Home > Family, Health, Los Angeles, Safety, Social Justice > our own legacies of love

our own legacies of love

I met my now-husband, Anthony, shortly before I graduated law school and moved to Japan in 2004. We hit it off, and kept in touch for the four years I didn’t live in Los Angeles County.

sai nose

Sai

When I decided to move back to Los Angeles County in 2008, I ended up in Long Beach. This wasn’t because I was especially drawn to Long Beach. I landed here because there were more apartments friendly to larger dogs, like my buddy Sai.

Anthony was thrilled to discover I’d moved to Long Beach. He’d gone to high school here and offered to show me around. He did just that, taking me on a night tour of downtown Long Beach and the shoreline.

I remember standing on a bluff with him that night. Together, we looked out at the twinkling lights of manmade drilling islands. I thought that the twinkling lights were beautiful, and felt so glad I’d made Long Beach my home.

Almost a decade later, I remain glad I made Long Beach my home. That early 2008 evening with Anthony happened because of his familiarity with this town. We now have a lovely family, and–no matter where we may someday move–Long Beach will always be the place where we began.

Those manmade islands, on the other hand, are no longer beautiful to me.

In a 2015 article entitled “What the Frack is Happening Under Long Beach?“, OC Weekly describes the genesis of those twinkling islands:

Built in 1965, the four THUMS islands–so named for the companies that first developed the sites: Texaco, Humble, Unocal, Mobil and Shell–were designed by esteemed landscape architect Joseph Linesch, who had a knack for turning blight into eye candy. While Long Beach’s Gas & Oil Department (LBGO) operates the islands, a wholly owned subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum (known as Occidental Long Beach Inc.) is contracted to perform the work of extracting fossil fuels from beneath the ocean floor.

Such vast quantities of oil were being extracted, the city actually began to sink an average two feet per year. To counter this, “Long Beach began injecting water into the oil reservoirs” in 1953. That stopped the sinking, but not without costs. In 2014 alone, in the midst of severe water restrictions for just about everyone not an oil company in California,

some 70 million gallons were diverted for use in fracking last year in California alone. In fact, the California Environmental Protection Agency admitted in early February that state officials allowed more than 2,500 fracking wells to dump wastewater into protected underground aquifers, mostly in Kern County.

It’s not clear how many of those 70,000,000 gallons were diverted to Long Beach, but the historical quantities can’t have been small to stop the city sinking into the ocean.

And did you catch that bit about dumping wastewater into protected aquifers?

Why would officials permit this? The short answer is this: They wouldn’t, if citizens were equal oil companies in their eyes.

Fracking is costly in much more than water. The definition itself hints at its ugliness: it’s “the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks, boreholes, etc., so as to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas.”

What is that liquid, anyway? As always, the devil is in the details; here, he resides within those poisonous concoctions, which cause various harms to local communities.

Last year, a peer-reviewed paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that people were more than twice as likely to have skin and respiratory ailments if they resided near natural gas wells as opposed to those who did not. The study was followed up with a 56-page report from Earthworks, a public interest group, which looked at FLIR (infrared) camera film from several oil and gas facilities in California. The organization’s air samples at the sites found the “presence of 15 compounds known to have negative effects on human health, as well as 11 compounds for which no health data is available.” The report also noted that residents in these areas reported smelling odors likely related to nearby oil development and experienced higher than normal rates of skin rashes, sinus problems, headaches, nosebleeds and other ailments.

Basically, wealthy oil moguls from afar introduce poisons into distant communities–with support from government officials–to line their pockets now.

As long as their own kids are safe, why should they care about consequences someone else’s kids have to bear?

It’s important to note that the OC Weekly article was written in 2015, fully a year and a half before Donald Trump became president. Already, for some years, defense experts had been calling climate change–much of which has been fueled by fossil fuel extraction–a profound security threat. The related “briefing book” sent to Trump as described in this November 15, 2015 Scientific American article wasn’t written in the week after Trump’s election. The threat has existed much longer than that, and been clear to those with more direct knowledge than the average citizen.

If “national security” is really such a priority for American politicians, why have they spent so much time addressing terrorism (limited targets) and so little addressing climate change (the entire country and world–all of humankind!–impacted)?

Noam Chomsky, whom I’d never read before late 2015, addresses this more clearly than anyone else I’ve yet read:

another dire peril casts its shadow over any contemplation of the future — environmental disaster. It’s not clear that there even is an escape, though the longer we delay, the more severe the threat becomes — and not in the distant future. The commitment of governments to the security of their populations is therefore clearly exhibited by how they address this issue.

Today the United States is crowing about “100 years of energy independence” as the country becomes “the Saudi Arabia of the next century” — very likely the final century of human civilization if current policies persist.

One might even take a speech of President Obama’s two years ago in the oil town of Cushing, Okla., to be an eloquent death-knell for the species.

He proclaimed with pride, to ample applause, that “Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.”

Part of power is choosing key metrics. For then-president Obama, the metric to end all metrics was “energy independence.” Sounds fancy, right? Like something really awesome and important to achieve at all costs?

In a vacuum, perhaps. In the real world, this kind of oil-based “energy independence” comes at grave costs, such as costs of failing to invest elsewhere: emphasizing the need to slow climate change, the importance of limiting pollution, the existential imperative of leaving a habitable world to future generations.

These would have been noble metrics to emphasize and pursue above all others, but alas: energy independence stole the day, and it did so because the people who suffer policy consequences most severely are but bug splats to those with power.

It is thus the U.S., under Democrats and Republicans alike, that works hard to lead the world to disaster:

And if you go to southern Colombia, you find indigenous people, campesinos, Afro-Americans struggling against gold mining, just horrible destruction. Same in Australia, against uranium mining; and so on. At the same time, in the settler-colonial societies, which are the most advanced and richest, that’s where the drive is strongest toward the destruction of the environment. So you read a speech by, say, Obama, for example, at Cushing, Oklahoma – Cushing is kind of the center for bringing together and storing the fossil fuels which flow into there and are distributed. It was an audience of oil types. To enormous applause, he said that during his administration more oil had been lifted than any previous one – for many, many years. He said pipelines are crossing America under his administration to the extent that practically everywhere you go, you’re tripping across a pipeline; we’re going to have 100 years of energy independence; we’ll be the Saudi Arabia of the 21st century – in short, we’ll lead the way to disaster.

My husband wants to buy a home in Long Beach.

Nope. No way. Not going to happen.

Until now, it’s been convenient to live here. It split the difference between my OC job to the south and my husband’s jobs further north.

Unfortunately, it’s also probably come at costs we won’t fully see for some years to come, with each month accruing additional costs to all of us.

So we’ll move, someday, but there’s only so far we can move from a global catastrophe. So, so many people, whose worn faces I see every day as I move about this town, simply do not have the option of moving.

They don’t deserve death because they are poor and others–among them, those who profit from oil–deem them expendable in their poverty.

Long Beach will always be the place Anthony and I began our family, but it won’t be the place we’ll build our first home.

Once upon a time, Anthony and I stood on a bluff and looked at the twinkling lights of manmade islands. They looked so pretty, at the time, but now I see them for what they are: death knells.

I find myself wishing that everyone could see them, those grimly twinkling lights, and understand that not everything that twinkles is beautiful. That what hits us hardest in these fracking towns is coming for everyone, Democrat, Republican, Independent, and other.

So how do we stop it? I don’t yet know, though I’ll never again look to politicians to do the right thing because it’s the right thing. That means it comes down to you, me, and our neighbors to fight for our children.

It’s a big fight, but our kids are worth it, and we must begin to act as if they are. 

To anyone who feels despair at effecting lasting change, I recommend two books: Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark and Paul Rogat Loeb’s The Impossible Will Take a Little While.

All the good that you and I know, we know because others fought for us to have it. Their small individual contributions translated, collectively to powerful wide-scale change.

They did it, and so can we, holding past victories of loving fight close to our hearts, 
letting them inspire us to leave our own such legacies of love to future generations.

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  1. November 19, 2017 at 9:13 am

    I’ve written things about the pretty lights at night, and how they… along with the night itself… cover up the god-awful ugliness of this place we live, that can’t be hidden in the daylight. Written all that without the perspective of your words, till now.

    • November 19, 2017 at 9:51 am

      I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time, but it seemed so like it would be so time-consuming and exhausting. I’m glad I ended up getting it out, but, y’know? It reminded me how lovely I still find them at night. My head gets what’s up, but my heart … it’s swayed mightily by those lights.

  2. November 19, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    This makes less than no sense.
    We KNOW fracking increases the likelihood of earthquakes.
    Who the fuck fracks on top of a major geological fault line?

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