Monday, April 22, 2013

Thoughts for Earth Day 2013: There is a price to pay

Andrew Alden at About Geology notes today that he hosted an Accretionary Wedge on Earth Day in 2008. I had only been blogging a few months at the time, but I contributed, and in reading over my post from back then, I see that things haven't changed all that much. In just two months, I'll have the chance to return to my favorite spot on the planet at Cedar Mesa, and hopefully it will look as pristine as it did five years ago. Thanks, Andrew, for the reminder!

Here is my post from April, 2008:

This month's Accretionary Wedge (Accretionary Wedge #8 ) is hosted by Andrew Alden at About Geology, and the entries involve our responses to Earth Day. Mine is a bit late in coming; I reward myself with a blog entry if I get my other work done, and this has been finals week. It's been a bit hectic!

I offer today a picture of my most sacred spot on the planet (so far): the edge of Cedar Mesa at Muley Point. The cliff below the rocks drops 800 feet straight down to a flat plain which is then carved by the San Juan River into intricate canyons some 1,200 feet deeper still. Monument Valley and the Raplee Anticline lie in the distance, as well as the towns of Cortez CO and Farmington NM. It is a precious place to me, full of mystery, beauty and solitude. Ghosts of the Ancestral Pueblo people lurk here, and the fossils of Permian reptiles as well.

But...hidden in the bottom of the deep canyon is the greatest upstream extent of the artifical evaporation pond of Lake Powell. On a 1964 topographic map of the National Recreational Area, there is a notation at Muley Point: "slated for development". In the distance, at Mexican Hat, oil wells pump the black liquid from the ground, and around Farmington, a GoogleEarth view reveals hundreds or thousands of gas wells. Coal is mined from Black Mesa, off to the south, and evaporite minerals are torn from the ground to the north of Canyonlands National Park. Power lines criss-cross the region. My favorite place is under siege.

Of course, we need all these things to live, but the point of my entry today is this: there is a price to be paid. The price takes many forms, from high prices on commodities, in foul air, polluted rivers, extinct plants and animals, and in the almost never recognized loss of the wild places of our planet, the gauntlet in which our ancestors survived and thrived. We have lost touch with the earth that gave us our birth, and which continues to nurture us, despite our abuse. And our abusive ways are about to come to an end, one way or another: we will finally destroy the last of the wild places, drill the last drops of oil and shovel the last lumps of coal, we will melt the last glaciers, and deplete the last soils. Or, we will choose not to do these things, and exist on our planet in a new way: a sustainable existence that finds a way to give something back to our planet.

The environmental movement on our planet has been demonized, trivialized, and marginalized, because, I suppose, it has always threatened the perceived profits of somebody. What have environmental groups tried to do since the hey-day of the 1970's and the first Earth Day? A short list might include:
  • Increase mileage standards and encourage the use of mass-transit
  • Encourage the development of alternative energy resources
  • Decrease emissions from our vehicles, including greenhouse gases and ozone destroying compounds
  • Encouraged laws to protect our water, air and soil
  • Protect the wild places that still remain on our planet
Environmentalists have been the visionaries and the prophets for our planet. They have seen the things we do today to abuse our planet, and offer an alternative path for the future, one based on sustainability. Such ideas run counter to the profit motive of particular industries, and thus environmentalists are attacked as elitists and flakes, while the money continues to flow into the coffers of the energy companies and the developers. But the bills for all of us are coming due...

The oil is running out, and thus the price spikes. We will never see cheap oil again. The mass conversion of agricultural fields to the growth of biofuels is causing grain prices to spike, and we are becoming less and less able to feed the hungriest people on the planet (Malthus is in the air; "Running Out of Planet to Exploit," ). The prices of metals are climbing.

Change is possible, and I sometimes see hopeful signs, and part of my optimism comes from Earth Day, and the works of good people to bring awareness to those who are waking up to the spectre of high prices and resource limits. We have a choice though...we can let the decisions about the future to be made by energy companies and their political lackeys, or we can demand a future based on sustainability. It will take education, and an end to the corporate media's obsession with Britney and Paris, and kidnapped white women, and American Flag Lapels. People, when given the right information, can make the right choices.

Those are my thoughts this week. You are welcome to comment!

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