Thursday, May 21, 2020

More Than Worry

In this time of social distance and stay home orders I’m actually getting out more. Not physically of course, but events that used to be too far from home are now accessible right here where I am. So I’ve gone from reading books about social justice and scrolling the Internet for a clue to fight fracking to Zoom meetups and online webinars.

Covid-19 Alert at an Allegheny County Park.
It's usually easy to stay 20 or more feet away from other people
at this Allegheny County Park.

Tuesday night, I took in a presentation that followed the life of plastic from the extraction of fossil fuels to disposal. An expert detailed the chemicals that seep into our water, soil, air, and bodies at every point in the process. 

Climate destruction, they said, is inextricably linked to poverty, racism, and militarization. 

It was not the first time I’ve been exposed to this information. In a couple of years, an oil and gas company will begin fracking operations just a mile and a quarter from my home. I thought I might prepare myself with knowledge and help my community mitigate the harms of the industry, so I read and reached out to several area organizations. I learned about radioactive materials and methane leaks and poor infant outcomes near frack wells. 

The more I learn, the more upset I become. 

So I finished this most recent presentation and rejoined my family where they’d been binging The Last Airbender. 

“I need a cup of tea,” I said. “I also need to eat my feelings.”

“Don’t worry,” they said.

And I realized I’m not worried. Worry is something I do when I feel like I have a chance. Worry wakes me up at night wondering if I’ve left a burner lit on the stove and makes me trudge downstairs to check. Worry motivates me. Worry has been my friend. 

This feeling I get when I watch The Story of Plastic or read an article about the Beaver County cracker needing 1,000 fracked wells every 2-3 years to feed it is not worry. It’s a thing I don’t have words to describe. It’s dread and rage and disappointment. It’s powerful and it begs me to give up. The deck is stacked, it says. Just enjoy what life you can until the petrochemical companies take that life away. 

I live in a place where the people care about jobs. Noise and traffic matter a little. Asthma, low birth weight, and cancer clusters do not concern them. Maybe they think it won’t happen to them. Maybe they think they’ll sell their mineral rights and finally have enough money for a new F150 or to take a cruise. 

Whatever it is they think, it’s the fracking industry that has the power. It promises to take care of us and threatens to destroy Pennsylvania’s economy if it’s even modestly regulated. It claims to have made our heating costs lower. It claims to have stopped wars in the Middle East. It takes credit for jobs that aren’t remotely related to the industry.

Oily ooze near the walking trail at Deer Lakes Park
I live near a park. They're fracking under the lakes at this park.
And now an oily ooze comes up out of the ground.
The county puts pine chips over the ooze.
It does not go away.

I’m represented by politicians in both parties that cannot see a future without fracking. “Jobs,” they say. “Energy independence.”

But if it’s energy independence we’re after, why frack highly populated areas to manufacture plastic? 

The answer is not logical. Not from a public health perspective or in the interest of common good. It does not move America toward sustainability. Our government and corporate interests and even our neighbors are blasting us toward climate catastrophe, all the while doing everything possible to drown out science and common sense. 

“Jobs,” they say. “Energy independence.”

It’s more than worry I feel now. It could be determination. It could be disgust. It’s complicated and tough to manage. But no political party is going to save us. It’s down to people like me. And I think that together we have a chance.