Holistic Coach and Consultant
Copyright © 2019
Cruise control set at sixty miles an hour results in twenty-seven miles per gallon in my diesel-fueled van. I made this commitment to lower use of fossil fuel, and I save money.
This van that I call Jane, is my home; so what if it takes another hour to get across Texas or Missouri? It’s one way to cope with this quandary of wanting to decrease oil consumption, yet my current lifestyle depends on using it. Interesting that most roads in Texas, where I’m currently driving southwest toward Big Bend National Park on the edge of Texas, has a seventy-five-mile-an-hour speed limit; their way of supporting oil production, by mandating a high speed limit in order to increase per capita consumption?
I stick to my guns. Even on tertiary roads with a line of cars behind me, I stay at sixty miles an hour; when someone starts to pass, I slow down to accommodate their successful zoom ahead.
The sparse, flat landscape dotted with oil pumps and refineries, the plume of flame that burns off the “offal,” provides a crude, poetic nature to this speed-limit musing.
The name, Big Bend National Park, comes from the bend in the Rio Grande—from its southern flow to a western flow that defines the edge of Texas; the other side of the river is Mexico. I have heard others voice awe of its stunning landscape, and am driving an extra ten hours to get there; another fossil-fuel dilemma.
Usually, I drive only an hour or two a day—I like road life, not driving. But this stark oil-production scenery does not invite lingering; I turn on a podcast to make driving another hour palatable.
Zachary R. Wood, interviewed by Michael Ian Black on a podcast called, How to Be Amazing, is a young man whom I hope will be president of our country as soon as possible, I am that inspired by him. I will send him money to help with any campaign he is involved in, and am grateful for his presence on the planet.
Much of his story is about how he engages in conversation with those he disagrees with; like a true democracy, right? His recent book is called, Uncensored: My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America.
A sign for a Petroleum museum catches my eye; I take that exit. With Wood’s words fresh in my mind, here in the heart of Texas-oil-boom-land, he has inspired curiosity and determination; touring this museum is my version of a conversation with someone I disagree with.
I vote; that’s about it for my political involvement; bureaucracy inspires a desire to shriek and leap out of my skin. Instead, my personal societal stance is captured by the phrase, “the personal is the political”; I am a child of the sixties, after all. How I spend my money, time, what I think and how I act—like driving at a lower speed, like being friendly, even when someone scowls at me, I strive to bring goodness into every moment and every encounter; these are my political statements.
I walk into the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum, imbued with kindness, respect, compassion, and inner authority.
The senior admission rate is eight dollars; hmm. I buy the ticket, pay money for this encounter—I’m on a mission. The phrase, Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer, comes to mind.
The first exhibit is a brief movie that debunks myths about the oil industry. I find out we’re not going to run out of oil—there is still plenty to serve our needs, far into the future.
The geology, geography, and history exhibits answer some of my burning questions—I am indeed located in the heart of one of the world’s richest oil regions. Oil, still emerging from the ground at the rigs I’ve been driving by, began as organic life forms millions and millions of years ago. My favorite exhibited fossil is a Titanosaurus thigh bone—that’s what the sign says.
I learn of the various layers of earth that cover these pools of organic black-gold substance, and how natural gas is one of those layers, and is considered the future of the oil industry, not having been as prolifically harvested, as yet.
Sometimes oil simply lays on the ground—it has been found and used with such easy access for eons. Oil rigs also existed before this Texas oil boom, but when Ford’s assembly lines got going, the demand for gas to fuel those cars exponentially grew; exponentially might be an understatement; Texas’ oil history goes hand in hand with Ford’s car industry. Within a decade of the early nineteen-twenties, Texas’ oil boom literally erupted.
Myriad paintings of that era are displayed in a large exhibit; most of the men look like John Wayne—as though working on an oil rig is a transformative activity, all of a sudden you are handsome. And all the women are beautiful. And then comes the painting of a romantic kiss. . . .Then a tense painting of a landsman—he is the one who puts together mineral rights deals—talking into the night with a ranch family, the two children fallen asleep at the table, the landsman faces personal financial ruin unless he can seal this deal, and does so with an offer to pay the family’s ranch taxes for this year. It’s a win-win situation—the successful oil drilling means everyone becomes rich beyond their imaginations!
As I absorb this story of how Texas was a cattle-ranching culture that became an oil culture—almost overnight—I have clarity now how this region is completely dependent on oil for its economic survival. I think of all the big trucks I saw zooming in and out of the Walmart lot where I slept last night—their logos reflecting oil-related industry: refining, engineering, waste processing, welding, fracking—and most of the trucks were white; I wonder why they like their trucks white? The oil empire still dominates this region.
If any of them knew I don’t drive over sixty miles an hour, would I have been safe last night?
I’m old enough to remember stopping for gas, when the service included checking the oil level, tire pressures, and cleaning the windshield—by someone wearing a crisp and clean uniform. One of my favorite displays is of an old pump from that era, and beside it is a case with Wonder Bread(!), and a jug of milk. I remember eating Wonder Bread as a treat; we would mash up a slice with our fingers, roll it into a balls, then eat it that way—it tasted sort of like raw cookie dough.
The nostalgia-display seems never-ending; the good old days, including stars like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley: old Flying A commercials running on TV sets from the nineteen-fifties: and the cars—a huge room contains various versions of race cars, hammering home the connection between oil and car-love.
Another exhibit displays other forms of power—wind, hydraulic, solar, nuclear—along with their respective percentages of productivity; in this museum, oil wins, hands down.
My curiosity and openness has brought me this far through the museum, thank you, Zachary R. Woods; where I balk is at the entrance to an interactive exhibit in a tower—it looks like a Disney ride. I’m invited to take part in an exploration all over the world, for new oil sources; I would be locked into this event for over ten minutes. As the introductory spiel invites me to cross over the threshold before the sliding doors close for this group, I cannot step through; I suddenly feel nauseous, and walk back down the ramp. No, I cannot participate, even in my imagination.
At the next exhibit, I’m introduced to all the various career options in the oil industry, and am invited to participate in a computer program to see which one would most suit me.
Especially this exhibit evokes wonderment that I paid to see this.
Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy comes to mind—her Church of PetrOleum, part of the third book; I wonder if she visited this museum as part of her research?
The last exhibit is several rooms filled with semi-precious minerals—various quartzes, jade, you name it, as lovely as a sparkly display in any jewelry store. I sense they are part of the oil-production fairy tale, like all the John Wayne look-alikes, but how?
What do these stupendous glittering and shining semi-precious minerals have to do with drilling for oil?
They’re both created by enormous pressures under the earth’s surface. . .and when oil prospectors come knocking on the ranch owner’s door, the proposed agreement is for the various companies to hold oil, gas, and mineral rights—not just oil. . .
I walk out of the museum, with empathy for the state of Texas that has this history of winning the oil lottery over and over again; that really did happen in the early twentieth century, and it seemed too good to be true. Now to admit that maybe it is too good to be true, to give up the big win and embrace the reality that climate change really is happening in large part as a consequence of this bonanza, this boom, this economic heyday, seems inconceivable. No wonder the illusion that we can continue this oil industry indefinitely is so potent.
But here is what I know about illusion; if I begin to see the falsehood for what it is, then new possibilities arrive through this truth. Creative ways for the oil industry to transform their resources into earth-saving measures could happen.
The conversation has begun; from what I just learned at this museum, ongoing production of oil products is going to occur, no matter what. I am part of my culture, use petroleum products, including a fossil-fueled vehicle. I understand Texans’ and the world’s fierce ownership and identification with this industry, including these phenomenal fortunes that have been so easily acquired. I understand this desire to hang onto the illusion that scant damage is occurring on our earth.
Illusion versus truth—oil barons and baronesses, please cherish our earth. Your children and grandchildren will have a better chance at the most viable life.
As I climb back into Jane that is fueled by diesel, I wonder; what will it take for me to live without fossil fuel? I’m willing.
My only regret is I did not take advantage of the museum curator’s offer to take a photo of me in one of the formula race cars—the only one of the exhibit that does not have an alarm going off if you touch it. She said, “Usually we have to help you get out of the car, it’s such a tight fit, but I think you could get out yourself.” I declined, at the time not wanting to associate myself with a race car. Now, I wish I did—I’d have a memento of this hopefully ongoing conversation with the oil barons, about our precious earth.
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