Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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ALL ALONG there were people who said it couldn’t go on forever. They said that to survive on the earth it was necessary to work with the land, not against it, to cooperate with what they called “nature” rather than compete with it. The Indians told us this when we came here, but our fear of what we called the “wilderness” kept us from listening.
And we cannot listen today.
We pushed the red man from the continent and reduced the “cruel wilderness” to a few patches of rich woodlands suitable for logging as our insatiable need arises. We have won our war against this land, and now we are secure in our cities.
And we are trapped. Our survival — that is, our ability to secure food, shelter, and warmth in the winter — no longer depends on our ability to cope with nature but on our ability to adapt to an economic system. That system tells us what we need to do, what jobs to hold, what resources we need. It tells us what we are worth. It tells us how to be happy.
We adapt in the best way we can, some giving more of themselves than others. But no matter what our participation in this so-called economic system, ultimately we are all in the same stew pot, brother. We are all in this thing together.
And oil makes it all possible. Oil is basic to the survival of this economic system on which we all depend so dreadfully.
WE will strip off the earth’s skin for oil. We will destroy the beauty of our shores. We will pollute the air for it. And we will kill for it. If we cannot buy it for what we consider a fair price we will take it by force, our need is so great.
TODAY a dozen oil companies exert vast power (control?) over our economic system. (How long have they had this influence? Since JFK’s death?) They tell us how much oil they have. They tell us how much we can have. And they tell us how much we must pay.
AND the price is going up almost daily, not because of any increase in costs but because they can get whatever the market will bear. The oil industry has historically been one of the most lucrative in the world. Its profits on sales run about 20 per cent. Last year its profits were up more than 90 per cent because of the oil shortage and higher prices. Whenever the price of gas goes up one penny the oil company gets it all. The service stations in this area are pumping much less gas — down 50 per cent for some — and are making no more money on each gallon sold than they did two years ago when gas was selling for 30 cents a gallon.
WHY does our government allow this to happen? Who knows? But one possibility is that the Nixon administration is simply in the employ of the oil industry. The oil industry contributed quite a tidy sum to Nixon’s past political campaigns, and Nixon has seldom shown himself to be ungrateful to those who give him big money. Of course, Lyndon Johnson was right in there, too. But all that’s history. Right now the Texas oil boys have us tied to a tree. How do we get loose?
IT’S obvious that we need to develop other energy sources. Solar, methane, air, water — you name it, we can use it. Of course, the oil companies regard this as downright unAmerican, and many Congressmen would agree. And the government is doing next to nothing. NASA is thinking of solar energy for its space shuttles, but not for homes here on earth.
WITH this current “energy crisis” there will be talk of government projects in alternative energy supply. But when oil from Alaska and Kuwait starts flowing, such projects will die quietly because the oil industry will still be boss, and we will be quite conditioned to paying 75 cents or $1.00 per gallon of oil.
THINGS will be normal again. We will still have our precious automobiles. We will still have our jobs, our secure, safe suburban scene, and a little money in the bank, just in case. Nature’ s warning will be forgotten, as we slowly suffocate in unburned hydrocarbons.
I was going through some old papers and found an original copy of The Sun’s first issue [January 1974]. The cover featured a cartoon drawing of a wild-eyed man shooting up with a large hypodermic needle imprinted with the words “Alaska Oil.” The caption was a line from a song by Leonard Cohen: “We are locked in our suffering and our pleasure is the seal.”
The article inside, titled “The Price Was Never Right,” was about the impact of “big oil” on politics and how our combined consumer habits drove the great machine. The issue bore witness to the many ways we humans have plundered, polluted, and destroyed our one and only planet in order to survive and “flourish.”
The saddest part is that everything in that first issue from thirty-eight years ago is still true today.