It was a nice sunny Spring evening in Boston, around the middle of May, and I was finishing my spaghetti dinner while enjoying a cold beer. It had been a long day; the kind of day where you look forward to coming home, cracking open a cold one, enjoying a refreshing first sip, and watching the condensation build around the bottle as the rest of the evening passes in lazy harmony. We’ve all been there. I was plopped on my couch and I decided to watch some TV. It was around 7PM and as I channel surfed I decided to settle on the Wolf Blitzer report on CNN. Just another day and another guy, getting my news from your trusty mass media conglomerate.
I turned on the news and what did I see? Headlining was the Gulf oil spill, and a live video feed of billions of gallons of oil gushing out of a leaking oil well built in waters over 1000 ft deep; painting the beautiful waters and coasts of the Gulf in black, ravaging communities and wildlife, and threatening to move into the Atlantic.
It was followed by a report on the vicious, historic 100 year flood that destroyed Nashville, TN and displaced thousands of people.
Then a report focused on international relations; it consisted of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exchanging empty barbs with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Empty because, in the end, Iran can do whatever it wants so long as we continue to consume the the daily $100 million of oil we purchase from our so called enemy. It was followed by an interactive piece, an only-on-CNN graphical touchscreen analysis of rising summer gas prices and what it means for 4th of July travelers.
Three months pass. The leak in the Gulf has been fixed, and according to reports, a majority of the oil has been cleaned up. Nashville is now in recovery mode; some estimate it will take years to fully fix the damages. But here, in the Northeast, my life continues to go on as normal. I decide to flip on the news again. I’m greeted with images of my birth-country in flames; devastating wild fires in Russia, the worst in 130 years, during an unusually hot and dry summer. Moscow is in smoke as the death rate doubles in an already congested and polluted city.
Visibility is so poor that my grandmother who lives in Moscow cannot see the road, a 6 lane parkway, that is only 100 yards away from her condominium. The next piece comes on. Not too far away, Pakistan is wasted away by flooding of vast proportions. 14 million Pakistanis have been displaced during an unusually long monsoon season.
The monsoons have affected China as well, where 1100 people have already been declared dead as a result of numerous tragic landslides. The news shift to national affairs; another oil spill, this time at the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. In the Senate, a comprehensive climate and energy bill that was weak to start out with once again cannot be resolved as the Obama administration takes a back seat on the issue. Meanwhile, the administration is contemplating approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the United States; oil that has been harvested by the most inefficient (and shocking) means possible – Canada’s tar sand fields.
Once upon a time in history it was believed that harvesting tar sands for oil was too inefficient. Then oil prices went up.
I turn off the television and I think. I contemplate for a while. What is wrong with our country, I wonder? Why do we continue to blindly look past the devastation brought about by our oil and fossil fuel addiction? We are clear-cutting thousands of acres of pristine forests in northern Alberta for tar sand oil. In West Virginia, we are removing mountaintops for coal while polluting groundwater with unregulated and unlined coal sludge ponds.
We are taking the risk of drilling thousands of feet below sea level to tap the last few remaining oil reservoirs in the world. At the same time, we are fueling formerly undeveloped and unstable countries in the Middle East and other parts of the world with oil money. We are destabilizing global regions with our oil addiction. Oil money flooding into under developed, undemocratic nation-states is a recipe for social inequality and instability. It is ironic when Secretary of State Clinton pledges to end human rights violations around the world when our oil money contributes to human rights violations in the first place.
And yet our government cannot agree on climate or energy legislation. Cap and trade is quickly branded cap and tax. Cape Wind, the nation’s first offshore wind energy farm off the coast of Massachusetts, took a painstaking 9 years to gain approval. As a world leader, we are refusing to take the lead on sustainable clean energy practices. Federal incentives for renewable energy sources were recently cut. In the past decade, federal land out West has been decimated by natural gas drilling. There is little oversight of natural gas, coal, and oil industries; some communities in the western states can turn on their faucets and light their water on fire because of a natural gas drilling practice called ‘fracking.’
Meanwhile, the devastating effects of a changing climate confront us on daily basis. More wild fires, stronger rains, and changing storm systems. Remember Hurricane Katrina? If not, then what about this past winter when New York and Washington DC got hit with more snow than Boston? We face a future of rising sea levels and warmer water temperatures. In Massachusetts, due to warmer waters and damming, ecosystems in rivers are starting to resemble those found in ponds and lakes. Fossil fuel extraction is poisoning us, polluting our water, and forever damaging our ecosystems. Carbon emissions from vehicles, without getting into the global warming debate, are filling our cities with smog and dirty air.
Meanwhile, we spend billions of dollars on a war on terrorism; a war against those whose pockets we fill with oil money. Then our leaders turn around and refuse to invest in renewable energy, citing a lack of funds. Climate change and changing weather systems are displacing millions around the world; devastating communities at home and abroad and killing tens of thousands of people. Terrorism does not displace millions; terrorism does not kill tens of thousands of people a year; terrorism has not devastated communities like Katrina or the Gulf Oil spill has. It doesn’t make your tap-water light on fire or poison the lakes and rivers in West Virginia. But we sit still, trapped in our addiction to oil. It isn’t hard to see why companies invested in fossil fuels are tightening their leash on the status quo when change is most needed; as oil prices increase, Big Oil’s pockets are bursting with money. Oil companies further our addiction by refusing to invest in renewable energy and by lobbying heavily against climate and energy reform. But it’s not all the corporations’ fault; socio-economically the problem is a two way street. Big Oil profits make up a significant chunk of our economy. Our oil based economy directs our international diplomacy and trade practices. International diplomacy and trade go back and dictate decisions at home. And so it trickles down to our leaders, who are unwilling to make changes when change is absolutely necessary; when time is running out and our world is experiencing catastrophic changes in weather patterns.
I recently turned on the news and it wasn’t so bad. I had cause for hope. Change that we can believe in. President Obama has pledged $8 billion to developing a high speed rail network in the United States. Great news, I thought. Rail travel will reduce our carbon footprint and our dependence on fossil fuel as it cuts down on air travel. I decided to look into the topic. Sadly, I ended up with no hope and change that I no longer believed in. Spain, a country the size of Texas, has spent $200 billion on their high speed rail network and China is investing $300 billion. We are investing $8 billion. If real steps toward climate and energy reform are not taken soon, it will be too little and too late for our children.