Fossil-Fuel Vampires - Part II by Rick Marianetti
“Let me pose a riddle: What do oil company executives and vampires . . . have in common? They fear solar energy. They fear the power of the sun.” ~Dr. Michio Kaku, pioneer of superstring theory, leading authority on Einstein’s Unified Field Theory, Harvard graduate summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa.
Bill Moyers: The Non-Partisan Center for Responsive Politics says less than one-tenth of one percent of the country gave 85 percent, almost 85 percent, of all itemized contributions in our recent elections. What does that tell you, Senator? Senator John McCain: Well, it tells me that it’s huge amounts of money contributed by a handful of Americans that are dictating the legislative agenda here in Congress. ~Transcript from NOW with Bill Moyers, December 13, 2002.
“They hate what they see right here in this chamber…Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” ~President George W. Bush, 9/20/01
Prologue If President Bush’s assessment is correct, the terrorists have achieved far greater success than he might care to admit: Five weeks after he spoke those words, the 342-page USA PATRIOT Act passed through Congress like a rancid burrito. Incredibly, our elected officials who signed it into law admitted to having not even read it. Apparently the administration intends to make the United States a less tantalizing target by indiscriminately eliminating many of the freedoms Bush so enthusiastically extolled in his speech. How else to explain this administration’s taking aim not only on the Bill of Rights, but the flow of information that is the life-blood of democracy?
As I write, a bill drafted by Attorney General John Ashcroft’s office entitled “The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003” is about to hit the fan. A sequel to the USA PATRIOT Act, it will allow the government increased power to gather domestic intelligence while reducing judicial review and public access to information.
Most ominously, the bill will legalize secret arrests of United States citizens.
Never in the history of this country have secret arrests been sanctioned; not when a foreign power burnt down the White House in the beginning of the 19th century, not during the Civil War, not even during two World Wars.
In South American countries, such extra-legal acts of detainment are euphemistically called “disappearances.”
American Stories “A happy ending depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” ~Orson Welles
Without enough information, a story cannot be told. Where it begins is just as important as where it ends. Who tells it, how the story is bracketed, determines who is on the “right” side of history.
Start with this story: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. ~Genesis
But what came before the beginning of time?
Physicists like Michio Kaku talk about 10-dimensional space; mystics peer into the void to find peace, while poets, “the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,” (Howl, Allen Ginsberg) find another kind of solace: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” ~Tempest, William Shakespeare
We define ourselves by our stories. We consume stories 24/7 from thousands of TV & radio stations, newspapers, magazines, books. From that information, we construct the stories that tell us who we are, where we came from, and what to anticipate from the future.
But news stories in the American media don’t do a very good job of telling us what happened before the news became “news”.
Consider the following story: Newspapers and local television news broadcast warnings about PCB and mercury-laden fish swimming in rivers, lakes, and bays from coast to coast as if they were reporting the weather. Everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it.
Or this story: In late January this year, the Centers for Disease Control released the “most extensive assessment ever” of Americans’ exposure to environmental chemicals. They tested blood and urine samples of 2,500 people in 1999 and 2000 for 116 chemicals, including heavy metals, pesticides, insect repellants, and disinfectants.
The results? An average of 50 or more chemicals were found streaming through the urinary tracts and circulatory systems of each person—many at dangerously high levels; chemicals that are either linked to cancer, considered toxic to the brain and nervous system, or known to interfere with the hormone and reproductive systems. Even surprisingly high concentrations of DDT were detected, though it has been banned in the United States since 1972.
The stories have antecedents. Our bodies, like the waters from which they emerged, are turning into toxic waste dumps. Yet rarely is the question asked, “Why?”
Beginnings Without enough information, stories begin arbitrarily, as if by spontaneous combustion. Airliners crash into buildings and we’re told we will have to live in a state of high alert indefinitely, “that we may never be finished, not in our lifetime, as long as there are people out there who are willing to kill innocent people to pursue their objectives.” ~Sec. of State Colin Powell, National Public Radio, March 27, 2002
Did this story begin on 9/11? What about the toxic chemicals that stream through our nation’s waterways, and that contaminate the blood pulsating through our own veins and arteries? Like the beginning of time—ushered in by the big-bang or God’s cosmic intervention—these stories seemingly emerged out of a void of darkness.
Like the daily weather report, these stories are processed by our conscious-ness as if they were natural occurrences beyond human volition, isolated factoids materialized out of thin air.
To varying degrees, the complexity of the modern world is becoming more unmanageable, but the web of causal links from which terrorism or environmental degradation have emerged remains largely unexplored by mainstream media. All too often, the question “Why” doesn’t come up.
Not to say coverage is non-existent, but TV has taught me a lot more about Justin Timberlake’s post-Britney emotional state than how burning coal poisons pristine rivers and lakes with airborne clouds of mercury that originated thousands of miles away (Why the Mercury Falls, p. 72, Science News, 2/1/03).
Ominous Signs at Home “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~Martin Luther King
The United States has emerged as the last superpower standing, the most powerful economic and military colossus the world has ever known. I want to believe that this country, in its glorious diversity, its Constitution and democratic institutions, truly is the “last great hope of the world.” But endless, obscene gobs of corporate money have a way of disfiguring democracy, elevating to high office men and women better suited to work in public relations than to be custodians of the public interest. The Supreme Court’s appointment of President Bush to the Executive Branch is the culmination of this twisted process.
Democracy will never be perfect, but the distortion that currently plagues the system gives me pause. Former speech-writer and Bush supporter David Frum’s comments about the Bush Presidency are most sobering, referring not only to “the dearth of really high-powered brains” among the President’s advisors, but that “one seldom heard an unexpected thought in the Bush White House or met someone who possessed unusual knowledge.”
Whether the result of some intellectual deficiency or darker impulse, actions taken by the Bush administration do not bode well for the future: a unilateral, transparently self-serving foreign policy; a “democracy” that sanctions secret arrests and indefinite detention of its citizens; unrestricted, warrantless searches; omniscient and unchecked surveillance; and the little discussed but unprecedented executive order by President Bush sealing all Presidential papers retroactive to 1980—including his own gubernatorial papers to be sealed along with his father’s.
The Story of Oil And then there’s oil, which North Korea’s leader and avowed atheist Kim Jong II prays to god his geologists won’t discover any time soon.
Oil greases the economy of the modern industrial states, particularly America’s economy. The lives and careers of the President and many of his senior associates in the executive branch have been shaped by it. So too is US foreign policy, requiring US troops to be stationed throughout the world, their singular mission being to protect the pipelines, tankers, refineries and regimes that guarantee our domestic fix of petroleum from afar.
It is fair to say that oil has been the central guiding principle of American foreign policy for the last 100 years. Considering the beginnings of the Story of Oil helps a lot of things to make sense, from our allies to our competitors, to who our enemies have been over the past century.
And we keep making new enemies over oil. Those terrorists who came out of the blue above New York on 9/11 and changed our lives so dramatically knew the Story of Oil and America’s part in it very well.
Our foreign policy puts every weapon in the arsenal at the disposal of our oil interests. Iraq is facing that arsenal now. Against the overwhelming superiority of America’s military power, “Iraq’s ramshackle and ill-trained army” (US News & World Report, 2/17/03) is little match. Even the CIA concludes Iraq is not a threat to world peace unless attacked. The impending war is but the latest chapter in the unfolding Story of Oil.
The world’s dependence on oil not only threatens world peace, but the continued viability of increasingly polluted air and waterways, which may be reaching the limit of their capacity to absorb the toxic emissions of modern industrialized societies. Meanwhile, United States entanglement in the Middle East guarantees that terrorists have a cause to rally around, while here at home more high terror alerts and the real possibility of a catastrophic attack increase.
To effectively deal with al Qaeda et.al. terrorists, and to insure our own domestic security will require that we change the future of the Story of Oil. It will require a coordinated, world-wide effort to break open the artificial boundaries that separate countries, people, beginnings, and endings—a revolution in, as President Bush might say, the “way we do things around here.”
What is National Security? And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. ~Genesis
Norway today generates over 10% of its power from wind-mills; breakthroughs in windmill engineering and construction will boost that number to nearly 50% by mid-century.
Eirtricity, an Irish electric company, is building the largest windmill farm in the world. Managing director Eddie O’Connor says offshore wind could provide two-thirds of Europe’s electricity by 2020. “The resources are there, the technology is proven, the costs continue to drop—all that is needed is the political will to see it happen.”
Built on a sandbank in the Irish Sea south of Dublin, the 200 turbines will produce 10% of Ireland’s electricity needs when they’re up and running.
The United States has deserts for solar-electric power, wind swept valleys for windmills, and thousands of miles of coastline where the power of the ocean remains unharnessed. Enough solar energy could be produced on 12,000 square miles of Nevada desert alone to power the entire nation, or at least greatly reduce the need for petroleum and coal, according to The Union of Concerned Scientists.
But public policy follows the money. In the last 10 years the United States has allowed only $55 million in wind tax credits. By contrast, the energy bill passed by the House in August 2001 allowed over $35 billion over 10 years for oil, gas, coal, and nuclear industries. No surprise really, when you consider that in 2000, petroleum industries gave $13 to George Bush for every $1 they gave to Al Gore. Coal gave $9 out of every $10 to Republicans (Fossil Fools, Mark Bivens, Utne Reader, January 2003). When money talks, policy walks.
Epilogue Some 60 years ago, our nation faced a challenge similar to the terror threat we face today. Early in the staggering confla-gration of World War II, a terrifying threat to our social institutions and way of life loomed across the Atlantic.
Nuclear weapons were only equations on a blackboard at that time. But, had the United States lost the race to develop the first fission bomb, you would be reading these words in German, I would be detained in a reeducation camp for having written them, and somewhere in the area we now refer to as Tel Aviv would stand the tallest skyscraper in the Middle East, with giant swastikas chiseled into its facade, headquarters of the local office of the Petroleum Company of Deutschland über Alles.
To win the race for “the bomb”, a national commitment of every intellectual and physical resource available, code-named “the Manhattan Project”, extracted from the theory of nuclear energy the most devastatingly powerful explosive ever developed.
Today we face a different kind of threat. The complexity of our transpor-tation, power, and communication systems—intricate layers of intercon-nected networks, nodes, and links interwoven throughout the country—provides an almost infinite array of targets for small, determined bands of fanatics. We found this out on the morning of 9/11/01.
Petroleum, the power source that makes all these systems go, degrades the environment and entangles the western world in a web of relationships that, like the illegal drug cartels, provides funds for further, potentially even more catastrophic attacks.
To combat the threat of terrorism at home, the Justice Department has radically transfigured the civil rights laws that protect American citizens, mirroring the tyrannical forces we're supposedly fighting against.
Meanwhile the US has sent hundreds of thousands of armed troops to Baghdad to remove Saddam Hussein by whatever means necessary. Military generals have targeted Iraq, a desert country about the size of California, with thousands of cruise missiles and laser-guided bombs. The cost? Larry Lindsay, President Bush's former economic adviser, estimates a minimum of $200 billion. The UN estimates the war will create between 600,000 and 1.45 million refugees.
All this precious money, energy and resources diverted, all this pain and suffering inflicted upon so many—to take out one man.
Something is wrong with this story. We need a new Manhattan Project, a coordinated reorganization of resources and energy networks that replaces our dependence on fossil fuels and creates reliable, nonpolluting energy sources. This new Manhattan project would transform our dominant energy institutions by developing alternative energy sources, including solar, wind, and hydrogen fuel cells.
What’s the alternative? Elevated terror alerts will neither increase our security nor protect us from catastrophic attacks by gangs of religious zealots. It’s time to change the Story of Oil and our national dependence on Middle East crude. It’s time to ask whether this administration is oblivious to the challenges of the 21st century or has just decided to place its supporters’ interests above the public interest.
It's time to engender a different story with a new beginning.
Rick Marianetti is a freelance writer and American patriot living in San Francisco. Rick welcomes your comments at [email protected].