Once again, fossil fuels kill and pollute

Posted April 27th, 2010 in Blog, Featured 3 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

[NOTE: this will be my only post this week. Next post next Monday.]

In the past couple of weeks in just two incidents, we have lost 40 lives to the drilling and mining of fossil fuels. Others are injured, scarred for life, traumatized by sudden, devastating explosions from forces beneath the earth that we insist ought to be tamed and exploited for human economies of profit and consumption.  Forty families stricken with tragedy that lingers long after our attentions have wandered elsewhere.

To keep the a.c. running and gas in our cars so we can crawl along freeways in rush hour traffic. To charge up our smart phones so that we can check our email all day long. To keep the bright lights on at car dealerships all across the country, and broccoli in our grocery stores all year long.

Source: NASA photo

Why doesn’t this bother our consciences more? What obstacles – social, psychological, cultural, even religious – prevent us from feeling the bonds between our lives and these human beings?

In the case of Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County WV, company practices seem at the very least to cross the boundaries into criminal negligence, and certainly reveal gross disregard for the lives of their workers – a blatant pattern of gross violations of safety standards and regulations, an anti-union company policy that put workers at greater risk and subjected them to working in conditions they knew were unsafe and dangerous because they feared complaints could cost them their jobs. But this type of corporate behavior in the coal-mining industry seems to bother us little as we pursue the great oxymoron – “clean coal.” Here is the dirt on this claim – it does not take into consideration the lives of these miners, nor the ecological destruction that worsens with every passing day.

Meanwhile, the explosion and sinking of the oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico has put in motion a growing environmental disaster. In this case, higher oil prices have created the economic conditions that make possible the expensive deep sea drilling that was the project of this BP leased rig. Thing is, the farther you drill into the earth’s surface – in this case, a mile and more down – the more volatile the forces into which you penetrate.  Extreme heat and pressure, more trapped gases. [For more info: Robots Working to Stop Leak of Oil in Gulf.]

As of this morning, the oil slick in the Gulf was some 48 miles long and 80 miles wide and still growing. Some 42,000 gallons per day are leaking out from a pipe 5,000 feet below the surface. If capping it does not work, the oil could flow for months. Much sea life is already in danger, and if the flow cannot be contained or stopped, the slick is headed for some of the most fragile and important deltas, marshes and wetlands along our southern coast.

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What are we doing? Really, as we go along with our lives, are we noticing what is going on in our world, what it takes to keep feeding the engine of industrial and technological society with its insatiable appetite for energy and its burgeoning populations?

Do we stop, even in the face of 40 funerals, to ask what in the world all this is for?

We have argued for a long time now that the ecological crisis is focused too much on global warming and climate disruptions unfolding with the assumption that if we could just fix this problem somehow, slow greenhouse gas emissions, our la-la land of endless economic growth can go on apace, new consumer items, new hi-tech toys, more international travel, more suburban and exurban development, more retiring to warm deserts with the huge amounts of energy required to create comfortable habitats, more demand on shrinking fresh water supplies, and on and on.

The easy-to-get oil is pretty much tapped out. So we go deeper, it gets harder, more expensive, and we go still deeper, sinking our straws into the earth until we can suck out every last possible drop to stave off the inevitable – like the announcement of the Kuwaiti oil geologists that we will reach global peak oil in 2014. So, then, let’s drill and suck still deeper, causing ever more ecological disaster, while putting off the inevitable for which we, in this society, will be uniquely unprepared – the post-oil economy.

In the follow up stories to the oil rig disaster, it is stunning to me how the 11 presumed dead are hardly meriting mention anymore.  What are their names and when are their memorial services?

Friends, we are in a serious moral quandary here. Because our lives have become so fast-paced, stressed out,  because we are now addicted to constant stimulation from the internet, smart phones, and cable TV, because our population has grown so quickly and we are feeling crowded and overwhelmed, we seem to have lost some basic connections with our fellow human beings, the conditions of our local and global communities, our relationship with the natural beings and eco-communities in which we are embedded.

Wounded Earth - Mary Southard, CSJ

The mine disaster, the oil rig disaster – these are fresh wounds inflicted on the human family and on the earth. If these tragedies don’t inspire us to change the way we do business, the way we live, then I don’t know what will. Are the convenience and pleasure of our hi-tech gadgets, or our insistence on constant mobility, or our ever-bigger houses and exurban sprawl, really more important than these lives or the marine life of the Gulf of Mexico? Are we so far removed from the things that really matter – beauty, joy, love, community, the search for meaning, poetry and art, a walk along the lake, the integrity of the earth’s abundant living systems – that we can no longer feel what is happening to us and the planet?

We have also said, ecological hope rests in our reconnecting with our planet, re-finding the place of the human within creation, shedding our human hubris and arrogance, restoring a little humility to the human presence, a bit of awe before creation. When we can feel these wounds deeply within our own sense of being, when we can feel the grief of this wounded planet and human community, maybe we can begin the process of re-creation – re-creation of the human within a framework of meaning that treasures the earth, rather than using it up for its own selfish ends.

[PS – just saw this notice, that yet another young coal miner was killed in yet another accident in West Virginia last week. More than 104,000 coal miners have been killed in mining accidents over the past 100 years. That does not count the thousands who have died, and continue to die, from Black Lung disease.]

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3 Responses

  1. hombredelatierra


    Here is a litany on Peak Oil. One energy investment expert claims that there is a deliberate “cover up” of the issue by US media. If true, not surprising: media moguls and oil company execs belong to the same club (inbreeding!), and then there’s the question of who buys publicity on the mass media..

    To minimize the damage of the transition to the new economy (post peak oil), we will need to cut per capita energy consumption radically. People need not starve but we will need to replace cheap energy, outmoded technologies and capital with human and biological resources: hand labor, animal labor, biotech (“green machines”: think beer or yogurt production..). Human resources include aptitudes like sharing, co-operation, and ingenuity..

    More things will need to be produced and consumed locally / regionally. One of the interesting observations of the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland was the heavy impact on European economies. This was due, in part, to excessive air travel. But part of the damage was due to the lack of local community resilience (auto / self – sufficiency): people import food rather than produce / consume local foodstuffs. (Do we really NEED mangoes and pineapples in Canada.. People lived here for thousands of years without them!).

    The problem with the current industrial system is that it lacks resiliency: a volcano erupting thousands of miles away stops you from eating. This is madness.

  2. Steve Salmony

    Oil spills have been occurring for long time. Look at Australia, Ecuador and Nigeria as other examples. Why is some part of oil industry profits not immediately directed into a One-Hundred Billion Dollar Trust Fund for a GREEN Earth? Such a global superfund will direct capital to the global clean-up of the messes that have already been made as well provide to the development of technologies that reduce the risk of spillage from oil rigs. Given the environmental damage we have seen occur worldwide, such a step appears long overdue.

  3. hombredelatierra

    “Why is some part of oil industry profits not immediately directed into a One-Hundred Billion Dollar Trust Fund for a GREEN Earth?”

    I think I have (part of) the answer: the effective propaganda campaign waged by reactionary, pro-corporate interests in the post WW II era (Cold War era and beyond). I recall as a kid back in the 60s reading about employers in Orange County, CA specifying “One Worlders need not apply”. “One-Worlders”, “humanists”, “liberals” and “Internationalists” were linked to “commies”, “reds”, “socialists”,.. I was also told that “everybody” (in our town) “knows that the United Nations is controlled by Communists”. The smear campaign of the Right has worked marvelously! Even today one reads on blogs comments like “leftists (environmentalists, homosexuals)…”

    As the Global Warming deniers say, “follow the money”. In this case it is a case of “following the smear trail”. Where does it lead back to? Who benefits?

    R: An anti-internationalist, anti-ecological stance benefits the fossil fuel industries, especially oil and gas. They do not want global regulation of their environmental impacts: just google some sources on 3rd world environmental degradation caused by oil extraction! Corporations also play off workers in N. America against 3rd world oil workers: think “3rd world sweat shops for N. American sweat shirts”. Divide and conquer! is an ancient, well tested strategy..

    I just wonder how the wrath of the “masses” will manifest when they realize how deeply, how completely and for how long they have been “had”.

    You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. – A. Lincoln

    What goes round, comes round – anon.

    The gods blind those they would destroy. – Sophocles

    As a man sows, so shall he reap. – Jesus et al.

    How will the rage of the masses be canalized? Will it flow tragically into scapegoating (think Rwanda)? Or will we succeed in canalizing their rage into re-constructing the ecological – economic – human bases of our societies? Impossible to answer at this time..

    But at LEAST things are moving and we are being forced to move, whether we realize it yet or not. That, at least, is reason for optimism however guarded.

    As I wrote to a friend a couple of minutes ago, we are today passing through the Mother of all Tipping Points: “No aspect of society is untouched by the multiplying, intensifying, mutually reinforcing crises and systemic breakdowns: climate, habitat, economics, geopolitics, human demographics, resource assessibility, biodiversity (including that of agricultural species), culture, spirituality..”