Tuesday, May 18, 2010
The Orange Alligator (3)
The trouble with obsessing over collapse," Bill McKibben writes in the second half of "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet," "Is that it keeps you from considering other possibilities." He was chiding writers like Jim Kunstler and Jared Diamond, dubbed as "doomers" or "dystopians" in a recent New Yorker article, whose writing McKibben classifies as "collapse porn." "Collapse," he writes, "can become as much of an ideological fixation as growth." It's something I've been concerned with myself, when I write here. But that was before the oil starting gushing uncontrollably in the Gulf. Computer models are now showing the oil is dangerously close to the loop current which would carry it into the Atlantic Ocean.
We're not entirely out of possibilities, McKibben suggests in his book. But when the engines start to fail, we have to stop being progress junkies, trying to fly the plane higher. Instead we need to learn to manage our descent and aim for a relatively graceful decline. "From now on," he argues, "we're about KEEPING what we've got. MAINTENANCE is our mantra." We need stability and security more than we need dynamism and growth and progress and speed. Those times are over. We need to understand that we are a country that has a chronic disease that slows us down, a country being sapped by global warming and the end of oil and a flailing economy. We need to not squander what we have.
Not squandering what we have becomes a surreal injunction as we hemorrhage precious oil reserves, while simultaneously suffocating the sea and its inhabitants. This is surely a double whammy, and it may well be the case that there's no way we can actually withstand it. McKibben's book, only a few weeks ago, seemed like a massive leap away from the notion of "future threat" into a more immediate reality. In light of the events transpiring in the Gulf, that leap may already be obsolete.
My good friend Bob Walker recently forwarded some thoughts to me that he had just written to someone else, a friend who was stressing over the latest Supreme Court nomination charade. Bob wrote him back: "All this is much ado about nothing. The real crisis is ongoing in the Gulf of Mexico, and could prove to be an extinction level event. There are reports this morning that the BP/TransOcean/Haliburton oil spill is orders of magnitude greater than anyone first admitted. The reservoir beneath DeepWaterHorizon has been described as “colossal.” That is precisely why BP chose that spot on which to drill. A prominent US geologist said that at the present rate of discharge, the spill "would take years to deplete." That merits repeating: The spill could continue for years. Matthew Simmons, retired chair of the energy-industry investment bank Simmons & Company, said that BP and the US military's engineers are more or less clueless about cutting off the flow.”
Last weekend I had my monthly salon gathering, and everyone arrived in a jolly mood, in what seemed like a happy place--as if all was well with the world. I had determined beforehand not to bring up the subject of the oil spill--unless someone else introduced it first. Nobody did. In the end, I basked instead in the feeling of normalcy and human conviviality. I was able somehow in that atmosphere to cross back over from the far side of the looking glass and reclaim my membership in the human race, only because other people had not been as laid low by all this as me. They didn't especially realize it, but they actually rescued me from Hades, a kidnapped Persephone, and released me, with their focus on other things. I definitely don't want to go back to the underworld. It was a teaching moment: I saw that avoidance, even of potential death, can be instead the embrace of life. Avoidance does not necessarily mean careless indifference.
So I will in future follow the counsel of the I Ching, to remain gently aware that the mood [in this case, the threat to survival of life on this planet] is definitely there, and to simply watch it as one might watch a fish in the tank. "While we are not able to get rid of the mood immediately, such means enable us to keep it from getting out of hand during critical moments."
If massive suffering is truly what is on the cards for us,, then at least there is one consolation: it hasn't happened yet. In the meantime, the I Ching advises that "the time calls for self -discipline, not self-pity."