Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11... 5 Years on.

It is the morning of 9/11 (2006), and today the dawn broke upon a world markedly changed from that of 2001. In the U.S. it is still dark (3.35 A.M.), but in Yerevan, Armenia it has already been light for several hours (it is 4 hours ahead of the U.K. making the local time there, 12.36). Five years ago, that was where I saw the dawn break. I had spent a week in Armenia, consulting on a project to clean liquid nuclear waste from the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant near the village of Metsamor. I am not pro-nuclear particularly, but Armenia is both land-locked with few natural fuel resources and poor, hence the NPP will continue to run for years yet, despite fears of its damage in the earthquake zone where it lies, presently producing almost half the electricity for that entire country.
I flew from Yerevan airport, over the mighty twin-peaks of Mount Ararat topping 16,000 feet, and over the southern Caucasus to Tbilisi in Georgia: I drew lots with myself as to which had the most cracked and bumpy runway. Yerevan won! Four hours later, the plane landed at London Heathrow Airport. I noticed an edginess to the usually almost perfunctory proceedings. More armed security police; a tighter look in more vigilant eyes. Then I was stopped at customs, which never happens. At least it does at Manchester, but not at Heathrow, or not to me. The customs officer was friendly:
"Can I take a look in your bag?"
"Sure," I answered, having learned from travelling in Russia that the open, loose-armed approach is the best policy. It is almost an instinct now. The man was thorough, but there was nothing untoward.
"Where have you come from?" he asked.
"From Tbilisi, on from Yerevan... Armenia" I answered.
"What were you doing there?" he continued.
"I'm a university professor. I went out to give a lecture." He looked interested, and by then had figured me out as harmless.
"There seems to be more security today?" I said; in the form of a statement veiled in enquiry. But he just nodded and smiled:
"Enjoy the rest of your journey." And that was that. I went home, talked to my wife for a while and the two of us went out for a walk and then for a drink. Then we went home, and having been away for a week or so, I turned on the T.V. to catch up with the news. Instantly, something was badly amiss, and then I saw it... the first plane and the World Trade Centre tower collapsing. And then the second one.
"Karen! The World Trade Centre's been bombed!" We watched the events in disbelief, undoubtedly along with millions of others. I am trying to recall what my immediate thoughts were. There are no words really, but memories are not written in words, but flashes: emotions and pictures. There is an adage, which is true, that no one remembers what you say but how you made them feel.
I felt that I was looking at a world whose certainty had been undermined; it was a different place. It is perhaps in human nature to be smug. To take for granted those things that can be considered as constant. I felt that those constants had been struck from whatever equation I used to calculate my values and my life. I still feel that way, and probably hold on more tightly to things at a more local, more personal level. I have been through my own personal changes since then - unrelated - but the conspiracy of all events since "9/11" has made me analyse who I am and what I believe in. An attempt to sift-out what is worthwhile from the chaff. Family and friends come out top, but I am fearful for the future of the world that has unpicked at its seams since 9/11. Probably the garment was wearing thin in places before that, but I just didn't see it.
Ultimately, that garment is wrapped around an infrastructure based on oil, with major reserves in the Middle East. Tensions and instability in that region have been urged by world politics. However, politics and oil in the Middle East are inextricably connected. Of course they are. How could it be otherwise? Now we see the break-up of the "old boy" oil clubs, dominated by western influence, as Russia, China and south American countries, notably Venezuela, flex their muscles of supply and demand. Will the west become increasingly cut out of the game as China rises in economic prominence, and will this lead to war, since 80% of Chinese oil has to be transported by oil-tanker through straits in Indonesia guarded by U.S. military bases? How will the world respond to stimuli of heat and cold - supply and demand; threat and buddying-up - as each country tries to secure its own share of the future?
Ground Zero, the site where the "twin towers" once stood, and where nearly 3,000 people (office workers and rescue workers) died on that pivotal day five years ago, has another legacy more solid than just its memories, poignant though they must be for the relatives and friends who are left to remember and to contemplate what was... and what might have been. After the bodies were recovered, the detritus of these massive structures needed to be shovelled-up and cleared away. I have read the new term "9/11 widow", which refers to the spouses of workers who have contracted fatal cancers and lung diseases as a result of working in that dust-choked environment. Right from the start, there was much speculation as to what materials exactly they were likely to be exposed to. More than 40,000 people, mostly men, sweated to clear the terrible swathes of smouldering rubble from the aftermath of 9/11. According to a report published last week, 70% of them suffered lung damage as a result of these activities. A New York Lawyer, Marc Bern, said: "There is going to be a new generation of 9/11 widows - more than those created by the original attacks."
The picture in my mind is one of "the law" rubbing its hands all the way to the bank. I am sometimes cynical about what is just and what is legal. Paid for in currency that would not exist without the agency of cheap oil, the decline of which fuels both literally and figuratively this post 9/11 "new age".


Anonymous said...

Chris, I have read this work with interest - our so called "security" is merely an illusion, and has intensified my faith in our creator God! - You have described the situation well and we should all reply to this "wake up call" that we have been given.
Thanks for this reminder.

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Hi Ruth,
yes, the blog is really about trying to find a solution to the fact we are running out of cheap energy. However, I have come to the conclusion (done the sums to prove it!) that we simply cannot continue to use resources at the rate we are - and we can't make enough biofuels, wind-power etc. to substitute the present colossal demand. I originally planned to run this blog for a year, but it has gathered a good following worldwide, and so I will keep it going until I have some "solutions".

I think they will be found more in changing the manner in which we live - smaller community living, which I have termed "pods" of up to about 20,000, and probably there will be no "one fix" but individual pods might produce their energy from whatever resource is particular to them, e.g. a river, say. The final solution that is appearing is a mix of different kinds of technologies.

Well that's what I am thinking now. I may change my mind as the evidence accumulates!