A time for gratitude
The day of Thanksgiving most Americans celebrated yesterday is a tradition as old as our country. Americans have always had much for which to be thankful. The first official Thanksgiving proclamation, written by George Washington in 1789, expressed the American people’s gratitude for “an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln urged all Americans to “implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.” He made Thanksgiving the national holiday we still observe every November.
The prosperity we enjoy today has been recognized in presidential Thanksgiving proclamations ever since, frequently mentioning the blessings of a nation so rich in natural resources. Ulysses Grant wrote in 1879 that our “Exuberant harvests, productive mines, ample crops of the staples of trade and manufactures, have enriched the country. The resources thus furnished to our reviving industry and expanding commerce are hastening the day when discords and distresses through the length and breadth of the land will, under the continued favor of Providence, have given way to confidence and energy and assured prosperity.”
That sentiment still resonated 83 years later when President Kennedy wrote, “It is right that we should be grateful for the plenty amidst which we live; the productivity of our farms, the output of our factories, the skill of our artisans, and the ingenuity of our investors.”
My friend Richard Rahn wrote a now famous column a couple years ago comparing the lifestyles of modern lower income Americans with the 17th Century court of Louis XIV. He mentioned that the average low-income American, earning only $25,000 a year, nevertheless lives in a home with air conditioning and central heat, a color TV and dishwasher, owns a car, and eats a wide variety of fresh foods year-round. He compared Louis’s palace at Versailles, which had 700 rooms but no bathroom, no heat except fireplaces, and no air conditioning. Even the rich lived in constant fear of death from smallpox and other ailments now easily cured with antibiotics.
Rahn pointed out that even history’s richest man, John D. Rockefeller (whose fortune adjusted for inflation was five times that of Bill Gates) still lived without air conditioning and feared now-obsolete diseases. He traveled slowly on trains and steamships, and only very short distances in newly-invented automobiles on mostly dirt roads. King Louis and Rockefeller both had many servants to prepare their food, but they could not get fresh fruit or vegetables out of season and had very limited food choices compared to our supermarkets, where ordinary people can get fresh food at reasonable prices from all over the world.
Thanks to the blessings of a prosperous economy made possible by rich natural resources and abundant, affordable energy, Americans are now free of the everyday drudgery of the past — plowing fields, chopping wood, hauling water, milking cows, and dying young.
We also continuously improve efficiency and conservation of our resources, clearing the air in large cities from Los Angeles to Denver, and cleaning up rivers once so clogged with raw sewage and waste that they could catch fire. We have drained swamps, reclaimed flooded lands, built high-quality housing, insulation, heating and air conditioning, cars, trucks, paved roads, airports, and harbors to bring products that increase our standard of living. We have turned dry deserts like the Grand Valley into productive farmland and pleasant cities.
People blessed to live in Western Colorado enjoy the most beautiful part of the highest state in the greatest nation ever known. We live healthy lives thanks to a system of reservoirs, canals, pipelines, underground pipes, treatment plants, and indoor plumbing — all still unfulfilled dreams in much of the world. Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies now allow access to oil and gas from entire regions previously unavailable. Development of ways to use energy without emitting harmful pollutants is light years ahead of all previous generations, and we have every reason to expect that progress will continue.
Americans have always relied on constantly improving technology to better their lives, and their faith in the private enterprise system has never failed to produce advances for every generation.
We should reflect often — not just at Thanksgiving — on the divine blessings of our rich natural resources, our inseparable relationship with nature, and the astonishing progress of our civilization.
Greg Walcher is president of the Natural Resources Group and author of “Smoking Them Out: The Theft of the Environment and How to Take it Back.” He is a Western Slope native.