A case in point is the ubiquitous reporting about the recent June 30th one-second adjustment by the world’s official timekeepers (those responsible for making sure that Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC for short, is accurately maintained) who inserted an extra second, a so-called leap second, to the existing twenty-four hours previously assigned to that date.
It turns out that dividing a solar day (one full revolution of the Earth’s rotation) into 86400 seconds still leaves a tiny margin of error, the smallest fraction of time, which has to be periodically accounted for in order to maintain synchronization with what is known as a “mean solar day”. Since their adoption in 1972, twenty-five leap seconds have reportedly been added to the sands of time.
While this latest insertion was occurring, many of us had been keeping an eye on the U.S. Olympic trials. A series of contests on land and water were determining who would and would not be heading to London later this summer as part of the official delegation of athletes representing America in the games, and I found it impossible to ignore the irony of how critical one second of time, or even a small fraction of one, can be to the outcome of various events.
We have witnessed again and again as a difference of as little as one one-hundredth of a second emerged as the margin between victory and defeat, in effect deciding if the holder’s ticket to the UK had been punched or if the next step would be in starting four more years of training for a shot at the 2016 games. How much is a second worth?
What I didn’t hear about from the mainstream news media, but rather learned from other sources that would have to be classified as somewhat non-traditional, was the content of a speech given on Wednesday, June 27, by Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson at the Council on Foreign Relations in which he acknowledged that burning of fossil fuels is warming the planet.
While, according to some, this represents a noteworthy break with predecessor Lee Raymond and the bulk of the petroleum empire, and though at first blush the statement appears to be a step away from the corporate “denial” we’re all too accustomed to, what followed was nothing short of chilling.
After noting that “Clearly there is going to be an impact”, he shrugged off concerns by declaring “We’ll adapt.”
Additionally, Tillerson is quoted as saying that “We have spent our entire existence adapting” adding that “It’s an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution”. He went on to assign blame for what he called energy misconceptions to a public that is “illiterate” in science and math, a “lazy” press and advocacy groups that “manufacture fear”.
Some bloggers likened his remarks to the infamous phrase “Let them eat cake!” attributed to French aristocracy who knew little and cared even less about the plight of ordinary people. In this case we’re obviously not talking about angel food, devil’s food, birthday cake, wedding cake, or even Twinkies.
I, for one, was struck by the cold, calculated reptilian thought process that must take place when the decision is reached that the time has come to publicly admit the facts because it has been determined that the universal level of apathy and ambivalence has reached the point where it will nullify any potential outrage.
Apparently Exxon Mobil has run the numbers and is confident that we’re at that point in the process where confirming rather that denying its role in climate change is the most expedient move and that resistance can effectively be diluted to render any real challenge to the status quo totally benign. In other words, they have concluded that the truth really doesn’t matter because no one is going to hold them accountable anyway.
Arrogance on a scale this monumental is not displayed openly to the public every day. It is usually reserved for board rooms and strategy sessions geared toward fighting regulations and preventative measures that would cut into the profits of Exxon Mobil and other petroleum giants.
But let me humbly suggest that to assume that the outcome of the final battle against greed, global pollution, and the health and well-being of multiple generations of humans and other species has been decided and that the rest of us are going to fall in line by simply accepting our fate as determined by some CEO, however well-compensated, is not only premature…..it could very well backfire.
“The stone age did not end because we ran out of stone.”
That quote has long been attributed to an oil prince who had enough wisdom and foresight to know that when the human species turns its back on the petroleum based model, it will not be as a result of having pumped the last barrel of crude from the ground and converting it into blinding, choking smoke. It will happen because we have finally recognized our participation in the pursuit of own extinction.
A passage from Wendell Berry should haunt any who reads it:
“Our minds received the revolution of engines, our will stretched toward the numb endurance of metal. And that old speech by which we magnified our flesh in other flesh fell dead in our mouths. The songs of the world died in our ears as we went within the uproar of the long syllable of the motors. Our intent entered the world as combustion. Like our travels, our workdays burned upon the world, lifting its inwards up in fire. Veiled in that power our minds gave up the endless cycle of growth and decay and took the unreturning way, the breathless distance of iron. But that work, empowered by burning the world’s body, showed us finally the world’s limits and our own. We had then the life of a candle, no longer the ever-returning song among the grassblades and the leaves.”
Yes, we will no doubt adapt, but some of us believe that we will do so in the direction of progress, harmony and enlightenment. We will do so as an expression of our aspiration to a higher level of humanity. We will do so, as much as anything, because we are genetically programmed for survival.
And in the meantime, we will value the precious opportunity - that resides in each and every passing second - to work toward a more sustainable world.