Swans Commentary » swans.com March 25, 2013  



The Gestalt Of Coal Trains, Pipelines, Climate Change & Golfing As Usual


by Glenn Reed





(Swans - March 25, 2013)   Gestalt.

Basically, its main principle is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Planet Earth.

Many parts forming a whole system. Self-contained. A tiny blue milky-white marble orbiting a single sun amongst countless stars in an expanding universe.

The pieces.

Ecosystems. Processes. Webs of life. Evolution and balance. A species of frog that exists only on a few mountaintops in South America. An ocean of life-giving air that creates a paper-thin layer around the massive whole of liquid and solid.

Pick a single flower. Swat a mosquito. The effects radiate outward like ripples.

It's a typical February day in Washington State. Intermittent rain and gray skies. My partner and I make the drive from the Skagit Valley down to Golden Gardens Park in Seattle in about an hour and fifteen minutes. People are gathering near two shelters on the beach when we arrive. Many wear bright red shirts that spell out "Power Past Coal." Someone has made a two-person polar bear costume. I notice a sign that reads: Coal Fuels the Climate Crisis. I'm proud of mine, which says: Coal Trains: the Fast Track to Hell.

Gestalt. It allows the mind to fill in the blanks between parts perceived visually in order to create a picture. See the forest and not just the single trees.

Of course, there are those that would cut down those single trees and view that forest as a profit margin.

A corporation called Peabody Energy wants to run 20 trains a day to and from massive coal mining operations in the states of Wyoming and Montana to several Pacific Northwest ports. They propose to ship these millions of tons of dirty fossil fuel to China. One proposed shipping terminal is in Bellingham, Washington, just 25 miles north of where I'm residing.

Peabody is a corporation with a long history illustrating contempt for the environment and worker safety/rights, as well as a record that is vehemently anti-union. You know the type. They lay off hundreds or thousands in the blink of an eye. They cut corners on safety and kill miners. Back in the 1930s they employed violence against union organizers. They're smacking their lips at the prospect of a Chinese market of one and a quarter billion consumers for their "clean" coal.

Peabody is promising a few hundred permanent jobs in Bellingham. Divide and conquer, as they say! The eternal strategy of sociopaths in power.

Peabody downplays the health effects of tons of coal dust and diesel. They don't discuss the massive disruption caused by mile-and-a-half-long coal trains passing through small towns 20 times a day. They ignore the effect on emergency vehicles, local small businesses, ferry traffic on Puget Sound, tourism and the scenic beauty of the region. They minimize the possibility of derailments, the frequent landslides that close the rail line south of Bellingham, the potential for spills. They never mention the potential, devastating consequences for Orca pods and other sea life in the shipping lanes heading out of Bellingham Bay through the Straits of Georgia. Peabody buses in and pays people to clog public hearings on the proposed project, effectively shutting out local voices.

Democracy, you say? That's the prize for the highest bidder. Just ask the United States Supreme Court.

Have you ever taken a Rorschach ink blot test? What would the Koch Brothers see if they did? Or Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe? Or Keystone XL executives? It's all in black, so do they just see a patch of oil and dollar signs? Profits in black on white? Do they see the black spill off the edge of the paper, across the table, onto the floor, blotting out the very sun?

A piece. An ink swirl. A single line. A bottom-line ledger.

Tens of thousands of people gathered on February 17, 2013, in Washington D.C. to say "NO!" to the Keystone XL pipeline. This project would encourage further decimation of lands in the province of Alberta, Canada, to obtain tar sand oil, which is difficult to process and the worst carbon-emitter of the fossil fuels. The tar sand oil conduit would pass through major aquifers and river systems in the Prairie states of the United States to ports in the Gulf of Mexico. The processed oil will be shipped overseas and will not even benefit consumers in the U.S. or Canada directly. The company is promising a few thousand permanent jobs. They, of course, will rake in untold billions of dollars in profits.

Many traveled long distances from throughout the northeast U.S. and Canada and from other areas to the D.C. protests. Several were arrested. Concurrent rallies were held at numerous locations around the country. After rallying, the protesters marched past the White House.

What did President Obama see? A picture or a blotch? The whole or a puzzle piece? Planet Earth or bottom lines?

Gas prices have risen steeply in the last month. No one uses the excuse of a Gulf oil spill, a hurricane threatening oil platforms, a Middle East crisis, a convenient war, a refinery shutdown somewhere. A newspaper headline mentions Wall Street speculators. Funny how prices seem to rise at key times. Soon, the far-right screams about regulation, claims we're not developing enough of our fossil fuel resources, blames Obama. Did someone mention the upcoming Keystone XL decision?

Déjà vu. Déjà vu on steroids. Déjà vu in bold caps in an ink blot test.

Monday, February 18, 2013. I pick up a Seattle Times and find no mention of the Sunday protest at Golden Gardens. I check national news web sites and find barely a peep about the D.C. gathering and march.

On the other hand, I do find articles about an oil company executive from Portland, Maine, who wants to alter an existing pipeline that runs through the northern New England states. He wants the option to pipe in tar sands oil from Alberta so it can be shipped...overseas. Of course, that's only if it becomes profitable to do so. I also read that New York State's Governor Cuomo is probably going to give the thumbs-up on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in that state. I see that even the World Bank, hardly a progressive organization, is expressing alarm at the effects of climate change. Meanwhile, an on-line article illustrates the collapse of the Arctic ice. Like vultures, corporate-run governments around the world drool at the resources they can plunder from the sea that will only exist as a result of their rape of the planet. True addict behavior.

There are ocean currents affected by weather and what flows into the sea. Clouds gathering and dispersing. Pods of dolphins migrating. Sea cliffs collapsing from wave action. Packs of wolves culling the weak from an elk herd. A whole of motion and change, striving towards balance. A whole perceived in your back yard that expands around the globe and into the skies.

The Earth did not evolve based on supply side economics. The Earth does not wait for consumer pressure. The Earth has been here for billions of years and doesn't subscribe to the laws of New Classical Economics and the bottom line.

The railroad track runs straight through downtown Mount Vernon, Washington, between its historic buildings and where the Route 5 highway cuts it off from the residential areas on the hillside. This core of small businesses has already been pummeled by the long depression...er...recession. Amtrak and a few other trains run by each day, blocking the main entry roads to downtown for a few minutes.

An additional twenty coal trains a day would have a massive impact on Mount Vernon businesses, emergency services, traffic, and more since the track is at-grade and Peabody is not going to pay for any needed infrastructure changes in communities where the coal trains will run. There are dozens of such cities and towns along the proposed routes and none of them will see any jobs or profits from the project -- only more displacement of cost from the multi-billion-dollar profit corporation to the local level.

Further north, the track winds between through the Skagit Valley's scenic farmland and then is squeezed between the foothills of the Cascades and Bellingham Bay for about ten miles before reaching Bellingham. The serpentine road along here is one of the most scenic on the Washington coast. The coal trains will radically transform it, driving away tourist dollars, hurting property values, adding noise and pollution to a beautiful area. This is also the section of track that is closed at least once a year due to landslides.

Gestalt. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

What can those, whose eyes are blinded by coal dust and oil, see in any ink blot? Why should we expect them to see anything? Why do we allow them to blind us as well?

On the Monday after the Seattle protest and the thousands marching in Washington, D.C., I read that President Obama wasn't even home in the White House for that dedicated expression of democracy and fear for the future of Planet Earth by the masses.

The masses. You know, the 99%. The ones that got him re-elected.

No, the president was enjoying a relaxing game of golf at an exclusive resort in Florida. With oil and gas company executives from Texas.

Ink blots on paper or writing on the wall? The whole is greater than the total of its parts. But not when a few in power think they're separate from that whole.


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About the Author

Glenn Reed is a freelance writer who has worked in the non-profit world for nearly 30 years, both as paid staff and volunteer. He is also a lifelong activist for social, economic, and environmental justice. Originally from Vermont he is currently residing in Washington State and working in the non-profit world.   (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published March 25, 2013