Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Petrochemical Age

In honor of the one year anniversary of the passing  of geologian Thomas Berry from the Earth, I thought I would share some quotes from his book EVENING THOUGHTS.  With the ongoing events related to the oil leaking from the damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico, it seemed appropriated to revisit Berry’s essay “The Petrochemical Age”.

The influence of the petrochemical industry on the human-Earth process is so significant that the period from the end of World War II  until the end of the twentieth century might be designated as the Petrochemical Age.  

In this period, much of the planet, including the land, water, and air, has become toxic due to petrochemicals.

Petroleum is used to make fertilizers and pesticides for the agricultural industry.  It is made into preservatives, varnishes, waxes, solvents, glues, and dyes.  Petroleum is also used in the production of electrical power.  As gasoline it is used in the internal combustion engine to drive our automobiles and power our jet engines.  Petroleum can be spun into fibers to be used in making fabrics for clothing.  (…).  Things as delicate as optical lenses and dentures, as well as machine parts could be made from a petroleum base.  Integrated with fiberglass, plastics could be shaped into boats, automobile bodies, even furniture.

Without the abundance of petroleum and its transformations through chemical processes, our energy systems would be severely diminished.  Our modes of transportation would largely cease.  Agriculture would be profoundly affected.  Our fabrics would be altered in their composition.  The scientific and medical profession would be radically altered.  

The use of this resource in the twenty-first century is such that, within a hundred years or less, some 80 percent of all the petroleum readily available will be exhausted.

(…), learning a way of life independent of petroleum may well be the most urgent issue before the human community at present.

(...), unrestrained commercialism, unlimited technological drive, and unbounded political expediency have been drawn together in the myth of progress that drives industrial societies.  

Nature was a sink assumed to have the infinite ability to absorb and renew any of the refuse of our industrial development.  The ultimate effect not only on nature, but also on human health has been disastrous.

With little concern for these natural processes, we have discovered how to take petroleum and use it for human purposes with insufficient concern for the limited abilities of nature to process the residue of these petrochemical products into natural systems.  Thus the toxins accumulate.

We do not hear the voices – the voices of the surrounding world, the voices of the entire range of natural phenomena.

The problem is how to terminate industrial plundering in such a way that we can go into a completely new sense of how humans should be present to the Earth.

What is available to us is the emerging Ecozoic era, a period of the integral Earth community when humans become present to the powers of the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.  For humans to do this will require that we appreciate and honor the principle that the Earth is primary and that humans are derivative.  In our economics, in our healing, in our legal and political practices, and in our religious sensitivities, we need to recognize the primacy of the earth community.  

A vast new orientation to the universe and to the Earth will be needed to reorient the human community toward a viable future.  

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