Sunday, July 8, 2012

Coal: Manna or Mammon?

The "Quebec" Flag

Don't ask me why I woke up at 2:20 AM, but maybe it was the sound of a train sounding its whistle in the traditional pattern of 'dah, dah, dit, dah' at every grade crossing;
[fittingly the Morse Code equivalent of the letter ' Q'; which is what one does when waiting for a long, slow train to clear a crossing. 
The US Navy signal flag 'Quebec' is all yellow and signifies a vessel being quarantined, not a good thing. 
As a traffic signal, yellow means "caution".]

More likely, it was because my circadian biorhythms are off as a result of thinking about a problem so intractable that it bothers me not to be able to clearly comprehend a path to avoid it, minimize it, sufficiently mitigate it, or just make it go away.
That sort of thing has happened to me before at times when I've been stewing over a problem of major concern, and now its happening again; this time about what to do about avoiding the certain dangers of a malevolent proposal so insidious that it threatens not only the the present lifestyle, but the foreseeable future of the precious place that I have chosen to live 22 years ago.

Yes, I am talking about the so-called Gateway Pacific Terminal [GPT], conceived by no one but Mammon herself as retribution for our sleepy inattention.

Theodore Roosevelt called those who tried such stunts 'malefactors of great wealth', and he was right 100 years ago when he confronted the robber barons who sought to usurp the usufruct [look it up; a term Jefferson used] of our growing country for their own, short term greed.
They fought him hard then, just as they are fighting us more stealthily now, posing as wolves in sheep's clothing to invent something that rivals the harm only dreamed of by domestic terrorists!
Yes, I said terrorists, and I meant the worse kind; as Ben Franklin said 'those who would give up their liberty for a little temporary prosperity, will deserve or get neither!'

Old Ben was also the brains behind something that become known as the 'Precautionary Principle', because of his statement of the obvious; 'a stitch in time, saves nine.'
That still applies today - in spades!
How could anyone NOT be aware of that simple truth?
But, I know how, and so do you; 'the price of freedom is 'eternal vigilance', a very tiring and boring thing to be engaged in, until you wish you had!

I'm really getting tired of hearing all the reasons we CAN'T do something about an obvious, brewing problem that will certainly prove disastrous.
It is just a matter of time before the GPT time bomb will make us rue the day it was ever considered.
Just look at the chances we are taking with all the natural assets we have and often take for granted.

Clean air, clean water, clean soil that supports healthy living to merely start the list most basically.
Then, the things that derive from these natural blessings, like public health & safety, amenities like parks, trails & open space, economic prosperity that is sustainable, scenic beauty that takes ones breath away and acts as a magnet for others who appreciate such things, happy families, healthy children, a veritable litany of positives and a cornucopia of blessings!

Then, looms something that has the real potential, and likelihood of, taking those good things away; something like the incredibly stupid GPT idea, that defies any legitimate definition of good sense.
Why would anyone propose such a thing if they really cared about all the good things we now share?

Rather than merely ask that question and wait for a dubious answer, we need to take out a comprehensive insurance policy against something like GPT ever happening!
Would such a thing be possible, affordable, effective?
You bet it would!
The insurance policy I'm talking about is you and me baby, and not only you and me but every other member of this community willing to stand up for what we most value around here.

You may ask how would we get such an insurance policy concept started; the answer is self insurance, of the type that is perpetual - community involvement!
An easy thing to say, but not so easy to do, except that we've done it before, 13 years ago, when the Olympic Pipe Line [OPL] catastrophe occurred and we were able to make as sure as possible that would not happen again.

GPT and its accessory partners in crime represent another threat, every bit as damaging as OPL, except for two things; those threats haven't happened yet, and the dangers are likely to be spread out over years instead of minutes.
OLP happened suddenly and without warning; GPT will happen more slowly if we're lucky, but with much greater cumulative harm.

We have an opportunity to sustain the good things we love and reject the certain harm that threatens should any version of GPT ever come to pass.
We can enumerate both the good things and the bad, as we must; but in our very guts we know the balance isn't even close, don't we?

It may be time for an old organization to reappear in some meaningful form.
I'm talking about SAFE Bellingham, the spontaneously formed group that was so effective in helping us get necessary changes made in both the safety codes and oversight of pipelines throughout the US.
The reforms and changes that were made since then did not just happen folks, they were insisted upon by every level of citizen, elected official and civic-minded organization that existed!
That's the only kind of insurance I would trust with the responsibility of reasonably guaranteeing our community's quality of life.
Yes, good jobs are lacking, but how does one define a 'good job'?
And how many bad jobs, posing as good ones would it take to begin ruining what we have that is so essential to sustaining itself?

Prevention, like wellness, is sometimes a hard concept to accept because there are so many things that vie for our attention that seem much more urgent.
But, like wellness, prevention works, and it works better then reacting to emergencies at far less cost.

The Lake Whatcom Reservoir is another really good example; we took it for granted without much cautionary action and that has resulted in a much more costly situation that might have been avoided with more common sense. That's just another lesson in the suite of things that are truly important to everybody, not just the small-time robber baron wannabes.

Let's simply take stock of those things that we all consider essential, then decide to protect them in a meaningful, holistic way.
As the Buddhists say, these are difficult to gain, but easy to lose.
Let's don't do the easy thing this time. Please!