Thanksgiving Gratitude and #NoDAPL

Today is about American tradition, and feeling grateful for all that we have been given. The first Thanksgiving represented the gratitude of American settlers towards the indigenous peoples who originally inhabited this country. It is about the men and women who came to North America on the Mayflower giving back to the men and women who helped them to survive in the ‘new’ world. It is about Tisquantum, a Patuxet enslaved by a Briton, sold in Spain, liberated by monks, and steeped in the English language before returning to his homeland and teaching the colonists to “catch eel and grow corn.” It is about Massasoit, sachem of the Wampanoag, who “had given food to the colonists during the first winter when supplies brought from England were insufficient.” It is about coming to understanding with your adversaries and beginning life anew.

Although Thanksgiving is literally about gratitude toward Native Americans, many today will be content to stuff themselves with industrial meat and processed foods, purchased for the least price from the most socially and environmentally irresponsible corporation, all while whooping about football games on television and waxing philosophical about the acceptability of the Cleveland ‘Indians’ logo, Chief Wahoo. Not to mention Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, in the Dakotas, the bloody history of our republic repeats itself. Time and again we have appeased Native Americans with treaties only to turn around and break them violently for the sake of our ‘progress’ and ‘manifest destiny.’ While your Uncle Bob cheers on his favorite team today, many Americans in the heartland are literally at war. I imagine the diverse community at Standing Rock has much to be thankful for: their own resilience, the aid and sympathy of people from around the world, and their mighty river, the Missouri, which they are trying to protect from harm. What the peaceful warriors at Standing Rock will NOT be thankful for are the mercenaries assaulting them with pepper spray, rubber bullets, water hoses, and concussion grenades. #NoDAPL is not just a native issue: it is relevant to all individuals concerned that climate change is a moral and existential threat to humanity. Scientists should be on the front lines among the water protectors demanding that the new 1172-mile-long oil pipeline, the ‘great black snake’ connecting the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to an oil tank farm in Illinois, should not be made whole. We must ALL demand that the Dakota Access Pipeline remains unliving. Because President Obama, in his usual modus operandi, is not about to lift a finger.

See also: Hundreds Of Veterans “Self-Deploy” To Standing Rock To Defend Protesters

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Fracked Over for Natural Gas

Research makes it increasingly clear that along with drilling for oil and mining coal, extracting natural gas from deep underground causes serious damage to the environment and to public health. On The Pump Handle, Kim Krisberg examines the contamination that may result from dumping fracking wastewater into disposal wells, writing “about 1,000 different chemicals are used in the fracking industry, with more than 100 being known or suspected endocrine disruptors.” Researchers collected water samples downstream from wells in West Virginia, and after “exposing both female and male mammalian sex hormones to the water, researchers found that the water blocked the hormones’ normal processes.” In another study, researchers found “fracking wastewater disposal wells in southern Texas are disproportionately permitted in areas with higher proportions of people of color and people living in poverty.” Meanwhile, air pollution around fracking sites may contribute to skin conditions and respiratory disease. While the science surrounding pollution from hydraulic fracturing is far from settled, many fingers point in the same direction: fracking is bad news for communities and for the planet.

At The Nation, Bill McKibben reports that unbeknownst to the EPA, “US methane emissions increased by more than 30 percent” between 2002 and 2014. The culprit? Leaky natural gas infrastructure. Although methane lingers in the atmosphere for less time than carbon dioxide, it traps heat much more efficiently. McKibben says the true extent of methane leaked from fracking means that the rate of greenhouse gas emissions during the Obama administration has been higher than previously estimated, and could actually be increasing. Fracking is also a technology that the U.S. has pushed worldwide, and we can expect to see both its local and planetary effects multiplied many times over. As McKibben concludes, “we need to stop the fracking industry in its tracks, here and abroad.”

Don’t Teach Your Young to Attack the Planet

Life has been growing on Earth for about 4 billion years, and during that time there have been a handful of mass extinctions that have wiped out a large percentage of complex lifeforms.  Asteroid impact, volcanic eruption, climate change, anoxia, and poison have dispatched untold numbers of once-successful species to total oblivion or a few lucky fossils.  Species also die off regularly for much less spectacular reasons, and altogether about 98% of documented species no longer exist.

Cry me a river, you say, without all that death there would have been no gap for vertebrates, for mammals, for primates, for humanity.  The tyrannosaurus-less world we awoke to find ourselves on had regained an incredible array of plant, animal, fungal, and microbial diversity, exploiting and even seeming to celebrate every ecological niche on the planet.  Our ancestors, a small population of soft, slow-moving meatbags, lifted their hands from the ground and set about smashing, shaping, shooting, burning, cutting and eating their way to the top.  Although human tribes spread to inhabit every continent except Antarctica, the limits of the world remained unknown, no less to tribal cultures than to pre-Columbian Europe.  There was always the promise of more land, more meat, and more resources for the taking—perhaps not within easy reach, but somewhere near the horizon.

Even after Europe discovered the “new” world, attitudes of conquest and dominion were rarely given second thought.  Manifest destiny drove United States citizens from sea to shining sea, eradicating all kinds of biodiversity along the way.  We not only disregarded the finity of plants and animals, but of a remarkably diverse race of peoples who lived in equilibrium with a world they recognized as precious. But after the West was won, the global balance of power shifted very quickly.  Industry, technology, and medicine led to unprecedented health and fecundity.  Global population exploded exponentially.  There was nowhere left to go.

Now it is humanity that strives toward limitlessness while the world seems to dwindle, inexorably, under our feet.  Like a dark cloud of volcanic ash circling the globe, we stifle and kill species on a massive scale in not much less sudden a fashion.  Even when we keep our hands clean, we contribute to global warming, pollution, and deforestation just by maintaining a modern lifestyle.  We are a mass extinction event, and we are still unfolding.

But as we know, mass extinctions are not the end of the world, and on the contrary, they offer new beginnings for life on Earth.  Whether humanity remains a part of that life remains to be seen.  Complex, intelligent life has evolved from rudimentary beginnings before and can do so again.  And as one of the largest biomasses on the planet, humanity could speciate in the wake of ecological collapse and fragmentation.  How we evolve could surpass our wildest dreams.

But I like being human, and I consider our world a beautiful place, one worth savoring and not throwing away.  Unlike any natural disaster we have the gift of agency and choice, of intelligence, foresight, and decision.  We are coming to terms with a small world that is getting smaller, and we will surely react and adapt to this knowledge as best we can.  But no outcome is inevitable.  All action and inaction will have an impact.  If we want to remain who we believe ourselves to be, we must choose to respect life, to value and foster diversity, to just take it easy once in a while, to control our primal appetites, and to change our very nature.  Only by choosing to change, rather than having to change, can we truly stay human.