The guy living under the bench was right

Forrest Johnson

Oh, that crazy, mixed up world of crude oil and fossil fuels. I was wondering just which crisis scared the oil traders and speculators this time as gas prices jumped back up to $3.29 a gallon after we had danced with visions of $2.91 a gallon in our gas tanks a few months ago. Imagined threats to the oil supply are everywhere, including, I suppose, the notion that we talk in feeble tones of tackling climate change before we hand off a warming planet to our heirs.
The fossil fuel folks have worked night and day to push the issue of sustainable energy off the map. You know the message. Solar and wind are too expensive. The fuel and power grids aren’t built to handle sustainable sources. The costs of change would be handed directly to the consumers. Our economy can’t afford to change at this stage of the game. Doing the right thing for the planet would be ruinous. Bad, bad, bad.
Still, climate change won’t go away. Oh, the naysayers were out in droves following our one and only cold spell over the past decade or two. Climate change, hah! they chortle but our winters are warning us about climate change. Yes, we have a good cold snap but it’s followed by the bizarre idea of freezing rain. Freezing rain in the middle of January for crying out loud.
Nope, climate change won’t go away and we’d better get a little louder about it before we have mosquitoes and ticks year round. Has anyone noticed that the crows are staying the winter now? They flew the coop for the cold snap but I saw a flock of them just the other day. That’s got to bug the heck out of the ravens.
Climate change won’t go away.  
That’ll scare an oilman, a fracker and a coal baron alright.  
Our economic world is based on the notion that we can just drill it and dig it up and pump it and guzzle it in wholesale professional and recreational fashion with no consequences whatsoever.
That will happen when we spend a century or more on this earth ignoring consequences as we flip on the lights and drive Buicks the size of bowling alleys and grow up with quarter dollar gas. As kids we could come up with a buck and have enough gas to cruise around at least part of the state for the night. Not so today but we’re still hooked on the stuff and like all faithful addicts we ignore the consequences like an alcoholic ignores the booze eating his liver.
Now we can hydraulic fracture our way to oil and gas happiness as we dig up glacial sand deposits in southeastern Minnesota and send it by the yard to North Dakota where it’s flushed down a hole with water and certain trade secret industrial chemicals and lubricants and up comes the bubbling light sweet crude.
All the New Conservative Neanderthal Party types are rejoicing in the news that we might become the new Saudi Arabia of oil and gas production.
No matter. Petrol will still cost more than we want but maybe not as much as it should. We won’t revolt as long as gas stays within the shadowy realm of affordability.
A year ago I travelled to Washington, D.C. armed with National Union of Friendly American (NUFA) business cards to share with folks arguing over gun control and agricultural subsidies. One fellow I met told me he represented farmers. I have his card somewhere. We were walking our way out of the Rayburn Office Building which is where about half of the representatives have their offices. Anyway, this fellow was convinced that we do agriculture right in this country.
Kiddingly, I told him we sure know how to make the best corn syrup on the planet, an essential ingredient in the Standard American Diet. Without the subsidies to cover production of genetically modified corn we sure wouldn’t have the vast supply of essential corn syrup.
Our conversation ended soon enough but we did exchange cards. He asked me if the NUFA card was real, representing a real organization. I told him that accepting the card meant he was a NUFA member in good standing along with millions of others. Not only would he get the proper directions for the NUFA handshake, he would be eligible for discounts on wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, boneless and vacuum packed.
 We were headed in different directions on the subway, a likely reflection of the different directions our social and economic perspectives were headed. That’s alright. NUFA is a very diverse group. He’ll figure it out someday and the change of heart will be enlightening and positive.      
I did talk to a homeless man who appeared to be living under a bench with his protest signs. Well, actually I made the friendly gesture to say hello and that was all he needed to start the ball rolling. He was adamant about climate change and war and the fact that we’re wasting precious water and killing the planet, our only home at this point. Another homeless guy nearby said the fellow living under the bench talked too much.   
Debt be damned, the man who appeared to be living under the bench said. It’s the planet he was worried about. Money doesn’t control the weather, doesn’t control life on the planet… unless you’re talking about money being the root of all evil, that the endless pursuit of money is what drives humans to poor decisions and systems that fuel climate change and create toxins which will eventually kill us off.
He was right, of course, like a lot of crazy people are.