Fracking, the newest environmental threat that people are talking about. Environmentalists, of course, say it is bad for the environment polluting the water and surrounding area(s). Discussions have also occurred that perhaps it actually causes earthquakes. Of course there is another side to the story, as there always is, and that side consists of energy companies and their partners that make money and ultimately energy through fracking. And of course, the United States’ continuing reliance on all things that require fossil fuels: cars, lights, electronics, appliances, gadgets, et. al.
But what the frack is fracking all about? And why is it part of our story? Mostly because we saw the effects of fracking directly as we traveled throughout the United States. Unfortunately, we also saw a lot of other negative impacts that are directly caused by people, so I will address some of those as well.
Fracking stands for Hydraulic Fracturing – pressurized water and chemicals are blasted into the ground to break rock layers apart in hopes of releasing petroleum, natural gas, or other fossil fuels. Fracking has its origins in Texas, is anyone really surprised, but it is interesting to note that many countries around the world ban this practice due to environmental hazards. Of course, our country has continued the practice since 1947 and has increased its use. Fracking is done primarily in the south, mid-west, and surprising a lot of it is done in Pennsylvania.
We heard first hand accounts of how the process is done (but we did not see it for ourselves). Apparently, a dozen semi-trucks filled with water and chemicals are tilted up in a vertical position and the fluid is forced out under heavy pressure directly into the ground. Now I am no scientist but this sounds like a process that is not environmentally friendly at all. In fact, we saw beautiful paved roads but dying flora all around. The ground surrounding these fracking areas hold no signs of life and we heard that the roads need to be paved over frequently due to buckling. It boggles my mind that after discussing our energy woes for over 40 years that we still have not found a better way to provide energy through the infinite resources of the sun and wind, and we have also not done more to limit our energy consumption (irony as I type this on a computer). Fracking needs to have more oversight and study. Fracking should be banned until we know more about the short and long-term effects of this process.
Okay, so I might seem biased. Perhaps, a tree hugger? But I have a bone to pick with environmentalists too. Forests are getting overgrown. In many cases, the forests are thicker than when the Native Americans roamed and ruled the continent. In the effort to conserve the forests, we might have an example of, “Cannot see the forest through the trees”.
The case of insect devastation throughout the United States is real and scary. We saw alarming amounts of forests that have been destroyed by beetle bark and other insects. In many cases, whole stands of trees are standing dead; the forest was colored red, not through fall colors but dead canopies. Obviously, the closer the trees are in a stand, the more likely that infestation will occur, not to mention that trees need space to properly grow to garner the correct amount of sun and water. However, the more frightening scenario is huge forest fires that will send up large plumes of smoke for days, weeks, and months while fires rage uncontrollably. These fires have already started in the west and will continue. We need to allow for some logging and forests need to be thinned.
Littering is something that we saw in almost every state. People tossed their trash in front of us; other times people would walk past trash without picking it up and throwing it away. We tried to pick up trash; although, truthfully, we did not do it every time. Every community should arrange for the trash to be disposed of properly. Perhaps, organizations can adopt roads as they do in California, Oregon, and some other states. Or prisoners or unemployed people can pick up trash as part of their program requirements. The trash is unsightly but it also poses some real hazards to the fauna throughout the land and the water. We saw firsthand the animals that become entangled in trash, and some of the animals are badly hurt while others are killed. Most importantly, manufacturers should limit packaging when possible and individuals need to properly dispose of their own trash.
Rude behavior was a frequent problem on the trip and it was not our boys. Amazingly, a lot of it happened in traffic: honking horns (hello Boston); speeding, weaving through lane jerks (Virginia, I’m looking at you); trucks that tried to run us off the road (Texas again!); and just general bad driving. Yep, we saw several pedestrians almost hit – one was our youngest child in Washington D.C. – from people speeding and running red lights. But, we also saw people who would not stop for pedestrians, who would not let in traffic even when a blinking indicator light was on, who would not pull over if they were slower than traffic, who gabbed on the phone, and who picked their noses. Good grief people, follow the law but more importantly slow down! You do not have any thing that is so important that would matter if you suddenly ran someone over.
Restroom habits perhaps don’t rise to the same level of concern that some of the other areas discussed above. However, I have had to use more public restrooms in the last year than the previous 44 years combined. And I have come to the conclusion that people are disgusting. Perhaps, it is a sign of a larger problem of general disrespect and disregard for other people and other people’s property but people should have a modicum of decency in the restroom. I am not even sure where to start here, so I will plunge right in: poop not flushed, toilet paper sprawled on the floor, urine all over the toilet seat, and a general disregard for anyone who enters after you. Look if you must hover over the toilet due to some toilet seat aversion than please clean up any mess that you may have caused. Also, know that studies have been done and you are not going to catch anything from placing your butt on the seat. And by all means, please wash your hands when you leave the restroom. I cannot tell you how many people enter the bathroom and leave without washing their hands….yuck! I have personally flushed and plunged toilets, wiped way too many seats to count, picked up toilet paper on the floor, and wiped the counters dry. I can see why some businesses close their restrooms to customers only or make people pay to use the bathroom. Please people can we try to have some pride in ourselves and save the janitors who clean the restroom some trouble.
Luckily, while there are some problems caused by people that have a direct impact on the environment and our relationship with each other, we also found some good things too. People were mostly friendly and some offered to assist us on our journey. We saw some examples of people helping one another, usually shelters for the poor. There is more work to do though!
We need to be mindful of those people who live in poverty, a disproportionate amount are minorities. As a country, we need to explore other ways of energy production and as a people, we need to continue to reduce our usage and impact. Each of us can be responsible for how we interact with each other in the car, on the bus, in school, in our neighborhoods, and at work. All the problems in the world are solvable if we would just band together and take responsibility together.