Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

“Why shouldn’t we want to [psychologically] screen CEOs? We screen police
officers. Why not someone who is going to handle billions of dollars?”

Robert D. Hare

To flay the earth

Like Rachel Carson four decades ago, Naomi Klein looks at the “really little stuff” first: She reports in this article on her trip with research scientists to the Gulf of Mexico to see the effects of the petroleum eruption that followed the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform on 20 April 2010, not on the turtles and pelicans that appear in all the news, but on the microscopic phytoplankton at the bottom of the food chain: those organisms without which no larger life can subsist. Their findings were not encouraging.

Hypoxic dead zone, Gulf of Mexico, 2010

“Little stuff,” big consequences: The dead zone in the Gulf
more than doubled in extent from 2009-10.
[ Image Source ]

Every spring, runoff into the Gulf of Mexico overnourishes the water, producing phytoplankton population spikes. The short-lived plankton then die, sinking past the pycnocline layer into the dense, cold, salty water near the bottom of the Gulf, where their decay depletes oxygen from the water, killing organisms unable to flee the dead zone. The zone appears annually, but varies considerably in size; in the past five years, it’s averaged about 15,000 square kilometers, an area about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. More germanely to this report, however, the zone grew from 8,000 square kilometers in 2009 to 20,000 in 2010.

It would be a mistake to assume that this entire increase is due to the Deepwater disaster. The great majority can probably be attributed to the usual cause of such fluctuations: year-to-year changes in the nitrogen load from agricultural runoff. But it would also be a mistake to dismiss a 125-percent increase as purely the result of such changes. Given the findings presented by Klein and others, it appears clear that there was a population spike and subsequent dieoff of phytoplankton in the summer of 2010 that appeared to correlate with the influx of nutrients from the oil leak; “coincidence” therefore does not seem a plausible explanation.

As Klein notes, what BP did in the Gulf was and is exceptionally egregious, but in principle it summarizes the innumerable similar risks that mammonolatrous mankind takes, every day and everywhere, in its continuing quest for more energy sources. There are no more frontiers: We have explored and colonized every hectare of the globe; nowhere capable of supporting human life doesn’t have people in it, and more of them every day. There is no new source of cheap, convenient energy, and although reasonable observers can disagree about the timeline, we can be sure that petroleum, coal and similar fuels will not renew themselves, and will run out sooner or later; meanwhile, we doggedly go on extracting such fuels even as doing so becomes harder, more expensive and more harmful to people and the environment. And there is no “away” to throw our wastes, which will only grow with time.

A tar sands project in Canada

“Don't look at it as a dead zone; look at it as a portal into the future.”
[ Image Source ]

Pictured above is part of a tar sands project in Canada; the blues, greens and browns of the area on the right, so far untapped, will soon be transmuted into the dead gray monochrome on the left. This project, which can be seen from space and may grow to the size of England, merits Klein’s description: “terrestrial skinning”: flaying the earth.

Most of us understand by now that we have reached our limits — perhaps even already passed them — and can no longer go on as if our world’s capacity for sustaining injuries, absorbing poisons and continuing to provide all that a rapacious humanity demands of it is infinite. But those who wield power, the pathocratic elites that dominate every decision-making body and whose lust for lucre directs all of our destinies, sense the coming era of restraint only as a deadline that they have to beat; and so it is that when we should be slowing our pace and changing direction toward a more rational system of policies, we are instead accelerating our rush to perdition.

Originally published as a review of a Naomi Klein article on hydrocarbon extraction.
As of 25 February 2015, however, the page is not available.

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