A FAILURE OF IMAGINATION
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- When you listen to Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World"), which the Czech composer wrote just before he left New York in 1895, you can hear his awe at the open spaces of this grand new country - awe at our unlimited sky, endless grasslands and the energy of a people with the space to dream, think, plan and act.
It was a time when cliches were fresh. The sky really was the limit. As far as the eye could see. God in all His bounty.
Listening to the Vermont Symphony Orchestra play "The New World" in Brattleboro last week, I thought about America in 1895. It must have seemed like a magical place. Sparkling oceans, clear lakes and rivers, fresh air full of bird song, thick forests, the wildness of the salmon and the bear, the horse and the eagle. Even in New York City, Dvorak wrote, "Everywhere, the greatest cleanliness."
Who could imagine that we would pollute the vast oceans, cut down the old growth forests, pave the verdant grasslands, destroy the family farms and fill the wondrous heavens with flying metal junk so we can watch "Everybody Loves Raymond" and spy on each other. Back then, it was unimaginable that we could ever reach the end of the richness of the natural world.
But it's all gone now, of course. God in all his bounty gave, and we in all our greed took and took and took.
The oceans are polluted; in one depressing story I read recently, there is a miles-long river of used toilet paper floating in an underwater current of the Atlantic. And what was that joke about the East River - that when you take the ferry, it looks like all New Yorkers do is fornicate, defecate and eat oranges?
Our air is polluted, the freshness of our rain has been tainted with acid, the ozone layer is frayed, the climate is changing, the buffalo are gone. How we've spoiled and despoiled our environment for profit makes for an endless and depressing story. And it's going to get worse.
What other resource, you may ask, is being depleted in this overdeveloped and overreaching world? The answer is energy itself.
Energy is everything. Food is tied to energy. Communication is tied to energy. Even human rights (or their absence) are tied to energy. And energy can be summed up in one word: oil.
Today we are seeing oil prices rise. Competition is already fierce. India and China, two huge nations with enormous populations, are developing more rapidly than the United States and Europe continents which built their entire civilizations on oil energy. To get new sources of oil, the Chinese recently forged new relationships in South America. The United States is in the process of taking over the oil fields in the Middle East by force. In the future, competition for oil will certainly be deadly.
But isn't there enough oil to go around, even if we pay a little more at the pump? Guess again. "Peak oil" is the name given to the inevitable time when the world's oil reserves start to run out. If you thought that was far in the future, prepare for a shock. The future may be now.
"Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy," a book written by President Bush's energy advisor, Matthew R. Simmons, will be available in May 2005. In it, Simmons says that, based on his personal observations of the Saudi oil fields, many are in decline or will soon reach their apex. When that happens, the world will be confronted with a potentially catastrophic oil shortage.
"We need a wake up call," Simmons said recently on Swedish television. "We need it desperately. We need basically a new form of energy. I don't know that there is one."
Dick Cheney and George Bush know all about peak oil. They, too, cannot imagine a different energy source. So they are grabbing up all of the old one they can get. But those supplies are limited.
Cheney has also turned his attention to nuclear energy, which is touted as "green." But no matter how safe a nuclear reactor is, or how clean the air around it, there will always be the problem of nuclear garbage. Until it is solved, nuclear waste is the pollutant to end all pollutants - it pollutes the earth until time immemorial.
Bush and Cheney are suffering from the same failure of the imagination as the developers of Dvorak's time. They failed to imagine that natural resources could be finite. They failed to learn from the indigenous peoples they were killing, people who worshipped the land and conserved it unto the seventh generation.
The short view will not carry us far. Bush should be listening to the most intelligent of us, not the greediest and most warlike. If he did, he would be pouring money into solar and wind energy and requiring the country to maintain the strictest forms of energy conservation.
Even if he did, it should make us wonder. Today we look at the wind and sun and imagine them as infinite resources. What if we, too, are suffering from a failure of imagination? What if we are wrong?< Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.