It is increasingly clear that the great crisis of our era is the warming of the planet, and how human activity has dramatically exacerbated this pending calamity. But its corollary rests in the irreparable damage we are doing to the planet. Some years ago while traveling on a container ship from Australia to California, we encountered a great trash whirlpool in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It has been reported that there are several such sea-born trash heaps, some as much as miles across! Once the ocean becomes just another dump, it will cease to be the world’s main source of nourishment.
The proposed Keystone pipeline would carry the continent’s dirtiest shale oil from Canada right over our nation’s most precious supply of fresh water. Several months ago the streets of downtown Los Angeles were flooded with 50 thousand gallons of oil from a ruptured pipeline. Every year there are scores of such spills. We only hear about the occasional catastrophic ones. In addition, each year over 700 million gallons of waste oil are dumped into the world’s oceans, half from land and half from sea going vessels.
Some years ago, while I was teaching at a seminary in Kentucky, a group of us scaled a modest area mountain in order to see what was reported to be the most beautiful sight in the State. It was October, and as we reached the summit, stretched before us were miles of trees all dressed in their finest seasonal reds and yellows. They had changed clothes from the greens of the spring and summer during which they had been fed by the natural CO2 in the atmosphere, replacing it with life giving Oxygen. As we stood there awed by the beauty which lay before us, a manager from a mining company happened to have brought a surveying team to that exact location. This company was in the process of leasing the land in order to denude it and turn it into a giant strip mine. While we were enchanted by the sheer natural beauty, his only comment was, “What a waste. Why, all you can see out there are trees!” No one needs to ask which vision prevailed.
Wendell Berry in “Leavings” quotes the following letter from a Joe Begley of West Virginia.When you get the time to do it and you desire drive up here and walk into the woods and stay a while in a pretty place where you don’t hear no noise and nothing’s bothering you. and you go back the next week and that place is not even there, that’s hard. (sic)
Environmentalism seems like such a technical word. But the enemies of environmentalism are the enemies of nature, and that very dangerous stance threatens all of us. The tons of CO2 we spew in the air not only affect what I breathe, but what my grandchildren must breathe, at the peril of their lives. It is increasingly agreed that the best approach to curtailing the atmospheric CO2 is a carbon tax. But as sensible as that seems, it is also commonly agreed that Congress will not touch it for economic reasons. But what good is an economy when the air in which it must exist is unable to sustain life? Maybe the best advice these days goes like this. Do not try and fool Mother Nature. In the long run you don’t have a chance.