Economics: Ideas of “Value” by Rachel Yokum
According to dictionary.com, “value” is defined as “an ideal, custom, institution, etc., of a society toward which the people of the group have an affective regard.” Alternatively, it can mean, “relative worth, merit, or importance; monetary or material worth, as in commerce or trade.” These two definitions can be considered the crux of the argument regarding the proposed natural gas drilling in the San Luis Valley.
What people consider to be “valuable” is frequently debated and certainly not unanimous. It is even more difficult to put a price tag on people’s non-material “values”. Ideals and ethics are impressions that are constructed out the collective consciousness of a group of people; they are not tangible and have no “real” monetary equivalent. They are in effect, priceless. On the other hand, a monetary worth can be put on fossil fuels. Their value is precisely what drives a huge portion of the global economy, and what keeps the American lifestyle going at full speed.
Dr. Marilyn Waring, a PHD economist and female rights activist has given many speeches on economics and the global economy. Her film, “Who’s Counting?” focuses on her argument regarding how we ascribe value. She discusses how often, there is no monetary “worth” for natural wildlife areas and the everyday jobs of women in the home. This argument is valuable because it points out that often things we say have no monetary value, have a “value” that is immeasurable. These things are not non-valuable, they are instead invaluable. A following quote from a speech Dr. Waring gave at an ISPA conference makes a poignant correlation to the proposed drilling in the Baca wildlife refuge:
“'Culture' has been part of the global economy for many centuries. The rise of culture as an economic good has added to the identification of culture with commodities that can be sold and traded - crafts, tourism, music, books, and films. Although the spread of ideas and images enriches the world, in the currently predominant economic culture there is a risk of reducing cultural concerns to protecting what can be bought and sold, neglecting community, custom, and tradition.”
We need fuel for cars, homes, businesses, travel, etc. The list is ongoing, but the point is this country and the wider world for that matter, rely on energy from fossil fuels. Lexum is a company that is trying to keep up with the economic demand for energy. Their interest in particular is not the Baca refuge, but rather what is underneath it. Craig Hase form the Crestone Mountain Zen Center describes the situation in terms of differing interests:
“There’s an oil company that owns mineral rights. They bought them fair and square, it’s completely legal, they’re not doing anything wrong, really…you know. By their model, and by their ethos, they’re just…uh…I mean it’s hard to blame the oil company, they’re just operating by a certain model. I happen to think that, I mean, that model may be an important aspect, of, of really big economy, and of really big, you know, cultural structure…” Craig Hase from the Crestone Mountain Zen Centre (Interview by Penelope Morgan and Rachel Yokum)
The aquifer under the Baca is large and holds the prospect of natural gas production. The value of natural gas drilling could mean millions of dollars for Lexum, while spiritual value is hard to measure. Not to say that spiritual practices should not be appreciated, but in the wider community, spirituality often comes second to the economy, especially in the West. The free market and global trade are two ideas that are secular in their very being. This notion contradicts the lifestyle of many residents of Crestone, who are not only very involved in their spiritual communities, but manage to make their spiritual practices a part of their everyday lives as well.
The country relies on all types of energy to keep our way of life going…until we find alternatives; Lexum is needed to provide our energy. The country has not made the overall move to sustainable and renewable energy sources so the need for places to find fossil fuels is critical. In addition to that, we are running out of places to find energy, so we have to start looking in places that are untapped- like The Baca wildlife refuge.
A point of contention for the residents of Crestone is how the surface of the refuge and the subsurface can be separated. The question remains largely unanswered but it seems obvious that one can’t drill the subsurface without first drilling the surface. The problem that residents face is that Lexam owns the land under their property, which makes them fully entitled to drill there. Whose rights to private property are more important? Is it Lexum who owns the subsurface mineral rights? Or is it the residents of Crestone whose backyards may become the future drilling sites?
Another concern for residents is the impact of gas drilling. Whether it’s in their back yards or five miles away, the drilling will have strong influences on the community. Crestone is a place that generates a large portion of its economy from people coming on retreat to the various spiritual communities in the area. Ones resident describes the effects as such:
“You wouldn’t want to dissemble it. We’ve got something that wouldn’t dissipate unless it was really torn a part. It (drilling) would definitely affect the culture that we’ve got going here. Your talking about 10-25 and the really richness of these people that are really involved in their community, looking else where, if not more. If it was somewhat bad, we would get a certain percentage of people leaving here that are very involved and very integral to the community, and we’ve got a really rich asset here of community of people, we’re really unusual. That would dissipate, and that would maybe lead to a really different flavor of community down the road.” (Lonnie Roth, Crestone Creative Trade Co. Interviewed by Caroline McKenna)
Drilling affects aesthetics, noise levels, creates light pollution, and increases traffic flow. These are all things that the residents of Crestone enjoy living without. Bon Dellegar, a resident of Crestone, compared the future of the San Luis Valley to her past experiences living in Cape Cod. She described how Cape Cod started of much like Crestone- a summer retreat for tourists to take some time away from the hectic life of the big city. Eventually, more and more people started moving to Cape Cod as permanent residents. She described how she had to find back routes as traffic flow increased and how after a while everyone started taking the back routes because they wanted to avoid traffic congestion too. For her, moving to Crestone was a relief, an escape from the congestion of Cape Cod. Bon described how she felt that gas drilling would bring the same fate upon Crestone.
So the problem comes back to economics. In this case, the economics of one takes away from the economy of the other. Drilling in the San Luis valley will affect the economy of the spiritual centers in Crestone, and banning drilling will affect the economy of Lexum. It is hard to say that one outcome is worse than the other because while a large portion of the economy in Crestone is based on Spiritual tourism and retreat, many of the residents will also tell you they still use propane to heat their houses. Because of high demand for energy, Lexum will need to find other places to explore energy options. Wade Davis in his book “Light at the Edge of the World” makes a hopeful point when talking about what he calls “the plight of the ethnosphere.” He says if humans are the agents of destruction they too can be the agents of cultural survival (Davis, 2006). Craig Hase makes a personal case for this argument:
“But, as important to me as driving a car is examining, you know, what it is to be alive. Having a place where people can examine what it is to be alive, having a place where people can also examine what it means to get along together. I mean, we are- we’re coming more and more into a globalist culture where we don’t know how to answer the questions that are coming up. We don’t know how to take care of the conflicts that are rising on huge global scales. I mean, these centres, in my view, are small models for how to live. So, that should be valued as much the fifteen million dollars worth of mineral rights.”( Craig Hase, Crestone Mountain Zen Centre)
Perhaps the residents of Crestone are not just trying to preserve what they hold to be valuable. They are making an effort to be agents of cultural survival. Crestone is rich with culture- its diversity is accentuated by the presence of different spiritual communities along with the array of experiences that the residents themselves bring. In Crestone, and perhaps the wider world, the notion of “value” should be challenged, to its very core, so that we as human beings can see that what we hold most dear doesn’t always come with a price tag.
** For more information on this topic see “Symbolic microcosm and Ironies” and the “Lessons and Challenges Section”**
Wade Davis, 2006. “Light at the Edge of the World”. Douglas & McIntyre Publishing.
Marilyn Waring, 2001. “Will the World Economy Produce Only World Culture?”. Speech given at ISPA International Congress in Sydney, Australia.