Post derecho: I realize I'm the eco-catastrophe
My name is Janis, and I’m an addict. No, not heroin or cocaine or meth. This is worse than a drug. With a drug addiction, you can tell yourself that the only person you’re putting in peril is yourself.
What I’m addicted to is power: the power to animate all my modern conveniences, including electricity for my flatscreen, and gasoline for my Subaru.
For years, I’ve been thinking that I can quit anytime. You know, in case global warming gets to be too much, and we all have to pitch in, and conserve, for real.
I’d always thought that if need be, I could simply do without electricity and figure out how to get around without gas-powered wheels. And then came that bizarre storm, the Derecho. For the first time ever, my husband and I were without power for an entire week. Temperatures hovered around 100 degrees, and there was not the slightest breeze to provide relief.
Our nights were sleepless and sweaty– and not in the good way. No electricity, no generator, no AC, no running water. Downed trees blocked our driveway and surrounding roads. We were miserable, and we were stuck.
Cold-turkey withdrawal is no fun.
Of course, this addiction to power is one that I share with all of you who are reading this. It has allowed us to proliferate and prosper, while simultaneously weakening us. We have lost the skills possessed by our ancestors, who for millennia dealt more or less successfully with the challenges of daily living without disrupting the basic physical systems of our planet.
It’s not as though I haven’t tried to cut back. I have. I’ve got those ugly bulbs with the mercury inside, and sometimes I adjust the AC so it's not so frosty. In winter, I’ve been known to turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater. But total withdrawal? Can’t handle it, apparently.
Meanwhile, the Arctic ice is disappearing, oceans are a shocking 30 percent more acidic, and our warming atmosphere now holds five percent more water (so areas not experiencing drought are more likely to endure devastating floods.)
And yet, we are steadily increasing our consumption of fossil fuels and pouring ever more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Thanks to people like me— who have to get into a vehicle and drive for miles to reach a grocery store, and who possess an array of electronic toys, as well as banks of overhead lights embedded in our ceilings (the better to see our computer screens)— we managed to pump a record 34 gigatons of CO2 up into the sky during 2011.
In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, there’s an eye-opening article by Bill McKibben, in which he asserts that the enemy in this planet-altering drama is the oil companies. After all, Big Oil has vast heaps of money, which gives them election-changing political power.
At the United Nations Climate Conference in 2009, says McKibben, there was a single area of international agreement: Between now and 2050 (and think of all the people alive today who will still be around in 2050) our atmosphere will be able to handle no more than 565 additional gigatons of spewed carbon dioxide, in order for us to be able to carry on with life as we know it.
Even if we manage to hold the line at last year’s rate of 34 gigatons, we’ll reach the 565-gigaton limit in less than seventeen years.
(As it happens, even before we reach that 565-gigaton limit, much of Africa will be screwed, due to drought, and island nations will disappear below sea level. But hey, that’s not us.)
And, speaking of maintaining life as we know it on planet Earth, we have enough reserves of oil, gas, and coal in the ground right now to exceed that 565-gigaton limit, five times over.
What are the chances that we will restrain ourselves, curb our addiction to power and leave 80% of those reserves in the ground?
If snowballs in hell are springing to mind, then you and I are on the same wavelength.
As with any addiction, a willingness to stop using is fundamental to kicking the habit. Are we willing to go without gasoline? To do without electricity to run our lights, computers, and AC? Our recent power outage provided a painfully clear answer to that question. It’s “Hell, no.”
In classic addict-denial mode, we tell ourselves that what we’re doing couldn’t possibly harm a big ole planet like Earth. And we don’t want to hear what scientists have to say.
We think they’re all dishonest and just making things up. Well, except for a few altruistic ones who happen to work for the big oil companies. They tell us we’re doing just fine, and we want to believe them.
Like the heroin addict, you want to hear that your favorite substance isn’t such a big problem, after all. Stop worrying! Just keep buying that junk and pumping it in. That money you’re spending makes the world go ‘round, you know. The economy depends, absolutely, upon your addiction.
Plus, it’s not really an addiction, because we can stop anytime we really need to. Like if the ocean rises and engulfs low-lying places we care about. Maybe New York City or the Outer Banks. Then we’ll buckle down and make some changes!
But until then, I’ll stay tanked up on gas, and crank up the AC because this has been one hell of a summer.
You can blame the big oil companies if it makes you feel better, but just as the drug cartels would fall apart if we stopped buying illegal drugs, we are enabling Shell, Exxon, et al with our insatiable habit.
The painful truth is that I have seen the enemy: She’s staring back at me in the mirror.
Janis Jaquith realizes that living way out in Free Union is part of the arcadian contradiction.