While browsing the daily news on Geology.com, I was first startled and then delighted to
see an article on the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. As is the
general rule for government agencies, this one is known by its acronym: DNR.
Do Not Resucitate. After having been the caregiver to two parents--one of whom died
under conditions that were made bearable only by morphine provided by Hospice, and
the other of whom fought like Custer until the long-protracted and profoundly addled
conclusion of life--I have thought of getting a tattoo on my chest. It would be just three
Which brings me back around to natural resources: fossil fuels, the group of rare earth
minerals we call “unobtainium,” and of course, fresh water. Oh … and farmable soil.
And fish. And so on. It’s past time to have a DNR in place for them. And an order for
palliative care only.
Hydrofracturing, deep water drilling, tar sands . . . these are heroic measures to extend the
life of a dying patient, and the side effects are profoundly unpleasant.
My father asked his doctor how bad his cancer was on a scale of one to ten. “I’m afraid
it’s a ten,” said the doc. “So what are we going to do about it?” Pop asked., as if the
inevitable outcome could be put off indefinitely. His question gave new meaning to the
expression “never say die.”
“We can start chemo,” was the answer. I called for time out and asked how long my
father really had. When the doctor explained that the chemo would take longer than Pop
had to live, and there would be all the miserable side effects, Mom and I put our feet
down in unison.
Now in the period since WWII, many Americans have had the understandable illusion
that they are entitled to whatever they want (including long life and cabin cruisers) as
long as they earn it (or somebody else earns it and provides it for them), including heroic
medical care. For about a quarter of a century it was actually true. I personally grew up
during the most affluent, most fairy-tale-like, most extraordinary period of opportunity
for a great number of people in history. Life expectancy, and all our other expectancies,
But the war and everyone’s lives could easily have turned out differently. Great sacrifice
and heroism by the Allies in World War II might not have been enough to carry the day if
the Germans and the Japanese had not had to fight desperately for oil at the same time
that oil was discovered literally gushing from the ground in Texas. It boils down to what
you have vs. what you don’t have.
In the fairyland for middle- and upper-class Americans in the 1950s and 60s, M. King
Hubbert looked for the wizard behind the curtain, but what he found there was no
wizardry. It was the inevitability of peak oil. Only a very few people knew or understood
what peak oil meant. It seemed inconceivable, like one’s own death. We thought==and
many still think--that the oil and the lifestyle (which are inextricably intertwined) would last forever.
Then came the abrupt end of America’s heyday, with the arrival of another acronym:
OPEC. Energy was the banana peel under the shiny shoe of America. We didn’t realize
fully at the time that all the rules had changed. But wealth per se is not the key factor
here. There is a precarious balance between what you have and what you don’t have, and
the teeter-totter was starting to tilt the other way.
It is to me one of the most incredible coincidences in history that the explosion of
American oil production coincided with the timeframe of the war. (Please put this book,
Big Money, on your reading list: http://tinyurl.com/2b6ghgn.)
Stick with me here. These thoughts began to coalesce when I was taken to task
elsewhere on line for my opinion that a 30,000-square-foot house for two people is
obscene. My critic was quite proud of her apparently luxurious home (large but not the
30k ft² one in question), and she is certainly free to delight in the fruit of her hard work
Yet such expectations and gratification feedback systems, like so many things, have
reached the end of their useful lives. The worldview (I prefer the marvelous German
word Weltanschauung for that concept) for Americans and indeed for the rest of the
world needs to have a DNR in place. And an order for palliative care only.