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Editor's Page--Life is Stories & Tunes
by Stephen Morris
"Stories & Tunes" is the title of a keynote I gave last year at SolarFest. In the talk I tell a sequence of stories taken from my professional life that illustrate a point about the state of our environment. There's the story of Paramount Pictures threatening to sue me; the story of setting off to visit every American brewery; the story of launching the National Tour of Solar Homes.
The thrilling climax of this presentation is when I pull out my guitar. (Aside: My musical development stopped in 1966 when I left the Fabulous Van Goghs to go to college. This means my repertoire includes a total of about four chords. Luckily, you can play a lot of rock and roll with those four chords. My vocal range is equally limited, but I've found that if you make songs short, loud, and fast, then immediately get off the stage, you can fool people into thinking you're pretty good.)
My favorite closing tune is "Believing Cassandra" an original (using only four chords, of course) based on the legend of the Greek goddess, Cassandra. Her story is that Apollo fell in love with her and gave her the gift of foreseeing the future. She did not return his love, however, so Apollo then cursed her so that no one would believe her prophesies. The song is about the fact that for many years environmentalists have been accused of being Cassandras. With the oil spewing in the Gulf, a lot of people, including President Obama, are "believing Cassandra" these days.
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There are angry calls for retribution against BP (which has long been understood amongst friends of the environment to be an acronym for "Burn the Planet." There's incessant news coverage of the damage to the wildlife and economy along the Gulf Coast. As wrenching as these accounts are, however, they are not telling the most important part of the story, a point that Bill Schubart, a retired businessman and author who lives, works, and writes in Hinesburg, Vermont made in a recent commentary that was broadcast originally on Public Radio:
There's a lot to be saddened about in the BP disaster. The damage to the gulf and shoreline may take a generation to recover, the economic loss to the region, a decade and, for many, will only follow a full environmental recovery.
But we're a blame culture, so it's instructive to watch the game play out among friends, in our networks, and in the media. The political theatrics are predictable-- self-righteous men haranguing lower officials, BP executives, regulators and, of course, the President.
BP executives, scripted by their attorneys and PR consultants, express earnest sorrow and empathy, but choose their words carefully from briefing books to evade further liability, and then, finally, the righteous anger of the powerless people in the Gulf, holding everyone in power accountable for the environmental tragedy that has beset them and crippled their economy and seascape.
We have become adept at blaming, suing, and demanding retribution of everyone but ourselves. Teachers are to blame for the steep decline in educational achievement and illiteracies of all sorts. Business is at fault for environmental degradation. The financial industry is at fault for bringing the Western economy to a standstill and wiping out trillions in personal savings. Foreign workers and illegal aliens are causing unemployment. Mexican cartels and Afghan poppy farmers are behind our drug problem. We die because doctors can't keep us alive. We're obese because our food supply is industrialized. Crime is rampant because judges don't jail enough people. Our nation is in debt because our chosen officials keep giving us what we demand. The list is endless. Someone must be held to account for everything that's not right with us. There's no room left for the inherent dangers of life on earth, not even death. In all these cases, someone must be found guilty and we must have retribution.
It's too painful to understand our own role in these disasters and to make mitigating changes in our own lives that diminish the problems. Is the truth of our complicity too sad and to daunting to confront? We are the demanding market for oil, mortgages, junk food, drugs, McMansions, cheap labor & consumer goods, feel-good educations, and cure-all healthcare. We imagine crime-free streets and celebrate massive economic inequities and executive compensation packages, anyone one of which might fund the solution to a town's homelessness and hunger problems.
It's sad to watch so many take aim so quickly and with no introspection on the most powerful man in the country because, frankly, he's not powerful enough to address all our ills at once. I wish Obama had had the courage to tell truth to power as they say and simply explain to us that no one knows how to stop the flow of oil into the gulf.
But the fact is that our insatiable appetites have opened a Pandora's Box of new risks on earth with which we'll have to learn to live. Durable solutions will only emerge when we understand our own role in society's ills. (More of Bill Schubart's writings are available at Schubart.com).
The important story is often very different from the apparent story. Our outrage at the oil slicks, idle fishing boats, and oil-soaked sea birds must be at least partially directed at a culture -– our culture -– that is fueled by a rampant, insatiable thirst for the creature comforts made possible by our consumption of fossil fuels. Until we deal with our power addiction, our future will be a litany of oil spills and nuclear disasters. It will be the same old story, unless we change our tune.
(All writers steal, but how many are so shameless they steal from themselves? Stories & Tunes is also the title of my new novel. Couldn't I have come up with a different title? I s'pose, but what works well in the realm of reality works even better in the realm of imagination. See my review in On the Nightstand, and see the special offer that we have exclusively for readers of Green Living.)
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