prolifically atop the earthen hump
Sunday, May 14 2006
I think that what I find most disturbing of all about coming to an understanding with Peak Oil is the light it has cast on human interconnectedness and how essential it has become for continued human survival. More so than ants who have outsourced their ovaries to a queen or their viciousness to colony soldiers, individual humans (particularly Americans) have outsourced nearly everything, including their idle time. Many rely on multinational corporations to do their cooking, and, where affordable, even their cleaning. They come home from their jobs (scraps left over after robots got their pick) to watch bland television programming carefully designed to reward their pleasure neurons while leaving them feeling oddly unsatiated as consumers. They've lost all their basic survival skills, having no idea how food or the plate it's served on come into existence. Left on a desert island, the freely-available oxygen in the atmosphere merely prolongs their suffering.
But it's not just those people who are hopelessly abstracted from the basic provisions of the planet. I pride myself on having a wide variety of skills, from plumbing through carpentry, masonry to PHP and MySQL. But all of those presuppose the existence of vast supply chains of commodities like copper, standard fittings, 120 volt 60 Hz electricity, replacement DRAM modules, Portland cement, and numerous interconnected routers conversant in TCP/IP. In any given day I rely on the output of millions of people all over the world, both living and dead. If you were to take away the enabling potential of cheap energy I'd be left to fend for myself with the things I'd managed to horde for as long as those things managed to last (or survive attempts to steal them). Once the prospect of Peak Oil has led you to truly examine your life's dependencies you realize how incredibly weak and vulnerable you are, and it's enough to make you abandon all hope. But you've abandoned hope before and survived, and you'll survive this time as well. But would you actually survive the calamity of a world with increasingly scarce fuel? That's the question you must suppress.
Gretchen and I spent most of the day in rural Marbletown at the boxy modernist weekend house of our friends Penny and David. We had a lunch of pasta salad with endless flutes of champagne with pomegranate juice. Then we went for a walk along the aqueduct that carries water from the Ashokan Reservoir to New York City. According to David, this aqueduct is patrolled once each day by a helicopter in search of anyone wearing a towel on his head. As we walked, David wanted me to identify trees and plants, so I obliged: Sugar Maple, White Oak, Black Birch, Basswood, Northern Red Oak, Witchhazel, Tulip Tree, Chestnut Oak, Yellow Birch, Shagbark Hickory, Mockernut Hickory, Red Maple, Big Tooth Aspen, and Sycamore. My memory of plants wasn't as good, but I identified Jack in the Pulpit, Skunk Cabbage, Sensitive Fern, Garlic Mustard, another mustard with yellow flowers, and numerous wild onions that David collected and later cleaned (these grew prolifically atop the earthen hump of the aqueduct itself). A terrorist hoping to sabotage the aqueduct would want to plant his explosives inside one of the many long drainage tunnels passing beneath it. Such an operation would be invisible to helicopter patrols and, given the easy access from Route 213, not require much schlepping crosscountry.
But what do I know? I'm sure the razor-sharp Bible-college-trained minds over at Homeland Security have already imagined this scenario and taken the necessary faith-based measures to thwart it.
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