Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A meditation on the Keystone XL pipeline

Tonight, while listening to a conference call on the Keystone XL pipeline, the TV was on, tuned more or less randomly to the Turner Classic Movies network. The film, The Best Years of Our Lives, made in 1946, explored the complexities of soldiers returning home after WWII.

When talking to friends or in public presentations, folks like me are accustomed to evoking the sacrifice and unity associated with the war effort. We are fond of saying that our fight to defeat Hitler is tantamount to our fight to save the future from fossil fuel emissions.

If we all get together, make sacrifices, change our profligate ways, we can turn this thing around! And build community in the process! Lead the planet!

Looking at this beautiful black and white film, directed by William Wyler, I’m seeing a lot of giant, gas-guzzling cars, and big, high-ceilinged homes, with boatloads of electricity lighting and heating the commodious rooms. I’m seeing handsome horny men returning home, some to welcoming wives, others to soon-to-be wives; vessels of reproduction.

Here comes the Offspring Revolution of the post war period!

This country-wide call I’m on this evening says over 10,000 people attended the Monday night vigil to protest the State Department’s lame assessment of Keystone.

That’s not a bad number for a chilly Monday evening, say the organizers, but in truth I'm feeling deflated — a feeling inspired, or rather de-spired, by this film I’m half-watching while I half-listen to this conference call.

There is no way for us to return to this moment in 1946 and upset this reunion party they’re about to have, an unbridled period of population growth, fossil fuel pollution and transnational financial fabrication.

We can’t take this traumatized country by the shoulders and say ‘hold on, slow down, let’s figure out how to grow responsibly, mindfully.’

They fought the evil and won. They came home to dance drunkenly to “Roll Out the Barrel.” They don’t see the evil they are about to unintentionally create, the one we all share now on this poor bedeviled planet. Too many people, too massive to turn around, too big to fail, too big to survive.

This is exemplified, to me, in any conversation I have about Keystone. Many of my friends read enough about Keystone to know it’s a terrible idea, but they believe — as I do sometimes in the saddest part of my heart — that we can’t stop this juggernaut of oil sands extraction, and if they can’t use the pipeline to transport the toxic goo, they’ll use trains (which they are already doing) or barges (which they are already doing).

It’s as if we’ve surrendered to the forces of commerce, development, progress — and destruction.

Me? I just want to win one. In the ‘70s Republicans and Democrats united to protect our environment, then in the ‘80s we united to restore the ozone.

Since then, it’s just been one long free-for-all of greed and growth.

The black and white people on my TV, which is powered by coal, went through tremendous pain in WWII, and experienced PTSD as a result. In some ways, we never recovered from that; Korea, then Vietnam, then scandal after scandal in the Bush, Clinton and Bush years, with the horror of 911 mixed in.

Okay, I know I’m sprinting through an unimaginable gauntlet, but in truth, all we have is this moment here to pause and reflect.

Our current approach to living on this planet is unsustainable. 

We have more similarities than differences. 

We can do anything if we put our minds and shoulders to it. 

Pick a cause and pour yourself into it, whether it’s Keystone or retiring coal plants or getting kids out into nature.

Pick a cause and kiss it, give it your love, your whole being.  

Who knows, these could be the best years of our lives.