Saturday, June 30, 2012

Happy Independence Day: Welcome to the United States of Mordor

This weekend, many American are celebrating the holiday of Independence Day, recalling our great victory against British imperialism more than two centuries ago. I see this as a rather hollow celebration because today we are firmly in the grip of a different kind of tyranny: corporate capitalism, particularly the iron grip of the oil, gas and coal companies, the carbon-based energy industry, over our lives, our land, our future. Are we a free and independent people, or just the puppets and slaves of corporate powers that do as they like and then tell us what to think? I am afraid to answer the question. Instead, let me tell you my worries about a particular situation.

In my part of the United States, there is a massive effort underway by large energy companies to take control of many areas of land in order to drill for natural gas. This has come about because of the discovery of huge quantities of natural gas locked in shale rock formations underground and the development of new technologies for drilling that inject industrial chemicals into the earth to soften up the underground rock along with pumping highly pressurized water to crack open the rock--this is known as "hydraulic fracturing" or "hydro-fracturing," "fracking" for short--and push the gas out of the crevices where it sits. America is looking at a potential new "gold rush" based on natural gas. In New York State and adjoining states like Pennsylvania, there is an underground reservoir of gas called the "Marcellus Shale" formation, and this is what the energy companies are pushing to sink their claws--I mean drills--into. Many Americans are eager to join in and get rich or at least obtain employment through this new sector of the energy industry. I do not share this enthusiasm, and will here explain my opposition as a resident of New York, a citizen of the United States of America,a dweller on the earth, and a Pagan who values the sacredness of nature.

A documentary film called "Gasland" directed by the filmmaker Josh Fox exposes the potential for great environmental harm that can happen through fracking. In other parts of the country where hydro-fracturing has been in operation for some years, the resulting problems include poisoning of drinking water supplies, endless noise pollution due to the industrial-scale machinery, destruction of once-beautiful rural landscape by the aforesaid machinery, and earthquakes. The last item may sound quite incredible, but after the institution of hydrofracture gas extraction, there have been strange new occurrences of earth tremors in areas that have never before witnessed such phenomena. Most famously, the "Gasland" film shows people turning on their water faucets, lighting matches, and the water from their faucets igniting into jets of flame, as if they were turning on a burner on a gas stove.

The gas companies are embarked on a vigorous public relations campaign to convince the general population as well as politicians and legislatures that the risks portrayed in the "Gasland" film as well as those described by growing ranks of protesters, some of whom are disgruntled homeowners who agreed to lease their land to the energy companies and now find themselves living in an ugly, polluted industrial zone, are exaggerated and not worthy of concern. The situation now is very much a race against time. The energy companies are eager to get their drill rigs in place and start extracting across a wide swath of the United States. Government authorities at the local, state and federal level must make decisions and design policies about whether to allow fracking, to prohibit,or--in the most likely scenario, in New York and elsewhere--to allow it on a limited basis. I see that last option as an awful Trojan Horse victory for the energy companies. Opposition groups exist but they do not have anything near the money and influence of the energy giants. It is a David vs. Goliath situation, and there is no guarantee that any anti-fracking David will find a way to slay the corporate giant, or even to slow it down.

Most politicians in America right now, including Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York State, are scared to stand up to the oil, gas and coal companies, let alone take the fight to the next level and advocate for developing clean, green energy sources such as wind and solar power. The energy industry offers easy, short-term gratification in the form of quickly available jobs and revenues, whereas the development of alternative energy is a long-term proposition that will require considerable public investment, at least in the early stages, and a period of trial and error. In a time of mass unemployment and despair, the easy answers of the existing, carbon-based energy companies are very appealing. What is also appealing to politicians are the large amounts of money that the energy companies can offer to contribute to compliant politicians' future campaigns, OR that can be turned against them by donations to opponents or to publicity campaigns that attack the politicians. Sadly, many politicians, opportunistic by nature and by what they perceive as electoral necessity, seem likely to cave in to the energy companies to enjoy the short-term benefits of a quick burst of new jobs and economic development without worrying about the nightmarishly worrisome long-term consequences. These include...

:: water than you cannot drink, but can set alight to use for cooking;(make sure to tell your children!)
:: a constant roar of massive machinery that can last for months and years;(this may be attractive to people who enjoy the sound of motorcycles and NASCAR races, and who would like to be continually engulfed in such a joyous sonic environment)
:: land that is no longer attractive for living in or traveling to; (good-bye property values, agriculture and tourism)
:: less likelihood of other kinds of economic development or industry being attracted to a frackified area due to the unpleasant and unhealthy conditions and the sheer UGLINESS created by large-scale fracking operations (great if you work for an oil, gas or coal company, possibly less appealing to others)
:: increased global warming effects due to increased availability of carbon-based fuels, allowing us to continue our wasteful American lifestyle for a few decades more (wonderful if you believe that "American exceptionalism" requires all Americans to be as selfish, ignorant and wasteful as possible, with no worry about environmental problems)
:: potential for earthquakes (great for drumming up new business if you run a Doomsday cult or a Survivalist shop)

This is just so wrong on so many levels, I hardly know what to say. It is so depressing to know that fracking is probably going to become part of the fabric of American life in many, if not all of the fifty American states. This country may well become the United States of Mordor: a bleak landscape of smoke and sadness ruled over by a cruel power that demands backbreaking labor and crushes any attempt at dissent. In this application of Tolkien, I see American capitalism, and its favored sons the energy companies and Wall Street financial companies, as the different faces of Sauron. I would consider fleeing to Canada except that the same situation exists there as well. This shows the bankruptcy of our system of so-called democracy. Politicians running for election are rarely rewarded for taking a long-term view, for being good stewards of the earth and the future. Powerful corporations have enormous influence and are able to brainwash the public to follow their will. Most voters do not take the trouble to educate themselves on the issues. I do feel great despair.

As a Pagan, I am reminded of the many myths that speak of the devastation of the earth, that cry out against this and protest it. The obvious example is the Ragnarok myth in Norse mythology. Readers, can you suggest other Pagan traditions that warn us against destroying nature?


Ananta Androscoggin said...

Capitalism is in-and-of itself an Amoral system. And that of course means it attracts great hordes of Immoral people who wish to use it in order to wrest as much as they can from anybody stupid enough to do business with them.

That's one of the problems with a Dominator culture, is this kind of Crooked Capitalism. I often wonder what kind of Capitalism those people with a Partnership Culture mind-set might develop.

Maelstrom said...

Josh Fox, director of the film "Gasland," has now released another film, "The Sky is Pink," with further examination of problems with fracking. See this link for info:

Anonymous said...

I'd say capitalism is an immoral system as it demands one person "profit" off anothers' labor. The system is about creating wealth through the labor of another and not paying that other the full value of their labor. Sitting around the pool collecting the dividend checks to paraphrase Thom Hartmann.

I like to think of paganism as being more socialist in philosophy. We are all one tribe per se and we share our resources. We all live on the earth so we protect her.

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