Paul Andersen: Fair Game |

Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

Caring is not a choice. It happens when your world convulses with perceived injustice. Caring leads to action. Caring is the beginning of revolutions. Revolutions change the world.

Last week, a pair of events proved revolutionary in their power to elicit care. The Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland” was shown in Carbondale and Aspen. The Forests at Risk Conference was held at the Meadows. Anyone who attended them was changed.

There was dismay after “Gasland.” The audience was stunned. The documentary about oil and gas drilling evokes sympathy for people whose tap water hisses with flammable gas, their sinks igniting in balls of flame. Sympathy is palpable for people living in toxic clouds so that the rest of us can enjoy cheap natural gas.

Gasland shows the risks of squeezing fuel from the bedrock through “fracking,” a chemically-induced fracturing of the earth to open gas pockets. Gasland reveals what happens when free enterprise has easy access to volatile natural resources, the management of both being bereft of moral vision.

“Gasland” was shown at the Third Street Center in Carbondale, in the Calaway Room, named for Jim Calaway, who made his fortune in oil and gas. Calaway’s sons were featured in last week’s Sopris Sun for championing alternative energy. Fracking takes us one step back. The Calaways take us one step forward. Progress is painfully slow.

The Forest conference was a paean to the pines, particularly in the Western U.S. where 4 million acres are in peril. Climate change was the bigger topic – the biggest of them all. Some deny it – they can’t see the forest for the trees. Awareness comes only when their home forests turn brown. Then they blame only the bark beetles.

At the conference, we learned that dying forests are part of a bigger feedback loop. Climate warming allows the bark beetles to reproduce exponentially, which kills trees, which adds to atmospheric carbon, which alters climate, which produces more beetles, which kill more trees, which add to the carbon loop …

This winter, cold snaps killed native plants in the southwestern U.S. and deep into Mexico, producing a desertification loop spurred by severe weather events. Extreme cold kills plants, which causes defoliation, which leads to erosion, which frees windblown dust, which layers dust on snow, which brings earlier runoff, which accelerates desertification, which creates defoliation, which produces more windblown dust …

The arctic feedback loop is much simpler: Carbon emissions bring warming, which melts permafrost, which emits carbon, which increases warming, which melts permafrost … Thresholds and tipping points reveal delicate interconnections and accelerating damage in which humans are both prime agents and feckless pawns.

We have been taught to assume that technology is our savior. If problems are caused by the hand of man, they should be corrected by the hand of man. Technology, however, has no mastery over complex natural systems of which we have only superficial understanding. We are the sorcerer’s apprentice.

Controlling our consumptive lifestyles to reduce carbon is a moot point. “The American lifestyle is non-negotiable,” prophetically stated George HW Bush at the Earth Summit in 2003. Bush was right in his reading of rigidly held entitlements and exemptions. Americans will not give an inch.

Nature, however, may demand a negotiation with a moral plea, reasoned logic, and, most convincingly, the threat of survival. Al Gore stated at the Forest Conference that 2010 was the warmest year on record, that Pakistan recorded an all-time of 128 degrees. Nature breathes its fiery rhetoric.

The emerging climate-related food crisis is getting our attention. It already has in poor countries where tens of millions have been driven into poverty by rising food costs. Is our lifestyle non-negotiable when people starve? Most of us are simply not wired that way, or at least that’s my hope.

Human suffering is not lost on young people who witness the cause and effect of eco-crises. They act on their emotions. They demonstrate care. When caring happens on a large scale – like in Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain – change is not far off. An eco-revolution is heating up like the atmosphere. One day, it will emerge globally.

As environmental issues become indelible, young people everywhere will bond together to confront ecological damage and its agents. The Dick Cheneys of the world will be helpless to hold down a groundswell of activism as moral outrage at short-sighted policies rises up angry and flares like so many kitchen sinks in “Gasland.”

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