The Forest and the Trees
by Adam Culver
There is an old saying about the forests, the trees, and what you can or cannot see. The idea being, that sometimes you have to step back and look at the full picture to really understand a problem. Keep that in mind as I wind out a metaphor. A nice example of this playing out to its fullest is happening over in Washington state, in the timber lands. Tree preservation hippies are working hand in hand with loggers to focus on sustainable logging. They realized the forest fires were a fire issue, and in part the result of over-forestation. Literally, they’d been so busy saving the trees they couldn’t see that the forest was out of hand. So they’ve started harvesting trees that would be forest fire fuel, allowing the larger trees to flourish and preventing future issues. It’s a win-win. Flash back over to West By God, a state that requires a lot of social services from government because there’s a lot of poverty due to declining natural resources industry. I say declining, but that’s not entirely true; the people in charge of that industry are making tons of money.
One, in fact, is indirectly making so much money from being a coal CEO that he is reinvesting the money in the community! His trust helped establish a new children’s wing of CHH and is now funding the revitalization of an eyesore hospital to become a recreation resort! All things that really help the community. Those are fine, fine trees that are growing. Not long ago, Governor Jim Justice announced some other beautiful trees - the state was going to make so much money off the severance tax on coal and gas that we could give teachers and other public servants a raise and stabilize their healthcare. Damn, beautiful trees! But if we step back to see more of the forest, there are other trees growing. Those severance taxes get cut almost annually by our corporatist, Republican-controlled legislature, and now the state government has announce that their estimates were wrong: we have to cut $100 million from the state budget! And the coal CEO helping to build his community? Well, that money appears to have been made indirectly by running a company into the ground so it could be sold off to a larger company — neither of which will lose profits — while hundreds of people went months without money for basic necessities while miner’s paychecks sat in limbo (but hey, they were in Kentucky). People will say politics and economics are more complicated than that, and they would be right. Except they’re also wrong. These things are complicated, until you zoom out and look at the whole forest. When you’re looking at more than one piece of forest at a time, you see how one area flourishes from leeching off of and killing another.
You see how arguing about the Christian values inherent in hotdog sales encourages people to keep a legislator who votes against their economic interests.
You see how arguing about abortion (which, by the way, if they were going to actually do something about, they would have years ago - they just say it to get your vote) distracts from a governor owing enough backtaxes to stabilize multiple coal towns his industry helped destroy. All these things are connected; they’re all part of the same forest.
And it’s our forest. Where we live.
We have got to quit focusing on the trees right in front of us, or the ones we were told are sacred, and we have to look for people who will tend our whole forest. That’s the only way we stop the wildfires that threaten to burn us all.
Adam Culver is an English teacher in Cabell County and Vice-President of the Cabell County Educators Association as well as a member of The WV United Caucus. He is also a sometimes comedian, and a lifelong Mountaineer.