Living in upstate New York, hydrofracking is at the forefront of concern and action. In case you are still unfamiliar, fracking (as it’s known) is the process by which energy companies drill holes deep into the earth and by somewhat mysterious means break apart shale formations thus releasing natural gas. The gas is harvested by way of chemical cocktails and then refined and sold as a fuel. This process is taking place all around the country and all around the world, but it has stalled here in New York under a political stalemate. Governor Cuomo has called for a moratorium, claiming to be sorting out the safety science of it all. What it really means is that he is waiting for the public to lose interest so he can go ahead with the business deal, but so far we, the people, have been relentless. This episode of my column will not be about the pros and cons of fracking, however. It is clearly a reprehensible way to fuel our energy needs. The damage done to the towns and areas that weren’t lucky enough to halt it has been well documented. From a strictly environmentalist standpoint, I certainly don’t want fracking to take place. But, from another point of view, I do absolutely want it to take place.
That other point of view concerns the tired eyes through which I have been watching the American way of life. I am profoundly sick of the American way of life. I suspect, to some degree, one ever increasing, you are too. But before I digress, I just mean this: We have an energy problem. The problem with our energy problem is that we don’t acknowledge it’s a problem. I have often referred to the idea of distance in American culture. That sense of distance is built firmly into this issue. We are addicted to the virtual reality called America. Meaning, America as the place we live where we play out our lives; America as the fabric of our culture. We watch TV; we eat seafood; we drive to work; and we go about it all as if there are no consequences for the way we live. Our lives are removed from cause and effect. The oil and gas companies are addicted to profit. They rape and pillage the earth and exert an equal amount of effort (if not more) shirking the blame and avoiding paying the cost. They have no extended vision about the broken world they are helping to create. But at the same time, we, the people, are addicted to comfort. At the same time, we do not demand anything different. We consume and waste and demand more.
We all have had the friend who is dating so and so. We all know so and so is terrible and our friend is too good for it. But, there comes a point when your friend is the one who is putting up with it, dragging it out, not demanding anything better. That’s where our relationship is with energy companies. They suck. But we do too. Remember four years ago when Frito-Lay developed a bag for Sun Chips that would disintegrate in about 14 weeks? We killed it. We destroyed a landmark step in the right direction because no one had the visionary foresight to pour the god damn chips into a god damn bowl. Similarly, people have a huge problem with wind turbines. I have not really delved into the data about the reported health hazards, insomnia, etc. that have been reported by those who live in close proximity. Those complaints might be legit. I can’t say. But, I can say that, just as often, wind farms get kiboshed for no reason other than they are considered an eye sore by whomever.
We need a balance. If we are going to consume so much, if our lives are going to require so much energy, then, yes, we should be taking responsibility for it. Meaning, we should be destroying sacred places and putting ecosystems at risk. We want to protect our national parks and preserve our drinking water. But if we still drive two minutes to the supermarket instead of walking because it’s too hot/cold out, then we are only deferring responsibility. We are asking someone else somewhere else to run the risks so we can perpetuate our way of life. It’s way past the point where we should consider that it’s all up to us. We need a good long look in the mirror. We need a good long talk through the night. We need a good firm grip on our destiny. We need a good firm foot forward in a drastically different direction.