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Friday, October 10, 2014

Forever Young # 38: "We Don't Want No Stinkin' Pipeline"

Song:  Who’s Gonna Stand Up?
Album:  Storeytone (the likely name)
Released:  November, 2014 (the likely release date)

It’s been a unique Forever Young week in this Forever Young year.   In the days leading up to every prior blog entry, I immersed myself in the music with the hope it would stir up some writing material.  Although I took the same tack this week, it was not nearly as intense or as focused.  One reason is that the song this time around has yet to be released on an album, making it a bit more difficult to listen to while driving (which is when I do most of my ‘research’ these days).  A second reason is that I realized that to write as passionately as I could about the subject at hand, it would take a bit more than the music.   And so I tuned dials back to NPR, and ‘Hardball with Chris Matthews’, and even a little bit of Fox (as counterpoint) to stir up the old ideologue-slanted juices.  It’s been almost a year since I’ve done this (and frankly, I welcome the break).

It did not take long to get charged up.  Soon I found myself once again yelling at the radio and cursing the television.  I suppose this is good in terms of timing.  We are after all close to the mid-term elections and so I need to get somewhat caught up in the hyperbole, innuendo, character assassination, and occasional accurate statement.  Not too much, though.  This is an off year from that kind of stuff for me.  Yes, this every-other-year blog series is proving to be somewhat therapeutic in that regard:  A virtual sabbatical in most senses of the term.   I recommend it to anyone who gets caught up in politically-charged current events. 

Then again, it’s not as if I’ve abandoned my convictions this year.  I say this for several reasons, the most obvious one being Neil Young’s music.  Of the top tier musicians I connect with, Young has proven to be the one who has persevered the most in the politically-charged-issues department.  There are certainly others, including Joan Baez and Patti Smith and Rage Against the Machine.   But these are folks I’d struggle to write more than one or two entries on, never mind a years’ worth.  Regardless, listening to Neil Young has kept me connected in a way my younger self would be proud of.

The other reason is more personal and turns out it’s a subject Neil Young has become quite caught up in as well.  It’s about pipelines.  Fossil fueled pipelines to be more specific.   Pipelines that carry oil and gas and that are crisscrossing our country at accelerating and alarming rates, despite the protestations of open-space advocates and private property owners.  Back in Forever Young # 4, I wrote briefly of Neil Young’s stance against the tar-sands in Northern Alberta.  In the interim, there have been related developments that have manifested here in my hometown of Pepperell, Massachusetts. 

Here’s the skinny as I see it.  A Texas-sized energy company by the name of Kinder Morgan (the owner Richard Kinder, a former ENRON CEO) is attempting to build a formidable pipeline across Northern Massachusetts, which stands between the heavily fracked State of Pennsylvania and its neighbor New York to the west and the ready and willing ‘tea-party’ governor of Maine and St. Lawrence Bay just beyond to the east (where liquidation refineries and overseas shipping would be constructed).   The proposed route of the pipeline cuts across untold acres of pristine lands and rural private property.  It would include a 50-foot wide clear-cut right-of-way swath in its path (100 feet to begin with).  Doors have been knocked on and cash offers made to effected homeowners.  Many are turning it down, but then the letters arrive that are a bit more….threatening.  The term eminent domain is tossed about.  It all has the feel of bygone-eras such as the Great Depression.  It’s eerie, and reeks of corporate profit at the expense of individual rights.

This project insults me in so many ways.  Decades of land protection efforts are being undermined, breaking virtually every conservation commission-like rule in the book.  And as mentioned, there is no denying by Kinder Morgan that a big factor in their ambition is export.  This is despite the fact that they are looking to Massachusetts taxpayers to pay for the construction of this pipeline through our State!  Then there’s the perception of the region supporting fracking, which more and more is seen as an environmental disaster in the making (see the movie’s ‘Gasland’ and ‘Gasland II’), including the pumping of flammable chemicals into deep underground aquifers (and eventually people’s faucets, which amazingly can be lit with a match) to break up shale and extract gas (with significant amounts of these dangerous chemicals coming along for the ride through the pipelines).  Then there’s a history of unavoidable pipe leaks in other areas of the country.  There’s the smoke and mirrors of attempting to get the public to think that they (Kinder Morgan) have the support of our public officials.  There’s the clandestine, behind the doors discussions with stakeholders prior to this year.  There’s the devaluation of property.

But most of all for me there is this struggle to move beyond fossil fuels.  Energy companies like Kinder Morgan and their affiliates have had their subsidized moment in the sun for going on 100 years.  That moment in the sun has turned to smog and artificial global warming.  I cannot deny the benefits fossil fuels have had to civilization.  However, it is time to move on.  Subsidies need to be pointed elsewhere; to alternative energies that give promise (including jobs) to our future.  Sure we have seen energy independence in this country over the past 8-10 years, but at what cost?  Alternatives are a must option to anything that burns.  We’ve about reached the breaking point.  I suppose dealing with existing infrastructure is a necessity until we can realistically move on.   But any new infrastructure should be green.  We can do it, and keep the job market thriving in the process. 

In this day and age it is hard to fathom that concepts like eminent domain and blanket FERC authorizations could overrule the will of a community.  There was a special Pepperell town meeting on the issue of a pipeline several months ago.  It was packed to the gills; the biggest showing for a town meeting in a long time. Not one person voted in favor.  Not one!  And Pepperell routinely votes Republican.  This type of vote is typical of what has happened in every community the pipeline is proposed to cross (although the votes are non-binding).  There are anti-pipeline signs scattered all over the front lawns of ours and our fellow affected communities.  It appears we are at the crossroads of a great battle between the past (fossil fuels) and the future (alternative energies) and apparently the past is not going down without an ugly fight.

So yes, I’ve been immersed in current events despite (and due to) my ceaseless Neil Young music inclinations this year.  I’ve written a letter to the governor and other state officials; signed off on petitions; attended fund raisers; rallied in the Boston Common in front of the State House; marched the entire length of Pepperell  in protest (part of a statewide march); and attended a handful of town and related meetings on all matters ‘pipeline’.  Vigilance is the order of the day, but the bottom line is that this is a huge distraction from the norm, which makes the issue even more vexing.  “Think Global, Act Local”:  It’s what I’ve had to do this year.  And Nancy.  And Charlotte too.  

When I last wrote of Neil Young’s position on the Tar Sands pipeline, it was something I certainly connected with, but it was still ‘over there’.   Not anymore, and not simply because of the local pipeline fiasco.  I was in Edmonton Alberta this past August.  Travelling the countryside, I witnessed several monstrous, belching refinery plants.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg from what I understand.  A trip further north to Fort McMurray is where the real action is.  It was a tough pill to swallow.  I don’t want to isolate Alberta though.  I’ve been to places like Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Gary, Indiana and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.  There’s a pervasive fossil-fueled culture all around us that has to change. 

Neil Young is not letting go.  A listen to his new classy (and classical) song Who’s Gonna Stand Up? (And Save The Earth) will attest to that (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZyL-FZ4lOU ).  He covers a lot of ground in this song.  I’m not sure if it (or this entry for that matter) will help, but I must say this:  Thank you, Mr. Young. 

On a final semi-humorous/serious note, it’s intriguing to me that a predominantly southern movement dubbed ‘the tea party’ has evolved these past 4 years in a bizarre response to the Obama Administration’s policies.  The true Tea Party took place in Massachusetts 250 years ago, and this recent movement has hijacked the term.  These newbies are Tea Party imposters (an oxymoron if you think about it).  But recent developments in my own back yard have me thinking that it’s time to bring the movement and term back to where it belongs.

And so this entry is written for those future Steeves descendants.  If they are to read this blog series (and borderline harangue of an entry) 40, 50, 100 years down the road, I want them to know which side of the fence their ancestor was on.  Neil Young asks “Who’s going to stand up and save the earth”.   My hearts is in that ring and I’ll try to do my job to toss my hat in as well.

-          Pete

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