Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11's Unfinished Business

Days of simmering carbon rage in the post 9/11 world

By John F. Wasik (Reuters)

By John Wasik
The opinions expressed are his own.

Three friends were recently arrested for sitting in front of the White House to protest a potentially damaging Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. They were joined by actress Darryl Hannah, environmentalist Bill McKibben and more than 1,200 others.

Although they were handcuffed, stuffed into a paddy wagon like livestock and quickly released after paying a $100 fine, they believed their civil disobedience was instrumental in bringing attention to a damaging fossil fuel production process. They are all in their seventh decades and highly educated, but felt they needed to make a stand.

A decade removed from the horror of 9/11 and what’s changed in our attitude towards ecology, energy and economics?

We are still frighteningly dependent upon imported oil and there’s no comprehensive U.S. energy policy other than to consume with abandon every last molecule of carbon by blowing up mountains, fracking bedrock, fouling waterways, polluting oceans and warming the atmosphere.

If you think I’m conflating the horrendous loss of life on and since 9/11 with something unrelated, I’m not. Terrorism is a beast that seems to know no master and we’re still fighting that battle. We are all still grieving for the thousands lost and a violated sense of security that will never be reclaimed.

Yet we can only live in the present and head into the future. The U.S. mostly exports jobs now and debt now instead of fostering new energy technologies to rid us of dependence upon foreign petroleum. We’ve become really good at consuming more than our share and kowtowing to entrenched interests that profit from feeding this addicted dragon, which has the face of most all of us.

If you were looking for a hint of an energy policy in President Obama’s jobs speech Thursday night, you would have needed a microscope. The proposed $447 billion plan is big on more tax cuts and didn’t directly promote earlier Obama proposals for green energy development.

Meanwhile, the carbon age grinds on with more drilling and billing from countries who are not really our friends. Each drop of the 4 million imported barrels of oil the U.S. imports every day uncomfortably links us to many countries that have appalling human rights records that are often openly hostile to American interests.

If anything, U.S. energy security has worsened since 9/11. With the exception of Canada, the leading U.S. oil supplier, five out of the top six exporting countries are run by repressive, hostile or unstable governments (Iraq is number six on the list). We’re financing brutal thuggery on a global scale.

The deadly irony is our nearly complete dependence upon fossil fuels — and our many battles to protect this dependency — has cost lives. Some one in eight soldiers were killed in Iraq from 2003-2007 just protecting fuel convoys.

All told, the U.S. war on terror in two countries and elsewhere is estimated to have cost us $5 trillion.

The lives and the dollars lost to fossil fuel dependence are needlessly wasted. The Navy alone estimates that for every $10 hike in the price of crude, it spends $300 million more annually in fuel costs. And that’s just the Navy.

Shouldn’t that money be going to create jobs, fund schools, clean energy research and fixing infrastructure?

Reducing U.S. dependence upon crude (and coal for that matter) can bolster the flagging U.S. economy and trim the budget deficit. The clean technology sector surged 8 percent last year and is now outpacing job creation in the oil industry.

Policymakers in Washington have known all of this for years, yet keep ignoring the inebriated folly of energy co-dependence.

This institutional blindness leads to astounding decisions such as the U.S. State Department green lighting the environmental soundness of the tar sands pipeline.

Since when did the State Department gain meaningful authority over environmental concerns? What’s next? Will the Energy Department gain purview over Yellowstone?

I’d like to believe that my friends briefly sacrificed their freedom and, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, refused to “resign their conscience” to show what an onerous burden dirty energy places upon the entire earth and society. They don’t want to leave behind one of the most destructive legacies of the industrial era that has become a paramount human rights issue as well.

We must challenge our government when it ignores the collective conscience. And if two wars, street protests, massive activism and voluntary incarceration aren’t enough? Then we will have learned nothing from one of the lessons of 9/11.

Photo: American actress Daryl Hannah is arrested as she joins a protest against the Keystone XL oil pipeline, outside the White House in Washington, August 30, 2011. Dozens were arrested on Tuesday in the protest against the pipeline that, if completed, will stretch from Canada to the gulf coast of the United States. REUTERS/Jason Reed

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