I Choose Life

In my neighborhood, we have a couple of streams running through and a few drainage ditches. This is the reason I moved here. When I was little, when I would visit my grandmother, there were streams in her neighborhood where the kids would play. We would walk through the water with our bare feet and lift up the rocks, looking for “craw-dads” and salamanders. Sometimes we would find a snake on the bank, a small green one we could pick up, or a long black one that would be the hot topic for the next hour. It was paradise.
Little did I know then how precious and scarce water would become in my own lifetime. We don’t see it now, but I assure you, it is. Only 1% of the water on earth is drinkable. 1 billion people live without clean water. And with our industrial (mining) applications, especially the rush to drill for gas, we are using it up at an alarming rate.
I know you’ve heard it all before, but it amazes me how many people are in denial on this, and other, subjects of environmental import. As if we could live without water. If capitalism is so great, why does the pursuit of profit always end up infringing on someone’s right to something, in this case, clean water? The gas companies are making major, mongo bucks on the gas boom, meanwhile using up water and destorying land values, dredging up radioactive shit from deep inside the earth, scarring the landscape and leaking methane into the atmosphere (which is, by the way, 100 times worse than CO2 for its effect on the climate) and no one seems to be too much bothered by it.
OK. Not NO ONE. There are a lot of people out there like me who see the problem and understand it, who are calling for change, but right now, there is a greater number who apparently would rather have the short-term gain of cheap energy and huge profit than clean water for the rest of our lives. From the lowly workers on the rigs, to the CEOs, to the President himself and everyone in between, there is tidal wave of support, apathy, and ambiguity that keeps this country and the rest of the world in the grip of this industry.
Don’t get me wrong. I am for cheap energy, good jobs, a growing economy, and lots of money for everyone, but you can’t have all that and clean water, too. Not with shale gas extraction the way it is currently done. When I think about the fact that it is EITHER water OR gas, and most people are going for the gas, it amazes me. We can’t live without water, and the process of gas drilling destroys it. Either we have a whole lot of ignorance on the subject, or people are SO selfish that they really don’t give a shit about this planet, or at least their own progeny.
When I think of this, it makes me angry. I know it shouldn’t. I lean toward being a Buddhist. I feel there are many great lessons to learn from Buddhism. This ancient and noble tradition tells us that nothing is permanent, except change. Life as we know it will not exist one day and that will be OK. I guess the message is that I should just accept it, but I can’t.
If it were a matter of natural processes, I would. If it was floods, hurricanes, meteors, it would be easier to take. But we, the human race, who are supposed to be so blessed, the Children of God, we have taken this earth and bent it over our knee and broken it. She is dying because of our greed and selfishness. This hurts me to the core, especially when it is preventable. We are capable of so much more.
My husband says this is part of the natural order of things. Humans are inherently evil, if you believe the Christian line, but for Christians, there is a way out. God will take us up to Heaven (if we’re good) and all will be well in the end. I don’t agree so well with all of that. I believe that heaven or hell is here and now, what we make of this life. And we only have one chance. I am not sure I believe in reincarnation either, but even if I did, it wouldn’t help here, because we are destroying the planet so even if we are reincarnated, we won’t have a place to go.
My husband wonders at my anger and passion over all of this. It is too much for him. He is much older than I am, in a different stage of life. He can’t sustain anger, especially since he came down with a heart condition about six years ago. He has always been a type A person, angry and bitter about things, seeing through bull shit and calling it. That is why I married him. But over the years, I saw his bitterness eat through him. Is this what is going to happen to me? I wonder if I will be around that long, if we all will be.
My husband take the position that all we can do is take care of those close to us. Where I want to save the world, he realizes that that is impossible. And even if we are to change the world, we have to start close to home. That is what he does, and it’s enough for him. I understand it. I use enormous amounts of energy trying to educate people about these problems and sometimes I think I am getting nowhere. Why do I do it?
Is it because I believe in the inherent goodness of people and that somehow the truth will win? I used to believe that, but I have seen too many good people abandon their principles like a sack of potatoes where money is concerned. Here, in my small WV town, gas drilling jobs are among the highest paying anywhere. In fact, they are the only jobs anywhere, for most people here. There is not a large educated constituent, nor do our leaders do a lot of outside-the-box thinking. Innovation waits in line here after opportunity. In our resource-rich state, opportunity means, “Drill, Baby, Drill.”
My neighbors, who raised not only their own children, but their grandchildren as well, have just put a new tin roof on their house. It is red, my favorite color. They both drive really cute little VW Bugs; hers is light blue, his yellow with a black racing stripe. Their life has improved immeasurably since he went to work for the gas company, researching and helping them buy up all the mineral rights in the state, helping them own it. I don’t begrudge him his material pleasures, a pleasant retirement. They have worked hard all their lives and always done the right thing, and they deserve a break in life. What I have trouble with is the idea that my well-being depends on environmental destruction, and somehow that makes it OK. To me, it is NOT OK.
I know there is no way I can fix this. I cannot save the world. Not by myself. But maybe, just maybe, if I keep the faith and work hard and long, I can help. I can educate people, if they will listen, teach them the dangers of this course of action, and show them the way. There ARE better ways to get energy, if only everyone would work together. Isn’t that what they teach in school? Team work?
Do we not care about the fate of others? THIS is the litmus test. How evil are we, really? Maybe the Christian view is right. Maybe we are born to sin and there is no way out except to believe in Jesus. But so many of the Jesus lovers I know really don’t know what he said. They lay claim to the Bible, but the lessons escape them. Jesus and Buddha both spoke of compassion and love. Selfishness has no place in that.
Christians are pro-lifers. Usually, that is interpreted to mean anti-abortion. I submit that if we do not stop this freefall, we will abort the entire human race. It is time to put our morals into practice. Only together will we succeed. The selfish way is the way of death. We have a huge problem looming before us, and very little time to fix it. It is scary, I know, to think of putting ourselves on the line for such a cause. We may make enemies, or lose friends. But we need to ask ourselves what is more important: easy energy and quick money in the short term, or a beautiful healthy earth for our children, their children, and beyond. Time to pick teams.
What team are you on? I know my team. See you at the game.


Be the Water

Water is amazing. It hit me today. Every morning I walk my dog, and after we get home, I wash her off so I can let her into the house again. Today, I also had picked up a trash can lid out of the gutter, which was covered with mud. I used my garden hose to spray off the dog and then the lid, all the while wondering at how water at high pressure can clean things. Water can be soft and gentle, or hard and unrelenting. It can fortify or destroy. It is necessary for life, but can also be an agent of death and destruction. But the most important thing about water is, it is finite. There is only so much of it. And once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Only 1% of the water on earth is fresh water. We have polluted much of it and continue to do so with our pursuit of dirty energy. Think of all the ways in which we use water. We drink it, of course. We cook with it, bathe in it, swim in it. We use it for cleaning, for art (painting), to water the plants. We use it for enjoyment (think fountains). We wonder at what it can do to landscapes over time. It comes from the sky and falls to earth, stored in large bodies called ponds or lakes, then evaporates again, traveling around the globe. It freezes into crystals and collects into dew drops. It is truly a blessing, and life as we know it would not exist without it.

Why, then, do we squander it so? We are so cavalier with it. We use too much of it. We dump trash and chemicals into it. We chlorinate and fluoridate it. We use it for industrial applications, especially dirty energy uses (coal, oil, and gas) and render it into poison. Why would we do this with such a limited, precious substance? Have we gone mad?

I believe we have. We in this country have become so used to our stance as the top-dog that we are loathe to let go of it. To most of us, that means consumption. We don’t feel right unless we have enough to throw away. But are we really at the top? If you look at things that matter, like education, food security, economic stability, and even freedom, it is clear to anyone with a brain that we can do better. And we have. But something has weakened us. We did so well economically in the 1950s, perhaps our hubris soared to such heights then that we can’t imagine any other way.

I propose a more humble approach. I know this won’t be popular, but it will be what saves us, if anything can. My mother was a Depression baby. She taught me to conserve, be frugal, not spend money on things I don’t need. She taught me to reduce, reuse, recycle before it became fashionable (sadly, out of necessity). It used to be a principle of living, that went beyond material things, but now it’s all just propaganda. Have we really reduced our consumption? I don’t see it.

If you haven’t heard of the Pacific Garbage Patch, you should look it up. It is an island of plastic and junk floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, three times the size of Texas. Every one of the seven oceans has one. Lately here in WV, since the coal chemical spill that tainted the drinking water for 300,000 people, there has been a stark increase in the number of plastic bottles consumed, because the people no longer trust their water supply, and can you blame them? Many in the Charleston, WV area will not drink the water, preferring to spend money they shouldn’t have to on bottled water, but do they recycle? Some estimates say we only recycle 1% of the plastic that we buy. This means the rest is going into the trash, and into landfills, where it will leach BPAs into the soil and water table, but some of it will escape and find its way into the waterways and eventually into the oceans, moving into the vortexes, where it will be pulverized into tiny fragments that are eaten by fish (thus, eventually, by us in many cases) or float in the water where the BPAs and other compounds will leach into the ocean and poison the organisms there, eventually finding their way up the food chain.

Why are we so blind, or stubborn, or ignorant as to allow this to happen? I know the earth is really big, but there are over 7 billion people on the earth and it will only increase exponentially. As our numbers increase, our footprint is only going to get bigger. If we don’t stop it, or slow it down markedly, we are going to kill the earth’s ability to sustain life. I believe it’s going to happen soon.

But, as always, those with money will probably be OK. They will be the ones that can buy their own aquifers (*cough* Bush Family *cough*), or pay to move out to a space station. Maybe they will pay for the research to create water, but they will own the patent for it and only a few select individuals will be privy to it. And after a few generations, the human race will start again, but the genetic makeup will be different. The variety will be gone. We will spawn from a race of rich people. What kind of people will these be, people who buy up aquifers for themselves instead of safeguarding what we already have, for the good of all?

I imagine the world like something out of a Star Trek episode then. Their children will look out the window at the planet that was once so wondrous, now as desolate as the moon. Maybe they will remember that is was us who destroyed it, or maybe they will be taught a mythical version of history. What, then, will become of ethics? Will they teach right and wrong to their children, or will the memory of what we could have done but did not be so painful that all they will know is lies? 

It is sad to think that we could destroy something as beautiful and majestic, something as amazing and perfect as the very planet we live on. We have such intelligence, such power, we could stop it now. Right now. Before it’s too late. It seems that isn’t going to happen, though. The people who understand how catastrophic this is aren’t being listened to. Greed and consumption are winning. We must have dirty energy, so that large companies can profit, and the people can continue to consume and live at the high standards we have become accustomed to, instead of scaling it down so that we can live here for a few more generations.

It seems that beauty is always worth preserving. Perfection is hard to come by, but this planet with all of its perfectly attuned processes and amazing life forms is pretty close. I have a friend who always reminds me, when things are tough, to be the water. It is very Zen, this statement. Be the flow, the quiet, the life. I am trying, honestly I am. When I look at the greed and destruction around me, I want to be a hurricane, a tsunami, a water fall, or a flood. I want to rush through, tearing up the bad things and starting all over. And afterward, the calm.

I hope we still have water by the time my grandchildren are born. Then I can show them the water and they can touch it and feel it and learn to be it. I want them to be able to learn the Zen lessons that it carries within its fluidity. I want it to still mean something when I say, “Be the water.”