Sunday, September 8, 2019

Climate Strike Poetry: Gary Snyder

Next up, a poem that comes at the fossil fuel industry from the inside. Oil by Gary Snyder. It comes from the late fifties when Snyder was working on an oil tanker. It’s in the book, The Back Country, first published in 1967. 


It’s prophetic in the sense of seeing oil as the drug that keeps the junkie-like capitalist system in constant motion. How it fuels the idea of perpetual growth. But the beauty of the poem is that it comes from the point of view of someone caught in the fossil-fuel economy as a worker, caught in the deeply entrenched pattern of keeping the oil moving…


soft rainsqualls on the swells
south of the Bonins, late at night. Light
from the empty mess-hall
throws back bulky shadows
of winch and fairlead
over the slanting fantail where I stand.

but for men on watch in the engine room,
the man at the wheel, the lookout in the bow,
the crew sleeps. In cots on deck
or narrow iron bunks down drumming
passageways below.

The ship burns with a furnace heart
steam veins and copper nerves
quivers and slightly twists and always goes –
easy roll of the hull and deep
vibration of the turbine underfoot.

baring what all these
crazed, hooked nations need:
steel plates and
long injections of pure oil.


 The current economic system is dependent on oil, on coal, on natural gas, to function. When fossil fuels are burned, they release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which in turn trap heat in our atmosphere, making them the primary contributors to global warming and climate change.

Even though all governments and corporations in the world know that the continuation of burning these fuels will lead to natural and civilizational collapse, there is still exploration for more oil; plants, factories, and vehicles are still being built. 

If these are operated normally over their full lifetimes, they will “almost certainly warm the Earth more than the Paris Agreement climate target of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), a new study concludes.” (We have too many fossil-fuel plants to meet climate goals, National Geographic, July 1, 2019)

“To limit warming to 1.5°C., not only should no new fossil-fuel-using infrastructure be built, ever again, some existing power plants need to shut down early—and yet today many new power plants are under construction or planned.”(We have too many fossil-fuel plants to meet climate goals, National Geographic, July 1, 2019)

Why? Money, money, money. Billions of dollars are going to be made. Short-term bucks. Who cares if there’s no one around to enjoy all those pools and private jets and golf resorts? The joke on all of us is that the fossil fuel industry is heavily subsidized. 

“The International Monetary Fund periodically assesses global subsidies for fossil fuels as part of its work on climate, and it found in a recent working paper that the fossil fuel industry got a whopping $5.2 trillion in subsidies in 2017.” (Fossil Fuels are underpriced by a whopping $5.2 trillion, Vox, May 17, 2019)

As Mark Scholsberg, Organizing Director of Food & Water Watch, said in a recent article on Common Dreams: 

“We cannot confront the climate emergency—we cannot avoid the worst of rapidly unfolding climate chaos—if we do not stop our headlong rush to expand fossil fuel extraction and burning. This expansion must be immediately halted and rolled back at the same time that we are building out a truly clean, renewable energy future. 

"Sanders' Green New Deal provides a roadmap of what we as a society need to do to confront the climate emergency. Regardless of which candidate one supports, we need to rally around this plan and build the movement and create the political pressure required to make it a reality.” (Confronting the Climate Crisis - Why we need Bernie Sanders' Green New Deal)

Gary Snyder Reading "Oil" 2012


 We're F@#ked

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