The purpose of public land

I thought Rick Santorum was going to be the anti-environmental presidential candidate, with his talk about global warming as a hoax perpetrated by left-wing scientists. But now I think Mitt Romney has an oar in this pool as well.  Apparently he told a crowd at a campaign event that he “didn’t know what the purpose” of public land was.  Of course, regular readers of this blog know how valuable a tree can be.  But that’s just from an economic point of view.  Here we are at a liberal arts college; what do other perspectives have to tell us about the benefits of publicly-owned nature?

Of course, from a psychological point of view I would refer you to the research on the benefits of nature on physical and mental health. We see this on campus too:  students talk about the fact that walking across campus and hearing the birds sing helps them de-stress.

Ecologists, too, can easily describe the role of undeveloped land in maintaining a healthy ecosystem; and if pressed, they will even tell you about the human benefits provided by such ecosystems. There are centers and software programs that attempt to put a dollar figure (there’s the money again) on these benefits.

But there are things that aren’t so easily quantified.  You English majors out there probably have a better sense than I do of the volume of literature that has emphasized nature.  It’s vast. Wooster’s own Dan Bourne specializes in nature-oriented poetry. The ways in which nature can convey emotional experience, cast new perspectives on our self-understandings, and sometimes create social bonds are powerful and profound.

You can fill in some other disciplines — what would philosophy, geology, history have to say about the value of public land?  One thing I hope a liberal education provides is the ability to look beyond the obvious.

In Yellowstone National Park


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