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Biocide: A Memorial Day for Planet Earth

05/24/2013 09:41 am ET | Updated Jul 24, 2013
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Memorial Day weekend is a time to reflect on loved ones lost, and also an opportunity for many to get outside to enjoy God's green earth. Yet our consumption-driven lifestyles, and our continued burning of fossil fuels in stupendous quantities (even George W. Bush declared that our nation is "addicted" to oil), make it less and less likely our earth will remain green for future generations. For our children and their children, Memorial Day weekend may become a time to reflect on another loved one lost: Mother Earth.

I remember as a teenager reading a sci-fi story about deep drilling for oil. The crew drilled so deep, with so much power and rapacity, that the massive gusher they eventually generated consisted not of oil but of blood.

Mother Earth has given her lifeblood to us, but like the vampires we are, our thirst remains unsated.

The problem is that there is no Planet B. Most people, if they think about the damage we're doing to our planet, probably put their faith in some kind of technological miracle in the future to save us. Yet it's technology itself that's gotten us into this mess. That, and our insatiable greed.

When you're talking about the health of our planet, greed is not good. Nevertheless, the reality is that there remain trillions of dollars worth of oil and coal deposits beneath our feet and our oceans, and powerful interests want us to use it, never mind the cost. It's no surprise that corporations are greedy, but so are many of us. One example: Many of my students drive big, gas-guzzling, trucks, and they assert it's their right as Americans to guzzle all the gas they can afford to buy.

Our dependence on fossil fuels is a far greater danger than what our politicians like to call the "war on terror." Yet we spend nearly a trillion dollars a year on national defense, wars, and homeland security and virtually nothing on developing alternative fuels. Instead, we brag about developing our own fossil fuel resources while in the process destroying wildlife habitat. We focus on fighting terrorists, even as we ourselves terrorize the earth. We are the terrarists, as Tom Engelhardt notes, waging war on our own biosphere.

Whether our president's name is Bush or Obama, our government seems dedicated to destroying our environment rather than investing in alternative fuels and trying to live frugally within our planetary means. In a rat race world in which most Americans still strive desperately to keep up with the Joneses, we collectively act as if our earth has an infinite supply of fossil fuels and that our consumption of them is harmless.

Combine the selfishness and shortsightedness of most Americans with the persuasive power of Exxon/BP and similar corporate interests and you get catastrophe in slow motion. What we're witnessing is biocide, the slow killing of life on earth, a smothering death. It may take a century or two for life to expire, but death is a certainty if we continue to consume and deny.

But who knows? Somehow we avoided nuclear Armageddon (so far). Maybe we'll wake up in time to avoid planetary Armageddon. After all, Big Oil and corporations can't make money if all their customers are dead. Politicians can't get reelected if all their voters are dead.

Or can they?

Astore writes regularly for TomDispatch.com and can be reached at wjastore@gmail.com.