First, they sucked the oil out of the earth on the Brown peninsula in Texas. Then they sucked the water out of the aquifers to help process the oil. With less to underpin the earth, the Brownwood subdivision, home to oil executives and their families, started to sink. Natural habitat for birds and animals went under too. What’s more, man and beast alike became more vulnerable to flooding from storm surges with the more frequent and powerful storms brought on in part by the fossil fuel industry’s emissions. All this, just to fill our cars with gas and make TNT and rubber for war. Given this litany of destruction, you have to wonder: can’t we stop sucking?
Day after day, year after year, the refineries drew on the oil fields and on the groundwater in the aquifers beneath them. Over decades the whole region subsided—an area over 3,200 square miles—sinking everywhere at least a foot and in some places as much as ten feet.
The most drastic changes were right near here, where the Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto River meet, where subsidence sunk entire ecosystems: woodlands turned to wetlands, wetlands to marshes, and thousands of acres entirely disappeared, leaving only open water in its place.
What strikes me here today, more than it did before, is that sometimes we try to protect the places we love and end up losing them anyway: a neighborhood, a peninsula, a marsh upriver, a riverine woodland. We need space and time and ritual to grieve these losses, but we also have to love whatever emerges in their place. This place—where herons pick through marsh grass looking for crawfish and mounds of bramble swallow swimming pools and fire hydrants—is just as precious and vulnerable to destruction as the places that were here before. We live in what Gramsci called “a time of monsters,” when the “the old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born.”