Friday, February 17, 2017

Times Machines and Fossil Foolishness







By Bob Ferris

There are instances when I wish I had a time machine (Okay, lots of instances). If I did have such a device I would take certain folks to two times in history.  The first stop would probably be some time in the 1950s or early 1960s when fish were abundant and water was fairly clean in most places.


Back in those days I could backpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and be fairly certain I could catch my dinner on a Royal Coachman or Black Gnat and drink safely from lakes and streams.  My lunches on these fishing forays were often beef jerky, pilot biscuits and a square of chocolate washed down with Wyler’s lemonade-flavored stream water sipped from my trusty flat-bottomed Sierra Cub.


My second stop would be the late 1960s when we still had some fish but water quality was tragically compromised which is a nice way of saying we had rivers that were so polluted that they caught on fire.  Randy Newman famously wrote a song about the Cuyahoga River catching fire (see above).  But most rivers anywhere in North American near cities were in similar, if not worse, shape.  Stir in Love Canal, Kesterson Reservoir, Erin Brockovich, Hanford and you start to get a flavor of where we went in a generation when we allowed corporations and others to do what they wanted in the interest of “prosperity.”  Certainly some got rich, but most of us got sick and watched the quality of our lives diminish appreciably.

In the above we have seen the Christmas Past and Christmas Future scenarios.  And right now although we are living in a less than perfect world and our waters are not all swim-able and fish-able, we are at least acting like we learned some lessons in the 1960s.  We took ourselves out of the environmental tailspin we were in by passing the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.  All this legislation was passed by large, bi-partisan majorities.  But with time we seem to have increasingly forgotten these important lessons and stand at the cross-roads once again.

In this picture of President Trump signing the bill allowing coal waste in streams again it is important to look at the man in a hard hat to the left of the picture.  The irony of a man having to breath oxygen out of a bottle at the signing of a bill that promotes coal use should not be lost on us.  It exemplifies the silliness of our path.
With fossil-fuel champion and climate change denier Scott Pruitt just placed in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, ex-Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson heading the State Department, President Trump’s signing of the bill to reversing protections for streams near coal mines (see above) and other attacks on natural resources our country is running back to past mistakes rather than leading towards a healthier future.

The idea that coal and oil or industrial growth are going to lead us anywhere positive is pathologically illogical.  Coal is dying because markets are collapsing and folks in areas like China are starting to voice the opinion that they would rather breathe and have clean water than have their country build more coal-fired power plants or increase industry.  Seems like a pretty simple choice that we in this country should be able to comprehend, but we are collectively walking blithely through the intellectual smoke screen created by those making billions from fossil-fuels (1,2,3) to obscure the reality before us.

Ocean Temperature Anomalies.
Can we afford to make this misstep and conduct this same experiment again?  I honestly do not think so.  Our beginning point when that first experiment kicked off was a national population less than half of what we now have.  We also started with mostly clean waterways and a lot of breathable air.  The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was much lower too and our oceans were cooler and less acidic.  All of these factors have changed for the worse, yet we have Congress and the President urging us to trust them and charge forward into the past.  How can this possibly result in anything other than it getting worse faster and more seriously?

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