Driving Down the Road to Ruin Despite Repeated Warnings about Fossil Fuels

A sign along U.S. Rt. 219 in Salt Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

GAP MILLS, W.Va. – Forty-six years ago, Folk Music legend James Taylor released a two-minute song, “Traffic Jam” that contained more truth about our climate emergency per second than any other statement I’ve read or heard since. The most notable example from this clever tune are these lines towards the end: “Now I used to think that I was cool / driving around on fossil fuel / until I saw that what I was doing / was driving down the road to ruin.”

Yesterday’s report on the climate emergency by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meeting in Switzerland echoes Taylor’s tune. According to the BBC, “Their report lays out how rapid cuts to fossil fuels can avert the worst effects of climate change.”

According to National Public Radio, “But there are many choices readily available to policymakers who want to address climate change, the report makes clear.” It continues, “Those choices include straightforward, immediate solutions such as quickly adopting renewable sources of electricity and clamping down on new oil and gas extraction.”

Stopping destructive oil and gas extraction is no easy thing. That is the lesson of my new book, Fractured Sanctuary: A Chronicle of Grassroots Activists Fighting Pipelines of Destruction in Appalachia.”

Containing articles written between 2014 and 2022, it is an account of reluctant, citizen activists who rose up organically in grassroots resistance to the natural gas industry as it has attempted to complete two, 42” pipelines carrying natural gas hundreds of miles through the Appalachian Mountains from the fracking fields of northern West Virginia, southwest Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. It is a first draft of a chapter in a history that is old. The fossil fuel industry has siphoned off billions of dollars of wealth – timber, oil, coal, gas – from Appalachia for well over a century, benefiting corporations, but devastating people and the earth.

That is not the whole story though. We, too, are to blame for our climate emergency. Change begins with us. We must change our consumption habits. Consumption/materialism is a root cause for ongoing and increased demand for fossil fuels. Until we all adjust our behavior to more sustainable lifestyles, all other efforts are undermined. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of a willingness – at least within the United States – to reduce consumption.

The climate emergency is real. We’ve been alerted to it for half a century. It’s science, but it’s not rocket science. We are using excessive amounts of fossil fuels. Period. When we stop our excessive consumption, we will enjoy a reconciliation with Mother Earth. Until we do that though, the relentless onslaught of catastrophic weather events will become more common.

Will we ignore this latest warning? It seems likely if history is a guide. Which means we will realize we’ve been driving down the road to ruin only after we’re flying off the cliff.

We are much closer to that than most of us are willing to admit. The weather-related events are just one crisis from our reliance upon fossil fuels. The fracking/pipeline threat to public health and the earth is very real now. One does not need a report from the U.N. to understand that. They need only to go visit the fracking fields and pipelines routes in Appalachia and elsewhere to see the horrid destruction unleashed upon the earth because of our lust for stuff.

Pipeline route through north-central West Virginia

If you can’t do that, then listen to the voices of those who have experienced it up front and personally. You can do that by reading Fractured Sanctuary. These first-hand accounts, reports and studies offer arguments every bit as convincing as the U.N. report.

The planet is not your personal playground to trash. It is to be shared. Or at least, that’s what mom taught us. Based on the rapid increase in catastrophic weather events with each passing day, it seems that Mother Earth is trying to teach us the same. We’d better listen!

© Michael M. Barrick, 2023. Home page feature Photo by shun idota on Unsplash; fire photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

Book Events

We have an event scheduled for Earth Day – April 22 – in Hillsboro, West Virginia based upon my book, “Fractured Sanctuary: A Chronicle of Grassroots Activists Fighting Pipelines of Destruction in Appalachia” We are holding a community gathering to discuss community preparedness and disaster management in the context of grassroots organizing and activism in Appalachia. I will also be in Elkins, W.Va. on May 20 at the West Virginia Herb Association Spring Gathering.

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