- Lauren Thomas
People don't seem to paste bumper stickers on their cars like they used to. By my nonrigorous anecdotal estimation, there are at least 56 percent fewer bumper stickers on the road than there were 20 years ago. And while I don't festoon my own vehicle with notes of affiliation with political candidates, sports teams, or smart children, reading bumper stickers is a way to pass the time while driving and to idly psychologize the motives behind these miniature moving billboards. Perhaps the reason why I never cottoned to bumper stickers for myself was that by the time I bought my first car, at 26, I was already publishing as a writer and had found outlets for my personal sloganeering.
If there is a recent meme in bumper stickers in the region—a trending topic if you will (and you must)—it's fracking. Hydraulic fracturing is the nuclear power of our time and fracking's many downsides, which I need not enumerate as they have been reported on in this magazine and elsewhere, are legion. This issue has led many earth-conscious, progressive community members to announce their anti-fracking commitment with bumper stickers. People sporting anti-fracking bumper stickers may be doing more than this, admittedly. They might be signing online petitions as well. Or staging rallies, and/or grassroots organizing, and/or lobbying and all the things we do to influence public opinion so that our elected leaders pay attention to us rather than the paid agents of corporations.
The variety of anti-fracking bumper stickers are almost as numerous as the arguments against fracturing. I've seen "Frack No," "What the Frack Is Wrong with You?," "No Fracking Way," "What the Frack?," and many others. (The words "frack" and "fracking" are so similar to two other words possessing such great stockpiles of sex and violence that it tilts the phrasings to lean heavy on that association.) One anti-fracking bumper sticker I saw recently, affixed to the bumper of a two-door Honda Civic, stood out to me. It read: "Criminalize Fracking: Shale Gas Drilling Is Ecocide." It called for a change in the penal code, but that's not why it grabbed my attention, as this is simply the legislative extension of "Get the Frack Out of Here." I was mildly surprised by the linking of gas drilling and ecocide. When I think of ecocide, I assume it to mean the death of all life on earth, which I don't think can be pinned on hydraulic fracturing despite the things we don't know about it. But that's not the reason I almost rear-ended the Civic making sure I got the exact phrasing of the bumper sticker correct in my mind.
What was the Civic owner thinking, as he or she bent down to paste this indictment of horizontal gas drilling on the bumper? Allow me to speculate: I'm so worried about fracking being allowed in New York and ruining our water and all that toxic fracking fluid being trucked through our streets. I hope Governor Cuomo sees the light of day on this issue. I'll just paste this bit of paper on my car to let everyone know how strongly I feel about this. This is a widely held point of view among Chronogram readers, and one I agree with. However, did the Civic owner ever stop to think about the problematics of protesting ecocide from the bumper of a car? O irony, where is thy sting?
We who live in the 21st century, we who live in America, we who consume more of the world's resources than any nation or tribe or group of creatures that has existed on Earth over the last 4.5 billion years—we lead ethically compromised lives. Let's face it. Most of us eat meat though there's no reason for us to kill animals to sustain our own lives. We like the taste of the critters when we cook them. (And pescetarians you are not off the hook, so to speak, on this point.) Most of us work merely to survive—and by survive I mean pay the cable bill, upgrade our gadgets, go on vacation for 10 days once a year, twice if we're lucky—serving some external master in exchange for money, rather than finding a way to spend more time exulting in the daily miracle that is the fact of our own existence in a chance universe. That's a difficult trick to pull off, I know. As the comedian and Buddhist Duncan Trussell recently said on his podcast, which I listen to on that fancy iPhone 5 of mine, "We walk through heaven as if it was a minefield."
And those of us who live in rural areas need a car to get around. Our cars are heating up the planet, killing off other species and leading us on a course toward actual ecocide, but how else are we going to commute from New Paltz to Albany, from Hudson to Kingston? It's a question I ask in all earnestness. We know our cars are the vehicles of our own destruction and yet we building them and buying them. (This seems like a good point to mention that May is National Bike Month, so grease up the chain and pedal to the two-wheeler as much as you can. You'll be helping avert ecocide.)
My pet name for my car is World Killer. It gets me places I couldn't go without it, but whenever possible, leave it in the driveway—which isn't very often admittedly. But I try to steer clear of the naive idealism that leads to protesting one form of ecocide while practicing another. We should be careful of how we go about saving this world, lest people get the wrong idea, thinking that we hate fracking but we're blind to effects of the dead dinosaur exhaust from our cars. I'm thinking about coming out with my own bumper sticker: "World Killer." If you want one, let me know.