Selfies and the End of Mankind

I get my electricity from Gulf these days. It’s nostalgic in a way: so many gasoline logos have disappeared or mutated over the years (Atlantic? Esso? Flying A?) that a recognizable symbol makes me feel much less out of touch. So Gulf not only fills my gas tank, but it also powers the garage door opener that allows me to get to my car to drive to the self-serve station to fill that tank. (By rights I should be getting gasoline from Northeast Utilities, but that’s another matter.)

A few days ago I received a letter from Gulf Electricity, and included was one of the little gas cards the company sends out on occasion to people like us with refrigerators and televisions and at least a dozen battery chargers. This card entitles me to $25 worth of free gas. These days that’s almost eight gallons; a month or so back, closer to six. It’s a nice gesture and one worthy of a company whose CEO takes home a salary just north of $13 million. (Full disclosure—much of that is in stock options—but I can still call it $13 million.)

But in the letter that accompanied my gift was this line:

—The average Gulf Electricity customer will earn $50 in Gulf Cash (which I assume is like normal cash) this year, just for turning on the lights. It’s simple: use Gulf Electricity (which I assume is like normal electricity), earn free Gulf Gas!

The exclamation point is not mine, but should have been.

This approach is so wrong-headed in light of our increasing climate concerns that someone, somewhere, should be ashamed…should have said to the Gulf Electricity Team (who signed the letter), “let’s reconsider that line and maybe mention the advisability of restraint.”

But then again why should they? This week’s local news, when it hasn’t been dwelling on Ebola, has featured a story every day about diminished gasoline prices, and in every one of these stories some gleeful reporter has delivered the information in such a way that, if we weren’t somehow happy about this, we were obviously deranged. Well I hate to admit this (though some will not be surprised) but I may be deranged.

And actually it’s not bad here on the dark side, and it certainly isn’t lonely. There are quite a few of us who wonder daily what we’re going to do with businesses so totally unresponsive to the obvious, with a government in bed with so many conglomerates that it could never pass the legislation that would apply the brakes—that would end this indiscriminate use of fossil fuels and the mania to find more. We need that oil, they say. We deranged disagree. We even have reasons.

Let’s say, for instance, I want to buy a car. Now I don’t pretend to know all the raw materials that go into a car, but I know that we can make them from scratch in America because we used to. So let’s say I go to a Honda dealer because Hondas are made in Ohio and Alabama and I want to buy American—and I want to be a responsible American at that so I’m thinking of a hybrid. “Oops, sorry,” the salesman says, “the hybrid is made in Japan.”

Now I know many think that doesn’t matter, but as a symptom, it does. After all, how does that hybrid get from Suzuka, Mie, Japan to my dealership? Well you know the answer—huge ships. They’re not powered by sail either. Instead they burn upwards of 2000 thousand gallons of fuel..per hour! (That exclamation point was mine—it’s a long trip.) And many of these ships burn heavy fuel—that which has a high sulfur content, 2000 times as high as what’s allowable in American cars. And all this happens on their passage to give me a car that shows my ecological concerns. (I don’t even want to know where those twisty energy-efficient light bulbs come from, but I’m pretty sure they’re not going to save us despite Gulf’s suggestion that I turn on the lights.)

I am not a jingoist or a Buy-American nut, but it doesn’t take a genius to understand how the global economy is ruining our future on this planet. And we can’t blame the politicians—they’re bought and paid for. So it’s up to the people to demand change: that benchmark 2º centigrade rise in the earth’s temperature that everyone fears by 2100 will come and go long before then. And incidentally, we’re not destroying the earth—the earth will spin around for many millennia. There just won’t be anybody on it.

I have a niece who loves the beach at Ogunquit, Maine: the shoreline spreads out dramatically over miles, and the size of the beach changes with the moon. At high tide it’s so narrow that finding an unoccupied spot to lay down a blanket is a tribute to commitment and happenstance, but a few hours later sandbars appear and the beach becomes massive. Now I certainly won’t be around to see her grandchildren—Claire is 15 and I’m, well I’m not, and haven’t been for many decades. But I know for certain, despite all the deniers and all the money big business sinks into contradicting climate science, that when she has those grandchildren and wants to take them there and share memories, Ogunquit will be available only in photographs—taken with our phones—after they’ve charged overnight.

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Chuck Radda

I'm a former high school English teacher, currently a literacy volunteer and novelist. I invite your responses right here or to chuckradda@gmail.com. You can also follow me on Facebook and on Twitter—where I tweet annually at @chuckrad45.

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