Friday, May 28, 2010

Three Dollar Gas

The paradox of driving the car to the beach and wondering how long before these scenes are smeared with oil did not escape me. I took Cheyenne to her favorite beach on the southern shores of Big Pine Key and we did some beach combing. She with her nose, me with the camera. There are certain features of life in this sub tropical paradise that take adaptation, including the frequent presence of seaweed on the beaches. Not that beaches in these limestone islands in any way resemble the long sandy strands of mainland Florida, a different geologic world altogether.Cheyenne is no water dog, in her former life, before the SPCA, I doubt she was walked, much less introduced to the joys of the water but she loves looking for things to eat in the rotting piles of seaweed. It is a fragile coastline this, in a place where land is available in only modest pieces and water permeates the landscape at every turn.There are no hills in the Keys and a large island is one that measures perhaps five miles (8 kms)across. Tides flood and rains flood too and as we go into rainy season huge tracts of dry land will become puddles of wet mud and brown water. Houses are built on stilts as though to emphasize the transient nature of human habitation on these specks of limestone rock. I try to imagine how I shall feel if/when these watery rocks, or rocky waters are smeared irrevocably with the orange and brown sludge currently swamping a hundred miles of Louisiana's permeable coast. My non color coordinated pink crocs are functional footwear around here and I wear them out in daily use tramping my dog on slivers of land that hover between air and water. And even though everyone knows the waters of the Keys were cleaner and crisper and more beautiful 30 years ago than they are now (as the old timers drearily drone on) I still find it hard to credit that I live where the boundary between land and sea is hard to spot. My crocs are on dry land next to water, though who can tell for sure from this picture?I had the great good fortune to hear Nancy Klingener's Under the Sun commentary on WLRN yesterday. She used to edit Solares Hill until she quit and went to work at the college library. One can hardly blame her for seeking money and benefits, but still I think about her every Sunday when I open up the paper and wonder what she would have thought to include in the weekly magazine. She was one of those who saw things from an angle not previously seen, which seems like a wasted talent in a library as compared to an editor's chair. Her commentary on the radio reflected on the general sense of gloom and sick anticipation that permeates people's minds as they wait for a hurricane to hit, and how similar this feeling of helplessness is as we wait for the oil to arrive. I saw wildlife people on the beach taking measurements and talking on the phone and doing God knows what else.I usually never see anybody here on a weekday afternoon during the hot rainy season we have embarked upon. But there they were "preparing" to meet the oil. Their disturbance of my stroll seemed emblematic of the future we face when/if oil lands. Everyone will be booming (incorrectly if you watched the video in this space earlier) and organizing and absorbing and the peace and quiet will be gone.
Klingener remarked on the unusual level of helplessness we all feel in the face of civil disaster approaching, unstoppable. Faced with a hurricane we try to increase the odds by putting up shutters and tucking our possessions away "somewhere safe" but faced with a deluge of oil all we can do is wonder what the hell happens next.One wonders how the economy will do when mangroves suffocate and tourists don't want to come to just drink and look at museums in Key West.One wonders where the pleasure will be in walking the dog on a sulphurous beach or going for a swim in oily waters.
Who will come to fish or dive? Do we all need to start thinking about alternative plans? Does a ghost town need a police department? Will parents leave and take their children someplace more salubrious? Will we need schools at all?
After Wilma in 2005 tons of people left. The flooding and fear shook the desire to live in the Keys right out of them. We got talks at work about how to cope with stress, and outbursts of anger were treated with compassion and a gathering round to help colleagues cope with endless lists of losses of things of value, of security, of certainty.
What is there to stay for in the Keys if this is gone, perhaps forever, perhaps just for decades?
We curse British Petroleum for not being able or willing to take every precaution to prevent this, and we wonder why the US Government, having learned nothing from the non response to Katrina in New Orleans seems so absent here as well. Not to mention absent in the field of regulation and oversight, but we also have to take responsibility ourselves as citizens who demand oil.I want clean water and a decent job but I also want a gallon of gas at less than three dollars please. Right now I'd pay ten bucks a gallon to put all that oil and gas back into the earth's crust and never hear the name Deepwater Horizon again. But the cost of endless supplies of fuel are being revealed starkly to us all. Drilling continues under the world's oceans because that is where the oil is. It's hard to get to and expensive but the easy drilling seems to be done, in large measure. That's what's meant by Peak Oil by those that understand the concept, coined decades ago and derided ever since then by "smart people." Those are the people who think cheap energy is forever, and pristine beaches and waterlines too.There is no rule in the universe that says oceans have to be clean and livable. We can foul them up anytime we want. We have that capacity. We don't have the capacity to keep drilling for oil and producing more in places where it can be retrieved easily and out of sight. Saudi Arabia's deserts have yielded for decades and they are tired even if Saudi Aramco says Ghawar can produce for years to come. Cantarell field in Mexico's Gulf has shrunk from two million barrels a day to 700,000 and if that comes as a surprise to you, you haven't been paying attention. I'll bet you know how many women Tiger Woods has slept with though, and Tiger Wood can't stop these birds from drowning in oil.So, in the end do we drill baby drill or not? And if not what do we do next to keep our cars and air conditioners going? I keep hearing people say "I'm no tree hugger, but..." Well perhaps it's time to embrace environmentalism as a sustainable way to live, not to reject it as "un American." There's nothing particularly patriotic about wrecking this:
I have a dream that the post Peak Oil world will actually better and more livable than the crazy pursuit of consumerism that has animated my neighbors for decades. I hope mindfulness and a rejection of the "70 percent of the economy is consuming" mentality can go out the window and be replaced with a decent home gown, home supported way of life. I wouldn't actually mind not spending another life or another dollar to blow up Afghanistan, if it comes down to it. I'd like President Wilson back, sans the racism, but with his refusal to get enmeshed in other nation's madness. We have plenty to do at home with lots of people to do it. I haven't honestly got a clue how that can happen, so I greatly fear that a spiral of rising prices, unemployment, and corporate lying is our future portion and as long as we can't imagine a world where hugging trees is actually the sensible thing to do, then all this is at risk of evaporating before our very eyes. And we, the "consumers" demanding cheap everything, lots of it and NOW will have to shoulder our share of the blame for the greed and stupidity and unregulated rape of every single thing that isn't nailed down and dead. I lay claim to this gumbo limbo, an act about as sensible as laying claim to owning the ocean floor, BP.

Come on down, bring your camping gear and enjoy the ocean.

The water's lovely.