What a week! The response to my op-ed in last week’s New York Times Sunday Review has been overwhelming–and for the most part, phenomenal. People have written from all over the country to share their stories, strategies and encouragement. Thank you!
A few letters, however, and a segment on the Diane Rehm show on Tuesday, have convinced me that the framing of the conversation about natural gas is dangerously wrong. Here’s my response to a really nasty letter I received two days ago. I’m posting it because it pulls apart that erroneous frame (and because the letter pissed me off). I’ve edited it slightly.
Sorry it took me so long to respond to your letter, forwarded via the NYT and in response to my op-ed last Sunday about fracked natural gas infrastructure. I’m on book deadline and, as you can imagine, my inbox has been filled with op-ed responses (strangely, with most negative responses coming from angry men telling me what I don’t know, and positive ones coming mostly from women across the country who are engaged in the same work my sister is–preventing seizure of her property).
At first, I wasn’t sure your letter was legitimate. The tone, content and structure seemed somewhat incongruent with your credentials (listed in detail at the top of your letter). However, I’ve made the decision to respond to every email I receive.
My point is this: “Natural” gas is a ruse that distracts us from preferable (economic, ecological) methods of weening ourselves off non-renewable energy sources. We’re being sold the story that fracking is progress, the future, that it puts America back on top thanks to “Yankee ingenuity.”
I counter that frame, largely because it is developed by those who benefit (gas/oil corporations) and because it wrongly limits our thinking about alternatives. The benefits of natural gas are overstated and oversold. The job creation numbers are inflated and temporary; cheaper gas only further entrenches us in non-renewable systems; gas has a duration of only 35 years (less when manufacturing and exports kick in) and our investment in it is short sighted; co2 emissions should not be the only metric we use to determine clean (pipelines, post-fracking water, methane are pollution too); new gas infrastructure like pipelines and plants serve gas and oil corporations, not the citizens who are bearing their burden at the expense of clean water, air, soil, at the expense of public and private land, and at the bodily risk of leaks and explosions.
I reject your argument that my opposition to new natural gas infrastructure demonstrates support for coal. Minnesota is doing a fine job with solar and wind (and while it’s converting coal plants to gas, its example shows that new gas infrastructure is a short-sighted waste). I reject your argument that my opposition to natural gas infrastructure demonstrates support for the Keystone pipeline, nuclear power or any other non-renewable resource. I find your either-or argument to be too narrow for a conversation about the nation’s energy future. All renewable alternatives should be further developed and expanded.
As to your nimby comment, I oppose this pipeline, regardless of where Williams attempts to put it. To your inaccurate point that I prefer the development of public lands over private: this pipeline will pass through conserved/preserved property, which I oppose. And for the record, all NYT op-eds are rigorously fact-checked. Too, you would benefit from further research into the use of eminent domain in pipeline cases across the country.
I find directives from others that landowners and general citizens with concerns for their health, environment and well-being should quietly take installation of pipelines on the chin for the good for the country (or rather, for the good of gas corporations) to be paternal and naive. They’re also privileged: do you have a pipeline on your property?
I find your comment that I haven’t “given the matter much thought” to be demeaning. And I find your uninformed insinuation that I have not engaged in other energy activism to be irrelevant and illogical. You assert that, because this is a democracy and I am a citizen, I am in part responsible for our existing energy systems but, as you must know, the process that has created this current system was highly undemocratic (and in many ways unethically coercive), just as the process for approving new natural gas infrastructure is. (Besides, democracy is historically, notoriously inept at protecting minority rights.)
Your reference to global and worldwide needs implies that natural gas exports will be good for the US and the world. They may help us geopolitically, they may briefly boost the national GDP–but in the long run, they will put us behind by distracting us from developing alternative sources of energy. Currently, long-term natural resources (the environment we depend on) are being rampantly destroyed by natural gas industrialization; your letter only demonstrates the kind of short-sighted, narrow fervor that is fueling it.
You seem to misunderstand power in the US. Williams and other corporations, whose bottom line is profit, are claiming “public good” for extraction and transport of resources that they increasingly wish to export, via seizure of public and private property and endangerment of air, water and soil purity. Of course I blame Williams and other corporations for the use of eminent domain, as much as I blame complicit federal agencies, and our local, state and federal legislators. Building and/or expanding natural gas infrastructure in the US only ensures that we will pay most dearly for corporations’ gains for decades to come.
Thank you for reading and writing. Best,
I have an op-ed in The New York Times today that I hope you will all read when you can. It’s about an issue that is now dear to my heart: a pipeline for natural gas is barreling through my home county, Lancaster, Pa.
A special thanks to Jessica Lustig, Kiera Feldman and my entire writing group, and all the friends and strangers who have taken the time to read, share and comment.
I just got back from India which means I’m constantly groggy with jet lag. But it’s been a tremendous spring with lots of new writing and events. It helps to sum it all up; proof that I’ve been happily busy.
The best and brightest news is that the book I’ve been researching for about 6 years will… become a book! SITTING VIGIL: IN SEARCH OF A GOOD DEATH will be published by Beacon Press in 2015. No small thanks goes to my brilliant agent, Laurie Abkemeier, for finding me, for believing in this project from the beginning, and for holding my hand through the process. I’m so tickled. And I’m so on lock-down. The deadline for the manuscript is this fall.
A host of other little successes and articles have kept me busy. Here are some links:
My time in India straddled the conclusion of the national election in which the Congress party, in power almost uninterruptedly since the time of Indian independence in 1947, was defeated by the BJP. The new Prime Minister, Modi, represents an extraordinary overthrow of political philosophy. I wrote about Modi, and an Indian yoga guru, Baba Ramdev, who aided Modi’s election, for Killing the Buddha,“Whose ‘India First’?”.
As a new contributing nonfiction editor at the online literary magazine, Guernica, I was lucky enough to help edit an article by academic Wendy Pearlman on the Syrian uprising and how it has affected individual lives there. Read Pearlman’s “Fathers of Revolution” when you can. It’s stunning.
In April I got to read, along with Alia Malek and Erika Anderson, at a Big Umbrella/Guernica sponsored event. It was fantastic fun–even though I was nervous to be reading… about kidneys. I read “What’s a Kidney Worth?” one of the earlier installments of my column at The Revealer, a publication of The Center for Religion and Media at New York University. Writing the monthly “The Patient Body” column has been pure joy. And it’s ongoing so keep an eye on The Revealer if “issues at the intersection of religion and media” are your thing.
I wrote two book reviews for Bookforum this spring. The first (FEB/MAR 2014) was of Megan Hustad’s More than Conquerors: A Memoir of Lost Arguments and the second (APR/MAY 2014) was of Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If you don’t subscribe to Bookforum, well, you should. Both, so far, are only in print.
On April 3 I was honored to speak at Colgate University’s Lambert Institute for Civic and Global Affairs. Hamilton, New York, is so charming and the drive up and back were so gorgeous. But the best part was meeting faculty and students who were perfect, curious and insightful hosts.
For Guernica’s special issue on the American South in March, I wrote about the increasingly Southern practice of execution. You should check out the entire issue, which will soon become an ebook, here.
In February I got to write about marijuana and hospice for OnFaith. Here’s a little excerpt: “The ironies of how we regulate moral behavior were not lost on me. Nor would they have been lost on most anyone who happened to observe our smoking through the window of her luxurious apartment on Central Park West.”
Also in February I was asked to present a talk for the Columbia University Seminar on Death. The conversation was so lively and smart that I came away with insights that continue to inform my work.
A special issue on End of Life was printed by the New York Law School Review in February. You can read my contribution, “The Limits of Autonomy: Force-Feedings in Catholic Hospitals and Prisons” online.
Now on to summer!
Wednesday is the pub date for a new book I’ve got an essay in, Living with Class: Philosophical Reflections on Identity and Material Culture. My essay, “Dying with Class,” is about race, class, and hospice use.
I’m delighted to be alongside these contributors!
Here’s the publisher’s page: http://us.macmillan.com/livingwithclass/RonScapp
Here’s the amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Living-Class-Philosophical-Reflections-Identity/dp/113732681
Here’s the table of contents:
Introduction: Working Class; Ron Scapp and Brian Seitz
1. Class Dismissed: The Issue Is Accountability; bell hooks
2. Letter from a Lovelorn Pre-Radical: Looking Forward and Backward at Martin Luther King Jr.; Kevin Bruyneel,
3. In Search of a New Left, Then and Now; Dick Howard
4. The Status of Class; Stanley Aronowitz
5. ‘Fix the Tired’: Cultural Politics and the Struggle for Shorter Hours; Kristin Lawler
6. Literary and Real Life Salesmen and the Performance of Class; Jon Dietrick
7. Money Changes Everything?: African American Class-Based Attitudes toward LBGT Issues; Ravi K. Perry, Yasmiyn Irizarry, and Timothy J. Fair
8. Democracy without Class: Investigating the Political Unconscious of the United States; M. Lane Bruner
9. Re-Forming Class: Wealth, Culture, and Identity in South Africa; Lisa Nell
10. Whiteness as Currency: Rethinking the Exchange Rate; Emily M. Drew
11. Dying with Class: Race, Religion, and the Commodification of a Good Death; Ann Neumann
12. New Materialisms and Digital Culture: Productive Labor and the Software Wars; Ted Kafala
13. Feminist Theory and the Critique of Class; Robin Truth Goodman
14. Criminal Class; Eric Anthamatten
15. Consuming Class: Identity & Power through the Commodification of Bourgeois Culture, Celebrity, and Glamour; Raúl Rubio
16. When Prosperity Is Built on Poverty, There Can Be No Foundation for Peace, as Poverty and Peace Don’t Stand Hand in Hand; Pepi Leistyna
17. Solon the Athenian and the Origins of Class Struggle; Thomas Thorp
18. Memories of Class and Youth in the Age of Disposability; Henry A. Giroux
I have a new column, “The Patient Body,” at The Revealer, a publication of The Center for Religion and Media at New York University, where I was editor for three and a half years. When I stepped down in June, I was delighted to initiate the column which examines issues at the intersection of religion and medicine.
You can read the first installment on assisted suicide, “An Irresistable Force,” here and the second on kidney donations, “What’s a Kidney Worth” here. The fantastic Kali Handelmann is The Revealer’s new editor; I remain a contributing editor.
I’ll have an article in the New York Law Review in January 2014 that takes off from my Guernica piece earlier in the year and examines two places in the US where a patient can be fed against their will: a US prison and a Catholic hospital. The article has been a long time coming and is adapted from a talk I gave at the law school last year. I’m excited to see it in print!
My essay on race, class and hospice use will appear in Living With Class: Philosophical Reflections on Identity and Material Culture, a new book edited by Brian Seitz and Ron Scapp (Palgrave Macmillan, December 2013). You can pre-order Living with Class here.
In September I wrote about a controversy regarding stem cell research and the Vatican for Religion & Politics. The article, “The Vatican’s New Clothes: Very Small Embryonic-Like Cells and Faith in Evidence Not Seen,” examines new research the Catholic Church invested one million dollars into, VSEL cells that, if properly harnessed, could prevent the use of embryonic stem cells which the church opposes. Scientists have debunked the research, claiming that it is false and ideologically driven. I interviewed leading bioethicists as well as Catholic and non-Catholic opponents of embryonic stem cell research. The piece was picked up by the Sidney Hillman Foundation. You can read it here.
It’s been exciting to watch a recent article I wrote for Waging Nonviolence (prompted by their brilliant editor, my friend Nathan Schneider) get picked up around the web. “Guantanamo is not an anomoly” was picked up by Common Dreams and Salon!
After writing about Bill Coleman for Guernica magazine in January, I saw the (necessary, exciting) media explosion in April highlighting treatment of Guantanamo prisoners–and wondered why an essential part of the story was missing: force-feedings, considered torture by most of the world, are done in U.S. prisons all the time. That’s, in part, the point of my story on Bill.
On Saturday I was on “Viewpoints” with Todd van der Heyden on Montreal’s CJAD 800 AM talking about First Nations Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike and my new Guernica Magazine article on William Coleman, a hunger striking prisoner in Connecticut, “The Longest Hunger Strike.”
You can listen here:
And at the CJAD blog.
Here’s a clip:
From Europe to East Asia, hunger-striking has been used for centuries to demand rights, most often by those who have little other way, beyond sacrifice of their own body, to protest. Before Ireland became Christian, self-starvation was known as Troscadh, a non-violent way to shame wrongdoers. In India the protester traditionally sat on the front step of the person who owed them money or had offended them. A Google alert reminds me daily that active hunger strikes are occurring around the world: a First Nations chief seeking rights for the indigenous in Canada; political prisoners in Turkey; Iranian and Afghan refugees in Berlin, Germany; indigenous prisoners in Santiago, Chile.