Electricity, Desire, and the Elders

Vermont depends considerably on Hydro Quebec for our electric energy needs. Several years ago, the state decided to limit the amount of electricity brought from Hydro, due to the dramatic costs of their projects in human and environmental terms. Those costs were, and continue to be considerable: Native peoples displaced from traditional villages and subsistence patterns, the flooding of enormous areas of pristine wilderness, massive disruptions to eons old caribou and other migratory animal routes, and the introduction of large quantities of carcinogenic chemicals into rivers, lakes, and land.

Now there is a call from Vermont’s utilities for increased purchasing of Hydro electricity. Along with this invocation comes a request, “Let’s designate Hydro Quebec electricity as ‘renewable’.” The argument seems to be that electricity from Hydro is “cheap” and, since it does not require the burning of fossil fuels in its production, “renewable”. (From the perspectives of the peoples who traditionally live in northern Quebec, the caribou, and other migrating species, this electricity is neither renewable nor cheap.) But there is, it turns out, another argument for utilizing Hydro in Vermont: if the state declares Hydro’s electricity “renewable”, we may be able to be export Hydro electricity to other states, providing up to a billion dollars in rate reduction to Vermont’s electric users over the next 25 years!

Traditionally the elders, medicine people, and shamans worked with the clan or tribe to limit the peoples’ impacts on the environment. These efforts were not always successful, resulting in the extirpation of a number of species in North America. Species that appear inexhaustible may be hunted to extinction (think passenger pigeons). The appearance of abundance often hides great fragility! Medicine people worked to make that fragility visible to the people.

With some 340,000,000 people now living in North America, efforts to protect the environment are immensely complex and tenuous. We North Americans take up ever more space as our population and energy usage footprints continue to expand. We wish ever more energy to run our ever more consumptive electronic lifestyles. In the face of this, the elders and medicine people continue to speak for the living world, and the peoples who live close to her. The media often erase those voices, preferring to forefront advocates of consumption who generate advertising revenue. As a broad culture we are weaving a story about inexhaustible resources, even as our resource base declines. In the process, we render the peoples and other beings impacted or destroyed by our consumption, invisible. Our culture denies the “fragility” underlying apparent abundance.

When I began writing, the skies were thickly overcast, and a chill breeze blew. Just now, bright sunlight appeared! We live in an ever changing world! The elders have always pointed to this as evidence of an enormously rich and dynamic world system. When we notice the workings of the world, we notice both her complexity and adaptability. Perhaps we can draw hope form this, even as we call forth sanity, kindness, and empathy from ourselves and those around us. Pachamama (Mother Earth) encourages us to awaken to a larger dreaming. She knows she will continue even if we, as a species, do not. She invites us to continue, to grow, and to thrive. We can, in the end, only thrive if we hold dear, and protect, our fragile planet, fragile neighbors, and fragile selves. In the process, we  are offered the option to choose to limit the impacts of our inevitable hungers. We will pay for our consumption one way or another.

We have the opportunity as a state to make decisions for our future based on the real cost of energy. I like to hope we will chose well.

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