A man said to the Universe, "Sir, I exist!" "However," replied the Universe, "the fact has not created in me a sense of obligation." -- Stephen Crane (1871-1900)
A reader asked me to write about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, now postponed until 2013.
The 36-inch diameter pipe would cover 329 miles in Canada, cross the border at Montana, angle through South Dakota and Nebraska (with a branch to Illinois). Photo shows truck hauling 36-Inch pipe to build Keystone-Cushing Pipeline south-east of Peabody, Kansas, 2010 (from WIkipedia).
Then it would slice across the eastern third of Kansas through Oklahoma to Texas -- over 2,100 miles in all. The estimated 1.1 million barrels daily of synthetic crude oil from Alberta tar sands would equate to 5 pct. of present U.S. oil consumption, and 9 pct. of our present imports.
Estimates of new jobs vary wildly. Promoters say 250,000. Skeptics say as few as 4,000--most temporary. The environmental degradation to Canada would be (and already is) dramatic. Leaks are a constant worry. If 97 percent of climate scientists have it right, continued fossil fuel burning is a bigger threat. Those who've read my columns know I'm convinced scientists are correct.
But there's an underlying and larger issue: the deception of free market capitalism. It isn't free. It's cracked, and the crack is growing.
The basic premise of free market capitalism is two-fold: First, that selfishness is a virtue. Second, that the material resources of our planet are infinite, and withdrawals or pollution do not require a red ink entry in the ledger. It's not just global warming. The over-fishing of our oceans, the destruction of rain forests, and mining of groundwater in my own region of Kansas are three more examples of many.
Our planet is finite. It cannot supply material appetites infinitely. Yet too many of us in what is called the "developed world" have accepted and internalized the preachment that it can do just that. That is folly.
One hundred years ago, the earth held just 1.7 billion humans. One hundred years before that there were barely l billion. This year our global population reached 7 billion. Today over 5 billion live and are almost sure to remain in undeveloped countries. Most want, and feel entitled, to live as high on the hog as we privileged few. In 40 years another 2 billion will arrive. In the meantime ...
"Quiverfull," a religious movement based on Psalm 127, advocates that women bear as many children as possible: 8, 10, 12 or more. A noted Quiverfull couple (the wife having now borne 20 babies) argued that "if more Christians began producing 'full quivers' of 'arrows for the war' [we could] win control of both houses of Congress, [reclaim] sinful cities like San Francisco and [do] massive boycotts of companies that do not comply with conservative Christian mores. If the body of Christ had been reproducing as we were designed to do ... we would not be in the mess we are today." (Newsweek, Mar. 16, '09) In other words, the goal is to out-breed and win.
Our present paranoia about money, paper or gold or silver -- a "master" the Carpenter warned against serving -- is disconnected from reality. Most of our species, at least in the so-called developed world, are calloused to the disappearance and pollution of our true wealth; that being our natural resources, including our air and water.
The threat corporate plutocrats face explains their hatred of environmentalism. It fuels their campaign against advocates of economic and social justice. The threat is this: environmental solutions will cost the plutocrats power and privilege; they know it and they are scared. It will require serious regulation by a government working for the public interest, not one bought by money. In short, it will require rejecting capitalist greed as an economic, social, and political model.
Ironically, global warming does have the benefit (if you can call it that) of being, not a national nor a regional, but a truly global problem. It is a shot over our common bow, but only one of more coming, created by a "free" market mentality which promotes selfishness as a virtue. It is made worse by an exploding population craving our material consumption and carefree waste. We few whose present economy depends almost exclusively on material consumerism have championed that model to the world.
As the reality becomes ever clearer, so does the choice. If exploitation of natural resources continues without regard for consequences, the rich will keep getting richer -- at least for a while -- and the rest of us still poorer. Government will become more militant and repressive to protect the few, and life will get uglier. There are omens in the streets today.
Our alternate path is to become honest stewards of the planet and realize that becoming our brother's keeper is to the advantage of our species. Otherwise, Ralph Waldo Emerson may have the last word: "The end of the human race will be that it will die of civilization."