About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

OK World, It is time to Admit you have a Problem


I think it is time to be blunt: the world is as addicted to oil like the way Amy Winehouse was addicted to meth.  And like Amy Winehouse, if we do not get help and rehab for our addiction, we will all die a horrible and painful death.

This is especially important to me, as a Coloradoan, given that under the world's largest oil reserve sits under my state.  In fact, bound up in the Green River Formation is an oil reserve equal to double all of the worlds proven oil reserves, if we could find out how to tap it.  It's called Oil Shale, and it holds approximately 3 trillion barrels of oil.  Just for comparison, throughout all human history of oil production, we have used approximately 1 trillion barrels.  In other words, there is enough oil in Oil Shale to fuel the world at current consumption rates for probably 200 years.

There's just one problem with this.  It would require basically removing most of Western Colorado and Eastern Utah's mountains.  Basically, Oil shale has to be heated to 5,000 degrees to extract the oil.  It also would require most of the water that the Western  United States consumes for life.

You would think permanently ruining some of the most beautiful lands in the world, and basically taking all of the West's water would make this an non-viable solution. 

And you would be wrong.

And this is where the addiction thing comes in.  Addicts do not make rational choices.  Period.  For an example of this horror, look at the what is happening in Alberta, arguably it was as beautiful of an unspoiled wilderness as Western Colorado.  Now it is a smoking pit from the depths of Hell.

The Alberta Tar Sands (After)

An addict will throw everything away for their next fix.  Spouse?  Forget it, the next hit is far more important than that.  Bank accounts?  Gone.  Irreplaceable family heirlooms, sold.  Roof over their head?  Nope.  Health?  Destroyed.  NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING is as important as that hit.

And that is how it will be with the environment.  As soon as the easy to get to oil is gone, we will move to the not easy to get oil.  Right now, thanks to our addiction, we are in the process of destroying the stability of Oklahoma.   In just the first six months of this year, Oklahoma has summered from 241 potentially damaging 3.0 quakes.  This is more than double all of the quakes for 2013, at 109 and almost equals the total for the last five years, which was 278.  And before you think a 3.0 is nothing, realize that in the type of rock of Oklahoma, a 3.0 can tear apart a foundation and cause lasting damage to a structure, even if there is no collapse.

And whether or not the extraction industry wants to admit it, it is most likely the result of fracking.  We should have learned this lesson in the sixties, when Colorado, normally a very stable state, suffered a swarm of earthquakes resulting from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal disposing of chemical wastes by pumping it underground.  The earthquakes started after they began the pumping and stopped shortly after the pumping ceased. 

The problem with things like fracking is that the earth is a far more complex system than we like to acknowledge.  We have far more potential for devastation than we are comfortable in admitting.  Further, we turn a blind eye on things that are correlated, because we dismiss them as a correlation does not equal causation fallacy.  That's not to say that fallacy is incorrect in terms of logical arguments.  However, falling back to that position means that we typically refuse to investigate whether things are just coincidental or actually a causal chain.  While vaccines causing Autism is a correlation, not causation, that does not mean that any similar thing is the same.  Also, before they actually proved it as a correlation not causation situation, they tested the potentiality extensively.

However, when something is as seemingly necessary as oil and gas, people want to stick their fingers in their ears and not hear any potential issues.  In other words, it is in their own self interest to refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem.

This is the same thing as with addicts, especially in the early stages of addiction, before the devastation to their life begins in earnest.   Getting drunk before going to bed every night is just "to help me unwind."  Taking a shot of vodka first thing in the morning is just a "hair of the dog."  Even a spouse leaving is, "they didn't understand me and support me."  It is only when the addiction has completely destroyed someone's life that they will acknowledge the problem.  Sadly, even then, they often won't do anything to cure it.  They fall into the, "I can't change so why try" trap.  You see hundreds of these people littering the streets of most American Cities.  And because we condemn addiction as a personal failing, the larger society does not have much inclination to help.  Worse we often enable that behavior.

And America is a nation of enablers in terms of our oil addiction.  Even people who take the steps of using mass transit, buying electric vehicles, putting PV on their roofs, etc either continue to elect the oil addicts to office, or just complain about them.  We do not hold their feet to the fire to actually do something.

I even see that enabling attitude in myself.  Sometimes I think, maybe we should just go ahead and do things like open up the Artic Wildlife Refuge to drilling now, when we can at least win significant concessions to protect the environment, rather than wait until our reserves are running out, when the drilling will just be a rape and scrape operation.

However, this is no different than me buying an addict a bottle of Vodka or a crack rock so that they don't sell their Grandfather's watch.  They are getting their addiction fed, and I'm delaying the point before they hit rock bottom.  Sooner or later, they will sell that watch, and sooner or later, we will rape the earth to satisfy our addiction.  All environmental protections do is delay the inevitable, because they don't attack the root problem, which is the addiction.

And getting over an addiction is not easy.  An intervention is not easy.  But an intervention is exactly what the world needs.

Before you think it is impossible, realize that even a sizable number of Republicans are admitting that Global Warming is real, and further that it is being caused by people.   However, getting them to turn against the extraction industry will be harder.  Even Democrats from Coal and Oil States can't stop their enabling ways.  Our own Governor, Hickenlooper, wants to develop compromises to allow the fracking to continue in the state.  This is no different than payoing for drugs for an addict so that they don't have to choose between drugs and life.

It is up to each of us to hold our representative's feet to the fire.  Further, it is up to us to say, no to drilling, no to fracking, no to environmental devastation.  If we rise up, as in an intervention, and say, "You have gone this far, but no more," we stand a chance.  It is hard to get an addict to recognize the problem, even harder to get them to accept help.  However, we owe it to our children to try.

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