Swans Commentary » swans.com August 11, 2008  



Patrolling The Fringes


by Martin Murie





(Swans - August 11, 2008)   Last week a letter of mine was published in our county's newspaper. My point was that our leaders are the extremists. We ordinary citizens who witness crimes, lies, and death for no good purpose, are closer to reality, because we live there. When we antiwar people gather peaceably to protest we are routinely ignored by the media and despised by the corporate-government complex.

My suggestion was that we build a massive movement, starting NOW. I will work for Cynthia McKinney, but I did not go against Ralph Nader, or any other "fringe" candidate who might show up. In other words, let's ramp up the overall vote for sane underdogs, because collectively we are the forces that build People Power. Meanwhile, between now and November and even more actively in '09, let's get organized to make People Power a reality, to change the world.

Yes, we are disorganized, falling into that deep trap, waiting for a leader. It's a kind of religion, this sitting back, taking what's offered from above. People keep asking, "Where is the outrage?" Well, we see lots of outrage in our antiwar protests here in this supposedly conservative North Country. What we need is to follow Joe Hill's advice: "Don't mourn, organize."

What we birds at Swans can do is spread the passion and the truth as we see it. Those truths, no matter how abstract, no matter how various, are much closer to the way the world works than the terribly condescending "good news" from the center, where key propagandistic slogans have been "War on Terror," and Denial of Climate Change.

Recently, however, in response to the polar bear crisis, the Department of Interior was forced to make a grudging concession: climate change is, more or less, real. The rage now is for technological fixes. All will be well, new carbon-free technologies are on the way. Forgotten in this new distraction is the destruction of the earth that goes hand-in-glove with technology. Here's a short list.

Removal of mountain tops in West Virginia, ripping up sage and grass lands in arid western states to supply coal for giant power plants that lose a big fraction of energy over long miles of transmission lines. (Mitigation of these desecrations is a joke; undertaken by corporate power).

Removal of mountains to get gold. Most of the gold is used for jewelry, world-wide. The heap-leach process uses cyanide. (Again, mitigation is a joke). I've been there, seen it.

Over-fishing the world's oceans. Codfish are so depleted now they aren't worth catching; the big ones are gone and the smaller ones need several years to reach reproductive age, just one of the factors leading to disruption of life cycles. Factory ships haunt the oceans, taking whales and fishes with bottom dredges and miles-long lines that take "bycatch" such as sea turtles and dolphins and porpoises, drowning them.

Acidification of oceans, one of the consequences of greenhouse gases. Coral reefs going, going, gone.

Acidification of forests and lakes. Recovery takes years.

Overgrazing of arid grasslands, leading to invasion by exotics. It's so bad it turns hilarious. Cheatgrass, an exotic, took over vast reaches of western rangelands -- good forage for grazers early in the season, brittle and dangerous throughout summer and fall. Its takeover was documented over seventy years ago. Try walking in cheatgrass; you'll see what I mean. Finally, a huge area in northern Nevada was cleared of range cattle, but horses and burros continue the sad story: overgrazing. The Bambi Complex -- aka horse and burro exceptionalism -- that is part of our culture, especially acute in the upper regions of our population, prevents government rangers from simply going out there to solve the problem with rifles.

Government agencies starved, budgets cut by administrative fiat. That's one reason mad cow disease is not systematically looked for in our country. It is in Japan and Korea.

We watched a program on "sustainability" the other night. Engineers and other talking heads told us that clever techniques would save our world (a few cautions thrown in once in a great while). Engineers are busy creating better nuclear plants, testing the sequestering of carbon from coal power plants, building lighter vehicles, hydrogen power in vehicles etc. Not one mention of the earth itself that harbors the raw materials for these marvels. Uranium for nukes is itself a limited mineral; plastic depends on oil technology; biomass can't possibly substitute for coal-fired plants, and it is already one of the factors in rising food costs; wind energy requires enormous amounts of oil-based machinery -- building of said machines, the use of them in construction and maintenance. And there is the "fickle wind" problem. Coal burning and mega hydro projects are still the favorite powerhouses, providing steady generation, but nuclear power is gaining new acceptance.

Besides, technology will not come on board soon enough to moderate climate change. Climate change is already here, and our long history of ravaging the earth leaves us with a depleted planet.

It will take a revolutionary shift of mind and conscience to face the fact that continuous use of the earth on the gigantic scale we are accustomed to will lead us to disaster, sooner rather than later. So, let's build that big movement, get People Power in high gear!

Some years ago the North Country experienced an ice storm that knocked down power lines in Ontario, Quebec, and northern New York State. Most of us went without power for two weeks. Some waited even longer. Some of us learned again a hard lesson, as pronounced most emphatically by the man who serviced my chain saw, "Nature's in charge."

Learning that, in gut and mind and heart, is the revolutionary shift. That's the territory we fringe people are exploring, building true democracy as we go. Hey, we could use a little help!


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About the Author

Martin Murie on Swans (with bio).



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Published August 11, 2008