Sonny's Corner

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Sonny Foster"Sonny's Corner" is a regular column in Prairie Fire, featuring commentary on civil rights and justice issues. Our friend and Omaha colleague, Joseph P. "Sonny" Foster, died suddenly at age 54 in August 2005. He left an uncompleted agenda, as did many of our civil rights and justice mentors and heroes. We shall attempt to move forward on that unfinished agenda through this column.

By Berwyn E. Jones

I keep staring at the article by Eugene Glock in the February 2013 issue of Prairie Fire, recalling an experience I had as a very young man working on my father’s farm in Seward County. While I was harrowing a field for planting wheat, I noticed, at the base of the REA power pole in the middle of the field, a ring of grassy soil that stood a half-foot higher that the rest of the field. That power pole had been there no more than 10 or so years, since “the electric” came after World War II, and I left Nebraska for university in 1958. In that short time, the level of soil in that field had dropped half a foot. Since then, we have been destroying the shelterbelts, terraces, grassed waterways and farm ponds that our fathers and grandfathers invested in to stop the Dust Bowl, in our greed for ever-more production. We have given up contour plowing in favor of ever-larger machinery that allows one person to farm ever-increasing acreages, all in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Yes, we have been destroying our precious, irreplaceable fossil soil that took centuries of prairie grass to build.

But that is not the worst of it. What about the ever-increasing use of fossil groundwater in the Ogallala Aquifer, thousands of years in the making and essentially nonrenewable, as we try to replace the rainfall that climate change, driven by our profligate use of carbon fuels, has dried up? What about the ever-increasing use of fossil fuels, millions of years in the making, that pull our implements, propel our trucks and cars (and boats and airplanes)? And the petroleum-based chemicals we spray on the land? What happens when all the fossil resources are gone?

My father’s generation saw the old aristocracy of Britain and the rest of Europe go through their inheritances to support a lavish lifestyle that even the middle class aspires to today. Then the aristocrats gradually sold off the land attached to their feudal estates, until nothing was left but the Big House, and then it had to go, too. We are spending down the inheritance Mother Nature left us, at an ever-increasing rate as we frantically pursue excess after wretched excess.

One of these days our inherited fossil resources will all be used up and our wonderful, wasteful, spendthrift way of life will end. I’m 76 years old. I won’t see it. But my great-grandchildren may.

Please, can’t we just slow down a little? Invest in some renewable resources instead of fossil fuels? Restore the soil- and water-conserving agricultural practices we learned during my younger days?

Immigration in Nebraska