MAINE YANKEE, our state's nuclear power plant, is going to shut down. Unsafe, they say.
Thirty or forty years ago harnessing "the peaceful power of the atom" was the promise of the future. Promoters claimed, "Nuclear power's going to be so cheap they won't even have to bill you for it." But thirty years later the dream is over. We're not independent; we've been dependent on Maine Yankee. Cheap electricity? You call a $200-a-month electricity bill for an apartment cheap? And clean? Luckily, they're shutting down the plant before we have a Chernobyl-style meltdown. Now all we have to worry about is thousands of years of radioactive waste.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. Somehow our great breakthroughs in energy technology always end up causing unexpected trouble. Take petroleum. It was supposed to provide cheap, reliable energy. But then we discovered that supplies were limited and those who controlled the supplies raised prices.
Our solution: develop other sources of petroleum. Experts have determined that Azerbaijan has enough oil to meet the entire energy needs of the United States for thirty years or more. So now we have no more problems with our petroleum supply or do we?
For starters, what about shipping it? The New York Times (September 21, 1997) says, "Depending on where the lines are laid, power over the West's energy supply may fall to Chechen rebels, irredentist Armenians, government-connected cliques of Russian or Turkish gangsters, Iranian mullahs, Kurdish guerrillas or mercurial chieftains of the Avars, Lezgins, Swanetians and other Caucasian ethnic groups that nurse ancient grievances of which the outside world knows almost nothing." It's a front-page article subtitled "Pipe Dreams."
In fact our plans to live luxuriously on cheap energy are pipe dreams, fantasies. They are like movies only you could never sell a movie with a plot like that to any Hollywood director. "Too complicated. No one would believe it. The script is too complex." But there it is, too complicated or not.
The scriptwriter is Maya Devi, the embodiment of the Lord's external energy. She controls all material activities, and she's a great artist. Some artists use many themes in their work. Others present the same theme again and again in an endless variety of ways. That's what Maya does. Her theme: You can try to enjoy in this world, but you can't win. There will always be a snare. Better to give up trying and surrender to Krsna.
Our technical solutions come and go, but Maya always writes her script on the same basic plot line: First comes great hope for material progress. That develops for some time at the cost of immense energy and struggle. Finally the "progress" breaks down, causing great distress. If you know the basic script, seeing what's going to happen next is easy.
Maya's plots are always the same. Take the latest energy solution: fuel cells. Clean energy, no problem. Hydrogen and oxygen unite creating energy. Byproduct: water. So, no problem, right? But where do we get the ingredients? We can get oxygen from the air, but hydrogen must be "reformed" from another substance.
It turns out the most practical substance for the base fuel is gasoline. "We already have gasoline everywhere," said scientist Matthew L. Wald. "If you can actually reform gasoline, to give you hydrogen, that would be ideal. The infrastructure is already there." And where will the petroleum for gasoline come from? Try Azerbaijan. You can chalk out the rest of the plot.
Srila Prabhupada explains it in a nutshell: "We are trying to exploit the resources of material nature, but actually we are becoming more and more entangled in her complexities. Therefore, although we are engaged in a hard struggle to conquer nature, we are ever more dependent on her."
Isn't there any way out of this?
Srila Prabhupada explains that, too, "This illusory struggle against material nature can be stopped at once by revival of our eternal Krsna consciousness." Krsna consciousness means acting in harmony with Krsna's plan. Krsna's arrangement for human beings is simple living and high thinking. He has given us the bull to provide transportation and to help us produce our food so that our spiritual life does not have to be distracted by worrying about international trade relations or high-level politics.
So it's really our choice. Should society start taking steps towards simple living and high thinking, or should we keep on the path of complicated living and low thinking? Should we try to mold our lives to Krsna's plan, or should we keep letting Maya write the script?
Hare Krsna Devi Dasi, an ISKCON devotee since 1978, is co-editor of the newsletter Hare Krsna Rural Life.