Kathryn Nickles

                                          Captain Planet     

“Captain Planet, he’s our hero, gonna take pollution down to zero!”  This was the theme song of one of my favorite television shows as a kid.  Captain Planet was a blue-skinned, green haired super hero; and every week, he and a group of teenagers saved the planet from a polluting villain.  By the end of the twenty minute show, Captain Planet would somehow stop these bad guys, and the world would breathe clean air once again. Unfortunately, there is no real Captain Planet to come and save Earth from the villains we have become.  It seems like everything we do sends us more and more into the terrible, murky abyss that we call home.  We have become more aware of these problems over the years, and some colleges have even established a major, environmental engineering, in order to create real day heroes to help rescue Earth.  One of these everyday heroes, although not an engineer, is Dr. David Orr, a respected environmental activist.  In his essay Reflections on Water and Oil, Orr accuses the people of earth of becoming less intelligent by using oil.

             When one is writing a persuasive essay, one of the most important things needed to be established is their credibility, or ethos.  David Orr is best known for his efforts on environmental works in higher education and his recent work in sustainability. He led the effort to design and build the Environmental Studies Center at Oberlin College, where he teaches. Dr. Orr is the author of three books: The Nature of Design; Earth in Mind; Ecological Literacy and co-editor of The Global Predicament.  He gives frequent lectures at hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the U.S.  At Oberlin College, he is the chair of environmental studies and is both a theorist and teacher informing us to look at building design in drastically new ways (www.powerofdesign.aiga.org). As one can see, Dr. Orr is very accomplished and acknowledged by many people and organizations.  However, many of the statements Dr. Orr makes are unsupported and extravagant.

            Reflections on Water and Oil is an essay written to persuade people to stop using oil and instead revert back to water as an energy source.  The audience first thinks that this is a great cause; no human being can say that they want more oil soiling this world. Except that Orr gives no proposals on how this might be accomplished.  He spotlights the problems with oil and states that this resource has undermined our intelligence.  When I first read that statement, I was in shock.  ‘What is he talking about,’ I thought ‘this guy is crazy!’  After reading the entire essay, my thoughts did not change.  In his six reasons that oil has made us dumber, he makes accusations without any facts or evidence to back it up.  He also offers no ideas on how to change energy sources from oil to water; instead he just points his finger at the trouble.

            To begin with, he says that oil has “eroded our ability to think intelligently about community”.   Orr goes on, saying that oil has turned the world against each other.  Nations and countries are all fighting over this black gold that we hold so dearly.  Well I am sorry Dr. Orr, but when the tsunami hit I did not see disputes about whose oil would be used, or who would have to pay the bill for the gas used by the relief planes.   When there are crises around the world, the first thoughts of those helping are not, “I wonder how much oil this will take.”  They are thoughts of compassion and sympathy.  Of course there are disputes about this resource, but there are also disputes about having enough food, water, and shelter.  Should we then get rid of these so that we can avoid confrontation?

            His second reason is that oil has undermined our land intelligence by increasing the speed with which we move on it.  David Orr explains that when we travel nowadays, the travel is more about the destination and not the journey.  He also states that “We no longer experience landscape as a vital reality.”  I wonder, then why, so many people insist on buying million dollar properties because of their landscapes.  Also, if our travel was not at the speed and convenience it was, then how would the public be able to visit other countries with different and unique sceneries; these countries are not a jolly train ride away.  Cars and jets would be replaced by arrogance of those not exposed to the cultures and beauty of other countries.  People would spend all of their vacation time getting to their destination and not being able to spend anytime there.

            In his third reason, Orr tells the audience that oil makes the world “more complicated but less complex.”  With this complicatedness comes experts and specializations of certain knowledge that get rid of the Renaissance man.  He also explains that with complication, responsibility declines, because if no one saw a problem coming, no one can be blamed.  I agree that this world has become very complicated, but is having experts really that bad?  Wouldn’t you want someone who only deals with one specific aspect, so that they excel at it and have less of a chance of messing up?  If a worker needs to know how do accomplish twenty unrelated tasks, chances are one or more of those tasks will be abandoned or incorrect.  Having experts also creates more jobs for this unemployment rut the nation is going through.  Instead of having one person doing many things, have many people each doing one thing.  Complicatedness does present more unforeseen problems, but that certainly does not mean no one takes the blame.  We blame workers everyday for unforeseen problems: mechanics, stock brokers, hair stylists, computer help desks, etc.  Each of those people, though the problem may have not been their fault, has to take the blame and try to not have the problem happen again.

            Fourthly, Orr states that oil is responsible for “the urban sprawl that has conditioned us to think that ugliness and disorder are normal.”  Urban sprawl is an escape from the polluted and dangerous cities that demand people to work in them.  In a family, the parents always want the best for their children; if the parents have the chance to live in a house with a back yard contrasted to staying in the city with a small apartment, I believe the parents would take that opportunity.  How can one chastise people for wanting to live outside of smog and contamination?  The Declaration of Independence states that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; many people want to pursue their happiness in a place they feel safe and healthy.

            The last two reasons of the essay are, oil devalues craftsmanship and handwork and “oil requires technologies we are smart enough to build, but not smart enough to use safely.”  These are the only two reasons I agree with Dr. Orr on.  Orr states that masters of a craft have been forced into factories, and people moved into cities.  I also believe that by making this servicing economy that tailors to the world’s convenience, it drowns out the creative minds of people.  People need to be challenged so that ideas for new technology and politics are born.  Orr does an excellent job of using emotion in these last paragraphs. He plays with the feeling of non-conformity, that our nation is more than factories full of people with unnoticed talents and abilities.  Next, he tells of the horrible oil spills that have ruined ecosystems.  Oil is extremely dangerous to transport, but Orr again does not give alternate ideas on how to have a safer way to transfer oil.

            Reflections on Water and Oil was an out of the ordinary essay to read.  It is not everyday that someone writes about how oil has made us stupider and water will make us smarter.  Even though I did not agree with most of the statements said in it, Dr. Orr does a wonderful job of using emotions to get the reader riled up.  He presents a romantic idea, to not use oil anymore and instead use water for energy.  However, he does not give any plans or suggestions on what should be done to stop the immense oil usage.  This essay could be extremely persuasive if Dr. Orr gave designs for this revolution, and stop pointing the finger.  If he wants to be a real world superhero, he is going to have to show some real world action.