In JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Mordor is the the mountain-bordered wasteland inhabited and controlled by the Dark Lord Sauron. Its name is translated from one Elvish language as "Black Land," and from another as "Land of Shadow." Mordor was a 175,000 square-mile zone of destruction, inhabited by Orcs and other twisted and dangerous things. Not a pleasant place. Sauron didn't care--his only interest was power and domination.
Our own Mordor is just beginning to form. Its stirrings are felt in the extra punch of a hurricane, the extra length of a heat wave, the extra intensity of a drought. It is seen in the northward march of southern trees, in longer Western forest fire seasons. I witnessed the gathering shadow of Mordor firsthand in Grant Park last March, when I saw dragonflies during the winter that never was.
A 2010 study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research shows a vivid picture of the expanse of Mordor in the 2060s--devastating levels of drought across the United States and in many parts of the world. In the image below, -4 or lower is considered "extreme" drought (click to expand):
And that's just based on the moderate climate change scenario. What we're on track for is far worse.
The Sauron of modern-day Mordor is the fossil fuel industry. Big Oil and Big Coal care only for power and profit, and if we don't force them to stop they will ensure that those living in the latter half of this century will have to contend with a devastated planet. Pro-life means anti-fossil fuel.
They have just spent more than $150 million on TV ads to defeat President Obama. They gave at least another $13 million directly Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee (compared to less than $950,000 to Obama and the Democratic National Committee). They poison our democracy even as they destroy our land.
In Lord of the Rings, an order of wizards was sent to defeat Sauron, who was expanding his territory. Led by Saruman, they forced Sauron out of Mirkwood forest back to Mordor. Ultimately, however, Saruman was corrupted by his desire for power, and aligned with the Dark Lord.
Who is our modern Saruman? Well, this is interesting, because I am writing this during a bit of free time last week Thursday, five days before the election. I would say that Saruman is the next President of the United States. But each candidate represents different aspects of Saruman, with different potential for both good and ill. I'll come back and finish this once we know the result!...
....Okay. So we have just re-elected President Obama. Had Mitt Romney been elected, the Saruman connection would have been more obvious. As governor of Massachusetts, he believed climate change was a problem that needed addressing, and he helped the renewable energy industry gain a strong foothold in the state. He closed a coal plant in his state, saying, "I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people. And that plant, that plant kills people." This was the kind of Saruman who led the White Council that drove Sauron out of Mirkwood. But by this year, his desire to attain the power of the presidency led him to renounce his support of renewable energy, to declare "I love coal," and to embrace an alliance with the fossil fuel industry Sauron, accepting millions in campaign contributions.
With Obama, it's not as clear. He has shown strong support for renewable energy, which increased more in the past four years than under any other president. He also issued new fuel efficiency standards that will cut new automobile carbon dioxide emissions in half and save Americans roughly $1.7 trillion at the pump. But he also opened vast new areas of Wyoming to coal mining that could increase our carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent. He also has significantly expanded areas for oil and gas drilling.
So whose side is this Obama-Saruman on? Will he oppose Sauron, or will he join forces with the Dark Lord? It is not clear if he has simply been weak, waffling, focused solely on re-election, or actually believes in his "all of the above" energy strategy. Last night in his victory speech, he talked a good game:
If he intends to use his lame-duck status as a tool to dramatically shift our energy priorities away from fossil fuels toward renewables, then his "all of the above" approach makes sense as a temporary measure while we make the transition. If he can do this, he will be the Saruman of the White Council, driving back the Dark Lord of Mordor. But if his "all of the above" energy policy does not lead to a major shift in energy priorities, then he will go down as "Saruman lite"--who may not have desired an alliance with Sauron, but ended up in league with him nevertheless. Big Oil and Big Coal are Sauron. They MUST be stopped. And while I had no illusions about Romney being the one to stop them, I have little reason to expect that Obama will have the strength, either. And the shadow of Mordor will grow, and our children's children will suffer.
One thing for sure, those who recognize the urgent threat posed by climate change will do what they can to hold his feet to the fire, as this announcement, released shortly after Obama was projected to win the election, makes clear.
Is there any hope at all that we will shut down Big Oil and Big Coal before we set in motion the climatic forces that will cause death and destruction across wide swaths of the world? As Gandalf put it, "There never was much hope. Only a fool's hope." But that was enough for Gandalf. He did not give in to despair, even when the odds seemed insurmountable. Not able to see all things, he kept doing whatever he could to stop Sauron, and hoped for the best. That is a good example to follow!