Fossil-Fuel Vampires and other Nightmares
by Rick Marianetti
I was doing research on the net for my first trip to Europe with my girlfriend and her son when I discovered the 2000 World’s Fair would be held in Hannover, Germany. My father had attended the San Francisco World’s Fair in 1939 and recounted to me his incredulous amazement at a new electronic device he saw on display that magically transmitted real-time moving images from a camera wired to a large vacuum tube in another room. Later I recalled all the hoopla over several of the World’s Fairs held in North America—Montreal, Vancouver, New York—and since we planned to drive through Germany, we arranged to stop at Hannover.
Yet neither I nor anyone I knew had heard a word about Expo 2000. While the absence of publicity seemed odd to me at the time, it would foreshadow much stranger events to come.
We landed in Paris and pulled into Hannover a few weeks later, excitedly anticipating the United States exhibit as we made our way onto the grounds. To my astonishment, I discovered that my country had inexplicably bowed out of the festivities. For the first time in its 150 year history, the World’s Fair would go on without the United States. I had to find out what happened, so I asked around.
“Politik”, “políticas”, “la politique” and “Budgetary constraints” were the usual explanations. Nearly every Fortune 500 company had been approached for funds by Mattel’s William Rollnick, appointed by President Clinton as U.S. Expo Commissioner. Incredibly, no one offered him a dime, even though the United States stock market was at an all-time high. Yet 175 other nations, none as prosperous as the United States—most far less so—managed to scrape together enough money to put up a pavilion or at least an exhibit.
World’s Fair Revelations
We were standing outside the Columbian exhibit when it struck me: The fair’s official theme—Ecology: Humanity, Nature, and Technology—said it all.
The same story can begin in more than one place, depending on the perspective of the person telling it. For me, the bewildering implications of that summer day in Hannover would coalesce into a full-blown revelation about the far-reaching effects of the United States’ energy policy.
After the Supreme Court decided the most controversial Presidential election in the nation’s history, the United States would go on to disavow the 1972 ABM treaty with Russia, refuse to ratify the Kyoto agreement, pull out of the UN Conference Against Racism, and pass on the Johannesburg Environment Summit. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the President would take a month off to chop logs at his Texas retreat while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict spiraled hideously out of control.
Nero played a violin. The less musically inclined Bush wielded an ax—at least during photo-ops.
Less than a year after the last world citizen passed through the turnstiles of Expo 2000, nineteen Middle Eastern nationals used vinyl box-cutters to elude security procedures in place at the time and commandeered four domestic passenger airliners. Intent on transforming the planes into suicidal ballistic missiles, the men purposely slammed two of the planes—both armed with 1,000 gallons of high-octane jet fuel—into New York’s World Trade Center. Another hit the Pentagon, while heroic passengers onboard the last plane brought it down over the Pennsylvania countryside before it could crash into the White House.
In downtown Manhattan, fires approaching 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit incinerated 3,000 people and 10 million square feet of office space worth well over $30 billion. The 110-story twin-tower landmark that took 7 years to construct vaporized within minutes of impact.
The President Hits the Trifecta
The world did indeed change for many of us, including President Bush, on that dark September morning. Budget director Mitchell Daniels recalls the President’s reaction a few days later:
He had always listed, throughout his campaign and since, the reasons why the nation might depart from (a balanced fiscal) policy, reasons he had given as acceptable for running fiscal deficits: for war, recession, or emergency. As he said to me in mid-September, “Lucky me. I hit the trifecta.” (Office of Management and Budget-Executive office of the President)
The “trifecta,” a long shot horse-racing bet won by correctly selecting the order of the first three horses in the same race, paid off handsomely for Bush. He was no longer bound to campaign promises or budgetary constraints. John Ashcroft, appointed Attorney General after literally losing his senatorial seat to a dead man, benefited as well, easily persuading a malleable, panic-stricken Congress to pass the dangerously unexamined USA PATRIOT ACT.
The “War against Evil” was off and running. While the President may be no more cynical than most politicians, I can’t say I share his joy over his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reinvent the United States government. Yes, there are those who wish to inflict harm on innocent Americans. Unquestionably, the government should do everything in its power to protect our citizens and stop the terrorists, or as the President put it in his less than Churchillian prose, “round ’em up ‘n bring ’em back dead or alive.”
But there is more to the story. The geopolitical context of the Bush crusade still remains largely unarticulated. Saudi Arabian citizen Osama bin Laden and his followers want to see American bases removed from their country and to establish a viable Palestinian state—not exactly the epic struggle between Islam and the West we’re told about daily.
After rearranging the rubble in Afghanistan with over 22,000 bombs, missiles, and other ordinance—leaving this year’s bumper crop of the world’s leading heroin supplier miraculously intact—the central Asian country was now safe for freedom and democracy. And a $2 billion, 1000-mile long oil pipeline. A little-discussed BBC story published September 11, 2001 puts Afghanistan in perspective:
“The US—and several countries in the region—are also keen to commercially exploit the vast oil and gas reserves in Central Asia, and believe that Afghanistan holds the key. Several countries are exploring the idea of building a pipeline from Central Asia across Afghanistan to Pakistan and beyond—something that would be impossible without a stable Afghanistan.” A year later, Unocal is leading a consortium of countries in the pipeline’s construction.
Now Iraq finds itself in the crosshairs of America’s military machine. The war drums beat louder and faster, even though it was not the Iraqis who shot at American soldiers in Afghanistan, crashed planes into the World Trade Center, or bombed a Balinese discothèque. And Iraqis weren’t anywhere near Washington, D.C. last year when trillions of anthrax spores (remember anthrax?) contaminated the Senate and House of Representatives, shutting down the government for weeks. Five American citizens died from the attacks and several more were hospitalized. The government’s investigation concluded the weapons-grade toxin was milled in the United States and almost certainly circulated by an American scientist with a high-security clearance.
Iraq does, however, possess the second largest oil reserves in the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia.
Ironically, most of the funding for terrorism comes from Saudi Arabia and Afghan drug sales. While Saddam Hussein is unquestionably a murderous dictator, Saudi Arabia’s leaders don’t rate much better—except that they control a quarter of the world’s oil reserves and keep the oil spigots turned on for us when OPEC decides to tighten oil supply.
The Good Ship Condoleezza
The administration’s ties to the petroleum industry are not a secret; even the President’s National Security Advisor had a 129,000-ton Chevron oil tanker named after her. With so many of Bush’s confidantes connected to big oil conglomerates, Ms. Rice, Chevron Director from 1991 to January 15, 2001, quietly asked her former employer to remove her name from the good ship Condoleezza lest voters begin having nightmares about a giant black blob of petroleum sludge slithering straight out of a 1950s science fiction movie and wrapping its slimy, elongated, suction-cup dotted appendages around the White House.
Given the President’s approval ratings, razzle-dazzle public relations ploys like rechristening an oil tanker have proven to be quite successful. We’re “fighting for freedom,” not taking over a sovereign nation’s oil fields. The American public, educated since 9/11 to believe dissenting points of view are unpatriotic, continues to swallow the administration’s bill of goods like force-fed geese being plumped up to be butchered for foie gras.
While Bush and his advisors high-five each other over their good fortune at “hitting the trifecta,” the cumulative effects of ignoring the interrelationships of collective behavior erode everyone’s quality of life. Conventional measures like Gross Domestic Product (GDP) suggest an ever-increasing standard of living, but such figures can be misleading. GDP figures don’t distinguish between the costs of building symphony halls and F-16 Fighter Jets, between restoring the Sistine Chapel and cleaning up toxic waste leaching into the ground water.
Fossil Fuel Vampires
Like a gargantuan fossil fuel vampire, America’s petroleum-based economy requires the unimpeded flow of hydrocarbons from decomposed plants and dinosaurs, irrespective of the social costs. Automobiles that run on gasoline are a necessity for many people, but the consequences of a policy that ignores alternative sources of energy has brought our world to the precipice of World War III and affected the environment in unpredictable, often pernicious ways. Thomas Homer-Dixon, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto and Director of the Centre for the Study of Peace and Conflict, describes humankind’s impact on this little blue sphere we call home:
“We are moving so much rock and dirt, blocking and diverting so many rivers, converting so many forests to cropland, releasing such huge quantities of heavy metals and organic chemicals into the air and water, and generating so much energy, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen compounds that we are perturbing the deepest dynamics of our global ecosystems.” (Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Ingenuity Gap, p 54.)
In spite of the pervasive, complex calamities facing the world, America’s unprecedented unilateral posture persists. Looking out into the 21st century, the administration’s foreign policy has the appearance of a roller coaster about to go over the top on tracks so corroded by rust they will not hold up for the ride down. Dwindling fresh water supplies, increasing pollution, more terrorism spawned by an outrageously unequal distribution of wealth—name your poison.
Our obscenely bought-off leaders, guarded by Uzi-toting, flak-jacketed security operatives, read scripts off TelePrompTers like shills on a late-night infomercial. No one seems to have a clue what’s going on: The G-7 countries lumber on in a near-psychotic state of denial, their leaders uncertain which buttons to push or levers to pull in the right combination to prevent the world from careening catastrophically out of control.
The Hopi Indians had a word for this state of affairs: koy.aa.nis.qat.si (Hopi) [n]: 1. Crazy life. 2. Life out of balance. 3. Life disintegrating. 4. Life in turmoil. 5. A way of life that calls for another way of living.
Is there any hope for the future? I’ll address that subject in the next issue—appropriately—during the Spring Equinox.
Rick Marianetti is a freelance writer and American patriot living in San Francisco. Rick welcomes your comments at [email protected]