Being in Tune or Not: BP, Athabasca Tar Sands & the Death of Nature's Song

Man is whole when he is in tune with the wind, the stars, and the hills....Being in tune with the universe is the entire secret.

---Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas


It is very early morning now as I write this, and the sun is once again making it's full circle as the earth turns and night becomes day, with birdsong heralding the coming dawn. Joy is in the air, a gentle reminder of deep connections that have mostly been forgotten. My thoughts turn from this joyous tune to wonder what this morning would be like if the skies and trees became permanently silenced because the song had died. Such was the warning biologist and ecologist Rachel L. Carson set forth in her 1962 landmark book, Silent Spring.

Rachel Carson called for a change in the way humankind viewed the natural world as she testified in Congress on the dangers of an indiscriminate misuse of chemcials and pesticides. She questioned, "Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called 'insecticides' but 'biocides'" (Carson, 1962, p. xv) She was promptly and bitterly attacked by the chemical industry when their spokesman Dr. Robert White-Stevens of American Cyanamid replied:

"The major claims of Miss Rachel Carson's book, 'Silent Spring,' are gross distortions of the actual facts, completely unsupported by scientific, experimental evidence, and general practical experience in the field. The real threat, then, to the survival of man is not chemical but biological... She is a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature and if man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth." (McLaughlin, 2008).

Scientists, politicians, policy makers, garden clubs, and the media alternately took swats at her science, her gender, and her questioning of the "irresponsibility of an industrilized, technological society toward the natural world" (Brooks, 1972, p. 293) However, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, an ardent naturalist, supported Carson and declared, "We need a Bill of Rights against the 20th century poisoners of the human race" (Lear, 1997, pp. 412-420).

Where are these voices today in our highest offices of the land as tons and tons of chemicals are poured into the gulf and are also being used to dredge up any last drop of oil in the Athabasca tar sands of Canada after the wholesale cutting down of thousands and thousands of acres of trees in this boreal forest? While the old sayings, "out of sight, out of mind," and "dilution is the solution to pollution," could be used in reference to these catastrophes, these ongoing practices only highlight our vast disconnect to ourselves and our planet. Rianne Eisler describes these practices in terms of the dominator model which is "characterized by rigid male dominance, a generally hierarchic, top-down, or authoritarian structure, and a high degree of tension, fear and institutionalized violence" vs the partnership model which "predominantly reflects a feminine stereotype that promotes a more democratic social structure with empathy, non-violence and more equal partnership between men and women". (Eisler, 1994, p. 33-34).

This concept of partnership comes closer to what could be termed a relational way of being. Would our general malaise, the emptiness in our hearts or hollowness, as one friend termed it, along with the proliferation of suppression of these feelings through thousands of prescriptions for psychiatric drugs, as well as use of other substances, be a deep spiritual crisis long in the making?

With the wholesale cutting down of trees and the death of the birds, fish and other wildlife what are we not listening to? The planet is living and sustains us. The ecosystem is just that--an unique ecological, interconnected web with minute interactions filled with what could be called "feedback loops"--so many "feedback loops" and so complex we cannot even imagine it. The same is true of our bodies. The trees are living beings and we are deeply interconnected. The trees breathe in and out with us. They are in alignment with our every breath. They produce the air we breathe so there is a deep harmony--a feedback loop that we seemingly have little consciousness around. We have stepped out of harmony with the trees, plants and natural world around us that have been replaced by more and more shopping malls. Harmony is destroyed and the intricate balance shifts. Are we reaching or have we gone past the tipping point...the point of no return?