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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pipelines Leak

This is an unavoidable rule. At the very least, at some point the entire pipeline will "run dry" and the residue that will remain in the pipe will be lost to the environment. The equipment that pumps and pressurizes oil and gas, hell, even water, leak. Pipelines leak, that's what they do. When we tipple, or top up, there are fugitive emissions that are toxic and deadly, fluid leaks, that's what it does and the higher the octane, the more releases there are. The history of pipelines is rife with catastrophic releases as well as a burgeoning business in prostitution, alcohol and drugs during the construction phase. The boom in any economy based on raping the earth is at least as ugly as the bust. Currently there are those who advocate creating "jobs" through exploiting Mother Earth's greatest gifts. They call them "resources" and claim that they have no value if they are not exploited. I, as a humble citizen of the planet say, "No." to their claims. We do not yet understand the true value of these reserves. We cannot fathom the purpose of billions of years of evolution of life on our planet. Perhaps, in some way that we do not yet understand, the oil acted as a reservoir for the earth's inner warmth, protecting us not only from the heat generated in the core, but perhaps even ameliorating tectonic movement. Won't we have egg on our faces if the very fluids and gasses that we are tapping out contribute to making the planet habitable? Our collective myopia has stung us badly in the past, why do we expect that with respect to fossil fuel, we have all the answers?

The time has come to re-think the value of oil and gas left in the ground. In the not-too-distant future, if there is any left at all, the price promises to continue to climb. The only way to get beyond this is to trend toward bioregional tribes and local sustainable communities in which energy and food, as well as most commodities are produced locally, if not, regionally. Technologies exist for low cost solutions to such difficulties as short growing seasons, poor soil conditions or inadequate rainfall. What we lack is the will. That is the worst thing about losing so many old-timers so quickly. The true meaning of conservation was to conserve, above all else, spend as little as possible as much of the time as possible. It was my grandfather who told me about the three minute shower, he was a true conservative. In my quest to save water, I have done him one better, reducing both the flow of water in my shower significantly and reducing the time spent there even further.

The ugly flip side of  his beliefs was that, above all else, the company that he worked for had his best interest in mind. He expected that if his boss told him to dump toxic chemicals into the Menominee River as the preferred disposal method, that there was enough water and current in the river to dilute it enough so as not to be a danger. After all, he liked to fish in the river. His first child, a son, was disfigured and an invalid, who blessedly died in his teens. Luckily, his daughters all thrived, though one of their sons, my cousin has had various names for his "condition". Now, the least judgmental term you might use is to say he has autism. My grandmother used chemicals that led to her cancer in her independent dry cleaning business, Grandpa got esophageal cancer from the chemicals that his company exposed him to. The current trend to loosen regulations designed to protect the public from industrial chemicals has got to stop. We need to understand the basic fact that "job creators" care far more about the money than the ultimate effects of their actions on people living nearby, their employees or the environment. The bigger the interests and the further removed from the community they become, the less they care.

The pipeline of history itself has sprung a leak. I will continue to attempt to transfer down to future generations my grandfather's ethic of never spending a penny if you could find a way to make due with what you have. I will fix what I have, get creative with things that cannot be used for their original intended purpose and treat as much of my waste as possible as valueable resources for another process and learn to adapt in ways that minimize waste in all my activities. Distributed abundance is nearly inconceivable under our current economic system. For centuries we have been told that there is a dog eat dog world out there and we have to be tough to survive. We have been told that nature is just a fight for survival in a harsh and dangerous world. My experience has proved to me that these concepts are flat out wrong. In nature, abundance and diversity lead to critters being well supplied and cared for in ways that science can hardly understand. In the area I'm from, everyone had enough if they all shared what they had. Similarly, in nature, whatever is unused by on organism, even the bodies of the dead, are gifts to other organisms that use the "waste" as resources for their life cycles. There is mutual cooperation amongst the species, each one playing a vital part in the cycling of water, nutrients and energy.

 In my experience, we never owned the cabin, but someone close to us always owned a cabin that we could all use. The community was like an egg in flour, it held us together and turned it into more than the parts, we gelled as a community. In "those days", we made many sacrifices, invested our resources in one another and we will have to experience this way of life again if we are to survive as a species. Back then, you might have to sleep on the floor, but having people over to sleep on your floor was the cost of being able to travel at reasonable cost. There was always at least a friend of a friend with a boat or truck if one needed to borrow what they could not afford themselves and the multiple layers of relationship sustained more and more layers of "economic" symbiosis as well. Each one of us had a great deal of say in what we did and who we were friends with. There was an identity regionally and community-wide that seems not to exist today. The biggest and best rewarded wheeler dealers in today's economy are far removed from the places they affect through global financial racketeering. The dollars have a virtually unimpeded flow for the wealthiest, yet the real wages that the vast majority of the population have to make due with continue to shrink.

Each time we invest in sustainability, we stem the flow of wealth going into the pipeline that leads to the rich man's pocket. Each time we take a step in the right direction, we keep more dollars in our community, the local environment, simultaneously, we reduce the harm done to the planet and enrich our neighbors. I filled the fuel tank in my car about a month ago. It is still nearly half full. While many folks bemoan the fact that fuel has more than doubled in cost over the last four years, I wish it were not subsidized. I would pay triple the current cost happily if we could produce it without the environmental catastrophes that we have become numb to. Even as I teeter at the edge of poverty, I am wealthy in friends, cared for better than most folks in the world and give thanks for the abundance of the world around me. The culture of capitalism claims to run a tight ship and to thrive on efficiency but anyone who has participated in corporate culture will recognize that throughput, energy and materials that are wasted in the process of production are the rule rather than the exception. Even in the pipeline that brings goods and services to the market, objects and energy leak out. When we look more closely into the corporate culture of greed, we will find the seeds of our own destruction already sown and sprouted. These sprouts are well-rooted and fed a constant diet of nutrients derived from manure in the form of lies. The idea that we can basically roast the Earth, as they do when exploiting tar sands, and capture enough energy to offset the billions of kiloquads of energy required to extract the oil is a bit like the designs for perpetual motion machines.

We need to look to the past to orient ourselves to the future. in 1950, the cost of producing oil was two dollars per barrel. Gasoline was $0.18/gallon. (approx. 4 liters) It was basically free. The oil industry has always been the most profitable industry ever conceived by humans. By 2000, the cost of production had risen to 20-25 dollars per barrel. Gasoline was ten times as expensive as well. The costs of production continues to rise and the last two peaks in production costs were $60/barrel (in Aug. 2005) and eighty dollars per barrel (in Aug. 2008) This, as it happens, may have been the ultimate peak in peak oil. Human beings were extracting around 75 million barrels of oil each day. Unless we spend much larger amounts of money extracting the hard to get oil that is left, our world-wide production will continue to fall, prices will continue to rise and supply will dwindle. Peak oil used to be a concept, now it has become historical reality. Pipelines will not "solve" our problem. Only true conservation will change the rules of the game. Waking up to these important facts sooner, rather than later is the only way to save our communities and lessen the stress that we all face in the future. Organizing on the principle of lack, dissolution and fighting over "scarce" resources has to be supplanted with distributed abundance or we will continue to face mounting environmental damage, increased challenges to our health, threaten our own security, as well as the security of our planetary neighbors and continue to put the whole planet and her ecosystems in jeopardy.

ECO-Tours remains committed to teaching sustainability and sharing with our guests and readers the truth about our ecological impact as individuals, communities and cultures. We have an entire curriculum based on leaving the planet and her people better off and simultaneously producing abundance where Corporate America has created lack. To better understand these ideas, get out in nature, plant a tree, sit with the critters that inhabit the landscape, learn to understand their part in making the planet hospitable to humans. only then can you begin to see the stark contrast between sustainability and rape of the planet. Only then will you begin to know the value of leaving the planet a little better off by our passing. we used to teach orienteering, but as we are finding now, orienting ourselves to the whole of our planetary ecosystem is even more important than finding our way in the woods.

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