Saturday, March 29, 2014

Don't Slow Down

It's the Iditarod, and the sled dogs are jangly with joy. They yip and twist and yearn for the starting line. They've got a thousand proud and beautiful miles to pull.

There's no wonder Alaska is beautiful. It's tectonically rumpled and sparsely peopleated. Extremes of elevation and weather protect much of it from our schemes. The consequences of human trampling are not as evident when you have this much space. There are few enough humans here that they can boast of living on the edge of the wilderness, and not so many that the wilderness ceases to exist.

We've trampled it some. We're pulling oil out of it as fast as we can. We've threaded a big old pipeline over some geologically rambunctious landscape and right through the caribou, and that got some people upset, but proponents insisted that the thing was virtually spill-proof. Which may be as true as it is irrelevant. Some dude might dump a bucket of strychnine in our water reservoir and boast that he didn't get any on him, but we really don't care about his laundry.

The state of Alaska established a Permanent Fund made up of oil money and designed to provide for future generations once the oil runs out. They cut every citizen a check from it every year. You could dang near make a living off it if you had enough kids, and weren't particular about how well you fed them.

It's an interesting concept. It acknowledges that the resource being extracted is finite while doing nothing to slow down the extraction. The fund is an example of a certain narrow kind of prudence, but it also has the side benefit of neatly co-opting the citizenry and ensuring plenty of political will to continue the pillage. There will be no examining the prudence of that.

Alaskans do have some justification for thinking of themselves as exceptional, independent, rugged frontiersmen. This is not a group that's going to whine about an arugula shortage; this is a group standing proud, with a bear gun in one hand and a warm dividend check in the other.

Meanwhile, this year, as Alaska's winter got shipped off to Atlanta on the polar vortex, we can't help but think of the old saw about the fellow who was able to sell ice to Eskimos. It doesn't take that good a salesman anymore. The Iditarod got off to its ceremonial start in Anchorage only after quantities of snow were trucked in and parceled out in a tight lane on the city street. Spectators watched from dry pavement and people manned the intersections to shovel the snow back in place after traffic was let through.

The dogs know it's all their effort and elation that will get the sled to Nome, but as for us, we don't even use our muscles anymore and we don't remember how we're designed to work. Instead we've built ourselves a big engine and driven our sled over the mountaintop and now we're riding it straight into the sea with no brakes. We're flying behind it with every other living thing, like the tar-baby of doom. I'll be dead before we hit the ocean but I feel sorry for the kids, and the caribou.

37 comments:

  1. (Hands over ears) La la la la la la . . . . . Not listening!

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  2. Yeah, but they also gave us Sarah Palin.

    The dividend checks are just a special case of the old socialist idea of Basic Income. Yet they usually vote Republican up there. We should let the dogs run the place.

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    1. Now "letting it go to the dogs" is a hopeful saying.

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  3. I've actually pinned my hopes on those kids, because enough of them have grown up much more environmentally aware than we did. I trust them to smoosh together the concepts of environmental concerns, basic social safety nets, economics and finance in a way never done before.I'm seeing the same old faces discussing how fossil fuel extraction is NECESSARY to our economies, people, and thinking that things will not truly change until all those old faces are gone.

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    1. Man, some of those old faces is hangin' on and hangin' on.

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    2. Also: fossil fuel IS necessary to our economy. We need a new economy.

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  4. Strong stuff. Powerful. Provoking. I'm very worried that my grandchildren's lives may be damaged significantly by poisons and disasters already unleashed. And when they talk about their grandchildren...I want to be hopeful, but it's difficult.

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    1. You know I'm a sunny type, but apparently I'm even less hopeful than you. I don't think your grandchildren will even have grandchildren.

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    2. I worry about that too; I just couldn't bring myself to type it out so I left the elipsis....

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    3. I can't decide if it's comforting to know I'm not the only one who has worried about my grandchildren's grandchildren. I verge on obsessed some days. Even my grandchildren's lives will be much more difficult and frightening than lives are now.
      It's not comforting. It validates my thinking. :-(

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  5. The cynic in me says that Alaskans wouldn't even be getting dividend checks if most of them weren't Native Americans. Like their long-ago ancestors, they got sold the northwestern version of the Brooklyn Bridge for baubles.

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  6. Ouch.
    I too would prefer that you wrote fiction. Or at least that what you do write is fiction.

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    1. Which didn't come out right. I hope it is clear enough though.

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    2. Loud and clear. Over and out! Tit and tat! Smooth and chunky!

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  7. "And Abraham begat Isaac..." Sadly, politicians and their Corporate Masters also do all that begetting on biblical scale. It ensures continuity of party line.

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    1. From the top of the money heap to us, we're all complicit.

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  8. I guess you saw the articles about the study, based on climate data from NASA, that gives our industrial civilization about 15 years before it collapses? http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/14/nasa-civilisation-irreversible-collapse-study-scientists

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    1. There'll be a collapse one way or another, as those who insist we stay the course will not recognize.

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  9. Visit Guy MacPherson's blog, Nature Bats Last, if you want some really bad news. He believes that the Northern Hemisphere will be uninhabitable by 2031 as a result of all the environmental feedback loops we have put into place. Game Over, as James Hansen says. It's heartbreaking and terrifying at the same time.

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    1. Once again, I find myself living in the exact sweet spot of all time. Got all the toys, sliding out before it all hits the fan.

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  10. Powerful observations.

    My cousin and his family lived in Alaska when they were just getting started. He was working on an M.A. in Chemistry and working at a refinery to finance that. In other words, he's a smart science guy whose work depended (and still depends, two decades later) on fossil fuels.

    They lived in Section 8 housing while in Alaska--and gratefully, giddily, took their cheques every year.

    My point here is what? Hmmm. I suppose my point is that these issues, one one level, are clear and easy. We can see what's being done and the changes those choices are wreaking. Yet, then again, these issues are all entwined and difficult, as is the case when humans get involved,

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    1. Right. As an example, we're all told the developing nations should not have to curtail unsustainable activities, because it's not fair that we got to have all the fun and are cutting it off just when they get their chance. I see no solution here. Not without an in-charge Queen of the World.

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  11. It's more depressing every damn year. Grandkids are having kids already in my family-how the hell did that happen so quickly ?~!

    The Keystone Pipeline will wreck more lands and yet we will not be able to stop it.

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    1. There are plenty of people trying to stop it, but there are another dozen of them already in the works. The main thing is the shit needs to stay in the ground.

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  12. I hope to be completely dead when it happens, but I do feel bad for the kids. We have sold the planet down the (polluted) river and paddling upstream is nearly impossible. I hate to just stand by and watch.

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    1. I think there's going to be some kind of massive demonstration later in April sponsored by 350.org. I'll have to look that up.

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  13. And when all the resources are dried/used up they will all be standing around whining about how they can no longer drive their cars/yachts/snowmobiles/planes, how they can't have new this or that every year, how it can't possibly be "their" fault, after all their one car and one home doesn't use much oil, and...and....and

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    1. Heck. They're already incensed at things as mild as fuel efficiency requirements.

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  14. I wonder if there'd be a reverse of the polar vortex in the future.

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    1. Shoot, yes! Nothing will stay the same.

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