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We Don’t Have Rights to the Whole Freaking Globe
And Other Anti-Human Arrogance Points
Three weeks ago, on a cold night in eastern Ohio, the customary hum and clank of a train speeding through town was replaced by shrieking, screeching, metallic grinding and roaring flames as the train flew off the tracks and flipped; it was carrying flammable toxic chemicals. For the residents of this small town, there will be life before the chemical spill and life after. As I type, these poisons are wafting through the air, flowing into area waterways and seeping into the soil toward groundwater supplies and area wells.
Since the event, there has been a good deal of media coverage. Elected officials from the state and federal levels have visited and tried to comfort residents. Executives from the Norfolk Southern railway have promised to pay for full clean up and help homeowners and businesses in the area recover some of their losses. CNN hosted a townhall in which affected residents had a chance to ask face-to-face questions of Ohio governor, Mike DeWine, Norfolk Southern CEO, Alan Shaw, and EPA officials. The residents are understandably deeply angry, afraid and distrustful. Many are suffering serious illness reactions to the chemicals, are unable to stay in their homes, cannot drink their tap water, and have no idea where it’s all headed.
It seems justifiable that most of the anger is being directed at Norfolk Southern. After all, they make millions transporting stuff, including deadly chemicals, right through people’s neighborhoods. However, that focus misses the much bigger issue.
As I’ve noted before if we don’t ask the right questions, the answers really don’t matter. Everyone is asking, “Who should have to pay?”, and “How much?”, and “Is the water safe to drink?” Those are certainly important questions, but the deeper questions are why have we built a civilization that depends on toxic poisons and how can we redesign a healthier, saner system?
Humans are the only species on Earth that create products and waste that the planet cannot process. We also appear to be the only species arrogant enough to feel that we have a right to use and abuse every single portion of the planet regardless of the outcomes.
Here’s another example. I was recently listening to NPR radio airing a report on the unusual number of whale deaths along the East coast of the United States. The biologist was explaining that several of the washed-up bodies had large gash wounds, likely the result of being smashed into by huge cargo ships. The theory is that with global warming whales are moving into new territories looking for food while at the same time, ship traffic is ever-increasing as humans move more and more stuff all around the globe. The NPR host, her voice filled with obvious concern, said, “Can anything be done to help the whales?” The biologist suggested maybe forcing ships to slow down in certain areas; she didn’t sound very hopeful. Neither of them even mentioned deeper questions, such as, “Should certain portions of the ocean, including shipping lanes, be off-limits to human activity during whale migrations or calving periods?” Or, “Do we really need to be shipping that much stuff all over the place?” Or, “Could we design an economy that is a restorative, rather than destructive force?”
And a final example (for now). I live in Oregon. One of the things this state is known for is our land-use law system that has acted to prevent urban sprawl into agricultural lands and kept the beaches open to the public. In a push to get the U.S. out in front as a global producer of microchips which power so much of our society now, the Biden administration has passed legislation to grant major incentives to chip manufacturing companies. In response, chip producers and associated special interests in Oregon are pushing to grant the governor executive powers to set aside land-use laws so that ag land can be converted to industrial uses. So far, I have not heard a single story about this issue that has pointed out that one of Earth’s rarest resources is fertile, soil-rich ag land. Once you scrape it off, pave it over, contaminate it, it is gone for at least multiple generations. So far, no one is asking, “What’s really more important here, arable food-producing land to feed the growing human population, or more factories to create more chips to go into more stuff?”
The simple, but uncomfortable, truth is that humanity is dangerously out-of-balance with the natural systems upon which we are utterly dependent and continuing to adhere to a grow, grow, grow economic trajectory is attempting to live outside the bounds of physics. And here are some questions worth asking, “Are humans really better off with more plastic stuff and fewer and fewer wild places and wild species?” “Are we really in better shape with more ships and fewer whales?” “Is it really a human right to use and abuse so much of Creation?” I say no, no, no. What say you?
Like so many times before, this current consumption-based manic civilization will crack, in fact, is already cracking. In that lies the hope that a better way, a more beautiful and moral way, will push through like flowers stretching toward the sun through cracks in the concrete.
The economic system change movement is alive and growing stronger. The more we question the assumptions of the current mainstream status quo, the more we use our voices and vision to ask the real questions, and speak truth, the sooner a more beautiful civilization will emerge.
P.S. I really hope and trust that someday the Plato quote in this image will not be the case.
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