Houston, You’ve Got a Problem

Next week Josh and I are going to run the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. I know what you are thinking, “It must be nice to be a Lowbagger, to just up and run the Grand Canyon whenever you feel like it”. But in truth, we have been waiting eleven years for our number to come up, having been wait listed since our last Grand Canyon trip in 1994. And I know it’s true that if I had a normal job, a house, a wife and children I might not be able to do these important things. And of course if I wasn’t wallowing in this kind of self-centered, hedonistic behavior I might at least have a house or a job. If you are thinking this, then I will say to you what I said to my supervisor when I was fired from my job last year. “You can go kiss my ass, because I’m going to run the river!” I think I told my wife that too, come to think of it, but she has since forgiven me.

In the last year I have slept on dozens of couches and floors across this great country of ours. I have been to numerous meetings, conventions, weddings, conferences and a few wild parties. I wanted simply to understand where the grass roots environmental movement was at and where it was heading.

We started out with an election, and now another disaster, the terrible twins, Rita and Katrina. We finally see the global warming debate take center stage; George W. Bush ratings are at an all time low; Tom De Lay is likely heading to jail and the whole world looks a little different today than it did just a few weeks before, much less a year ago. Hard to plan in such a tumultuous century, but hey, you do what you can. It’s nice to see Mother Nature check in once in a while with a photo op and a few sound bites.

If there is one thing more frightening than a category five hurricane barreling down on you, it’s the sight of two and a half million Texans driving north with their pets. I have to admit, sometimes I do get a little religious, and I was actually praying for the hurricanes to stay away from New Orleans and hit Houston instead. I mean, if God has to hit a big Gulf Coast city, this is a no brainer. Huston has no culture, food or music to speak of, no funky neighborhoods, no mardi gras, or even much history. It doesn’t have a football team or much of a baseball team. No beach, no mountains. Not much of a river. It’s an oil town, so there is the karma thing. Houston is just asking for a big hurricane, Biblical floods and a plague of locusts. I lived in Houston in the early seventies and thought the only thing it had going for it was its proximity to Austin.

After living there for just a year, I had three arrests, a visit from the FBI and the Secret Service, my apartment burned down, and my two older brothers were sent up to the Huntsville State Prison. I decided to move to Florida to work on the Shrimp Boats. So, yeah, they can have Houston.

Even though Houston was not destroyed, Big Earl has taken a hit, and so have Big Coal and Big Gas along with it. The Hurricanes of 2005 may well be remembered as the first natural disasters to be blamed on human causes. Not everybody believes this of course, and many are still in denial about it, but make no mistake, this was 911 for the War on the Nature, and a large response is being mounted to deal with it. Not a US Government response of course. That will happen as soon as Halliburton can run some no bid contracts off their corporate laser printers. The response will likely be a seismic shift in energy policy. This shift will come not because of new knowledge, or new technology, but new money. Five dollar a gallon gas and heating oil shortages will certainly level the field for alternative energy. New money will flood into the development of alterative energy sources creating a 21-century energy boom that could rival big oil in a few decades.

We will probably get our 60-mpg cars and electricity from windmills and solar collectors, if not our solar flying cars.

While this is good news, it probably won’t make much difference. Cheaper, cleaner fuel won’t matter much if the destruction of the Earth’s natural ecosystems continues at its alarming pace. Since the beginning of the oil age, energy use has continued to get more efficient, while overall demand is still climbing. More cars and solar powered air conditioners will not solve the underlying problem of vanishing natural habitats.

It may make it worse, as more people buy those cars and air conditioners. We cannot let our desire for cheap energy overshadow the ecological crisis that is rapidly unfolding all over the world. Many of our fellow species will face certain extinction if we don’t continue to act on their behalf.

What is needed, along with a plan to reduce overall energy use in the US, is an emergency plan to preserve the Gulf Coast Wetlands and Barrier Islands, as well as large areas of inland forests, especially riparian forests, to both absorb the floodwaters and absorb the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This will be far cheaper than building new hurricane-proof infrastructure near the Gulf Coast and will provide enumerable other benefits to humans and wildlife alike. I would like to see the leaders of the U.S. Conservation movement put forward some proposals that would do just that, but searching the web, it looks like they are just talking about cars, and how all of this is the fault of the Republicans.

Of course, another reason so many homes and lives were lost on the Gulf Coast is the obvious one. More people are living there, either part time or year round. The twin hurricanes accomplished what a lot of conservationists had long wished, scouring the shores of the ugly developed that has left few places on the Gulf Coast unscathed. Even up to the moment that Katrina hit, the Gulf Coast was the hottest real estate market in the U.S. Lets hope that these dachas for the rich and powerful are never rebuilt, and that more of the coastline is put under permanent protection. There was, after all, a reason no one had lived there until recently.

Praying for hurricanes never seems to work. They are very hard to aim, and they have a nasty habit of losing steam just when everyone gets on the freeway, heading north. Maybe the twins just don’t like Houston either. But we can be thankful that the Houstonians will be back in Houston where they belong, and hopefully the twins have taught them something valuable about the power of nature. Houstonians never get to see nature unless they go to New Mexico or Belize. Theirs is a hermitically sealed, climate-controlled world totally dependent on the oil industry. Well, now that oil industry is starting to look like a losing bet, a sitting duck for future hurricanes, and losing ground to an industry once dominated by idealistic young hippies. Oil may be a product that has no future in the new world of global climate change. Houston, you’re addicted! It’s time for a little detox and rehab. Nature has done you a favor; you have hit rock bottom and it’s time for a new direction.

It is clear to me that reforming the energy sector and protecting a little habitat will not be enough. If we do not also question this devotion to uncontrolled growth, and that means also questioning population growth, we will see more natural disasters, including more serious plagues, droughts, fires and floods. All of us emit carbon, but Americans emit more than anyone on the planet. If cheaper cleaner fuel means we can manage to sustain an obscene rate of growth in all other areas, then it will be of little value to our planet in the long run. Sustainability means sustaining nature. We cannot live without it, and nature doesn’t care if we live in New Orleans or Houston, whether we listen to Jazz or Country, or vote Democratic or Republican.

So we are off to the river. We have some big plans in store for the website between now and the end of the year. We don’t like to talk about our numbers, but we are closing in on a million site hits in our first year. We have published over 180 articles covering dozens of important issues. Our network of writers and correspondence continues to grow along with our reputation and yet we are still the same humble, hardworking Lowbaggers we ever were. We are well aware that Hurricane season in the Gulf is not yet over, and if Houston is gone by the time we get back from the river, we apologize in advance to any offended Texans now living in Arkansas. We also express our deepest sympathy to the state of Arkansas.

MIKE ROSELLE is hell bent on avoiding the southeast until population shifts have settled. Deluge or drought, you can always find Roselle at Lowbagger.org.

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MIKE ROSELLE is Campaign Director of Climate Ground Zero and author of Tree Spiker!. He can be reached at: mikeroselle@hotmail.com