The GOP Plot to Drill National Parks

For over one hundred years, National Parks have been seen as a sort of sacred place—lands that inspire and provide a necessary refuge from the clamor of the outside world. Now it seems that the very essence of National Parks—a public land accessible and protected for future generations—is in jeopardy, thanks to a Republican Congress eager for political gain.

A number of Republican Congressmen have proposed a piece of legislation— Resolution 46 —that would open up upwards of 40 new national park sites to privatized oil and natural gas drilling. This fits into a broader aim of Republican legislators: massive deregulation of environmental protections, and a shifting away of power from local taxpayers to multinational corporations.

Oil and natural gas drilling have been a constant in dozens of publicly owned and national parklands, such as in the Everglades. A law passed in 1978 created the first safety measures to regulate private drilling on federal lands—aiming to curtail the potential of environmental degradation in these spaces. This 1978 law was both outdated and ineffective by the turn of the twenty-first century; policymakers in Washington agreed that its lax limits on drilling and environmental cleanup put thousands of people close to National Parks at risk.

This is possible thanks to the ‘Split Estate’, a situation in which the Federal Government owns the surface area of land while private corporations maintain control of the soil below it. There are currently 534 active oil and natural gas well across 12 sites in the National Parks, a frighteningly large number that, with this new Republican legislation, are on the cusp of having many of their safety measures reduced or outright disregarded.

After seven years, President Obama made a concrete step in reforming the 1978 drilling law. In December of 2016, he issued the 9B Orders, which necessarily updated the 1978 drilling law for modern circumstances, ensuring wider safety measures and other environmental protections. 9B charged companies extra fees and fines in case of natural disasters caused by such wells, and effectively shifted the burden of cleanup efforts back from taxpayers to culpable corporations. A fair bargain, right?

However, the Republican Congress is aiming to dismantle those safety mechanisms. The leader of this charge is Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar, who unsurprisingly is one of the biggest sugar daddies of the Natural Resources and Energy industries. Over four congressional campaigns, his cash haul from these lobbyists has reached over $250,000.

Though Resolution 46 doesn’t have a set vote date yet, it will almost certainly be seriously considered by the Republican majority. This act fits squarely into the broader GOP goal of massive deregulation of public lands and environmental treasures, such as we’ve already seen with the GOP’s opening up of water-streams to coal runoff and pollution. We should not be surprised, then, if Resolution 46 gets a vote in Congress, and if passed, will get a stamp of approval from President Trump. And when it does, the fate of dozens of National Parks across the country will rest in the balance— including, among others, the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania.

Natural spaces, accessible and protected for future generations, are some of the last places where the public can experience nature at its finest, especially as Climate Change increases in scope. And, ultimately, they represent the purest Democratic ideals of American society; the notion that land should be made public and accessible, not sold off to the highest bidder.

This is what makes the National Parks system great and worthy of protection. In a society consumed by line charts of profits margins and stock-market graphs, natural spaces provide a healthy dose of reality. They remind us of humanity’s humble origins—bringing us back to ‘the real world’, the world that created us. We have an obligation not only to the planet but also to ourselves to protect these lands for future generations.

For those who believe in the value of public lands—and in the benefits of national parks to a community’s wellbeing—there is still hope for us in this fight. National Parks are one of the few federal programs that reach wide support; favorability numbers continuously reach in the high 70 to 80 percent ranges, with support crossing all partisan and ideological lines. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle will respond to public outcry on this issue; already, they made the Republican house pull a measure that would’ve sold off nearly 3.3 million acres of National Park lands to private corporations. This is not just a battle to be fought by a small group of environmentalists; this is an issue that affects everyone from urban liberals to conservative outdoorsmen who recreationally fish and hunt. We all have a stake in this.

I strongly urge everything with the slightest interest in conservation and nature to oppose Resolution 46. Over the coming weeks, I will be calling representatives and urging them to lend their voices for the lives of park rangers and outdoorsmen, not the singular interests or private corporations. I hope you will join me in opposing this Resolution and in fighting for the future of our National Parks.

 

 

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Standing Rock’s Last Stand

In the earliest days of last autumn, you’d be convinced that total victory was achieved at Standing Rock. The Dakota Access Pipeline had been halted. Federal officials from the President’s circle had called an assessment on the risks of the beast. Bureaucracy seemed poised to drag the project into perpetual inaction. Was the Earth given a second chance?

Instead, our new President has hastened the pipeline with a coat of oil and rammed it through the snowy plains of the Dakotas. A caravan of soldiers and engineers will follow the concrete serpent through the fields, where it will burrow under the frozen soil and pump its way past an underwater aquifer, endangering the drinking water of thousands.

For all we know, it will leak. And when it does, local communities will be outraged. Mothers and children and grandparents and farmers will turn on the faucet and see brown goo flow down the sink. People will ask, how could this happen? How did we let this happen? The 600 defenders-of-the-earth arrested and the thousands more that fought in support will have an answer, backed-up by scars and phantom shivers.

We are faced once more with an empty promise. The promise of care for the Earth, the promise of rectifying the injustices of the past; gone as quickly as armies of oil-men descend for the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux and see stock options in the freckles of the West.

I grew up in the West. I know the lingering song that you hear in the fields, the river embankments, and the mountain trails. A song of a people who loved the land and treated it well, who were pushed out as far west as you could go, against the cold ends of military rifles and bayonets. You hear it in the names of places once colorful but now blindingly white. The music is soft, but filled with purpose and regret.

Only from afar did I ever hear the song at Standing Rock. It reminded and inspired me, as it did for many others. I wondered if we could finally fix the original sin of our past: the erasing of a people and the destruction of their land. For once it seemed possible. Now, that dream is on life support, and their song is threatened by silence. The Whitelash strikes again, only this time the Earth is on its last breath, its lungs filled with smoke and tear ducts filled with sand.

The advent of this failure is not a novel one. We have experienced this story before in the ash of burnt treaties and disregarded promises made over centuries of manifest destiny. Armies marching in formation down trails of dirt and tears. The forests made into farms, the farms furrowed by factories; again and again the cycle repeats.

What will our children say of the Pipeline and its plastic purpose? They’ll see it for what it is; another broken treaty, an admonition of what we are, and an abandonment of who we should be.

We still have the capacity to amend this chapter of history. The fight isn’t over, clearly. The Standing Rock Sioux wrote last night;

We are greatly disappointed, but we are not DEFEATED. Stand with us. Together, we will rise.”

This gives me hope where my own well has run dry. For a project that sneaks under the Earth’s skin, maybe flight is the only defense. Rising up, rising above— it might just be the antidote to a monster of the ground. There is an element of hope and promise among the Standing Rock, something that I’ve long misunderstood. I mistook it as naiveté. I rightfully see it now as strength.

It gives me hope. Hope that this concrete beast may be stopped. Hope that, in spite of our society’s worst attempts, we may finally right this historic wrong.

Stay strong, Standing Rock. Stay strong.


 

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With ‘Alternative Facts’, We Live in Orwell’s 1984

For the longest time as a kid, I could never get into fiction. Occasionally a story garnered my attention, but it more often than not came from the Non-Fiction section of the bookstore. If you had asked me at the age of 7 to tell you about the characters from Captain Underpants or a Lemony Snicket’s story, I would have pulled a blank. But ask that same kid about the propaganda of Nazi Germany as headed by Joseph Goebbels pre-1939, and I would’ve said something worthy of a condensed book report.

Eventually, that changed. High school came and I graduated to penny-poetry and the magic of words-that-actually-sounded-good. But for the longest time, I held a very myopic and unfortunate belief: that the mysteries of nonfiction and history existed in a better dimension than fictional literature.

The last mirage of that unfortunate belief was shattered this past weekend.

While nursing a slight hangover in the early hours of this past Sunday morning, I heard a spokesperson for the new President say a miraculously ridiculous thing. During an argument with Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, Kellyanne Conway said the following:

“…Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What– You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts…”

I was flabbergasted, stunned, choking on the words in my throat. Where had I heard that phrase before? Alternative Facts? What the Fuck does that even mean? It only took a few moments for me and many others to connect the dots back to a novel that sat gathering dust on my shelf.

While in my hometown shortly after the grueling 2016 election, I had rummaged through a Seattle bookstore and picked up a copy of George Orwell’s 1984. I knew the gist of its message but had never gotten around to reading it. Knowing that it’s always been lauded as a literary classic, I figured that I should finally settle down and see how it matched with the praise. I was blown away.

For those that haven’t read the book before, I’ll quickly summarize the world it examines. The novel presents a universe in which ‘The State’ of a fictional country named ‘Oceania’ has repeatedly dulled the identity of its citizenry. Oceania is a totalitarian state of the highest order, at odds with two other nations: Eurasia and Eastasia. The main character of the story grows increasingly opposed to the government once he is introduced to the world outside of it by a love interest named Julia. During this time the government wages a war on language through the use of ‘Newspeak’, the official language of the ruling elite. In it words are detached from their true meaning: a truth is a lie, a lie is a truth, and violence equals passivity. It’s perfectly represented in one of the most infamous lines of the novel, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Words mean nothing, except for what the state wants them to represent. In this war against words, there are no survivors except the verbiage of society’s fringe. There is only a tiny and hunted sliver of humanity that keeps the old poetry of written thought alive.

I spent a long evening engrossed in the characters, the plot, the narrative and the scenes. Its portraiture of the undeniably dystopian society of 1984 Oceania didn’t just make for good fiction: it struck that familiar nerve of relevance that makes the goosebumps on your arms rise. When I finished the final page and sentence, I looked up in my weary state and realized that the night of my own time was far darker than I imagined.

Orwell’s 1984 is not just a literary criticism of a post-war world gripped by the prospects of nuclear annihilation (it was published in 1949 as the Cold War grew warmer). Likewise, it’s not a blanket condemnation of a totalitarianism radically different than our own Western-Style-Democracies. Instead, it’s a damning indictment of our own systems: it makes us reexamine how actors in our societies strong-arm individuals through the lingo of violence and fear. Orwell knew all too well that authoritarian tendencies survived and thrived in corners of our own communities.

This should frighten us, yet it shouldn’t surprise us either. We only have to look back to recent memory to see when governments have cleverly altered words for their own self-advancements. Modern-day Newspeak occurred when administrations branded illegal torture as ‘enhanced interrogation’, or unlawful invasions of sovereign states as ‘police actions’. Language has become a common tool of the powerful, more often than not wielded against opponents at an unfair advantage.

Which brings me back to the present. 1984’s ‘Newspeak’ is all the more relevant as it finds new life with the current Commander in Chief. Kellyanne Conway’s utterance of ‘alternative facts wasn’t a slip-up or a rhetorical mistake. Her advocacy of ‘alternative facts’ reveals the fundamental belief of the Trump team: that words are the playthings of men, and that facts only exist so long as they’re his. In this vein, Donald Trump mirrors the worst of the authoritarian personality: he is the source of his own truth, and nobody in the world outside that can convince him otherwise.

We can already see this mantra expanding beyond the individual man: Press Secretary Sean Spicer has been sent out in public to defend the President’s hurt feelings on inauguration crowds. Commands have been shouted from above to halt tweets from potentially subversive crowds, such as the Environmental Protection Agency. Then—of course—there was Kellyanne Conway’s ‘Alternative Facts’, which when translated into English solely means ‘Lies’. The man’s fragility has latched onto poorly veiled arguments of ‘Newspeak’ and ‘Doublethink’, transporting 2017 America to the worst of 1984 Oceania. What comes next, outlets promoting fake-news to millions of people?

Of course, we don’t live in Oceania. Yet the real danger of Orwell’s negative utopia is the sheer domination of hopelessness. Vast segments of Oceania’s society don’t even know what ‘hope’ is: it’s a dead word in a dead world. All they know is a world of Newspeak. The only language that they can live through is that of the government. Orwell’s canvas of authoritarianism is—in this aspect—likely the scariest that literature has produced.

It is terrifying, then, that our society is rapidly becoming dependent on the President’s words: not of comfort—ironically—but of ridicule. Yet through the barrage of diatribes and 3:00 am tweets, Donald Trump has asserted himself as the lingual leader of the nation. American language will never be the same: we will always be saddled with the presence of Sad(!) and Bigly and the empty promises of Making (things) Great Again! All political discussions revolve around the orbit of these hollow phrases. Donald Trump has occupied a sacred space in society: that of the written word. And wherever the written word rests, so resides the soul of the people.

The objective of artists and casual observers everywhere will be to reclaim that mantle of lingual-power. I can only assume that the next four years will be a story of both fierce opposition and a devoted rebellion of language and thought, so long as Trump’s thumbs are removed from the cell phone. If writers and activists and concerned citizens can bring the plane of words back to the realm of empathy, then there is a good chance that Orwell’s fiction will stay just that: a work of fiction. But if language cannot be recovered from the abyss that it’s in now, and if words continue to be denigrated into the stone-axes of strong-men, then what can we say in defiance of 140-character demands?