Ideas are shared experiences, and people have gifts to be able to channel them into a clear format. - Reggie Watts
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Monday, September 12, 2011
[This is a continuation of an earlier post ("With my own eyes") I made while I was down in Ecuador. I wrote this while I was there, but was waiting on some pictures before I posted]
You have to be aware of where you’re putting your weight. Test the ground before you put it down with each step. Use the fallen branches, roots and organic debris to help distribute your mass, sort of like snow shoes. One hasty step or misplaced, and you’ll be knee deep or even hip high in a mixture of crude oil, asphalt and water. And just like with quicksand - if you do go down, your best bet is to throw your weight forward or back so as to not find out how deep the pool is. And be sure to remember your Tyvek suit, volatile organics respirator, big rubber boots and gloves, and a whole lot of duct tape.
Do this while trying to spot and recognize dozens of plants and mushrooms, large and small, passing new samples to your team mates who are out on the surface of the oil pool with you, digital cameras and notebooks in (oily) hand. This was my life for three long days.
We were performing an ecological survey to begin answering these questions: In these toxic environments left behind in the Amazon rainforest by negligent oil companies decades ago, what is growing? Which plant and fungal species are tolerant of or even thrive in the oil waste? Which species are colonizing this most inhospitable blemish in the process of succession? And ultimately, how can we work with them to further this healing?
These are big questions to ask, and many grad students could surely be flown under them. Two of our team members (Julia and Megan) are currently in school, and will be using this initial field research as ground to pursue further, more extensive work. I was most interested in seeing what species of fungi were growing on or near the oil waste. Could these be possible allies in future efforts of mycoremediation?
We set up a series of randomly-placed two meter circles over the surface of three “piscinas” (pools). Some circles were right in the middle of the swimming pool-sized pits, some were along the edges. We would then tread carefully on the viscous surface of the pool to catalogue each plant and fungal species we could find in each circle. None of us are botanists or mushroom experts, so we ended up making up our own names forspecimens we found, like “elephant ear,” “spiral” and “orange cup.” They were all numbered, photographed and documented for later identification.Megan (pictured right) was the one with the notebook who cataloged the species, and by the end of it, she could identify plants by number within a fraction of a second (walks through the jungle were fun, afterwards, with her calmly acknowledging each familiar friend with the number or “name” we had used).
It was difficult work, and as described above, it was kind of sketchy. We really have no idea what is in that brew of drilling waste and crude. It was surely dangerous, but such is science!
Fortunately I didn’t get too much contamination on my skin, although some of the questionable water leaked through my poorly-duct taped boot on the second day. I did have one close call when my foot sunk in way more then expected (up to about my knee). When I pulled it out, it wasn’t just covered in dirty water or a little asphaltene like before, but in glistening, flowing crude oil! I had stepped into a pool of oil that was coming out of some sort of drainage pipe. This pool is 30 years old, and there is somehow still fresh-looking oil pouring into it.
Staring at the bubbling crude and picking it up with our gloves, it really hit us. WTF. This was the most beautiful tropical rainforest and the oil companies came in here and messed it all up for a quick buck. It’s still being contaminated, even as we stand here.
It’s interesting to me to reflect on our work ethic, as a team. Four of us were out there on the oil pools. These were long days in stuffy masks and Tyvek suits. We all worked our asses off and recorded a lot of information, and we didn’t have anyone in charge or supervising. We would take breaks here or there, sometimes just a few minutes to poke a termite mound with a stick. And then we’d continue with our work. It was a great example of a non-hierarchal, cooperative endeavor.
In the end we recorded more than 100 plant species and 50 fungal species (although there are likely some duplicates). We’re going to be working over the next few months to identify them all, with the help of university experts and online forums. There’s no telling what kind of valuable ecological information we may have harvested. We also identified a few recurring species of apparently petro-tolerant fungi. On future trips (and with more resources), we will seek to culture these species and use them in controlled experiments.
It was an honor and a privilege to work with other members of the Amazon Mycorenewal Project to advance solutions for the oil-contaminated Amazon, and I look forward to continuing our efforts and expanding our mycelial network! If you’d like to support these efforts or join in on the next trip to Ecuador, please visit amazonmycorenewal.org.
Below are a some pictures of just a few of the interesting fungi we found in an around the toxic oil pit.
Friday, September 9, 2011
I then spent the next several hours sitting on a bus, in handcuffs.
I was arrested as a willing participant in Tar Sands Action, the largest act of civil disobedience in the U.S. since 1977, and the most sustained since the epic campaigns of the civil rights movement. During this two week sit-in, myself and 1251 other conscious individuals allowed ourselves to be arrested in order to raise awareness of the choice that our President has to make on the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. The decision is his alone. He can choose to “stand up to Big Oil,” as he had promised he would do and deny a permit for the oil company TransCanada to build a massive oil sands pipeline across our border. Or he can fold under the demands of first class corporate citizens and commit us all to liquidating the most environmentally destructive source of oil on the planet, thereby taking our addiction to a new low.
When the Park Police finally started binding us with plastic ziptiesand carting us off a few at a time, reality started to hit us. We were about to be bound and detained as a consequence of standing up (sitting down) for what we believe in. For many, this was about to be their first arrest. We began to chant and sing, to each other, to the President, to the Police. For some of us, the singing soothed our anxieties, and raised the vibrations during the long wait while “our friends took us away” (as one song lyric reminded us). (For those wondering, the charge we were arrested under was "Failure to disobey a lawful order" which resulted in a $100 fine.)
We were doing this for them and for everyone who enjoys clean air and a livable climate. The tar sands which are meant to flow down this pipeline represent an incredible threat to ancient ecosystems, native peoples, America’s drinking water and the Earth’s climate.
Here are the major reasons I oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline:
An area of Canada’s ancient Boreal Forest the size of Florida is being deforested, mined, boiled and squeezed (4 tons of earth for 1 barrel of oil) to produce an energy and carbon-intensive, low quality oil product, poisoning indigenous lands and bodies in the process.
The massive 1700 mile pipeline would cross over our border and over some of the most sensitive and beautiful agricultural lands, wetlands and aquifers, to carry 800,000 barrels per day of the worlds dirtiest oil to US refineries for international export.
The precursor to this pipeline had 12 spills in its first year, and whatever doesn't spill onto the ground will spill into the atmosphere when it is burned. 2011 was already the hottest year on record, and opening up this giant reservoir of carbon could push us over any climate tipping points which still remain. As climate scientist James Hansen puts it, opening up the tar sands to development would mean “game over” in the battle to stop human-driven climate change.
They say some people have to hit rock bottom before they can quit their addiction.
I went to Washington to tell Obama that he doesn’t have to let this addiction go that far. Right now, the president has complete legal power to say NO to this pipeline. Congress is not in the way. There are, however, very real structures in place that are heavily influencing his decision.
Here’s a great short video, produced by Josh Fox (“Gaslands”), about the impacts of the Tar Sands and the reason for this action at the White House.
As I was being handled by one of the police officers, he asked me
“Why are people supporting this pipeline?”
"They took our Jobs!" (the Jobs Argument)
Between figures spouted by TransCanada and its echo chamber allies, we are to believe that the pipeline will create 13,000 to 553,000 jobs. According to the State Department, 5,000 to 6,000 jobs will be created over a 3-year construction period (see the recent Cornell University debunking). It would seem difficult to inflate 6,000 to half a million even if you incorporated all the health workers and border patrol guards we will need on a hotter and dirtier planet thanks to this pipeline. But if we are going to ponder theoretical jobs, we should visualize the clean energy jobs that could be created if our political system wasn’t currently catering to short-sighted fossil fuel interests. And as author/activist Naomi Klein pointed out at the "Stop the Tar Sands" rally the day I was arrested, “The same economic logic that puts greed above all and liberates corporations to do as they please, that same economic model that is threatening to crash the global climate system is exactly what crashed the global economic system, which is why we don’t have enough jobs.”
We can create jobs that honor people and the planet. We can have a clean renewable energy economy. What we need is a leadership that is not committed to keeping us addicted to fossil fuels.
The National Security Argument
We most certainly have to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but the Keystone XL pipeline is not being set up to supply America with “friendly oil”. It’s being built in order to set up an international market for the dirty tar sands. Refiners in Port Arthur, Texas are already getting ready to make big moves tax-free, as Port Arthur is a Foreign Trade Zone. One blogger has cleverly noted that it might make more sense (in the interest of national security) to leave the black stuff in the ground for now, in case we get cut off from other supplies. Now there’s some addict wisdom.
"If we don’t do it, someone else will..."
Without a doubt, if our addiction to oil continues and our reverence for greed goes unshaken, we will find a way to exploit this oil. Oil companies have already been trying to pipe it to the coast through Canada, but have been met with fierce indigenous resistance. If we can act in solidarity to keep the tar sands in the ground just a few more years, perhaps it will be long enough for us all to wake up and shake off these suicidal delusions, and avoid a catastrophic mistake.
Obama, Obama, Obama.... You said we’d look back at your election as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” (Wow, that’s some big talk.) Now you have people wondering "Is Obama Bad for the environment?" Right now you have the opportunity to turn down this pipeline and re-inspire the base of grass-roots support that won you the election the first time. Otherwise, this election cycle, the oil company contributions might not be able offset the absence of the now hopeless masses that will do something else on election day.
I was fortunate enough to have the privilege to be able to join this historical peaceful protest this past weekend to help bring attention to this monumental issue. But this is only the beginning, and there so many ways you can join the growing movement. Here are just a couple of suggestions.
I hope that you are able to join (or start) one of the thousands of global events on Sept. 24 for Moving Planet, “a day to put demands for climate action into motion - by marching, biking, skating- showing the world there is a way to move beyond fossil fuels.” There is something quite powerful about the globally synchronized positive intentional actions organized by 350.org.
Please visit the Tar Sands Action website and join the email list to stay up to date. You can also like the “Tar Sands Action” page on facebook and connect with others who support the goals of this action and hear about related solidarity actions.
If you want to do something right now, wherever you are, you can organize a solidarity action. There are plenty of creative ways to send a message.
Finally, please share this information. Talk about it. Ask your teachers, preachers and radio hosts about it. Post it, tweet it, like it, share it.
Thank you for reading, and thank you for being alive right now. We have a lot of work to do.