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Our Global Gas Chamber

One of the great (mostly) untold stories of the Age Of Oil is the array of toxic chemicals in hydrocarbon exhaust and the accumulation of exhaust-borne particulates in the bloodstream and brain. We are largely indifferent to these byproducts of our industrial-grade obsession with hydrocarbons, but our willful ignorance cannot hide the facts the way catalytic converters hide the odors they produce.

A particularly daunting informational pdf from the State of New Hampshire details the chemical miasma we find ourselves in:

Gasoline emits ethanol, benzene, toluene, xylene and toxic air pollutants (TAPs) such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, 1,3-butadiene, diesel particulate matter, acrolein, cadmium, chromium, and lead.

Diesel engines emit unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, NOx, sulfur oxides, PM, black carbon, VOCs and carbon dioxide.

Lawn and garden equipment emit carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, VOCs, NOx. Factsheet ARD-22: Lawn and Garden Equipment

Additionally, the Google summary for the pdf notes that:

Natural gas emits carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides.

Oil emits carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, arsenic, and benzene.

Coal emits carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, arsenic, and benzene.

We are pumping megatons of this crap into the air that we breathe. It is also the air that the disappearing birds and dying insects depend upon. In fact, I was thinking about this intersection on Saturday when I was tending to the familial fig tree … and realized there weren’t any birds around.

None. Nada. Zippo.

Twenty years ago, the fig tree would be alive with a variety of birds drawn to its high perches brimming with sweet fruit.

Saturday, I didn’t see a single bird, nor did I see any evidence that any had been by for a free feast. No half-eaten fruit. No feces. No nothing.

In years past there would’ve been birds singing, too. That was always a part of my childhood in Livermore … the irrepressible sound of birdsong.

Saturday there was silence.

All summer long I walked past a pile of birdseed that had obviously been disgorged from my mother’s old, worn-out bird-feeder by a human bumping into it. It was strewn across the concrete in the shade in front of the living room window. I didn’t clean it up … I just walked past it every Saturday … and it didn’t change in size. It just sat there uneaten like an epitaph silently screaming out the word “ecocide” to anyone who’d take the time to notice.

I noticed.

And I notice the increasing absence of life all around me. I saw one dragonfly this year. One. I feel like a parched desert traveler stumbling upon an oasis if I see a butterfly … the rareness of that once-common event becoming more and more like the sighting of a comet with each passing year.

There are fewer insects, too. Not the teeming communities the figs and grapes once sustained. Not the armies of flies on the fallen fruit. Just a few stragglers barely keeping alive a story that seems to be coming to an ignominious end.

Then I drive back home like a lemming in a tiny metal box, jockeying for position in an endless, almost mob-like pack of toxin-spewing vehicles that, when you project it out globally, is forcing whole ecosystems to try to breathe in a de facto gas chamber we are expanding into every corner of the planet.

Of course everything is dying. And we are willy-nilly killers forever hustling to get to something that won’t really matter if we end up taking the whole damn planet with us.

This column originally appeared on NewsVandal.

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JP Sottile is a freelance journalist, published historian, radio co-host and documentary filmmaker (The Warning, 2008). His credits include a stint on the Newshour news desk, C-SPAN, and as newsmagazine producer for ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington. His weekly show, Inside the Headlines w/ The Newsvandal, co-hosted by James Moore, airs every Friday on KRUU-FM in Fairfield, Iowa. He blogs under the pseudonym “the Newsvandal“.

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