Oil Pipeline from Hell

I love the natural world and dislike what people have been doing to it for money: ripping it apart for gold, silver, other metals, coal, natural gas and oil, especially oil.

This process of extraction and plundering of the natural world for "resources" is not new. Pliny the Elder, Gaius Plinius Secundus, a Roman military official and scholar of the first century of our era, denounced the destruction of the Earth for metals, especially iron. In book 33 of his "Natural History," he describes the greed and "sheer recklessness" of mining for iron that warfare made more precious than gold.

Pliny wondered of the long-term effects of mining, including the corruption of the miners. He wished people relied only on what the Earth provided on its surface, ending their searches for riches "deep within the bowels of the Earth."

Pliny was prescient. Humans, however, keep digging for easy money. Such excavations made the coal, petroleum, and natural gas industries the giants they have become. After all, the fossil fuel industrialists are selling stuff they never made. They simply grab oil, coal, and natural gas from deep within the bowels of the Earth.

The "owners" of fossil fuels hire workers for the dangerous and dehumanizing mining, but reap the large profits. They also poison the water, air and land, knowing the neighboring communities will suffer the deleterious consequences of their work.

The injured natural world, water and wildlife, are voiceless.

Meanwhile, the owners of the extracted fossil fuels think, first, they deserve the wealth and, second, they are above the law.

That's why pipelines come into the picture. They are the means by which oil, for example, moves hundreds of miles from the point of discovery to refineries and consumers.

Rarely a pipeline has been as controversial as the Keystone XL pipeline designed to transport 830,000 barrels of oil per day from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

This pipeline became symbol of the dangerous hubris of the fossil fuels industry. It seemed the owners of the Keystone XL pipeline -- exactly like the owners of petroleum, coal, and natural gas -- care less about global warming. Indeed, most of them deny its existence.

Nevertheless, they know they have been primarily responsible for this cosmic calamity, but they are persistent in their denials and irresponsibility.

This insult to science and environmental and human wellbeing is causing anxieties, not among the purchased politicians but among most atmospheric experts and environmentalists.

A startling reaction to the proposed crossing of the Great Plains by the XL pipeline was the decision by a young man, Ken Ilgunas, to hitchhike and walk across the "heartland." In September 2012, three years before Obama rejected the Canadian pipeline, Ilgunas hitchhiked 1,500 miles from Denver to Alberta. He stayed enough at Fort McMurray and the vast hellish fields of tar sands of Alberta that he convinced himself the Keystone pipeline was a bad idea. He then mostly hiked 1,700 miles from Alberta to Texas.

The result of this heroic if insane trek was Ilgunas writing a timely and riveting book, "Trespassing Across America" (Blue Rider Press, April 2016).

The book mirrors its young author: impulsive, tenacious, reflective and, amazingly, cautious.

Ilgunas is overwhelmed that oil is in so many things, including his shoes and food. He says we should acknowledge that "oil is a big part of our lives, but let's not forget that oil and oil's fossil-fuel cousins are creating some rather massive problems... some nuanced criticism of the fuel seems warranted."

Indeed, nuanced criticism runs through the entire book. Ilgunas, thirty-two years old, sees things almost for the first time. He grew up near the toxic waste dump town of Love Canal, New York. Yet, that upbringing did not suffice to alert him of the depths of corruption behind the XL pipeline and oil. He failed to ask why oil became so pervasive in America and why the government stays clear of pipelines and fossil fuels. Oil was not inevitable. Humans did pretty well without petroleum for millennia.

Ilgunas is honest, angry and naïve. He is disoriented with the hot future coming his way. He does not know what to do or what he could or would do to slow down global warming. Obama's turning down the pipeline in November 2015 was no more than a blip, a "small victory," in a protracted future war. This meant a future "with far fewer fossil fuels."

I like the book because it's well written. It's also revealing of the state of mind the fossil fuels industry has created among Americans.

A computer expert that gave Ilgunas a ride to Fort McMarray summarized the alienation of oil workers from the natural world.

"The workers don't give a rat's ass about the environment... If you start talking to people out here about the environment, they'll punch you... They're here to make money."

Ilgunas also met plenty of people in the Great Plains who had contempt for environmentalists and the natural world. They kept telling him he might get shot because he was "trespassing" their land. This offended Ilgunas, but he garbled his answers as not to antagonize them. Not only that, but he found most people unwilling or incapable of having an honest conversation about global warming and the pipeline. What he heard, instead, were political slogans people remembered from watching Fox TV or listening to pro-oil radio.

The very idea of trekking across America, learning what Americans think about the environment, oil, the Canadian pipeline, and global warming, almost collapsed.

Read "Trespassing Across America." It's a courageous book written by a courageous young man struggling with the chaos he is inheriting from his elders. Ilgunas may inspire other young Americans to trespass America and do something positive for their country. His book is a welcome message of resistance and hope.