What’s that definition of insanity again…?

Posted February 7th, 2014 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on What’s that definition of insanity again…?

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

Where to begin? There is so much news related to ecological mayhem and crises that I have had troubled the last couple of days figuring out where to start. I’m all set to post, and something else comes up. Well, lets get the list going and then see what it tells us about our reeling world.


Photo: Margaret Swedish

A most obvious one for this project is the State Department’s troubling environmental report on the Keystone XL pipeline. There are many good stories on this so I’m not going to go into it in any detail. Check out this story from the excellent Ecowatch, which contains a link to the actual report.

Basically, it comes down to saying that the pipeline will not add to carbon emissions (the singular focus of Obama’s years-long decision-making process on whether or not to approve it), so we may as well go ahead and say yes to TransCanada, the tar sands industry, the construction unions, the conservative Democrats in oil states, and Canada’s heavy-handed Prime Minister of the Oil Industry, Stephen Harper.

So far nothing Obama has said indicates that he would not approve the pipeline merely because the tar sands industry itself is monumentally destructive, of which GHG emissions causing climate change are only one aspect of that destruction (see posts from late September and early October for my own first hand accounts of that destruction).

Then this story appears in my email queue this morning: Canadian Tar Sands Poised to Flood European Market as US Considers Lifting Oil Export Ban. Now we get a better sense of what all these pipelines and oil tanker car trains are really about. You begin to see the real motivations behind the boom. Others have reported that most of the tar sands oil has little to do with the US quest for “energy independence,” what sparked Obama’s enabling of the fracking and drilling that invades more and more of our nation. Canada’s real goal in developing the sands is to become a global petro-power (Harper has said as much), moving the oil from the vast Alberta reserves across their country and ours to ship it off to the rising industrial powers in Asia, especially China. Now we see that’s only part of the story.

“Recent developments in Europe and the U.S. are setting the groundwork for a surge in Canadian tar sands production.

“In both regions, government leaders are considering proposals that would loosen import and export regulations for the fuel, which has been estimated to produce 23 percent more greenhouse gases than conventional oil.”

Can’t you just see the calculations here? The US and Canada are rubbing their hands eagerly at the thought of what the influence of all this oil could mean in the context of the oil dependent global economy – power and domination, lots of it. See, if it was only about energy independence, it would be about what we burn. But we don’t burn that much tar sands oil, inundated as we are by sweet crude from Bakken, off shore-drilling, and all that natural gas from tens of thousands of fracking wells sprouting over the US landscape.

Credit: National Resources Defense Council

Credit: National Resources Defense Council

“Lifting the ban could…help to turn the U.S. into a conduit for Canadian tar sands. Under this scenario, Canadian crude oil would be extracted from tar sands deposits in Alberta, sent to American refineries in the Gulf of Mexico—either by rail or via the contentious Keystone XL pipeline—and then shipped to worldwide export markets.

“A large-scale dismantling of the European FQD and an end to the American crude export ban would open the floodgates, allowing Canadian tar sands to flow into refineries and gas tanks the world over.”

The US and Canada, two close allies who in finding ways to extract oil and gas from shale and tar sands are now also finding ways to join together to become petro-states.

I hope I’m wrong. Maybe all of this really is just about oil and gas company profits and their sway over politics by way of campaign money, powerful lobbies, and bought politicians. That may be true, but more and more I think I’m right about the political intentions here.

So, next on the list, fracking – the explosive (at times literally) industry wreaking environmental havoc from the east’s Marcellus Shale to Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming – I mean, it’s almost a longer list of states where it’s happening than where it is not. Of course, in my poor state of Wisconsin, where we have no fossil fuels at all, we just burn them, fracking is destroying large areas of our western counties by way of strip-mining our precious sand hills for the silica sand coveted by the industry.

Here’s a sobering story: Fracking’s Terrifying Water Usage Trends Spell Disaster. Check out the map that accompanies this story. Fracking, which uses huge amounts of water, is going on in some of our most drought-stricken states. The green energy investment group, Ceres, that just released an alarming report about this, posted a USA Today article on their website that begins:

“More than half of the U.S. oil and gas wells drilled using fracking technology since 2011 have been in drought-stricken areas

“The USA’s domestic energy boom is increasing demands on water supplies already under pressure from drought and growing populations, a new report says.

“The water-intensive process used to extract oil and gas from shale underground — known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking — has required almost 100 billion gallons of water to drill more than 39,000 oil and shale gas wells in the U.S. since 2011, says Ceres, a green investment group.”

So let’s just mention California here. There is fracking going on in California, and Gov. Brown is considering ramping it up. There is also an “exceptional drought” that is drying up a state in which farms, reservoirs, and groundwater are disappearing. Some communities may run out of water within the next couple of months.

Read more here on The Unprecedented Water Crisis of the American Southwest, from Scientific American. My advice: don’t move there anytime soon.

There is a long list of reasons why using water for fracking is monumentally reckless, especially when water scarcity is becoming a main topic of conversation (and fear) globally in our warming world where demand for water increases exponentially every day – for cities, agriculture, and industrial development. But one of the reasons why the word “terrifying” is in that headline from the Common Dreams article is because of what Richard Heinberg of the Post-Carbon Institute says in the Scientific American article:

“Nationally, only about 50 percent of fracking wastewater is recycled. Billions of gallons of freshwater are still taken from rivers, streams, and wells annually for this purpose, and—after being irremediably polluted—this water usually ends up being injected into deep disposal wells. That means it is no longer available to the hydrological cycle that sustains all terrestrial life.”

No longer available. In a drying world, in a world of looming water scarcity, we are contaminating and burying underground forever water the Earth needs (indeed, created) to recycle the moisture the planet needs to maintain life. Are we really this insane?

Not to mention the earthquakes these injection wells are causing in places like Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Now let’s tack on one more to put all this in another, even bigger context: … Warming on Course to Continue for Generations.

“The planet is continuing to warm, with implications for generations ahead, and temperatures are set to rise far into the future, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reports.

“It says 2013 was  among the 10 warmest years since modern records began in 1850… Thirteen of the 14 warmest years on record have all occurred in this century.

“‘Our action—or inaction—to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases will shape the state of our planet for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,’ said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.”

So this is about as long as I should let a post be, right? And I still have this list – the chemical spill in West Virginia, the consequences of which continue to the point where some parents are heating snow to wash their kids because the water is still so bad; or the coal ash spill in North Carolina, the third largest in US history; or factoids like this one – that more oil was spilled from railroads in 2013 “than the previous four decades combined, or over 1.15 million gallons!!

Okay, if I’m getting depressed writing this, I’m sure you are reading this. I could write another post (and will) listing some of the great grassroots organizations and the good people engaged in courageous work to confront all of these indignities to the planet, who are working to counter the self-destructive tendency of this inexorable logic that dominates the global industrial/technological culture. I write this stuff with references to give us tools for our work – knowledge, vital information, resources and experts we can cite – not to wear us down with despairing fatigue. I write this stuff to give us a deep motivation to not give up, to not let this relentless assault on the planet and our future go on without resistance and faith that it can be turned around.

It can. Not in an easy future, because that hope is behind us now, but, eventually, through struggle and sacrifice and the best of intentions, a better future than what this fossil fueled way of life is offering us.

FAMILYI posted this quote from Zen poet Ryokan on Facebook today: “To enjoy life’s immensity, you do not need many things.” That is the beginning of a “spirituality” that can get us through the difficult time descending on our world. The next part, after committing to enjoying life by not needing many things, is to do that in community and in solidarity with others around the world moving in a similar direction.

We need to stop as much as we can providing fuel for this individual consumer economy that is so energy intensive and ecologically abusive. Ironically, the path of our consumer-based individualism leads to collective suicide. The ecological (interrelated, interconnected) reality of our world is going to prove this point.

Or else we can prove it by showing the reverse – that living simply, locally, justly, in community and solidarity, means living ecologically and thereby carving a path to a new sustainable future.


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