Race to the Bottom: Homestretch

In this space the first week of January 2004, I predicted it would be the year that would determine whether or not American democracy would survive.  In the last month of that same year, I was forced to conclude, with sorrow, that American democracy is doomed.  Although I’ve been allowed brief moments of hope since then, I have not seen fit to change the diagnosis.  Now I am forced to conclude that human society as we know it is also doomed.

I’m typing this from a place freshly ravaged by Tropical Storm Irene.  “Tropical” and “Vermont” don’t belong in the same sentence, but there they are.  Helicopters buzz overhead as they leave to drop supplies in stranded communities.  This is the second hundred-year flood we’ve had this in the last four months and yet it is not these events so recently past that prompt my dire prediction.  It’s what two events of the past week bode for the future.

Friday, the State Department ruled that the 1,700 mile long Keystone XL pipeline – which, if allowed to proceed, will carry tar sands crude to refineries in Texas – will have minor environmental impact.  Experts disagree.  James Hansen, the NASA scientist and leading expert in global warming says that should the pipeline be built, there will be no way to reverse catastrophic global warming.  One would think that’s a significant environmental impact, but the oil companies want it and what the oil companies want….

If you haven’t already learned about the tar sands, extracting oil from them requires massive abuse of forests, clean water and energy, so the tar sands as a whole is a global warming machine gone berserk.  If oil is an addiction, the tar sands are the dirty needle we heedlessly plunge into our arm.

Thousands of people – citizens – have protested in front of the White House, hundreds have been arrested.  Barack Obama likely believes environmentalists have no choice but to vote for him next year, thus revealing himself to be another calculating politician, who’d rather retire in glory as a two-term president than actually accomplish anything of value in either of his terms of office.  In the addiction analogy, he’s the clueless enabler.

Yesterday, ExxonMobil and Russia – two of the planet’s evil entities – announced an agreement that will open the Russia arctic to oil exploration by Exxon.  Exxon – with help from us – has already gone a long way toward “opening” the arctic.  Global warming has meant the retreat of polar sea ice to the point that the Ruxxons can drill for more oil, to melt more ice, drill for more oil, etc., etc.

Exxon maneuvers at its peril, as Russia is famous for shafting its partners after it’s gotten what it wants.  Maybe Rex Tillerson will end up in a cell next to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oligarch and oil billionaire.  Might be a pleasant meditation for a holiday weekend.

Researching something else last night, I came across an article describing the dumping of nuclear waste and over a dozen vessel-sized reactors in the western Kara Sea – where Exxon just won the right to explore.  The currents in the Kara carry water from west to east; that is, from the radioactive taint all across the rest of the local ocean.  Can’t beat those Soviet smarts.

If the tar sands are the dirty needle of oil addiction, then Tillerson and Vlad Putin are the thuggish pushers who will take our money, beat us senseless and leave us for dead.

Cold turkey is starting to look good.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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