Kentucky author, farmer and environmentalist Wendell Berry was on The Diane Rehm Show yesterday to talk about his new book “A Place in Time.” It’s a collection of 20 stories about life in the fictional small town of Port William. Besides discussing and reading from the book, Berry also talked about the relationship between a land and people, and his views on energy and the environment.
Here are some excerpts.
On the ties between a land and its people:
“The great mistake that we make is when we assume that the land can be abused to improve the people, or that the people can be abused to improve the land. I learned a long time ago from a coalfield organization that had come up as strip mining began in eastern Kentucky and other places, it was called the Appalachian Group to Save the Land and the People. And from that time on, this was in the mid-60s, I’ve always in my thinking, coupled the land and the people as being ultimately one thing in the sense that they share one fate.”
On the balance between energy needs and preserving the environment:
“The assumption is that the need is great, and the need as I understand it, as they’re thinking about it, is that we need above all, above everything to keep the motors running in the interest of speed, comfort and convenience. In other words, we don’t want to change our habits in those ways. That we will then sacrifice both the land and the people in order to achieve that. My thinking about that starts with the assumption that to do permanent damage to the ecosphere is wrong. Absolutely wrong. And that when these extraction enterprises, to produce fuel, destroy permanently parts of the world, that’s wrong. There’s no excuse for it. And for that reason, I’m not taking anybody very seriously who’s talking about energy who isn’t talking about rationing.”
On energy use:
“I think if we had a limitless supply of clean, cheap energy, we would wear the world out driving on it and using it in other violent ways.”
On the effects of the coal industry on the land and people of Kentucky:
“And the behavior of the coal industry in the so-called coalfields of eastern Kentucky demonstrates to me that corporations cannot be depended on to observe any limits in their relationship either to the land or the people.”
On his chosen vocation:
“I would not like anybody to assume from what I’ve written that I think they ought to go become a farmer. That can lead to a whole variety of troubles. What I would hope, my ideal response is that people would begin from the thoughts I’ve had to think for themselves about their responsibilities. And that can be done in the city or in the country.”