RELATING WITH OUR MOTHER EARTH
Hal Pepinsky, pepinsky.edu, pepinsky.blogspot.com
May 9, 2010
Today is Mother’s Day. Yesterday, on the 65th anniversary of Germany’s unconditional surrender, British Petroleum lowered a hundred-ton box onto a hemhorraging oil well 880 fathoms below on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, a never-before act of desperation.
When the box was lowered and the gushing hot “crude” oil emerged from the bowels of mother earth into the depths of the surface of the earth, the oil had frozen by the time it reached the top of the box. BP has set the box aside to figure out how to send enough heat a mile down in water to keep oil inside the box heated enough to flow into a pipe inside a larger, water heated pipe warm enough to sustain the flow to waiting tankers above. The most promising approach to stemming the 200,000 gallon per day flow of raw coal tar into the Gulf is that in two months or so, a relief hole will have been drilled to stem the uncontrolled oil flow. This raises the prospect that a good deal of “black gold” will make it to the Atlantic Gulf Stream, and perhaps run into volcanic ash from Iceland by the time it reaches Northern Europe.
As karma works within species including humanity, so it works in human food chains. In times of environmental crisis, the lowest members of food chains tend to die fastest. Ultimately, those at the top of the food change suffer too, although one way or another, the rich among the richer species, too, get richer while the poor bear the brunt. At best for the wealthiest human survivors, their security and stability is increasingly threatened by rebels and predators. It occurs to me that this dynamic of response to human crisis explains the rise of the state. Once families or other groups had enough wealth in hard times to survive comfortably as long as they didn’t have to share what they “owned,” security forces began to grow, and pools of ownership, as in “nations” had to grow alongside to hold onto accumulated, hoarded wealth. Superhuman attempts to solve the oil spill today in the gulf will not change results of civilized human behavior to date. I consider this human syndrome of response to adversity a law of human nature. Still, I believe all laws are meant to be broken, this way or that. My longtime friend and teacher Bill Breeden calls this law-breaking approach to sober human reality “guerrilla peacefare.” I’m a wannabe.
Natural catastrophes keep reminding me of my image of the relationship humanity has persistently, growingly has forged with mother earth. Here, I don’t mean to account for the many occasions that have come to shape my image. Here, in celebration of Mother’s Day, I simply lay out an image that I have of our relations with our planet.
I don’t hug trees, but I do stand and sit against them, feeling a pleasant, quiet energy they radiate. As I sat in my backyard looking up at the hardwood canopy 40 feet or so over my head, I envisioned trees as pooping oxygen and life into my world aboveground, while getting their meals from rain and decomposition of vegetable and animal corpses below my feet. For a period when I thought I might die in Bloomington, I fantasized of being wrapped, unembalmed, in a sheet and buried on our wooded corner lot, where my body could give life back to the trees that had supported me, so that more surely than a covenant on a deed, our “unimproved” corner city lot would never be “developed.” I believe that we live in the underworld of our trees’ living existence; we are their parasites, the feeders at their earthly waste.
Instead of settling for cultivating life on our mother’s surface, we humans have the chutzbah to invest in taking heat and energy from our mother’s hot bowels. We excise entire mountains from her skin to produce coal. In mother earth’s life, Newton’s law of entropy applies: Concentration of energy, let alone concentration of power, kills; it creates friction, disorder, heat. This applies even to surface concentrations of energy production on earth’s surface, such as the size of recent dams along the Ganges and Yangtze Rivers. Current events strengthen my belief that humanity is a metastasizing cancer on mother earth’s life-giving capacity. When her surface tumors erupt as in Haiti or Greece or Wall Street or the Gulf of Mexico as I write, they become bigger and bigger human catastrophes.
If subterranean feeding and composting of solar energy for as long ago before humankind as coal and oil is presumptuous, consider the chutzbah in thinking that we can get so much more energy out of a lump of earth, as out of uranium. Who on earth can plan how to contain nuclear waste for our offspring for hundreds of thousands of years to come? I offer a law of energy productivity: The more productive the energy source (as in nuclear), the greater the human disasters that result. In nuclear waste piles as in the Gulf of Mexico, we are laying waste on our mother.
I arrived at this image of the tragic course of human greed and audacity decades ago. On this Mother’s Day, I apologize for human greed and destruction, including that wrought by my own energy consumption. I just keep on hoping that our lives and hers matter enough for bends to be taken in destructive growth in that consumption.
On the bright side, I also don’t think any human beings, Hitler and James Jones included, have ever had the capacity to wipe out life on earth’s surface, including our own. The part of humanity that loves life may by our awareness of our own disrespect for our mother earth alleviate human suffering in generations to come. Speaking for myself, that’s the highest religious purpose I can embrace. Love and peace and happy mother’s day--hal