development” in their odious usages in reference to minerals, soils, plants and water.

We are told that it is good to “develop” them, as though there is something inadequate about their beauty and function as is.

An example heard much in my state of Pennsylvania these days concerns efforts to ”develop” the natural gas deposited in shale rock (the Marcellus Shale) a mile or more underground.

The gas is perfectly fine and completely fulfilled existentially where it is; to drill down and cause the small earthquake required to shatter the shale and suck the gas out isn’t to “develop” it. It’s to drain it, or exploit it — and risk the contamination of the air and water that goes along with.

Likewise, it’s said that to turn a forest into a subdivision or a meadow into a shopping center is not to “develop” it. Rather, it is simply to pave. Or, more completely described, to entomb the earth — covering it with an impermeable skin across whose surface  precipitation can bear toxins into the waterways, even as the soil so encased can no longer grow plants, provide animal habitat, filter rainwater or sequester carbon.

When an organism develops, it reaches its full potential. When we “develop” nature, we are instead usually preventing it from fulfilling its proper role. (The same misuse is typically made of the word “grow,” especially in reference to “economic growth.”)

To borrow a metaphor from the age of the photographic darkroom, those who think they are busy developing are not getting the big picture.

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