Reflections On An Oil Spill
“Dear future generations: Please accept our apologies. We were rolling drunk on petroleum.”
— Kurt Vonnegut
It is too late to apologize.
I am worried that the human race is not going extinct quickly enough to protect the Earth and its creatures from the devastation we are perpetrating on it.
As we mine the lands and oceans for the oil that we need to fuel our way of life, we are riven by conflicts that increase the likelihood that the weapons we have built, supposedly to protect ourselves, will be used against us.
As we mine the lands and oceans for the oil that we need to fuel our way of life, we experience climate change at an unprecedented rate because of our lust for more things: things that go faster, that shine brighter, that “enrich” the “quality” of our “life.”
As we mine the lands and oceans for the oil that we need to fuel our way of life, we experience earthquakes caused by tectonic plate shifts as Mother Earth readjusts her mantle in response to her polar ice caps becoming lighter.
As we mine the lands and oceans for the oil that we need to fuel our way of life, we strip people of the habitats that sustain their lives–lives already below or barely at the poverty line–and we drive those in the “undeveloped” world further into desolation and despair for the sole purpose of enhancing our already opulent lives in the “developed” one.
As we mine the lands and oceans for the oil that we need to fuel our way of life, we extinguish life at 100 to 1,000 times the naturally occurring rate of extinction ever, ever in the history of the planet. Not the history of humankind. The entire history of our 4.5 billion year old PLANET. Current modelling suggests that up to 50 per cent of all animal life on Earth (arrogantly, we have not included human beings as part of the equation) will be extinct within 100 years.
We are in a sixth mass extinction, called the Holocene extinction. We are entering a new Ice Age, and this one is caused not by asteroids hitting the Earth or a natural warm-up in the environment allowing bacteria to take over the oceans, but by us. By the one species with the most evolutionarily advanced brain–a brain capable of considering itself the top of the food chain. By creatures who evolved to create technologies that are beyond our own comprehension to manage and that inevitably will, and clearly are, destroying everything on Earth including ourselves.
But not, in my opinion, fast enough.
We have developed nuclear power–so called “clean” energy–bringing power to people around the world and improving their productivity so they can make more stuff, and also make more people–requiring us to generate more power. We have nowhere to store the radioactive waste, which we know will outlast our species by hundreds of thousands of years.
We have developed atomic weapons that we can’t and shouldn’t ever use, for they will more surely destroy us than save us from destruction regardless of who fires first.
We have manufactured space-age materials and technologies to communicate with each other over vast distances, but the gaps between cultures are as wide as ever and we don’t understand each other any better than we did in the Dark Ages–we’re only more aware of how many more of us there are and that they live on the opposite side of a round ball that circles the sun, rather than a flat disc at the centre of a finite Universe.
This latter knowledge–that we are but one species on one planet of an infinite number in an ever-expanding Universe–has really not given us the perspective it should have, because at the same time as we’ve developed the means of communication to bring us together as citizens of that planet, we’ve also developed religions and national borders and political systems still rooted in the philosophies of the Dark Ages that drive us apart.
The devices that we manufacture using the space-age materials we’ve invented now fill mile-high landfills in China and Latin America and an area the size of Texas swirling in the South Pacific because they cannot be re-absorbed by the Earth and we don’t know how to get rid of the core materials. Although we sure do know how to get rid of the devices that we make of them–cell phones, computers, game consoles, radios, TVs–and have come to accept the term “planned obsolescence” without really thinking about the impact it has on our oceans, our land and our people.
We have developed genetically-modified foods that cause the very cancers that we’ve developed life-saving surgeries and treatments to eradicate. Despite being able to farm healthy foods better and faster than ever before, and despite eating 2,700 calories a day–500 calories more than people ate just 40 years ago–the U.S. has the highest diabetes, cardiac and obesity rates of any nation on Earth because there’s more money to be made manufacturing and selling junk food than there is growing and distributing healthy food (genetically modified or not).
We spend kajillions of dollars a year sending probes into space and to distant planets looking for signs of life, while back on Earth millions of our own people die for lack of food, water, medicine and shelter that would cost a fraction of that.
Somewhere buried in the rock of the Earth’s pre-Cambrian shield in Norway is a cement-encased bunker that holds half a million seeds, gathered over the past two years from every area of the world. The best and most resilient grains that can restore plant life to Earth and provide sustenance for any survivors of environmental cataclysm, either natural or human-created.
My fervent hope is that, if it ever came to needing them, no one survives to plant them. Because I think we’ve pretty much proven that human beings are a failed species, destined to obliterate not just themselves but pretty much every other living thing–animal,vegetable and mineral–that surrounds us on this beautiful and currently still blue-and-green rock hurtling through the Universe.
I am so very, very glad that I never had children. My line and legacy will die out with me. It’s the least I can offer you, Mother Earth. I pray that as we wipe ourselves out through our own greed and ignorance–or rather, through being too smart for our own good–we leave you with enough of what you need to replenish yourself after we’re gone.