Knew that we ventured on such dangerous seas
That if we wrought out life ’twas ten to one
—William Shakespeare, Henry IV
At the opening of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 tragicomedy, Waiting for Godot, we see two “tramps,” Estragon (Gogo) and Vladimir (Didi), waiting beside a dead tree on a desolate country road. They are waiting for a man to arrive, a man named Godot. They appear to have bet the farm on this chance meeting and are down to their last carrot and turnip, their clothes and shoes worn to tatters.
Our collective plight is not as dire as that of Gogo and Didi, but it could be. Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 dystopian novel, The Road, is a contemporary take on our world gone badly sour, with a definite twist: whereas Gogo and Didi are anxious for the man to arrive (he represents the prospect of “hope”) and wait day after day in the open (so’s not to be missed), and thus cannot “go on” lest Godot comes and they are not there, the Man and his boy in The Road, know better than to trust men and do everything they can to keep moving, to keep going on, to not be seen by other desperate travellers.
The main lesson here is that we don’t have to go down this particular road. We can choose to take action, (unlike Gogo and Didi who have surrendered their fate to chance, who wait—despairingly—to be saved by some mysterious white-haired guy who, not unlike the second coming of Christ, seems to continually postpone his arrival); we in the here and now can initiate change.
Yet here we are, and the debate about what we can do to save the planet—how to reverse the damage inflicted by industrial waste, carbon emissions, and global warming—rages on. As a species, we are infatuated with the idea of beating the odds against. Short-term gain nearly always outweighs any potentially destructive outcome of the gamble. Build a nuclear reactor here, drill for oil there. Estimated risk each year of an earthquake intense enough to cause core damage to the reactor at Three Mile Island is 1 in 25,000. Far better odds than the 1 in 14 million you have of winning the Lotto 6/49. (The government likes the odds!) So the calculable risk is worth it, no? Ask the people living near Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, the Fukushima plant in Sendai, Japan.
What are the chances of a rig toppling, or a mainline being ruptured, potentially spewing millions of barrels of crude into the surrounding ocean? We need oil, we need jobs, we need profit—let’s do it! Witness the Exxon Valdez Alaskan oil spill of 1989—considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters, resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands of water birds and other sea life—and last year’s Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. By the lax coverage in the mainstream media, you’d think that oil spills are an infrequent occurrence. We only hear about the record-setting ones, the ones not easily contained and covered up. A simple online search of “oil spills” reveals their all-too-frequent occurrence worldwide.
But maybe I’m just another naive alarmist. It’s a big world; it can take a lot of hammering. Perhaps we will act and save the planet and ourselves from imminent catastrophe. Or maybe we’ll forestall action, like Gogo and Didi, and continue to wait. Maybe Godot will come tomorrow and we’ll all be saved; if not tomorrow, perchance the day after. »From issue #58