The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Scrounging for the Dregs
I was witness to a tragic scene at a party, and the image that I remember haunts me when I consider some of our most pressing environmental issues.
The party was an after-hours event at a big convention. A crowd gathered in a large meeting room, and there was plenty of good fellowship, good food, and at least adequate drink. The normal schmoozing and politicking that happens at a convention took place, and most seemed to be having a good time.
As the evening wound down, the leftover food went back to the kitchen, the bar closed, and the guests started to drift away. That's when I saw the memorable scene.
One man wandered from table to table, checking out the drink glasses that had been left behind. When he found one with liquor in the bottom, he'd fish out the toothpicks and spoons that had been dumped in the glass, and drink the bit of booze. Then he'd move on to the next table. His drinking problem didn't allow him to accept that the party was over, and that it was time to go home.
It was a sad and distressing sight, and I hope the obviously addicted man got help for his alcoholism.
The desperate drunk comes to mind when I look at the scramble for fossil fuels that is going on in this country and around the world. Corporations and nations know that "the bar has closed" and that the abundant and easy-to-gather fuels are gone, and now they're desperately scrounging for the remnants and the dregs to keep the system going.
Like the almost-empty glasses left on the table at a convention, oil and gas wells that were considered finished decades ago are being re-opened to coax out a bit more. In countless settings, with all kinds of fuels, enormous amounts of labor and energy are being used to scrape up and suck out the final pockets.
The signs should be clear that the party is over for the carbon-based economy, and that it is time to dry out and do something new. There are some trends in that direction -- but so far the prevailing policy is as tragic and misguided as the sad man at the convention.
I see the desperate search for the last bits of fossil fuels in at least four well-known and controversial practices. In each case, the costs are high both economically and environmentally. And in all cases, the continued extraction of these fuels maintains and deepens our collective addiction at the time when we should be making a rapid shift toward conservation, efficiency and other energy sources.
The specific dangers, costs and policy issues are different in each of these practices. It is important, though, to see how the same desperation runs through all four settings. Whether in Appalachia, the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic oceans, Canadian forests, or gas fields across much of the US, extreme measures are being used to extract the last bits of fossil fuels.
It was tragic to see a desperate man scrounging for booze in the dregs left after a party. It is even more tragic to see our political and business leaders making explicit choices to go after the dregs of fossil fuels instead of working hard for new energy sources.
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There's a passage in the gospel of John (2:1-11) where Jesus goes to a party, and the bar closes while some of the guests still want to drink. Jesus turns water into wine, and the wedding feast continues.
John tells the story about Jesus' delightful miracle to make a theological point (and the Anchor Bible commentary spends 15 pages trying to figure out just what that point is). The wedding at Cana is not intended to give advice on either catering or energy policy.
The wild party of the fossil fuel economy is winding down. Technological miracles are letting us keep the party going a little longer at ever increasing environmental, social and economic costs -- and our desperate measures to continue the binge are both foolish and tragic.
It is long past time to stop the carbon party. We're ruining the climate, polluting oceans and fresh water, destroying mountains and devastating habitat, and continuing the lethal path of our addiction. Let's start to call it quits right now.
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