Full circle. Those who remember or have studied the early days of the environmental movement will recall that the burning of the Cuyahoga River due to oil waste floating on its surface was one of the major public events spurring the Congress to pass and President Nixon to sign the Clean Water Act of 1970, the first major American environmental law. Now, 40 years and a series of dispiriting reversals later, the geniuses in charge of protecting perhaps America's most valuable fishery and coastal/wetland recharge zone from utter destruction by wasted oil are thinking of intentionally SETTING THE GULF OF MEXICO ON FIRE!
AS A POLLUTION CONTROL TECHNIQUE!
We have gone from burning waterways as the ultimate symbol of our environmental recklessness to burning seas to save our waterways from our rapacious appetite for cheap energy and profit and ever more heedless disregard for the consequences of satiating our greed.
Any society that cannot receive messages screaming as loudly as ours about our chosen source of energy and methods of obtaining it deserves whatever horrible fate it drives itself headlong into.
Three times in a little over one year, just in the United States of America, and twice in a month, we have seen massive human and environmental disasters from our insistence on maintaining our hypnotic lock on an absurdly primitive way of obtaining energy: burning poisonous black gunk. Either to make late 19th-century style pistons go up and down or boil water in early 19th-century style steam engines to spin magnets in circles. Here's the thing about burning poisonous black gunk; the by-product is oxidized poisonous black gunk that either blows all over the place as smoke to foul all manner of lungs, pores, waters and soils or is captured in filters or ponds or slurry piles and just sits until, until . . . .
Tennessee, December 2008. A massive reservoir yes essentially a big lake of liquid- trapped coal ash and other horrific waste from burning coal to boil water, or, to borrow from Shawshank redemption, " the nastiest, sh*t-stinkin'est filth you can ever imagine" broke through the dam holding it back from destroying forever a huge valley in lovely, hilly Tennessee. The coal ash burned, oxidized, poisonous black gunk, well, go here to read about how bad, how truly toxic and irremediable it really is. This disaster received some media at the time, but not anywhere near what it deserved and is largely forgotten today.
How did we get that coal? Men and women go down into holes with sharp tools and hack it out of rock, when we are not blowing up entire mountains to get at it. (These, by the way, are some of the toughest, hardest-working, most salt-of-the-earth people in our soft society, so please understand my mocking here is reserved for the people exploiting the miners, not the people in the mines actually working for a living).
Now, coal burns because it has gasses trapped in it. What kind of gasses? Yep, poisonous gasses. Modern technology has invented fans and vents to remove the leaking gas from the mines so the miners don't die from breathing the gasses and so the gasses don't build up enough to explode when a sharp instrument hits a rock and makes, you know, a spark.
But apparently, fans and vents that work right eat into the profit of the people who own the mines, so they, who are nowhere near the danger zone, sometimes overlook the things that keep the people safe who are breaking their backs to make the owners roast-in-hell-for-eternity rich, in order to squeeze a few extra bucks out of each day. What happens?
West Virginia, March 2010. I cannot tell this any other way than pure tragedy. 29 hard working people died because a fat, greedy piece of human garbage loved money more than human beings. But, that is not the real reason. That piece of garbage was just working in the system as it is set up; a system that demands production of lots of black gunk to burn at cheap prices so no one ever has to be the slightest bit uncomfortable or use a muscle to do anything. A system that not only allows, not only encourages, not only celebrates, not only rationalizes, but actually legally requires officers and directors of publicly held corporations to do everything they possibly can to maximize profits for shareholders regardless of any consequences as long as no specific laws are verifiably broken in the process. So, the putrid Mr. Massey was doing his job in our system.
So what else can we burn?
Gulf of Mexico, April 2010. Finally, we float a giant, black-gunk sucking vacuum cleaner on the surface of the sea (in the area that fuels some of the most powerful hurricanes in the North Atlantic basin) and connect it by a thin reed to a massive underground lake of liquid black gunk. Now, oil burns because it has flammable gasses trapped in it. And, yes, poi-son-ous gasses. Gasses that can explode when exposed to the product of big hunks of metal scraping against other big hunks of metal you know, sparks.
The thing about long skinny tubes stuck into giant pools of liquid under immense geological pressure is that once the liquid starts moving up the tube, it does not just stop on its own the capillary effect. So, when the platform holding up the tube and providing the only structures that can slow or shut down the capillary effect of the poisonous, liquid black gunk rushing to the surface explodes after it sparks and erupts in a massive, killing inferno, then collapses into the sea, well two horrible things happen.
First, eleven human beings die a terrifying death, including the fat-cat oil executives making millions from this absurd predictably dangerous contraption floated on volatile seas. No, I am sorry, the fat-cats are nowhere near the danger zone. Only the men and women who work for a living to make the fat cats rich take the risk with their bodies and their lives.
Second, a giant plume of poisonous black gunk pumps out of the ground at a rate of 42,000 gallons per day, floats to the sea and rides the prevailing winds and currents right into the most sensitive and ecologically, gastronomically and economically important part of our Gulf Coast. The only part of the Gulf Coast near as important as a wetlands and natural sea life hatchery is Galveston Bay, which is basically a giant poison toilet where the nation's oil, petrochemical and synthetic chemical industry take a huge, stinking, morning after, toxic hangoverdump all day long every day. This poisonous floating lake of oil will be absolutely devastating to the flora and fauna in the region and the fact that this disaster would someday occur was as predictable as the sunrise.
Now, we have the brilliant idea to SET IT ALL ON FIRE so it won't float into the wetland zone, but instead, if we are really lucky, just ride the winds as oxidized poisonous black gunk to be inhaled and eaten as fine poison dust particles all over God knows where. And we have no idea what kind of other consequential disasters setting the Gulf of Mexico on fire might cause.
These kinds of things are often referred to as wake-up calls. More like a wake-up cannon. Will we wake up, or just poison our selves in our sleep?