the flayed country west of the mountains and, who knows? The skinless hills and deserts of western China dramatized the severity of what we are facing: ancient glaciers shrinking away to nothing, wells and oases failing, aquifers sucked dry by fracking, the delicate web of migrations of birds, herbivores and nomadic humans torn to shreds.
Throughout the long weekend I couldn’t help wondering: have we hit a tipping point? Has our industrial civilization lost its footing and picked up so much speed as it bounces and tumbles downward, bearing the natural world with it, that there’s no possible way it can save itself? It often seems like it, when you look at our response to the manifold crises we are facing. Our cities supposedly contain the greatest minds of our species, geniuses, seers and problem-solvers capable of miracles, but consider the response of urban dwellers to what is clearly the greatest dilemma mankind has ever faced: over the last two months the “liberal” New York Times and the “progressive” New Yorker ran pieces praising strip-mining on the northern Plains and calling for more power lines, so that New Yorkers can continue leaving their city ablaze with lights all night, dine on foodstuffs hauled in from all over the planet, and dump shipload after shipload of their filth and refuse into the Atlantic?
We could save the planet, and ourselves. It would mean cutting back our material consumption and energy use, and then taking care of the tens or hundreds of millions of people rendered jobless as a result, while simultaneously clamping down the lid on population growth.
This isn’t as wrenching or radical as it seems, when you consider that the people involved in extractive industries – mining, drilling, fishing, and logging – and the manufacturing and processing sectors that depend on them, are rapidly working their way out of their jobs anyway. (There’s a terrific song on Neil
Young’s “Greendale” CD that sums it all up beautifully.) In addition, there already is massive unemployment around the world, due to overpopulation and automation. We are just postponing the inevitable if we continue on our present course. But does anyone want to put money on the human race even beginning to consider this kind of solution? Don’t look at me.
Our economic system depends on three-plus percent growth per year to stave off massive unemployment and social chaos; that economic growth is in turn founded on ever-increasing exploitation of fossil fuels and other dwindling resources.
For one reason or another the world’s energy corporations are hooked on fossil fuels, on squeezing every last drop of oil and gas and particle of coal out of the earth, even if it means poisoning the seas and the air, scraping bare enormous areas of the land (like West Virginia,
in the Gages’ visionary film Bidder 70), and killing off the planet’s whales, caribou, swordfish, and polar bears.
The question I keep asking is, Who dreamed up this “civilization” in which energy is god, and everything else – beauty, dignity, wildness, space, freedom and life itself – is shoveled into Moloch’s furnace to keep the unholy fires burning?
We may feel relatively immune, safely ensconced in our green little hanging valley high in the mountains, but in reality, with snowfalls threatening to fail, pine bark beetles and sudden aspen kill-off menacing our forests, and gale force winds hurling the dust and smoke from the ravaged world beyond in our faces, it’s agonizingly clear that no place is an island anymore, and that, in the words of the old spiritual, “There’s no hiding place down here.”
Mountainfilm 2012 couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.