E.P.A. rules to reduce emissions from coal; oil and gas frenzy to increase emissions, and then some

Posted June 4th, 2014 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on E.P.A. rules to reduce emissions from coal; oil and gas frenzy to increase emissions, and then some

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

Okay, it’s good that President Obama is making a bold step on  emissions from coal-fired power plants with the newly proposed EPA rules, should they ever be realized. And I’m all for a “war on coal,” not only the dirtiest fossil fuel around but also part of an industry that has laid waste to hundreds of Appalachian Mountains and valleys, and contaminated land and waterways pretty much wherever it operates. And we all know the limits of Obama’s power with a Congress firmly in the hand of industry lobbyists and campaign contributors.

Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

But this measure is also far short of what is needed – again, should even this measure go through. And we know there is no guarantee of that as the industry, most Repubs, and Dems from coal states line up to oppose these new measures in no uncertain terms.

In addition, we also know that Obama himself has presided enthusiastically over an enormous expansion in oil drilling and championed fracking, a technology that is making more places in this country into industrial fossil fuel factories, with serious costs to water, air, land, along with humans and other living creatures.

So forgive me if I am not wildly celebrating. At least it will get us talking about some of this stuff openly, if also fractiously and often irrationally, as political discourse in this country tends these days. I am pleased that any step at all is being taken, but, as Eduardo Porter says in his column in the NY Times, “A Paltry Start in Curbing Global Warming,” it ain’t nearly enough to keep this planet from heating up rapidly. As he says, the Earth doesn’t really care about our politics; it responds to physical realities. It will warm because, even with these rules in place, CO2 will continue to increase and the chemical make-up of the atmosphere will keep changing and the greenhouse effect will continue to intensify.

More, much more, is needed. Now if Obama would start a campaign around keeping 80% of remaining oil and gas in the ground and switching all fossil fuel subsidies to developing renewables and building a culture around fundamental changes in how we live, then, well – ha ha ha ha! Wouldn’t that be something?

You see, the changes in climate, and the extinctions, and the over-demand on water (where our drinking competes with the gazillion gallons needed for each fracking well, for example), and the contamination of water, air, soil, and living beings by the fossil fuel extraction, processing, and burning industry far outpaces any seemingly grand measures like this one.

It will not keep California’s Central Valley from drying up, and it will not prevent the Ogallala aquifer from being depleted by irrigation, population growth, and other demands being made on it.

So we don’t get complacent, we say, okay, fine – now we must do more.

This piece was posted by a colleague on Facebook today: the brilliant Dennis Meadows, one of the authors of the original seminal work, Limits to Growth, reflecting that his models had predicted collapse around 2030, is now moving up his prediction to 2015-2020. It has to do with something more than the greenhouse effect and more comprehensively with ecological overshoot – that in every way for decades now we have been using up more of what the Earth has to offer us than it can replenish, and putting more waste into it (like carbon and plastics) than it can absorb. That is the wall of limits passed which we cannot go for long. And we are approaching the crash point rapidly.

Source: Global Footprint Network

Source: Global Footprint Network

I urge you to read the article and explore the other links.

You see, contrary to what a lot of national environmental groups would lead us to believe, climate change is not our only problem. Even if we bring down emissions drastically over the next few decades, overshoot would remain the real crisis.

Now some people say that’s because there are too many people. I would like to argue that while we need to take population growth seriously (and we are, growth rates are plummeting all around the planet, but we are still going to reach 9 billion plus before it begins to level off and decline), the real problem is our consumption, our “using up,” our belief that an economy of growth based on consumption and market capitalism is the only way humans can function – that we must all be affluent, comfortable. That quality of life is now based on completely unreasonable measures to which we have become accustomed, while we are actually stressed out, miserable, contaminated with toxins, on pharmaceutical drugs to get through our days, distrustful of one another, and on and on.

Some quality of life – that we have come to measure quality by the stuff and affluent lifestyles created only in the past 50 years or so at the sacrifice of meaningful community, time with family and friends, clean water and nutritional foods, pride in work, and on and on. I would love to see us all begin to strive together for quality of life, the real thing, not this phony world we have made, or worse, which has been made for us. That is the true meaning of “New Creation,” which is the name of our non-profit.

So I offer something else to read, share, discuss – an essay by Dahr Jamail at Truthout about the work of Joanna Macy, “On Staying Sane in a Suicidal Culture.” It is wonderful, and, as usual, her comments are apt, full of truth and wisdom, and  provides a “place” where I hope more and more of us can gather to hold each others’ arms as we seek to stay on the narrow path and not fall into the ditches on either side, as she says in this piece. That language fits well the vision of this project – not that the world is going to come to an end, but that we have to find the path through to the other side of the difficult impasse in which we find ourselves.

Let me know what you think.

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