Fossil Fuel, the Savior of the World

August 4, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ve been reading Gwynne Dyer’s new book Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats.  I imagine Dyer will get some criticism for being unnecessarily incendiary, or something like that; as Ian Goodwillie writes in his  on-line review, if you woke up this morning looking for a book that will scare the living crap out of you, Climate Wars is it.

But even if you’re sceptical about how far Dyer’s scenarios go, there’s still something about them, and about the accompanying commentrary, that sticks with you, or at least they do with me.

One of the comments permanently  lodged in my brain comes in an early chapter where Dyer is discussing the relationship between climate change and massive looming food shortages. Dyer observes that over the past sixty years, as the population grew from 2 billion to 6.7 billion, we managed to triple the amount of food grown on virtually the same acreage we’d been using all along. Some attribute this to the “green revolution” but, Dyer tells us, it “owes more to brute force: in the postwar decades, we threw fossil fuels at the problem in a big way.” For example, the quantity of fertilizer (made mostly from natural gas) used on farmlands has increased tenfold; furthermore, the pumping of water from deeper and deeper aquifers, the other leg on which our post-war agricultural boom stands, also depends on fossil fuels. “Indeed, in a sense we are now eating fossil fuels,” Dyer observes (p. 51).

I must confess that I was aware of the connection between fossil fuels and fertilizers, and I also realized that the trucks and ships that move our agricultural products around the world depend on gas; I even grasped that much of the packaging of that food is made from or manufactured with the support of fossil fuels. But somehow, the notion that we are eating fossil fuels grabbed my imagination in a totally new way. WE ARE EATING FOSSIL FUELS, I repeated multiple times. 

It happens that I read the chapter in which Dyer makes this observation on a Saturday afternoon. So at five o’clock I walked over to the vigil Mass at my parish, Our Lady of Refuge here in Brooklyn. I’d like to tell you that I am a deeply spiritual person who is completely taken up in the experience  of the Eucharist. Truth is, sometimes my unruly mind wanders around a bit. On this particular afternoon, it kept wandering back to the “We eat fossil fuels” refrain right up till the second half of the liturgy, when the priest offers to God and then transforms bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.  And as the priest was doing so I thought: Sweet Jesus, what if the bread that I am about to eat is also made from fossil fuels?  Was it grown on a farm that uses fertilizers and pump irrigation? Was it shipped to us in a truck from somewhere outside Brooklyn? 

Now the many Catholic bishops who read my blog may be shocked by such questions. I distinctly remember when they refused to allow gluten-free communion hosts to be distributed at communion, though doing so excluded the Catholics who suffer from celiac disease; the rules say wheat, and wheat it was going to be. Indeed, the official teaching about the Eucharist is, I believe, that after the consecration, it’s not bread and wine at all; it’s Jesus’s body and blood, plain and simple. So it can’t be fossil fuel. Right?

But it is something to consider that the host I’m swallowing and the wine I”m sipping at communion may be, in fact. fossil fuel (as well as the body and blood of Christ). Kind of fractures the Catholic sacramental vision of creation, or, perhaps, reminds us that sin messed up that same creation in the first place, and seems to be doing so again. I once read that some Orthodox Christians understand  the Eucharist to be the exorcism of the universe. Maybe by realizing that even while eating the body and blood of Christ we Christians are also eating the distinctly limited quantity of fossil fuels that is part of that creation, and  overheating the planet to boot, we’ll set in motion an exorcism of our own.



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  1. You got it right Marian, we are effectively eating fossil fuels and the increase in food production you mention was also fueled by the rising concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. (Did you know that Glass House growers introduce more CO2 into their glass houses to considerably boost production?)
    Now the UN and IPCC want us to stop using the fossil fuels, (which are far from running out yet by the way) but have they addressed the question of what you and I are going to eat without them?

    We have enough poverty and starvation in the world now without deliberately inducing more, I think you will agree.

    I believe the lack of information on the economic results of CO2 emission reductions is an indictment of the UN and the IPCC and many others. Any economist can see an economic collapse, (which you have predicted using other terms) should we try to reduce our carbon usage by the required 57% (thats 40% below 1990 levels).

    Is the world going to burn up and die if we dont commit this mass suicide? I am no christian but I do believe that man is not so smart that he can predict the workings of the planet and control them at his will just yet.
    For your information, scientifically the “anthropogenic CO2 causes global warming” hypothesis is far from proven, and boy do we need a high standard of proof if we are going to starve ourselves and our children to try and avert a disaster that is only a shaky theory.

    Please feel welcome to visit my blog.
    It deals with some disproval factors of the above mentioned hypothesis that any lay person can understand.
    I hope you enjoy the political lampooning as well. It is entertaining and I must say well deserved.




  2. And now I will have nightmares.


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