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The bearable weight of not-being

(Note: Commentaries do not necessarily represent the position of ASPO-USA.)

My friend, Rob Dietz, has reminded me about these words by Aldo Leopold: “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” But when I mention the assorted causes of my internal bleeding to my wife and friends, they all look at me with disbelief and impatience. They do not feel the way I often do. What if their thinking is wiser and reflects what really can be done in a world overrun by seven billion people, who always want more than they have at any given moment and place? For most people on the Earth, “more” means safe water to drink, fresh food to eat, and a shelter with a cook stove and an outhouse. For the very few “more” means a $2.5 million watch and unlimited access to all conceivable resources to be used at will.

So let me step back. The Earth, our beautiful blue and green living planet, will continue to be when we are gone, just as she was before we came. In fact, she probably is shutting down or simplifying her life-giving forests, savannahs, estuaries and oceans to get us to launch and shrug us off a little faster; a pesky, self-important and self-righteous species that literally eats her alive. Boy, is she getting tired of us and our prayers for a rain here while we are obliterating trees and clouds over there. In my lonely chronic hurt, am I yet another well-meaning but self-deluded, affluent American, who thinks that he may stem the inevitable with a teaspoon?

Save the planet?! What a stupid and arrogant thing to say! How about this: “Please, please, God, let the planet save us, and we promise to get out of her way.” Of course, as a species, we are organically incapable of saying this simple prayer and following up on it.

The New Yorker Cartoon Collection

We can’t say this prayer, because more for us is all we want. To make sure that we get what we want, we have created and refined the most successful - if only for us - social contract in the history of mankind: The Global Capitalism.

Where I write these words, everyone - even the poorest - has benefited from the global capitalism and everyone uses the multitudinous fruits of its technology. So why should we change? Only because we may be committing suicide in slow-motion? Or because millions of others are suffering and dying for our comfort?

Sorry, no time to answer these questions. I’m off in my Prius to a farmer’s market 12 miles away. I positively need to pick up some locally grown produce and a fair-trade cappuccino. It’s my time to relax. So why do I need to see that guy in a beat-up truck who’s smoking a cigarette and drinking coke? What an environmentally insensitive slob! And he also looks so tired and unhealthy. Maybe he lost his job? Oh, who cares anyway? What a nice cappuccino…time to relax…

A 6-mile wide lake of absolutely deadly toxic waste left near Baotou, China, after refining and smelting the rare earth metals we use in our Priuses and in wind turbines. But I love my Prius and the renewable electricity I get. Did I mention that plenty of soil there is also poisoned, as well as groundwater and one of the major waterways in China? In short, people die far away so that I can boast my environmental credentials and drive a Prius.

P.S. I hope that Milan Kundera would agree with my assessment. Please read his masterpiece, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”

P.S.P.S. For the record, I actually do not own a Prius but drive a small, diesel engine-powered Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI. And I do not drive 24 miles to get a stupid cappuccino. Every day, I do see, however, the poor and the dispossessed, even in the affluent booming Austin, TX.

Tadeusz (Tad) Patzek was recently appointed to the ASPO-USA Board of Directors. He is the Lois K. and Richard D. Folger Leadership Professor and Chair of the Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department at The University of Texas at Austin. Between 1990 and 2008, he was a Professor of Geoengineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to Berkeley, he was a researcher at Shell Development, a unique research company managed for 20 years by M. King Hubbert. Tad’s research and teaching involves mathematical and numerical modeling of earth systems, and the thermodynamics and ecology of energy supply for human survival. He is also conducting research on unconventional natural gas and oil resources. Tad is a coauthor of over 200 papers and reports, and one book.

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