Saturday, April 21, 2012

Earth Day 2012, Part 1: Hunkering Down

I can't say that this Earth Day finds me particularly sanguine about the future of this planet.  My puny efforts to shore up my half acre and shield it from encroaching doom seem almost like a bad science fiction novel about the end of the world.  Continuing efforts to learn to love the prairie (of which there is really very little left) aren't working especially well--and I frequently find myself indulging in "real estate porn," looking for affordable properties in the desert west.

In the meantime, the carbon sink is wilder than ever except for the patch I've cleared out for tomatoes. We'll have to do a bit of work tomorrow to open up a little more sunny space, but if I can remember to water them, they should do well enough.  But the abundant rain this spring, along with the lack of a true winter, have both meant that the whole place is lush and jungley. I'll have to clear out a mass of mint soon, because it's taking over the entire potager. A lettuce plant from last year has taken over the entire pot, is now nearly three feet tall, and has bolted, producing rather lovely yellow flowers.  The leaves, alas, are too tough to eat.  My Swiss chard is massive and not particularly tasty, but pretty to look at.  The few things I've planted seem to be doing well, and there will be banana peppers for salads along with the tomatoes--but I'm skeptical about my ability to get anything else in before it's too  late. But all this what's going well.

The truly depressing news has to do with oil and gas and tar sands and fracking. There seems to be no end to the American lust for fossil fuels, and the Obama administration is too interested in re-election to buck it.  I'm not sure anyone there really wants to anyway.  I do have to laugh at the far-right characterization of Obama as a Socialist, because he wouldn't know one if it bit him. Hard. On the nose. The Keystone pipeline has been delayed, for "further study," but the lower half of it has received a go-ahead. So now we can expect a large chunk of what's left of the prairie in East Texas to be plowed under in service of transporting oil to the Gulf for processing and (inevitably) to be shipped off to China.  So much for ensuring the energy future of the United States.

I truly long for some really convincing report to announce the arrival of Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas so that the oil industry (which is, of course, a Person, with rights equivalent to mine--or better) might finally put its mighty weight behind alternative energy sources. But it most likely won't happen in my lifetime, and I'm becoming quite thankful that I won't have grandchildren who'll have to deal with the consequences.

Last year's Earth Day post was far more optimistic, and I apologize for being so gloomy this time. But the evidence for climate change mounts daily, and its increasing rapidity is daunting.  All that old crabby utopian social-anarchists like me will be able do do in the future is to sit baking in our lawn chairs under the ravaged no-longer-bearing pecan trees and say "I told you so."

When I think back to that first Earth Day nearly forty years ago, I remember some of the cranky folk I knew then: long-haired hippies crying doomsday slogans and warning of environmental devastation if we continued on our wicked, planet-destroying paths.  For much of the last thirty years we've been wrapped in a cocoon of possibility, insulated against reality, and even gigantic oil spills (the most recent Gulf spill, as Rachel Maddow pointed out on her show last night, has taught us no appreciable lessons) and devastating weather can't shake us out of our complacency.

My only recourse seems to be to build a thicker cocoon.  I've already let the birds plant a perimeter forest around this small plot, and during the summer I can hide out in the back yard between teaching assignments. In the winter I can draw insulated curtains to hold out the cold, if it ever really gets cold again. In a couple of years I can retire and take a trip out west, because Vera's 56 miles per gallon  will probably be enough to make one last visit possible.  At the rate we're pumping oil, there should be more than enough for another decade, especially if the price keeps rising and fewer people drive. 

But it's difficult to muster any optimism at all when the real price of all this pumping will be smuttier skies, less breathable air, smoggier sunsets, and universal lung problems. 

Ever hopeful,  however, I'll spend Earth Weekend in the garden, communing with the bees and butterflies that are still around, enjoying the sultry southern aromas of spring, mowing down prairie grasses, re-reading Morris, and dreaming of utopia. 

May the next year prove me wrong and provide us with a path toward change.

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