The New Year — Beginning of the End?

Living on a porous limestone peninsula that hangs off the continental United States makes me feel both sheltered and vulnerable. I can feel distanced down here from the craziness that sweeps across the mainland — political, climatic, cultural — but I also feel nakedly exposed to the consequences of the environmental ignorance most of us cling to. Our politics and behavior show no sign that we’ll turn away from the disaster we’re piggishly driving toward.

2012, a new year. Same as the old year?

Lisa and I moved to Florida 15 months ago to have a brighter life — more sun, more light, more days wearing shorts. Less moaning about the state of the world. Less consumption of news, more attention given to birds, lush foliage and sunsets. And we’ve done well. Yes, we’re bringing in potted palms and covering plants tonight as there’s a freeze warning here north of Tampa Bay, but on Christmas Day I hung in my hammock in shorts and a T-shirt, listening to fish jump ten feet away. Most days the beauty of this state rises above its commercial tawdriness and shattered speculative economy. And most days I focus on the present wonder and grace of life, not the ever-approaching abyss.

A thoughtful and provocative book from Minneapolis’s Milkweed Editions, The Tarball Chronicles by David Gessner, looks with poetry, compassion and horror at how we’re raiding our future to feed our energy addiction. He poses the question — are we really willing to ransack our and our childrens’ environment to frack and drill and mountain-rape the planet so we can pull out the last dregs of fossil fuels? It’s like we’ve been drinking a wonderfully tasty malt, and now with the last half-inch melting in the bottom of the glass, are we really willing to sell our grandchildren, our health, our economy and our national security to slurp up that last half inch? Nobody in public life is talking seriously about where our next malt might come from, our grandchildrens’ malt, and nobody is planning. We’re just devising new and more-disastrous ways to go after that last half inch.

We bought our house in Port Richey while the Deepwater Horizon well was still spewing raw oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Our house is embraced on two sides by a saltmarsh and a tidal pond and channel that connects through the mouth of a tidal river directly to the Gulf. A rising tide could bring spilled oil into the mangroves and grasses that nurture fish and birds and shellfish, killing generations of wildlife. The fish, crabs, rays, herons, ospreys and bald eagles that are our next-door neighbors would all perish from a spill. The BP oil did not come ashore here. This time. Wells are still leaking in the Gulf, our energy addiction will demand more wells, and more disasters are inevitable. They will happen. Gessner’s book shows that we won’t know for years the full damage done to the fisheries of Louisiana. And those oiled marshes are food and habitat for migrating birds — so the BP disaster reaches to the loons that grace Minnesota waters in the summer and depend upon healthy Louisiana marshes when they snowbird south.

And nothing — nothing nothing nothing — is being done to change the demand for oil that is the ultimate cause of the Deepwater spill. And nothing — nothing nothing nothing — is being done to change the way we drill and frack and dynamite our landscape to get at the last half-inch of fossil fuel. None of the candidates gassing away in Iowa tonight has a long-term solution to move beyond fossil fuels, and nobody in Congress or the White House has the balls to lead us into a sustainable energy future. And — we all keep driving, sucking up obscene amounts of groundwater, generating trash, and hoping for the best.

The popular political answer to all problems? No new taxes. The latest tally of the cost of not investing in the common weal? News stories of sex ed classes cut (more pregnant teenagers make for a great future), streetlights turned off (light deters crime, but hey), and a 14% increase over 2010 in police officers killed on duty (budget cuts mean there are fewer cops for backup — we’ve dropped from 250 police officers per 100,000 people in 2008 to 181 in 2010, according to a Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics report.)

Oh gloom. Lighten up, Bruce. I have a wonderful fortunate life, full of friends and joy and love and beauty. But the world my nieces and nephews will live in? I fear for them.

At high tide, our garage is just a couple of feet above sea level here. Melting ice caps mean if I still live here in my dotage this place will be like Venice — I’ll be able to kayak into the ground level of our house. Convenient, in some ways.

On New Year’s Day my dear Lisa (who has talked for years about 2012 being the end of the Mayan Calendar’s Long Count, which is the end of the Mayans’ longest cycle of time but is interpreted by some to mean the end of time) woke up, stretched, oriented herself, petted the cat, and said, “Oh yeah, I forgot, this is the year the world ends.”

Happy end of the world, all. Reduce, reuse, recycle. And I should add for myself — relax.

— Bruce Benidt
(Photo of our backyard channel, oyster bar and tidal pond)