Stop Fossil Fuels

In this article the reader is offered a short narrative about the impending catastrophe linked to the use of fossil fuels.


Experiment in Madness

Imagine an airplane in an experiment set up by mad scientists. The plane has a limited amount of fuel, so must come down sooner or later. The mad scientists give the plane’s 1000 inhabitants money every minute the plane is in flight, paying more money the faster and the higher it goes. The money is allocated unevenly, with decisions made by those with the most money. So the 10 passengers who own 50% of the wealth pilot the plane, taking into consideration the ideas of the next wealthiest 90 passengers who own another 38%. The pilots ignore the 900 passengers who share the remaining 12% of the plane’s wealth. Happily, nearly everyone is excited for the plane to go as fast and high as possible, in hopes of increasing their earnings.

The pilots burn the jets at full speed with the plane angled up as far as possible without becoming destabilized. Though they realize the plane will soon run out of fuel and be stranded at high altitude, they expect to use the 10 parachutes on board to escape with their wealth before the plane hits the ground. Many of the less wealthy passengers are vaguely concerned, but don’t look at the instrument readings to understand the full situation. They trust that the pilots will devise a plan to avoid disaster while keeping the money coming.

A few passengers feel great alarm.

They estimate remaining fuel as barely sufficient to allow a safe landing if the plane begins immediate descent. They observe that the faster the plane flies, the faster these scant reserves are depleted, while the higher the plane gets, the more dangerous will be its descent. But the pilots seem intent on rocketing upwards until the plane is completely out of fuel and nearly uncontrollable.

The alarmists attempt to warn everyone of the looming danger, and a handful of other passengers stop competing for and counting their money long enough to hear what they’re saying. Though most of these quickly tune out the alarmists’ message (which isn’t nearly as interesting as money and what it can buy), a few grudgingly acknowledge that accelerating endlessly upwards might be a bad idea. But no one likes the idea of ending the joy ride by deliberately landing the plane, so there’s general mumbling about staying in flight forever by installing solar panels and wind turbines on the wings. (A physicist tries to point out that solar & wind can’t do more than keep the cabin lights on, but the mumblers raise their voices enough that they needn’t hear such pessimism.)

Some vow to voluntarily limit their share of income from the plane’s suicide path, then wander away to tend potted plants and meditate.

Meanwhile, the pilots ignore the chatter and stay on course. With no prospect of swaying the pilots through reason or of inspiring the passengers to wake and rise up, many of the alarmists succumb to despair or hedonism.

Finally, someone has the idea of cutting the fuel lines feeding the engines. Though it would be ideal if the pilots used the engines for a safe landing, their choice to use every bit of fuel to accelerate towards demise makes sabotaging the engines the next best option. The plane will at least stop gaining dangerous altitude, and will retain enough fuel to power critical systems with a backup generator.

How will this experiment end?

Will the plane’s riders go higher and faster for their largest payments yet, followed by a grisly crash killing not only them, but also ground-dwelling bystanders? Or will the saboteur cut the fuel lines in time for the passengers to break out of their hypnosis and glide the plane to an emergency landing?


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2 thoughts on “Stop Fossil Fuels”

  1. I get the point of this analogy, but this is really anthropocentric and reductionist. The reasons to stop burning fossil fuels are 1) drilling into the Earth is harmful per se, because it’s harmful to the Earth itself and everything that’s killed by the drilling; 2) oil spill occur daily and have turned the Earth’s waterways into oil slicks, which needs no further explanation about the harms caused to the water itself and all life that depends on it; 3) the air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, which again needs no further explanation and which includes global warming/climate change; and 4) the general habitat and ecosystem destruction caused by drilling and refining oil and by global warming/climate change.

    The problem with this analogy is that it maintains the self-centered anthropocentric attitude of humans: “the only problem with burning fossil fuels is that we’ll run out some day.” Actually, running out of fossil fuels would be the BEST thing that could happen in this regard.

  2. Apart from being the worst analogy I’ve ever heard (10 pilots? 1000 passengers? potted plants?), Earth rape isn’t even about something as rational as individual wealth. It’s about “jobs,” and our irrational, get-as-far-away-from- Nature-as-possible “way of life.” Collective suicide is a “way of life”?

    Even friends in my home state of Texas buy the lie. Outside the five major metro areas (and a few ethnically Mexican counties in the lower Rio Grande Valley), Texas voted over 70% for Trump. There are even several counties in the Panhandle — outside the oil industry — that voted over 90% Republican.

    Try this analogy: Suppose your sister lived alone on a small farm, and was being gang raped on a daily basis by several of your friends. And you learned to rationalize it as part of our “way of life.” Even my stepsister — an evangelical who drove a bus for a living, and thinks “hell” and “damn” are intolerable language — regards our whoring, corrupt, lame-duck president as her proxy savior.

    THAT’S how crazed we, as a culture, have become, in our passion to keep an electrified, poison-spewing, climate-controlled, Astroturfed “way of life.” We, as a society, even think we love “Nature” — defined as a park somewhere, which we can visit for a photo op.

    True story: I once saw a bus, full of Japanese tourists, pull into the parking lot at Yosemite’s west entrance, which is in an expanse of apparently flat forest — miles from the nearest canyon, waterfall, or granite cliff face. The only way you’d know you were anywhere with “photo-ops” is a sign outside the restrooms, proclaiming, “Welcome to Yosemite National Park.”

    And that’s what they rode 200 miles for. After urinating, combing their hair, and checking their makeup, they posed under the sign for pictures. Then they climbed onto the bus, turned around, and drove 200 miles back to San Francisco. Their driver — himself still somewhat in disbelief — told me it was a regular gig, which his coworkers referred to euphemistically as “the pisser loop.”

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