“When it comes to energy, there are no easy answers.” Actually, yes there are.
It’s rare that I’d disagree with something endorsed by that Tom Engelhardt over there at that TomDispatch, but the April seventh comment underscores the difference between conventional relationships to energy and our way in the world here at C-Waulk-the-ungoogleable, the corner of nowtopia that’s always pronounced the same and written differently, so it only really makes sense in a face-to-face situation.
If by energy you mean that burny thing coming out of Tarr Farm, Pa, in 1861, down there in Oil Creek Valley, for example, or out of the Empire Well in Funkville, Pa, in 1863, well, well, well. I gather that the Seneca had no trouble with a bit of medicinal oil, but it took us clevers to find a way to use that energy stuff to make everyone unhappy. The end of the Civil War was near when quite accidentally—eff troop, ready to eff everything up.
So if by energy you mean the burny stuff that’s now a given in this life where it’s (again) a given that people will live in boxes of a certain size, temperature uniformity, and hostility to environment and (another given?) that people will keep the travail in travel by traveling long distances to similar boxes for travail or “work” in order to garner cultural capital, cash prizes, and—from their womenfolk—esteem, then of course so-called green “alternatives” are merely going to mimic the old “difficult” ways. Quite true, there’s no easy difficulty. You up for my circumlocutions or do you need to go read some article on Obama? Energy, defined as difficult, will be difficult. Amen to that tautology. But so what?
It’s true that if you want to keep your two-thousand-square-foot house sexually nuclear and at a prim sixty-eight Fahrenheit in every part of every room, and keep the shades drawn so you can see well enough to read anxious Malthusian warnings on your computer screen, then sure enough you’re going to have to replace bad coal electricity with “good” giant wind farms and good giant corporate solar installations a thousand miles away wrecking someone else’s seacoast and desert. Not easy. For example, there’re anywhere from twenty-four hundred to ten thousand miles of Great Lakes coastline, depending on how many squiggles count (actually, all coastal reckonings approach infinity at certain resolutions, but that’s a philosophical discussion for a beer sometime) and what are the chances they’re not going to tart that all up with corporate whirly blow jobs and then hardwire Chicago to it? Tart and suck, it’s coming. Picture a little boy at a soda fountain wearing one of those beanie caps with the propeller on top, sucking away at a straw. That’s everything you need to know about the future of American water management and corporate windmills in the Great Lakes littoral. You heard it here first.
With “difficult” and “alternative” energy “solutions,” you can even feel all righteous making fun of those distant selfish locals for being nimby about the offshore windmill farms. And while you’re being all environmental and such you can grab yourself one of those “green” two-seater cars (two seats, seventy-five hundred moving parts) so you don’t have to feel any pressure to carry more than one passenger on the way to travail. Display The Economist on your coffee table at home and congratulate yourself on understanding nuance and complexity.
But there are easy answers once you cast off the hair shirt of “necessity.” And joy is the foremost of those easy answers. The joy of getting really cold on a long January walk (and what kind of mischief were you up to on that walk?) or from having put the shoulder power back into your urban power chair, and coming back to a cold house—you’re tougher than you used to be—and finding friends and lovers and kids squished into the only hot place in the house where a vortex of mirrors warms and illuminates a chamber with sunlight. You might be tough, but inside you’re a softy who loves getting squishy. And at night a few black rocks take the sting out of a house stabilizing at around fifty degrees but not enough to eat into the pure joy of seeing your breath when you talk and of having a tumult of kids and lovers and friends and raconteurs in odd, comical, and occasionally racy combinations in fewer, darker rooms and under thicker blankets.
I gather that we’re supposed to feel sorry for the poor working class who can no longer keep a tiger in their tanks to get to old industrial jobs that have been offshored—and you’d want to keep going to these jobs because they were what, such great jobs? And I gather we’re supposed to mourn for Detroit. Oh, poor Detroit. Spends half a century destroying the world and then we’re supposed to feel sorry for it. My curse upon it is this: many cracks in the edifice of your complacency. Things growing in the cracks. Eat them.
Well, I do feel sorry for the poor working class. I have a general feeling of sorriness for everything these days, what with Fukushima and my friend Missy sitting shiva for a loved one and my knee and the very existence of the town of Barrie, Ontario: plaints clearly in no particular order.
The rat comes out onto one of my compost heaps as I write that last line and wriggles his ears impudently at me—he knows exactly where I write my CP articles. He climbs to the top of the pile and bounces like Rocky running to the top of those stairs in Philadelphia. With the rat triumphant like this, I’m not claiming I’ve figured out this sedentary urban farmer’s life, even though I’m trying to “curse” Detroit with it. Live and learn. I’ve got a bad knee now that keeps me tethered zenlike to the spot, and I’ve got to figure this life out. I’ve been trying heartedly (followed by half heartedly) to kill the poor rat all week, but he’s cuter than most of my friends (though his ears remind me of my friend Imre, who likes to do google searches of himself) and understands where I’m “at” when I write for CP better than most of my friends. And the relationship is considerably less complicated than the one I have with that woman I call, for the sake of friends and family, my wife.
Now where was I?
Oh yeah, between joy and sorrow.
Well, back in insult mode after a bit of tenderness with the rat. I used to live in West Virginia—or rather, be alive in the place they call West Virginia, because I had no fixed address. Back in the day when I had a good set of legs and knew how to use them after making saucy comments. Lot of fat fucks hanging out at the 7-Eleven in West Virginia, wondering why you could possibly be interested in walking around in the mountains, but the place has also some of the friendliest people in the world. You didn’t have to wait for long to get a ride there, and no one was going to ask why you were barefoot. Soft climate, plenty of fish and game, and even poor folks tended to have an acre or two, so eighty percent of what you needed was just lying around. All you had to do was take care of it. But then you get these multinational corporations coming in convincing the locals that being a fat fuck sucking on sweet drinks and needing those “jobs” is where it’s at, and before long everyone’s knocking their mountaintops into their streams and telling each other that this energy thing, that now everyone “needs,” has no easy answers, like it was even a question that needed to be asked, let alone have a complicated answer to.
FDR is reputed to have said, “our greatest primary task is to put people to work.” The greatest and the primary are practically tripping over each other to compliment that task word: “how’dee do there mister task mighty fine day lookin good I reckon yessir.” Seriously? That putting people to work business doesn’t sound creepy to you? He probably did say it. Isn’t he the guy that put works progress administration together, like an early hip-hop attack poem? Work business administration progress work muthafuckah FDR lefty our hefty lefty left to our own devices yo [read aloud].
Yet even with everyone off smashing their world and telling themselves it’s a given that energy and life are complicated, joy’s no farther away than two walls forming a south-facing nook out of the wind on a sunny April day in the north, and if you’re lucky (there’s the rub, eh?) a friend to share it with who’d rather be a little hungry than have one of those job things.
DAVID Ker THOMSON doesn’t have one of those job things right now, though he might take a half a one in a pinch, if you’re offering. dave dot thomson at utoronto dot ca