There’s been a bit of family time for me in the past month, and it involved getting back on a plane and feeling the great stretch of body and mind through time and space with massive expenditure of fuel and fortune to arrive at cross country destinations. The worthy act of visiting, taking time, and being in the supportive love of kin is priceless. But getting up in the sky has also allowed time to see and comprehend great change across the landscape. Images of polluted atmosphere, degraded soil, and human infrastructure out of balance, reflects a man made world consumed with its self.
Landing in such ecosystems as The Senora Desert or Western Great Plains Grassland offers major departure from Temperate Rainforest ecology. On the day I took off out of Seattle, there was a dusting of snow. I landed in a desert one and a half thousand miles away. Looking down at the landscape of this place, I noted vast green fields of alfalfa on the horizon. Also on that horizon, I could see the canals stretching off into distant mountains. The Central Arizona Project (CAP) has been pumping water out of The Colorado River, and into the dry desert. The finite river resource is currently being used to recharge an overtaxed aquifer in Arizona where cotton and alfalfa, two water demanding crops, have been industrially grown for almost a century.
Water from a river is pumped up hill through a canal, draining the river until it cannot reach the ocean. These are examples of the truly strange times we live in. I’ve already written in other articles about the water restrictions facing small family farms in Southern Arizona, but even with drastic water restriction rules going into effect, the city of Tucson keeps growing, expanding well beyond the limitations of the existing aquifer, adding pressure to an already overtaxed system. The way the canal propaganda sees it, there’s more and more water to be had- but with cuts already enacted on small farming communities, what’s the real agenda for development in Arizona? Not to mention the other southern states, like Utah, who still have more water rights to claim, though development in some towns has halted with the onslaught of worsening drought. There are many studies on The Colorado River to determine long term water forecasts impacted by over consumption of finite resources.
While desert lands are settled and finite hydrology abused, another flight took me to Oklahoma, land of my birth. Much of the family still lives here, and it’s clear to all of us that the ecology is changing fast. Sticking with the water theme- water is life- I reflect on The Ogallala Aquifer and its rapid depletion. Meanwhile, as industrial agriculture drains the aquifer, oil and gas fracking poisons what’s left of the water table and contaminates domestic wells across the state. The famous documentary Gas Land tells a cautionary tale about this devastating practice rampant in a collapsing industry. While visiting family in Western Oklahoma, I again witnessed night time gas flaring from wells eager to pump up oil, which is worth so much on the market today. Though it’s illegal to burn gas as a waste product while drilling, many wells continue to burn, and it’s now obvious when you fly through the state’s atmosphere that gas flaring is compounding the state’s air pollution. I’ve never seen such a grey haze over the state, especially considering the regular winds that push down The Central Plains.
I know the jet I’m flying in is also a great contributor, and it’s navigating this strange modern marvel and recognizing that our family, like so many today, have embraced opportunity across the country and to bring family together, we now fly. This is the largest contribution of annual pollution I’m emitting. The combustion energy madness is woven into a much thicker basket of petrochemical woes- the organic chemistry that is killing us and all other life on earth. Images of this destruction are best viewed from the air.
Flaring and fracking abuse continues without interruption across the industry- and supports getting me to family quickly. It also supports the convenience of my own vehicle, and the ability to drive whenever and wherever I want. But times are changing, and the cost of fuel is at a record high. Will change continue in the petroleum industry, or will the last of our clean drinking water and safe air to breath be a luxury for the powerful few? Right now, in Caddo County Oklahoma, several wells are burning, flaring the glutton of gas on hand to get at the $100 barrel of oil. It’s money over health and safety, done in the darkness, to hid from regulators. From the view up here, we’re heading into some tough times with extreme limitations.
On my way home, I glided over several mountain ranges in the tail end of winter. Snow pack across The Rocky Mountains looked thin in many places. As I flew over more and more brown peaks, I wondered how much longer that snow melt would be feeding cotton fields in Southern Arizona? How much water was left in The Ogallala Aquifer? How much more forest would burn in drought stricken summers? When will this drought bring fires to Western Washington? In time, all these separate places will come together under one great ecological collapse, and we the people will be thrown into chaotic adaptation in our struggle to make do without and restore what’s left.