As oil gushes unchecked from the bowels of the Gulf, you will hear laments about the world’s dependence on “cheap energy.” Oil spills are horrible, the pundits will tell you, but it’s the chance we have to take to sustain “our way of life.”
Whose way of life?
Millions of people in far-off corners of the world go about their daily lives without burning petroleum. Yet they seem just as satisfied as those “screw-face” sophisticates in places like New York and London. Don’t these city dwellers see the irony in driving to their health clubs to spend an hour on the Stairmaster – pretending to walk?
I grew up in the Jamaican mountains at a time when there was no electricity up there. There was electricity in Kingston and nearby areas, produced – I believe – by waterfalls in places like Maggoty. But when you got to the Santa Cruz Mountains or those misty blue foothills beyond Hope Bay, you had to find other ways to get your daily chores done.
My grandfather, Mass’ Con, never owned a car. He owned a succession of horses. And they got him where he needed to go most of the time. On the rare occasions that business took him to Kingston, he rode to the railway station and boarded a train. And no, the train didn’t run on oil; it was powered by steam.
My grandmother, Miss Rose, didn’t have horses. She had two strong legs.
Fed up with my grandfather’s rambling ways, she walked out on him in her fifties and built a little cottage for herself far up in the mountains. She had been converted to the Pentecostal Church of God during a sojourn in America and felt the call to preach. It was nothing for her to hear God’s call to bring His message to a village 20 miles away and walk there – and back.
During World War II, Jamaica was surrounded by U-boats, and no imports could get through. My father put his Model C on blocks and bought a buggy and two horses – Jiggs and Silver King. He rode the buggy to work but we spent a lot of time on horseback. I was a boy in short pants in those days and my legs got pretty sore sometimes, but I always managed to get where I had to go.
We also found out that we didn’t need kerosene oil, after all. Coconut trees abound in Jamaica and coconuts produce oil. We filled little dishes with the oil and floated a star-shaped piece of tin on it with corks for pontoons and a scrap of cotton for a wick. I won two scholarships studying by those home-made lamps.
There was no running water but springs and rivers were everywhere. It was no hardship to trek down to the river with an empty kerosene pan (or some big gourds from the calabash tree) to bring back water for the cooling jar and the wash tub. Besides, most people had concrete cisterns we called “tanks.” These tanks collect rainwater from the “zinc roofs” that are popular in Jamaica.
When we lived in Mrs. Sangster’s house in Malvern, we had running water – not from the government but from the roof. Mrs. Sangster had set a couple of empty oil drums on four sturdy posts just above the roof, and had installed a hand pump to pull water from the tank and fill the drums. The sun warmed the water and gravity pulled it down to flush the toilet and give us luxurious showers.
I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea.
It’s nice to have cheap oil, I suppose. But we could do without it and survive quite well.
My son, Ross, has never owned a car (he owned a motor bike once but it was always breaking down). Granted, he and his wife, Lisa, live in Toronto, where they have a highly developed mass transit system. But they still do a lot of walking. When they visited us in Lakeland (Florida) a few years back, they decided to take a stroll downtown, so they walked the seven miles or so to get there.
And there are other choices for those who don’t want to walk. Look at how advanced bicycle technology is today. As I walk our little dog, Maxi, in the afternoons, bicycles whiz by me like phantoms. Who really needs to go faster than that?
Our answer to the oil spill menace is simply to park the car and switch off the lights. If we walk or ride a bicycle instead of climbing into a car, we will end the world’s reliance on the black poison that threatens to destroy us.
And we would be a lot healthier.