Oil Spills, Etc.


We just had another major oil spill this past weekend. I remember the Exxon Valdes, and how my meditation teacher said the only way to prevent more of those was to reduce our dependence on oil. Obviously, that’s not the direction we’ve gone.

I read that oil has deleterious longterm effects on fish and other wildlife. I guess these organisms are eventually able to overcome the problems, but the BIG problem is that our technology is poisonous. Destroying the environment that gives us life for money (which I persist in seeing as an abstraction, compared to the natural world) seems to be an obviously bad idea, but almost all of us are connected to that way of doing things. I’m afraid the oil spill and the landslide in Washington state are just small examples of what we’re likely to see in the next years.

We don’t live in harmony with ourselves, let alone our neighbors, let alone the rest of the planet. Until we begin doing so we won’t be able to stop the trend towards destruction, let alone reverse it. Pollution (which includes climate change) I see as a problem that will persist for a very long time.

What will persist even longer is human stupidity. George Gurdjieff, mentioned in these posts before, said that two things are infinite: God’s mercy and human stupidity. Humans seem unable to learn anything much without the house falling in on them. Gurdjieff also said that when civilizations end people go crazy and destroy everything that’s been built up for centuries or even millenia. It looks to me like that’s happening now, which is pretty scary.

We’ve had at least 40 years to get ready for the end of oil and other petrochemicals, and have made what seem to me to be the wrong decisions every time. Our car engines have gotten more efficient, but people still like muscle cars, and we haven’t invested the time or money necessary to develop alternative energy sources. The reason again seems to money: energy companies want to extract the last nickle from oil, natural gas, and coal before considering any alternative energy source. Strip-mining and oil spills have been bad enough. Now we have fracking, which I think is even worse. Not only does it pollute (I don’t know to what extent), but it also seems to produce earthquakes; something I’d been hesitant to believe. I’d have preferred it not to be true.

In fact, our whole society is standing on shaky ground just because of our waste of resources, as if we didn’t have other problems. If we were rational we could decide to change our ways, but we’re not. At the same time that we’re using up our natural resources, we’re also fighting about science and religion, about race and class, and it seems very few people can talk about any subject that’s sensitive to anybody in a rational way. Is it because on some level we know we’re doing wrong, and feel guilty? That would make sense, because in my opinion, we certainly are.

My thoughts on this subject come from various sources. One is a book called Crossing the Rubicon, whose author pointed out that having cars run on electricity instead of gas SOUNDS good, but how is the electricity they run on to be generated? At present, the options are coal, oil, or natural gas. The very energy sources we need to stop using.

Other thoughts come from Wendell Berry, who is worried about our lack of concern for our environment in general, and for our method of food production in particular. Since he’s a farmer (traditional variety, of whom there are now few left), this point of view makes sense.

He says the industrial model of production, largely installed in the late 18th and 19th centuries, came to farms in the 20th. Maybe it was appropriate in other areas (maybe not, too), but it wasn’t appropriate for farms. Small farms, he points out, are generally better taken care of than the large industrial farms, and use much less in the way of artificial fertilizers and insecticides. The small farmer pays much closer attention to the needs of the land he farms than the industrial farmer can, and has more pride in his work. If he doesn’t have pride in his work, he doesn’t continue to be a farmer long.

But small farms started to be crowded out in the 19th century, and the process accelerated in the 20th. That’s a consequence of the idea that Bigger is Better. That’s not what the evidence shows. Bigger also makes for bigger catastrophes.

I visited Washington DC this past weekend, which seems like the epitome of what’s wrong with the country, and I’m not even talking about politics.

I was downtown, where all the architecture is monumental, not even including the monuments, and the traffic is horrible. Even on Sunday. There are cars everywhere, and it seems like about 2-3 parking garages per block. The Pentagon is nearby, and certainly hasn’t gotten smaller in the more than 50 years since I first saw it. Everything is high tech, which makes little sense when we’re actually entering an energy crisis. It doesn’t seem as if we are, since fracking is considered the new miracle technology, but the consequences of that seem horrendous to me. An energy crisis is intimately involved with an ecological crisis, which now seems inevitable. And probably not just one.

Dependence on oil, coal and gas don’t just pollute via the internal combustion engine, but in the form of plastic (and we put plastic, hardly biodegradable into just about everything), and in the forms of artificial fertilizers and insecticides. Those aren’t the only problems, either.

Many natural products are harmless in their natural forms, but when we distill them, they often become harmful. Especially if we overuse them. Gasoline is just one example of this.

Coca is an herb which is said to combat altitude sickness when chewed. It’s also the base from which cocaine is made. Cocaine has a legitimate use in eye surgery, but that’s probably not where you’ve heard of it.

The poppy is pretty harmless in its natural form, but from it opium, morphine and heroin are made, each more powerful than the former, and thus more likely to be abused.

Many grains and fruits produce alcohol, which, in the form of beer and wine are relatively harmless, but in the form of liquor is more harmful. Alcoholics have been with us quite awhile, and have contributed a great deal to societal chaos.

Antibiotics are very useful, but when overused become less effective, and the result is strains of microbes that are more and more difficult to treat.

Artificial fertilizers and insecticides are also made from petroleum, and often overused. Honeybees are dying in great numbers, and various insecticides seem to be implicated. Without honeybees, it will be very difficult to produce enough food.

Is that a big enough list of problems? Don’t count on those being the only ones. They’re merely the obvious ones.

The REAL problem is the way of thinking that makes it to okay exploit absolutely anything to make money. I could put that on capitalism, I suppose, but Communist regimes didn’t treat the environment any better. We’ve gotten into a dead-end street, and are accelerating down it. Almost all of us are implicated. That seems like the definition of insanity.

I think it was Gandhi who said, “Be the change you wish to see.” I can’t claim to have done that to any extent. That there may be people worse about it than I am is hardly comforting.


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