Geologist Rick Bass spent years exploring the Southeast, hunting for pockets of oil and natural gas hidden in the folds of bedrock underneath the Appalachian mountains and Piedmont plains. In this month's issue of Yale Environment 360, he explains why he is protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, which he calls, "wrong from every direction."
The pipeline would carry oil extracted from Canadian tar sands to refineries on the Texas coast, with a plethora of environmental risks along the way. What struck me hardest in Bass' essay, however, was an understated hint that the economics of this project are being manipulated from on high.
He suggests that energy prices can and should be half of what they are, with oil and coal declining in market share as natural gas and renewables rise. Since their discovery, tar sands were spoken of as an energy source for the distant future, unworthy of consideration while conventional oil and gas extraction remained practical. Yet here we are, tapping into an expensive, difficult, dirty energy source during oil's peak abundance.
Just a couple decades ago, it would have seemed crazy to speak of grand economic manipulations by financial elites, but we have all witnessed this "Great Recession." Wall Street got us all hooked on easy credit, tricked us into investing retirement savings in our own debt, bet against us and let the facade collapse. They got bonuses and bailouts, and we got bankruptcy and unemployment.
Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan had any military capacity, yet we have spent more than a trillion dollars at war. The defense industry got contract extensions, and soldiers got prosthetic limbs.
While citizens and governments worldwide struggle under financial strains, the stock market hums along unperturbed, its masters seemingly above both the laws of supply and demand and laws of the courts. Rather than crazy, it seems obvious financial elites are operating in a realm where their interests diverge considerably from those of general humanity.
So what do we do about it?
We need to build local economies and wean ourselves from the globalists. It will take self-reliance and a new emphasis on democracy to slough off the wealthy parasites. Happily, we have an example of just such an effort right here in Knoxville.
Mayor Rogero's entry in the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge is a plan to convert vacant lots into garden plots and to develop a distribution system to get those crops into neighborhoods underserved by grocery chains. It's an idea built on the inspiring efforts at Beardsley Farm in Mechanicsville, which has been sharing gardening and cooking skills and resources with the community for more than a decade.
Knoxville's mayor has embraced their ideas and devised a blueprint for expanding community gardens throughout the city's core. The project would create jobs and opportunity, improve nutrition, and build community. Best of all, it would allow our town to fortify its economic independence.
Knoxville is one of 20 cities competing for five prizes, and you can vote by visiting Huffington Post and searching for the Mayors Challenge. Because Knoxville's project would involve many volunteers and a lot of small collaborations, even one of the smaller million-dollar prizes would be leveraged into broad impact.
We are finally seeing food trucks around town, a trend that has been growing in other cities for years, and this project would undoubtedly spawn more mobile eateries and traditional restaurants. It could involve a shared commercial kitchen, where chefs can experiment with recipes and product lines without needing as much start-up capital.
Neighborhood gardens mean cookouts and potluck dinners. Agriculture is what made us civilized to begin with, and growing and preparing food is truly the most fundamental of human skills. It is exactly where we need to turn to immunize ourselves from the crises and whims of financial elites.
Depending on huge corporations and banks for jobs, credit, and investment leaves us subservient and vulnerable. Instead, we need economies that work at community scale, and Knoxville is fortunate to have leaders like Madeline Rogero who understand this.