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8998Ben Tripp on environmental crime and fossil fuel

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  • De Clarke
    Feb 1, 2004
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      Ben's colourful, surreal rants appear from time to time at counterpunch.
      This is the first time I can recall him addressing the fossil fuel
      issue. I can completely relate to this bit:

      What scares me isn't the cold embrace of eternal oblivion,
      because then at least I don't have to answer the phone. What
      scares me is the part before I die, when I have to come to grips
      with the cumulative effects of the last hundred years of human


      If Polar Bears Were Sousaphones
      Waiter! The Reality Check, Please

      By BEN TRIPP

      It seems like only yesterday that today was tomorrow. It makes a fellow
      think about the future. I think about what kind of future we would have if
      there were no short Japanese people, or if everybody woke up one morning
      and we were all made of gorgonzola cheese. Would we have to wear shoes?

      The future scares me. The future scares a lot of people, especially the
      alert ones. For instance, we must all die eventually, some less eventually
      than others. I'm not afraid of death, although I'm hoping they find a
      vaccine for it. I do worry that if there's an afterlife, the parking will
      be like in Boston. The good news about death is it's much less expensive
      than life, and you get far more of it.

      What scares me isn't the cold embrace of eternal oblivion, because then at
      least I don't have to answer the phone. What scares me is the part before I
      die, when I have to come to grips with the cumulative effects of the last
      hundred years of human activity.

      People who feel guilty about historic cruelty need to get over it, if only
      because there's hardly anyone left alive to apologize to. The crimes of the
      past-we could include genocide, slavery, gender oppression, and Tyrolean
      hats-belong to the past. Unless we happen to keep slaves ourselves, for
      example. I'm addressing the more progressive-minded reader.

      Of course all of these things are still going on to some degree. But when I
      say 'crimes of the past', I mean those dreadful institutions that were
      generally accepted at one time, such as laying waste to Armenia, but are
      now regarded with abhorrence. The oppression of women or fags still goes
      on, but normal people, meaning Northerners, believe that it is wrong.

      Milty Zimmerman, a contemporary of William Shakespeare, wrote that "the
      wrongs of the few cannot cast doubt on the good will of the many". Really I
      wrote that and Milty Zimmerman didn't, but I wanted to quote someone so I
      didn't sound fatuous. Forgive us the crimes of the past. There are new
      crimes of which we are accused, and the bad news is the jury has just
      reentered the courtroom and they're not laughing and high-fiving each
      other. Our latest victim is not humanity, but nature. And just like slavery
      or genocide, we have to figure out new ways of living before mankind will
      give it up.

      This would be a good time to start thinking about not burning fossil fuels
      any more. The kind of scientists who don't make this stuff up for chuckles
      have recently announced that one third of all species on Earth will be
      extinct in fifty years, no matter what, because we didn't knock it off
      during the last fifty years. Our bad.

      But wait, maybe you didn't catch that. One third-three of every ten-species
      on this planet. Extinct, which means gone for good. Dinosaur time. It was
      funny when it was just losers like the dodo or the Tasmanian wolf. But we
      can't spare three out of ten species. The destruction won't be
      proportional, as in, we lose three marsupials, three reptiles, and three
      fish out of every ten. Certain neighborhoods will take the brunt of the
      punishment, just like in Chicago.

      Do you like songbirds? They're going to get their tiny little clocks
      cleaned. Butterflies, frogs, maple trees, and all those cute arctic species
      like polar bears are sca-hrood. Already. Irrevocably. Too late. Apologies
      to the missus. So what can we do?

      A good start, as I mention, is to stop with the oil and coal and other
      Cambrian byproducts. If we stop burning fossil fuels next week, not only
      will we never have to explain to the deaf man behind the bullet proof glass
      that we said pump seven, not pump eight, but we'll save the Earth from
      further degradation of its living skin. We still lose a third of all
      species, but the rest of them can breathe a sigh of relief. Or at least

      But it's unlikely we'll stop with the petrochemicals anytime soon, so maybe
      we could just try to taper it off over time. If we taper our fuel usage the
      way a pencil point is tapered, as opposed to the way Nelson's Column is
      tapered, we could get away with something like forty percent of species on
      Earth going extinct. That's not so bad, is it? I mean it's kind of bad,
      especially if you happen to be a mongoose or a birch tree and your ticket
      gets punched. But at least there will be a few things left around, here and
      there, that aren't strictly domesticated.

      There have been mass extinctions before, after all, and as in the case of
      the thirty-foot-tall carnivorous reptiles, there were upsides. Try having a
      barbecue with a gigantosaurus in the neighborhood. But mankind wasn't
      responsible for the other mass extinctions. Just the occasional individual

      It's bad enough we're in for a third of all species, but what if we just
      say to hell with it, let's keep on partying? I'm glad you asked, though I
      can't imagine why you would be. We could lose sixty percent of the other
      species on Earth. Entire ecological niches would vanish, entire classes of
      animals and plants gone for good so we can live in comfort and not learn to
      ride horses. Oceans devoid of life. Vast regions scorched into deserts.
      Every coastline, every island, every river, lake, and spring drained of
      water and life. Silent dawns and wildernesses clad only in stone. It's
      enough to make a guy wear Tyrolean hats.

      So let's start living a little more responsibly. Let's elect leaders who
      don't have people in the oil business. Let's not commodify fresh water,
      because then it's worth more if there's less of it. Let's try to stop
      logging our forests and paving our soil and generally bashing the hell out
      of an already overtaxed biosphere, because it will bash back. We will be
      judged not by a jury of our peers but by ourselves, in the future, which is
      where we are all inexorably headed. If we accept responsibility for what
      has happened in the past and reform our behavior from now on, we will still
      have done a terrible thing that will cloud the future, like breaking wind
      in a crowded elevator. But we will be like those brave souls who fought
      slavery, who defied the slaughter of innocents, who uplifted the oppressed.
      We will be remembered not for the destruction we wrought but for the
      efforts we made to end it. That's pretty good.

      If somebody can be remembered fondly for inventing the sousaphone, surely
      it is a far nobler thing to have halted the greatest catastrophe of the
      last fifty millennia? Or maybe we should all be inventing new kinds of
      brass instruments, what do I know. What matters is this: today is the
      yesterday of tomorrow, and what's past is prolapse. If we can just look at
      the future as the other end of the present, only sideways, we will know
      that now is the time to change our ways. Unless somebody can tell me how to
      change our behavior yesterday. On the other hand, maybe we'll all wake up
      next week made of gorgonzola cheese, in which case, problem solved.


      www.counterpunch.org, weekend edition, Jan 31/Feb 1 2004

      :De Clarke, Software Engineer UCO/Lick Observatory, UCSC:
      :Mail: de@... | Your planet's immune system is trying to get rid :
      :Web: www.ucolick.org | of you. --Kurt Vonnegut :
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