Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
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SPOUT | Rant, React, Chat, Blather

Backhoe to the Future

Whenever I ask my friend George Uribe where he's working, I'm prepared to grimace at his answer.

George and I went to kindergarten together in San Bernardino, California, and became great friends in high school. He eventually moved to rural Nevada, but we've never stopped hiking, biking, and fly-fishing together and still team up as often as we can.

It was over a greasy spoon breakfast in San Francisco, as George and I tried to impress his wife, Sharon, with our manly tolerance of hot sauce, that his work came up most recently.

George is a heavy-equipment operator, a backhoe virtuoso. At times, when I ask him what he's up to, he'll say that he's been ripping up a canyon or ridgeline for this or that pipeline to pump fossil fuels. "Ugh," I'll say.

It's not a judgment on him. He cares as much about this planet as I do. But jobs don't grow on Joshua trees, and like most of us, George can't afford to turn down a paycheck.

Any job George does, he does with pride. That morning, though, his pride seemed a touch stronger than usual. Between bites of jalapeno-drenched sausage, he reported that for the past few weeks he'd been pulling on his hard hat and leather gloves and facing the wind and heat to drill holes for posts to support the hundreds of solar panels that will soon help power the high desert town of Tonopah.

I've done a bit of construction work myself, and I think most hard hats are like George these days. The term "green collar" may not mesh with their tough self-image, but I suspect they relish the growing opportunity to work with their hands on projects that will give their children fresher air and cleaner water and will spare them the uncertain perils spurred by climate disruption. The construction workers I know love their work and the mountains, rivers, oceans, and deserts we celebrate in this magazine with stories like Daniel Duane's trail-running piece on page 34. And yes, like George, they also love mocking office-bound green weenies like me. —Bob Sipchen, editor in chief

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