Transcending the Boom

Much of my life has been a complacent act. I have a family that loves me, a privileged upbringing where I was never in want of food, shelter, or clothing, and I have not only been able to attend college, but also graduate school.

I have had what some may say is the American Dream.

But I have found my dreams to be shattered. The language of the country I love seems to have been corporatized, and the conversation seems to have been hijacked.

In undergraduate and graduate school I loved wrestling with questions: What does it mean to be human? What does it look like to live well in place? What is so good about the Good Life? Theses questions and their complexities were like an inviting aroma -- they held the promise of rich food.

In college I also realized I most aligned with the Transcendentalists -- Melville's Leviathan, Emily Dickinson's poetry, Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," Emerson's "Nature," and Thoreau's great "Civil Disobedience" gave me a framework that helped to build the house of my mind. I simply had to add my own unique furniture to complete the design.

The Transcendentalists sought and hunted after the richness of life; they fed on the breadth of the human narrative and looked in life's nooks and crevices to reveal the richness of life. I followed their lead and entered a type of dance that I'm still waltzing to today.

So why is it that I feel out-of-step? Why do I feel that I am in the "tornadoed Atlantic of my being," as Melville says?

In my own self-examination I have gone back to the rooting of my relationship to land; I have gone back to my home: North Dakota.

North Dakota, for much of its existence, has resided in the sleepy recesses of the national consciousness; little, or so it seems, about North Dakota is interesting: the land is labeled flat; the state's interchangeable mottos, "The Flickertail State" or "The Peace Garden State," provide little in terms of description, and many major metropolitan areas contain more people than the entirety of North Dakota's 72,000 square miles. North Dakota, it seems, is like an attic -- it is out of sight and out of mind.

But recently North Dakota has pummeled itself into the national limelight. North Dakota holds the possibility to help get our nation off of our foreign dependence on oil and into a mode of "sustainable oil development."

That is a lie. There is no such thing as "sustainable" oil development. Sustainable means that a certain rate or level can be maintained. Oil is a finite product.

But the conversation has been hijacked. Corporations run rampant and promote a system of rapaciousness and greed. As Terry Tempest Williams says, "Corporations have more power than people. We, the people."

In North Dakota we the people have left much of the development of oil unregulated, fearing that, if we do regulate these mega-corporations they -- and more importantly their money -- will leave North Dakota in a state of destitution. We have willfully given the conversation over to simpletons, because, after all, corporations are simple not complex, like human beings -- we, the people. We have allowed the conversation to be hijacked. We have descended -- instead of transcended -- into a sordid boom.

So what might we do? For starters we might resurrect conversation among neighbors. We might better share our hopes and dreams for the future -- a future that would include safe drinking water, poly-cultured cropland, access to healthcare, and other essentials of a developed nation. We might practice restraint, and push to quickly get off our dependency on oil and corporations; corporations that have a "bottom line" rather than getting in line with what it means to be human.

In our conversations about the Bakken oil boom we might talk about rent being $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in Williston, North Dakota; that, on average, one person dies a day from an automobile accident related to the oil boom; that the trafficking of teenagers and children has skyrocketed; or the fact that ICBM missile silos are still present in the state.

We might demand more of our political leaders, urging them to regulate oil development in North Dakota. (Currently 29-30 percent of natural gas is flared, leaving the western third of the state looking like a lake of fire.) We might not buy into politicians' political rhetoric, believing that if we regulate the oil industry the industry will leave.

Silence is a powerful tool in politics, and so far North Dakotans have stayed silent on the environmental implications of the oil boom. In October, over 20,500 barrels (865,000 gallons) of oil were leaked near Tioga, North Dakota, leaving cropland forever changed. Instead of only demanding oil companies report their spills, we might demand that they not have spills.

We, the people might start a more holistic approach toward sustainable energy, and that would mean North Dakotans saying, "Frack no!"