The decisions we face are huge!

Posted July 9th, 2014 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on The decisions we face are huge!

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

Here is just one example – out West where the water crisis has already begun:

Chevron admits the truth: Oil shale will use huge amounts of western water

A choice here – water or oil shale. Energy for economic growth and development or water for people, animals, plants, the watershed = LIFE

To put this decision into context, read this magnificent essay on what is happening to the Colorado River.

The Day We Set the Colorado Free

Against that backdrop, this act of reverence for the river, check out the new reality of the US Southwest as climate change deepens drought and starts a process that many climatologists believe is a permanent aridification of that part of our world:

The unprecedented water crisis of the American Southwest

Then keep in mind that current estimates predict that 20,000,000 more people will be moving there in the next decade of two.

You know this is not possible. And yet, despite the water scarcity unfolding in the region, now comes one of the most reckless industries ever devised by Man [sic] – fracking. If we were at all a sane species in tune with its Home Planet, we would halt fracking – not only for the water usages and looming shortages, but for the permanent, terrifying contamination of much of the water it injects into the Earth and into aquifers and groundwater (see for example: Oil and Gas Operations Are a ‘Death Sentence for Soil‘, Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals Linked to Fracking Found in Colorado River, and Environmental Impacts: Water, from Greenpeace USA, a good overview of the fracking industry’s problems of contaminants, including heavy metals and radioactive waste).

Fracking wells in Colorado - Source: Ecoflight & Greenpeace USA

Fracking wells in Colorado – Source: Ecoflight & Greenpeace USA

If we were at all sane and in tune with reality, we would call a halt to the logic of economic growth that depends on industries like these. And if we were sane, we would simply not allow another 20,000,000 people to move to the Southwest.

Does this conflict with “freedom” and “rights?” Then it is past time to redefine what we mean by both of those words. Because if we can allow a corporation to drain down water in the West and to contaminate most of what it then puts back into the Earth in the name of economic freedom, or in the name of Koch-branded Libertarianism, or in the name of “growth,” then we are in trouble indeed, headed for wasted parts of our world in which people and other living beings will no longer be able to survive.

Last year it was reported that some farmers in New Mexico, suffering from the extreme drought, began selling their water to the oil and gas industry, in effect draining the aquifer in order to save themselves financially. Again, the logic of this – to deepen the crisis by trying to save yourself from it while exacerbating the very thing bringing it about – is where we end up in a society of competing individual interests, rather than one with a collective commitment to act for the common good, or even more importantly, for the good of the commons.

How can our water security be left in the hands of individual “owners” of water? And how did we ever arrive at such a pathological understanding of economics? Water is not a thing, it’s not a car I can put in my garage and drive when I feel like it. Water flows, it is life, it is the reason there is life on this planet. It cannot be held in place. IT CANNOT BE OWNED. That we think anyone can own it, have unique individual rights to it, is a central reason that we are not only unprepared for the water crisis coming with climate change and overuse, but are also culturally and politically unable to deal with that crisis as it unfolds. Instead, the predictions are for competing interests duking it out, for bloodshed and war as people struggle for something so basic to life.

See for example: A Parched Future: Global Land and Water Grabbing, and Calming the West’s Water Wars.

Yes, our choices have become that stark. I include this video here for your reflection.

Water in the Anthropocene from WelcomeAnthropocene on Vimeo.

How are we going to live on this changing planet? How do we make decisions based in the reality of the planet, of the changes already underway in this rapidly unfolding Anthropocene, and make them with justice in mind, moral principles that value not just human life but the integrity of all creation? What is freedom if it is reduced to the market that allows the wholesale destruction going on around the planet, which undermines the future of life itself?

In my local paper this morning, the Business section had an article about the desire of our local utilities corporation, WE Energies, to diversify its source of coal for its coal-fired power plants. Wisconsin remains quite dependent on coal, and one of the deeply disturbing realities for me personally is the awareness that some of the electricity I use, even to post this, comes from mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR) in Appalachia. Now WE wants to begin importing coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin because it is cheaper. It is cheaper in part because more MTR coal is being exported to China. With this flexibility, WE will be able to juggle its sources depending on prices and save its customers some money.

Rape for coal - photo: Vivian Stockman

MTR coal mining – photo: Vivian Stockman

WE completed a new coal-fired plant just south of Milwaukee in 2009-2010. Projections for rapid development in Racine and Kenosha counties have raised predictions for power demands.

What if we were willing to pay more to keep the mountains of Appalachia intact? What if customers would rather not get their power from strip mining east or west but would rather have solar panels on our houses and wind turbines powering our communities?

You see, we are not really paying the true costs of the destruction, nor is WE Energies. The ecological destruction of mining is an “externality” not entered into the price of coal. Believe me, if we had to pay per acre for the land destroyed and the mountains blown up, or for the contamination of rivers, creeks and watersheds, for the health costs of those sickened or killed by the contamination of water, air and soil, the cost of these fuels would put these corporations out of business overnight. Suddenly, solar, wind, and scaled-down, simplified lifestyles with regulations on water use, development, and population growth that is sustainable within local bioregions would look welcome indeed.

And we wouldn’t have to expend so much spiritual and psychological energy in living the denialism of our culture, burying the guilt most of us feel, and the helplessness, for living as we do.

The decisions we face are indeed huge, bigger than humans have ever faced in our evolutionary history – because we have never had to deal with crises that had planetary implications, that involved the total life community of the age, an eco-community which right now is rapidly unraveling.

When I think about humans who can intend to do what Chevron wants to do in the drought-ridden West, or to continue intentionally poisoning human and other living communities downriver and downwind from the Alberta tar sands industrial sites, I wonder what has happened to us, to our sense of ourselves, to our ethical barometers, to our understanding of our dependency on the planet for every breath we take, every drop we drink, every source of nutrition and health.

If we can’t find that moral compass, how will we make good decisions – and with so much at stake?


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