For industries teetering on the edge of irrelevance,the strategy to remain relevant has always been the same – deny their activities have caused a problem, debunk evidence of harm, and claim they are only giving the people what they want, thus shifting blame onto consumers. From the tobacco industry to the fossil fuel extractors and the pesticide and herbicide manufacturers, they all follow the same script as evidence mounts that the products they once touted as a boon to humanity turn out to be poisonous. Poisonous to mind and body. Poisonous to people, to animals, and to the planet.
The Melbourne Global climate strike on Sep. 20, 2019, was attended by over 100,000 people, making it the largest climate protest in Australia to date, and rivaling the anti-war protests in 2003 and the Vietnam Moratorium in 1970. Photo by Flickr user Takver.
Add to the list of peddlers of poison for profit agribusiness and its processed foods, along with animal confinement operations and massive applications of fertilizers that deplete the soil instead of enriching it, ultimately leaching into the water every creature needs for survival. Give the people what they want. In entertainment, give the people gossipy reality television shows in the evening and mean-spirited confrontation programming in the daytime.
Social media companies give people information dressed up as news when it is nothing more than pandering to what they want to hear. If giving the people what they want absolves purveyors of poison from responsibility for their actions as they go about making money, then hardly anyone is responsible for anything. A sociopath is concerned only with what he or she wants, and whether the pursuit of those wants interferes with the rights and needs of others is material only to the extent that those others can obstruct the sociopath in achieving their desired end. That’s the society of imagined meritocracy and capitalism of “looking out for number one” that giving the people what they want instead of what they need has created.
The new Ford F150 Lightning battery-powered pickup truck is a step in the right direction of redressing these hypocritical imbalances in an energy hungry society. The original F150, the gasoline-powered one, has been the best selling vehicle in the United States for over three decades. The gas-powered pickup truck will still be available alongside the battery-powered version, but the investment Ford made in developing the Lightning was not insignificant. They could have developed a different vehicle altogether as their flagship entry into the battery-powered market. Putting that investment into a version of their biggest breadwinner, the F150 truck for the masses, is a big step toward making use of electric vehicles common.
A scene from the 1970 film Little Big Man, directed by Arthur Penn. Chief Dan George played Old Lodge Skins, and Dustin Hoffman portrayed the picaresque title character.
The development of the Lightning could do for electric vehicles what Ford’s innovation with the Model T did for internal combustion engine passenger vehicles over 100 years ago, namely make a new technology accessible to everyday people. Electric vehicle models have until now been popular only in niche markets, whether that’s more well off people with a need for sportiness driving a Tesla, or people whose need for merely getting around town could be met by a Chevy Volt. If the Lightning becomes as popular today as the Model T did in its day, then it could go a long way toward redressing the climate imbalances kicked off in large part by its predecessor.
“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” ― Psalm 90:10, from the King James Version of the Bible.
In any discussion of medical science’s ability to increase the human life span, people seldom question the desirability of a longer life. Certainly the doctors and scientists don’t seem to question it. The assumption always is that if people were offered the possibility of living past one hundred in reasonably good health, they would grab at it eagerly. Why?
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings perform “I’ll Fly Away” on Austin City Limits on PBS in 2011.
Increasing life span is a different ethical matter for medical science than improving health for the time we generally have been allotted. Experimenting on poor creatures who likely have no interest in prolonging the lives of their tormentors, scientists are on the brink of breakthroughs that will allow people to live the length of two ordinary life spans. What for?
Speaking of animals, will the new life lengthening wonder drugs be available for pets? More than likely they will be, at the right price, and there will be wealthy people who would like to see their pets live twenty, thirty, or forty years. But who will consult the pets to determine their wishes? Can human beings be absolutely certain they are the only creatures who understand life, and what it means to continue living, and making one’s peace with death, particularly when death might mean a rest from living and possibly a progression on to something else?
A Great Basin bristlecone pine,Pinus longaeva, in snow in the Great Basin National Park, Nevada. These pine trees can live thousands of years. Photo by the National Park Service.
The quest for extending life at whatever cost seems similar to the obsession with staying young at whatever cost. Growing old means more aches and pains, certainly, but at the same time there is relief from some of the urges of youth that overpower reason. Sticking around an extra long time makes sense only if the quality of that longer life is not only bearable, but enjoyable, and if population growth is near zero. There might be fewer grandchildren, but more great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren, and so on. Still, eventually it could get difficult to shake the feeling of staying too long at the party, a guest who doesn’t comprehend the kindness of bowing out gracefully.
Chief Dan George as Old Lodge Skins, accompanied by Dustin Hoffman as Jack Crabb, attempts to bow out gracefully in this scene from Little Big Man.
The ongoing dispute that Energy Transfer Partners, in cooperation with the federal government, is having with several Native American tribes over the Dakota Access Pipeline section that crosses the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota brings up questions about water and its importance to everyday existence. Obviously clean water is essential to life, which is apparently why the Army Corps of Engineers moved the original path of the pipeline from north of Bismarck, North Dakota, where it would threaten the integrity of water supplies there should the pipeline fail and leak oil. How is clean water then less essential to life on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation south of Bismarck, because that is where they relocated the pipeline? Besides the issue of trespassing on sacred grounds on the Reservation, there is the elemental matter of maintaining the integrity of clean water for the Reservation’s animal and human inhabitants.
The Sons of the Pioneerswere the first to perform this song written by one of their own, Bob Nolan, in the 1930s, and since then other artists have covered it dozens of times.
The Dakota Access Pipeline stretches from the oil shale fields of northwest North Dakota to an oil tank farm in southern Illinois, crossing much privately owned farmland along the way. The controversial use of eminent domain to gain access for a privately owned corporate partnership is another subject. The issue at hand here is how the elders of Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which technically speaking in the language of treaties with the federal government represent the interests of a sovereign nation within the borders of the United States, can fend off this challenge to their land and their water. Does the federal use of eminent domain apply in their case? The common sense answer would be “no.” History has shown, however, that the “sovereign nation” bit in treaties between the United States and Native American tribes was a mere sop not worth the paper it was written on, and intended only to placate the tribes until such time as we needed their land for one reason or another. All bets were off then, and might made right. That’s what the current controversy comes down to, and after a brief stay from the Obama adminstration in continuing construction of the pipeline across Indian land, the new administration under Supreme Leader has weighed in with a sadly predictable decision.
Since the 1980s, when bottled water first started showing up in quantity in supermarkets in the United States, Americans seem to have taken for granted the rare and precious resource that is clean water. Particularly in the eastern half of the country, where (Flint, Michigan aside) municipal water supplies have been plentiful and largely free of problems, Americans have become deluded by the strange idea that the water coming out of their taps was somehow deficient and that the bottled water they bought from the supermarket was better. At first, due to the aura of prestige surrounding European bottled water brands like Perrier and Evian, people bought and sipped bottled water as a matter of status. Eventually it became just a thing to do. This proved to be a type of madness, particularly after the water in bottles proved to be no better, and in some cases worse, than the water coming out of most people’s taps, at least in the eastern half of the United States. People in the western half of the country often have had to cope with tap water that was unacceptably hard, and have had more reason therefore to turn to bottled water.
The Washita River Massacre portrayed in the 1970 film Little Big Man. Anti-war and anti-government sentiment of the time influenced this film, but its portrayal of Native Americans and their distressing relationship to their conquerors was a welcome corrective after decades of stilted, one-sided inaccuracies in Hollywood movies. The tune is “Garry Owen”, an Irish quickstep adapted as the marching song for Custer’s 7th Cavalry.
In some cases, buying and consuming commercially produced distilled water, even in the United States, the land of mostly wholesome public drinking water compared to much of the rest of the world, is not a bad idea. Other than that, the idea of giving international conglomerates like Nestlé and Coca-Cola more money and control over water supplies, a resource far more precious than oil, is foolish and insane. The Native American protesters and their supporters at Standing Rock have the sane and sagacious idea of protecting the water that courses through the Reservation, and considering the vital importance of that resource the rest of us had best pay attention now because it will flow our way in time.