BOOK REVIEW: THIS LAND — How Cowboys, Capitalism and Corruption are Ruining the American West by Christopher Ketcham
“You just gotta read the book.” I toyed with these words being the entirety of my comments on this urgently important book. However, writer Christopher Ketcham is not only deserving of a best seller (and a medal), he deserves more from his readers.
The ten years of travel interviews Ketcham took to write the book, clearly shows. Its detail involving history, economics, science, biology, geology, geography, politics, and philosophy is positively captivating. Woven throughout the book, his story-telling and haunting prose about wildlife and the people who put themselves and their livelihoods at great risk to protect them, made me cry hard.
When I picked up “This Land,” I was on my way back from Big Bend (West Texas), where the Permian Basin land is under siege by big oil and “no regulation” Republicanism. I was in despair and ready to quit my independent populist organizing in Texas. I live in Central Texas, where big real estate is getting a big handout from the Democratic dominated municipal “growth machines” in Austin and in San Antonio, a very poor Hispanic-majority city. Both cities are obsessed with building a megalopolis between them by subsidizing in-migration population growth. By subsidizing developer’s push for mass movement of precious groundwater, arguably a more valuable resource than oil, they are repeating the tragic mistakes of California. I have been fighting their signature project, Vista Ridge, aka “The San Antone Hose,” since 2014.
I was delighted to read Ketcham, also an independent populist, challenge the growth machine by pointing a finger at the partisans. Taking no prisoners, he goes after not only The Donald but also neo-liberals and their ideology, including Barack Obama and even socialist Bernie Sanders and Bernie’s own brand of neo-liberal economic policy. It’s not personal. Ketcham busts the fairy tale about endless growth, economic and otherwise; i.e. that it is desirable and even possible. In that endless growth scenario, it’s not hard to make the leap to accepting Mother Nature is to be ever conquered by our “superior” species, Homo sapiens. But wait, “This Land” warns: What if human survival is trumped (pardon the pun) by Mother Earth?
For me, though, how “This Land” makes its most important contribution is in Ketcham’s honesty and full disclosure as an organizer. Fessing up to the impotence of so-called “eco-terrorism,” he fully admits he hasn’t a solution, Yet, he asks the reader to put aside their doubts and cynicism that positive change is possible and to imagine with him of some radical solutions. For me, this consideration and deliberation of new ways of getting at festering problems is what our country needs most!
“This Land” is Ketcham’s dare to us Homo sapiens to find a way out. We can cry. We can feel. We can express our outrage. But we must not give in to our own paralyzing despair. No! In the midst of this madness, we Homo sapiens must stop letting our big brains get in the way and fully employ them and all our hearts to search for and to create new solutions.
“This Land” gave me a swift kick in the pants. I couldn’t put this book down.There’s no way I ‘m putting clipboard down, either!
My dare to you is you just gotta read the book, y’all.
After you read Ketcham’s book, for more about my efforts in Texas, watch the 17 minute video, “I Oppose the San Antone Hose”.