Monday, May 31, 2010


Tim Robinson, author and resident of Roundstone, Connemara Ireland, has wandered and studied the bogs of that region for many years. I have read and re-read the following passage many times, pausing to think about climate change, unbridled development and, most recently, oil spills.

As to our own effects on the ground we stand on, our powers of creative destruction and destructive creativity are enmeshed inextricably. Intellect calls on the remotest fields of knowledge - even the mysteries of cosmic rays and quantum physics - to let us look into the depths of the bog. What was darkness and burial is opened into views of an ur-landscape, a clean scoured world of rock, quickly enveloped in flowers and forests; then a shadow is glimpsed between the trees; one can feel the ground quake at the fall of a grain of wheat pollen. A new species has arrived, carrying a dreadful weapon, the intellect. An arms race has begun, the axe evolves from stone to bronze to iron to steel. Great woods with all their sighs and cries go down into silence; the animals succumb: yesterday the bear, wolf, boar, deer, eagle and today the grouse, the golden plover. The soil is coerced into fruitfulness for a while and abandoned when it falls exhausted. Cultures and religions succeed one another; the coming of intellect (borrowing that word to stand for symbolic communication, communal memory, cumulative innovation) tumbles us into a rate of development beyond the adaptive capacities of biological evolution. Intellect is a new factor, arising out of nature but wrecking its equilibria. Ice Ages were so slow-moving that animals and plants could retreat before them and survive, but intellect is a raging fire. And now intellect, discovering its own effects, acquires a guilty self-consciousness. At the last moment we try to conserve some shreds of nature, which are in fact the waste products of our economy. Our wastelands are so beautiful and so tender we wonder if we should enter them at all. Should we stand here discussing the origins of the bog, knowing that a footprint in sphagnum moss lasts a year or more, that the tuft of lichen we crush unseeingly has taken decades to grow? Sometimes when a snipe leaps from under my feet and goes panicking up the sky, I am appalled at my own presence in a place so old and slow and long -suffering as Roundstone Bog.

Tim Robinson. 2006. Connemara: Listening to the Wind. Penguin Books

Sunday, May 02, 2010


It's ours! All of us; we want it, we demand it, we pay the consequences for it.

It's easy, way too easy, to point fingers at the evil oil companies like British Petroleum, and chastise them for polluting the Gulf of Mexico with their ultra-profit-making oil. But perhaps we need to take a time out from blaming and take a close look in the mirror of humankind. Look around, and everything you see has a relationship to oil. If the oil spigot were shut off right this moment, would you be OK without it? How loudly would you complain if your life style were suddenly that of the rural poor in the Third World?

Here's an animation of the Gulf oil spill (up until May 2). Scary!

And here's a map of oil platforms in Gulf of Mexico.

Almost 4,000 active wells/rigs. And guess what, there are lots of oil spills every year in the Gulf of Mexico, from U.S. as well as Mexican wells.

And lest we think the Gulf of Mexico was a pristine place before this recent/on-going spill, the New York Times reminds us otherwise. In a short, illustrated article, we are reminded that the impact of humans has already taken a huge toll on the environment in the Gulf: hypoxic, or dead zones on the Gulf floor caused by algae blooms resulting from agricultural runoff conveyed by the Mississippi River; human population increase of 45% between 1980 and 2003 that has replaced habitat with development; 2,000 to >6,000 barrels of oil spilled annually into the Gulf by oil production (that's >2,000,000 gallons between 1996 and 2009); erosion of wetlands at a rate of about one football field every 38 minutes resulting from channelization of the Mississippi River and it's wetland replenishing sediment; and many, many tons of trash (lots of plastic) dumped into the Gulf, even though it is illegal.

I'm not saying it's therefore OK to let the oil keep spilling, or to drill baby drill. I am saying that we (and particularly the greenies among us) should not just be critical of BP, we should also demand a real energy policy in this country - and the rest of the world - that is logical and rational. As long as we are a petroleum culture, we will continue to get what we ask for - oil, lots and lots of oil - everywhere.