How the worlds collide

Posted June 18th, 2014 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on How the worlds collide

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

A reflection to share…

Among the many drivers of global and cultural change is the combination of population growth and density along with the vast and dizzying expansion of industrial culture. We now live on a planet where we can no longer find any part of it that has not been impacted by human civilization. More and more, these realities collide, crash into one another.

A personal example to share. Last week I spent a week house/cat-sitting for friends who live about 15 miles south of me. Their home is in a semi-rural area in northern Racine County. The house is set way in off the road and away from the world of traffic and commuters – though development comes closer and closer, just a few miles away now. They bought this place to have a quieter life – and it is that. It’s a lovely spot. They’ve let the fields on their several acres grow wild. The patio at the back of the house yields to thick woods and a creek down the hill. Lovely gardens out front, bird feeders, the wren house – it all attracts a lot of life.

I used the week as a bit of a writer’s retreat, trying to get more deeply into the book I’m writing out of the inspiration of the Athabasca River Pilgrimage last September, a trip that included several days in the tar sands industrial region. It was a restful and needed time to get quiet inside, to have time for the creative juices to flow, during a string of magnificent late spring days.

Making the visitor feel welcome

Making the visitor feel welcome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TRAVEL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TRAVEL TRAVEL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thing is, there is also a railroad track nearby, a busy one. The commuter train between Milwaukee and Chicago runs along it several times a day. Also freight trains. There used to be several each day. It is part of the Canadian Pacific freight network transporting all sort of goods – grains from industrial farms, ethanol, automobiles, coal, and more.

The placard that identifies the contents of a tanker car as crude oil

The placard that identifies the contents of a tanker car as crude oil

I had asked my friends if they had noticed an uptick in traffic, especially of oil tanker trains. I asked them if they had seen the placard 1267, which would mean those cars are loaded with either crude oil from Bakken (the kind that explodes) or dilbit from the Alberta tar sands. Their eyes widened as they spoke of the exponential increase in trains, and later, once they knew to look for the placard, the long trains with cars that have this telltale sign.

And so, along with all that loveliness was this:

TRAVEL

 

TRAVELTRAVEL

 

 

 

 

 

 

TRAVEL

 

 

 

 

TRAVEL

Coal trains, too.

Coal trains, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so it goes. More and more nature and the industrial world collide – not just in dramatic places like the tar sands, but right in our own local communities.

As I watched these trains, I thought of Lac Megantic in Quebec and wondered what it would be like at my friends house if one of these trains derailed and blew up. Did anyone bother to tell the people living near the tracks what’s passing through their community? Don’t they have a right to know and to be involved in decisions about it? Sometimes for me the crisis of democracy and the real meaning of freedom comes down to this – that we are not even allowed to know what danger, what poisons, are passing through our homes and neighborhoods without our informed consent. Whether it’s fracking wells or oil pipelines or mines or industrial agriculture or a thousand other things the corporate world is doing all around us, closer and closer to us, we are denied the right to know.

By this measure alone we see that corporations have more rights than we do. By that measure, despite all the claims of democracy and liberty in this culture, we are denied some of the most basic human rights imaginable – the right to know what is in our food, water, our soil and air, what dangers come to our communities without our consent.

And so we need urgently to start rethinking what democracy means and just who it is that governments are supposed to defend and protect. It’s time we start expanding our understanding of democracy to include our right to decide what corporations are going go be allowed to do – or not – when it comes to defending not only human life, but the living communities of the planet upon which all life, including our own, depends.

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