Sunday, June 20, 2010

Where the Streets Have No Name


In one view, we can consider everything as unborn, uncreated, and therefore not subject to destruction or decay. 

In another view, we can and do wreak a great deal of mischief and misery with all the best intentions. 

Depending on causes and conditions, anything can happen.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot completely manage all the possible causes and conditions. We can, in theory if not in fact, completely screw up everything.

When people were deciding to drill holes in the Gulf of Mexico in order to pump up oil, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I am certain there are tens of thousands of pages of environmental impact reports, engineering studies, and the like, all of which rubber stamp the notion that there is no problem. 

Turns out there is a problem.
In most whorehouses, if you pay a little extra, you can get the girls to say, "I love you," and this they do quite convincingly. Even though you know it is not true, and even though you have paid for the service, they have the ability to make you believe that which is inherently unbelievable. They are able to do this because you have already suspended rational expectation; you have asked and agreed to be deceived, and in this vacuum, they tell you what you so earnestly want to hear.
Human beings are like that, you know?

As a people, some time ago, we made the decision to protect our lands and the cohabitant creatures we seem to endanger by our very being. We set aside whole regions to these ends, and we designated numbers of creatures as being of "special interest." We wrote laws to accomplish this, and funded huge agencies to enforce those laws.

Except now, in our frantic belief that we must embrace what we call alternative energies -- so-called because they are an alternative to oil -- we are going around breaking the faith with our lands and our creatures. We are deliberately circumventing the laws we made, and the environmental protection policies we established, in pursuit of what we believe is a greater good.

In order to accomplish this, we are paying a little more to hear what we want to hear. Yes, this wind project will impact several protected species, but here is a mitigation plan. Yes, this solar project will impact a protected area, but we will re-quantify its beauty along lines of accommodation.
Bright lipstick. Dark eye-shadow. Long lashes. Languid eyes.
"Baby, you know I love you?" 
We have companies of convenience that come together for a project and then disappear. They are supposedly staffed by "applied biological consultants," "visual resource specialists," and a host of other, instant experts in expediency. They inhabit a shadow world, and speak a shadow language. They count endangered species, or examine endangered views, and then tell us how the damage we intend to do can be "mitigated."

I want to tell you this -- with all of the attention currently being given to the company responsible for the oil spill in the gulf, I believe we are missing the real guilty parties -- we are missing the environmental shadow speakers who made the travesty of offshore drilling possible in the first place.


It may not matter very much to you in the great scheme of things, but here in my little corner of the world the scenario is playing itself out again, in a largely ignored plan to generate 84 megawatts of electric power by means of the wind. Because this is happening in the desert, nobody pays it any mind. After all... deserts are, well... deserts, aren't they?

"Desertification" is an ugly word we use to describe the negative effects of man's abuse of the environment. The very concept reflects our subliminal feeling about deserts as wastelands. However, "desertification" has nothing whatsoever to do with the actuality of deserts, which are pristine eco-systems, teeming with beauty and life. Well, at least they are until we desertify the deserts. Properly speaking, desertification is the deterioration of arid biomes brought about by human activity. 

In America, today, we are preparing to deliberately deteriorate our deserts because we believe -- or we have been led to believe -- that by so doing, we serve a greater good. We are willing to believe that solar power and wind power will somehow lessen our dependence on fossil fuels. We are willing to believe that destroying our deserts is an acceptable trade.

Here, in my desert, the proposed wind project will negatively impact no fewer than fourteen species of special interest -- to include Golden Eagles: the very symbol of America. It will result in the loss of over 2,500 acres of "federally protected" tortoise habitat. It will negatively impact precious groundwater supplies in ways we cannot foresee, placing enormous strain on already fragile and overburdened aquifers. It will not produce any local employment, it will not result in lower energy bills for local residents. The 84 megawatts this project produces will be sold to Nevada, where it will power the colored lights of Las Vegas casinos.

Is this just? Is this what we want? Is this what we need?

Years from now, when all is said and done, there will be no sudden, dramatic episode -- like oil billowing from the ocean floor -- to demonstrate our wrongs. There will be no oil-soaked wildlife, or destroyed beaches. There will be few left to mourn the passing of America's unique, arid lands, because there will be few who remember -- fewer still who care.

There will only be forests of spinning white towers with blinking, red aeronautical lights, and the flickering and flashing that comes at sunrise and sunset. There will only be plains of mirrored silicon, pointed at the blinding sun.

The faded presence of the beings we destroy -- of the raw beauty we defile -- will reduce us as a nation, and as individuals, and we will be demons of our planet. In such event, whether we are to be pitied or feared is a question nobody wants to answer.

It is time to think about less... not more.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

4 reader comments:

Homohabilis said...

So... the "global warming" scam bears its intended fruit: Environmentalists, running scared, are now ready to "compromise" in hopes of saving at least something. And what happens when the next "crisis" demands that we "sacrifice" a little more... and a little more....

Perhaps the biggest problem environmentalists have is that they're basically nice people, who believe implicitly in the value of "compromise" -- while for the opposition "compromise" is simply another tool to use in getting what they want. Note that "developers" never lose by "compromise" -- and they'll always be back for more. Remember Black Mesa? Thirty years ago that sacred land too was "compromised" to feed the insatiable maw of Las Vegas. And then there is -- or was -- Glen Canyon.

Say some psychopath threatens to cut off both your arms. You attempt to defend yourself. "Okay," he says, "how about we compromise: I'll just cut off one arm. Deal?" That's an environmental "compromise".

What has struck me most about the whole "global warming" (now renamed "climate change" since it's been shown that the planet probably isn't "warming" after all) discussion is what hasn't been said, what is never mentioned: that the real problem isn't "meeting demand" (for energy, resources, etc.), but the ever-growing, seemingly limitless demand itself -- and I don't mean just the demand for more stuff.

George Carlin on "Stuff"

Well-meaning environmentalists and other humanists insist that in the context of "global warming", we in the "first world" have to cut back our usage of resources "so that everybody can have enough". I already live pretty simply, but I don't hear anyone proposing that along with limiting demand for resources, the relentless demand for more humans -- particularly among those groups whose "needs" I'm supposed to meet by limiting my own -- could perhaps be restrained, just a bit?

Nah, that's off the table: The inalienable right of every human female to excrete as many new human bodies as she wishes -- and then to offload on the rest of us the responsibility for feeding, clothing, housing and meeting the "needs" of all those bodies ("Don't you have any compassion?") -- can never be questioned. Individual freedom + collective responsibility = disaster.

So long as "everybody" is a continually expanding number, no amount of "compromise" is going to address the problem.

I also live in the "desert" Southwest (though I gather that the area where I live was largely tall grass prairie before Europeans came with non-native livestock that destroyed it); for me the greatest prophet of this land was the late Edward Abbey, who summed up the situation well: "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." And more for the sake of more is what saṃsāra is all about.

"It is time to think about less... not more." A noble sentiment, though hardly new. As my Zen teacher used to say, our practice consists basically of two things: meditation and self-restraint. The latter has been proposed by the wise as the only real solution since humans began to think. Maybe someday....

In the meantime, as Gandhi recommended, we can only be the solution we wish to see for the world. And, as recommended in your recent "Does Samsara Really Need Janitors?", not get caught up in the movie. "Flowers die though we love them; weeds grow though we hate them."

Great photo at the top, by the way; worth the proverbial thousand words.

TENPA said...

Glad you mentioned Edward Abbey. "Desert Solitaire" is a particular favorite, even if it is basically about Utah.

I ran into his son a few years back, working as a greenskeeper for Billy Walters, in Las Vegas. Told me his Mom was doing stained glass or something.

Anonymous said...

And while one 1st-world desert produces energy another 3rd-world desert sucks it up.

A few lines from the Digha Nikaya would go a long way in clarifying the impossibility of establishing a beginning to the universe - the touted trophy of this ambitious undertaking. But no. Lets spend our resources, scarce as they are, on elitist astronomical carnivals and hope that the overseas investment will trickle down to the man on the street. Its the same rationale that ended up with the arms industry becoming the biggest in the world. In order to offset a trade deficit caused by oil imports and a mushrooming services sector, America choose to sell arms. Manufacturing can't stop now, the dollar and a sizable section of business depends on it. The worst part is that an arms industry relies on countries feeling threatened. Even if they had nothing to fear from their neighbours, a state that exports arms would benefit from making them think they did.

Who will pay the annual €100 million operating costs once the fidgety scientists decide its not worth it anymore? What will happen to those people who took out mortgages and started a family, only to find they had no job security in the first place?

Rational scientific endeavour only ever fixes the failings of previous rational solutions, such as wind power making up for our increasing dependence on fossil fuels. But a colossal radio telescope array? The appeal is to hopes so far-fetched that they fall clean out of the range of rational criticism, and back into the irrational. As Raulston Saul puts its, we've arrived at that point in civilization where we can no longer differentiate fantasy and reality.

I really don't see the problem with consumption, so long as its independent. If people made their own energy, grew their own palm oil, did their own research, the world would be a better place. RSA was largely independent due to apartheid sanctions. Now the one good thing that came out of it is being lost, and we haplessly continue Sarah Baartman's legacy of satisfying European curiosities. Rational courtesan's forced to grope and shy in a world of tacit slavery.

David said...

It's all been decadence since we left simple village life. Maybe even before that. Still, my favorite piece of social teaching comes from Lao-tzu:


A small country has fewer people.
Though there are machines that can work ten to a hundred times faster
than man, they are not needed.
The people take death seriously and do not travel far.
Though they have boats and carriages, no one uses them.
Though they have armor and weapons, no one displays them.
Men return to the knotting of rope in place of writing.
Their food is plain and good, their clothes fine but simple,
their homes secure;
They are happy in their ways.
Though they live within sight of their neighbors,
And crowing cocks and barking dogs are heard across the way,
Yet they leave each other in peace while they grow old and die.