The infamous T. Boone Pickens has purchased enough water rights in the Panhandle area of Texas to drain the very important Ogallala Aquifer of 65 billion gallons of water a year (that’s 124,000 gallons a minute). Right now, 95% of the water from this ancient aquifer is used for agriculture but Mr. Pickens plans to divert it and pipe it to Dallas where he will, of course, make a fortune like some character from a Michener novel. The farmer’s, whose livelihood are diminishing because of their own misuse of the aquifer, will just have to suck it up, or dry up, as the case may be. Their agricultural practices haven’t been sustainable and the Ogallala is a mere underground puddle compared to what it used to be. They are talking “Dust Bowl” in that area and if you read this article you will learn that all is not happy in Happy, Texas.
In Washington DC and to a lesser extent in a couple of other cities one finds the phenomenon of “slugging.” Northern Virginia commuters queue up to catch rides in private passenger autos to avoid using public transportation. The reason: three or more can use the very fast I-95 HOV lanes and cut up to thirty minutes off their one way commute to the Pentagon or other government offices in DC. Our subsidizing of the private passenger auto through HOV lanes and zoning parking requirements make this a cheaper and more attractive form of travel than bus or subway. Passengers get a free ride and the driver of the car gets to make use of the fast lane. Slugging has developed its own sub-culture in the DC area with a web-site, and a special etiquette. Government has gotten involved to the extent of subsidizing the web site and trying to add additional queues.
We all end up somewhere trying to sort out the problems of our particular location like, “Where are we going to get water to grow food?” or “How can I get to work faster?” Decisions are based on too many factors to mention. A lot of the time we ask the wrong question which derives from our history of having too much—too much water, too many trees, too much coal, too many fish, too much land, too many roads, too many subdivisions, too many fast food restaurants, too much stuff from China.
Sharon Astyk, a prolific and well-known writer in the sustainability movement, has an interesting essay on a theory posed by a friend of hers called “The Theory of Anyway” which “…argues that 95% of what is needed to resolve the coming crisis in energy depletion, or climate change, or whatever is what we should do anyway, and when in doubt about how to change, we should change our lives to reflect what we should be doing “Anyway.” Living more simply, more frugally, using less, leaving reserves for others, reconnecting with our food and our community, these are things we should be doing because they are the right thing to do…”
She goes on to make this important point: “This is, I think, a deeply powerful way of thinking because it is a deeply moral way of thinking – we would like to think of ourselves as moral people, but we tend to think of moral questions as the obvious ones “should I steal or pay?” “Should I hit or talk?” But the real and most essential moral questions of our lives are the questions we rarely ask of the things we do every day, “Should I eat this?” “Where should I live and how?” “What should I wear?” “How should I keep warm/cool?” We think of these questions as foregone conclusions – I should keep warm X way because that’s the kind of furnace I have, or I should eat this because that’s what’s in the grocery store. (The) Theory of Anyway turns this around, and points out that what we do, the way we live, must pass ethical muster first – we must always ask the question “Is this contributing to the repair of the world, or its destruction.”
These questions are a lot easier to ask and answer if one is not struggling to make a living like the commuters in DC or trying to survive a drought like the farm folk in Happy, Texas. Ultimately, however, we all have to ask and answer for the decisions that we’ve made and the ones we will make for the future. It’s even harder to buy into The Theory of Anyway if we have been spoiled by too much: too much electricity, too much toilet paper, too much gasoline, too many potato chips, too much TV, too much mobility. Even many of the poor in our territory have cell phones, cable TV and cars. For every deep ecologist there’s a T. Boone Pickens. For every proponent of frugality there’s a subscriber to Vanity Fair.
It’s highly likely that those aspiring to vanity, commuters and dust bowl region farmers are going to be facing huge shocks in the coming months or years. Most people are not reading articles like this or this or this.
For most of us it’s too late to ask “Where should I live and how?” In Lummi Island ferry crisis discussions it’s argued that if we lose the ferry the island will only be populated by the wealthy. I would argue that only the wealthy will be able to afford to leave. The rest of us will have to suck it up and get on board with The Theory of Anyway.