An Essayby Rick Bass
Being an eater of oil—a consumer—is surely the worst of my physical sins, a sin we all possess and about which we can all continue to make rueful jokes, between shrugs of acceptance, always hoping or even promising to do better another day. But the bleeding continues; no one man or woman can staunch it. Choosing a Subaru wagon over an SUV will not stop it; my off-the-grid home with its bank of a dozen solar panels will not staunch it. The world is bleeding ten million barrels a day, is burning ten million barrels of black crude, pouring those invisible carbons into the sky above us. We are burning holes in the thin sky-membrane that protects us from the fierce love, fierce focus, of the sun. Some days I imagine that we might be crushed beneath such invisible tonnage of carbon, all that exhumed and combusted and exhaled carbon pressing down on us in ever-ponderous overburden. It is hard to imagine, as we are pounded down into the ground under the weight of our own affluence—pressed down to ankle-depth, then knee-deep, waist-deep, shoulder-deep, then gone—hard to imagine, finding ourselves now beneath such detritus, that we might somehow manage to keep housed within our chests the bright spark of hope or faith that inspirits us as a species: the ability, even at this dire point, to dream and glide and laugh and love, and to be fully human, fully alive, fully burning.
How dare we imagine, at this late stage of consumption, that some force, some tide of change, might miraculously choose to reach down through our overburden—as the geologist’s drill bit probes the dense shell of stone, searching for the ignitable oil below—and yet find and then ignite that secret, buried, remnant spark, the tiny ﬂame of who, on our best days, in days gone by, we once were, a culture of givers rather than takers?