Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thanking the Gas Wolf Governor for "Saving" a Few Acres From the Frack is like Thanking the Armed Robber for Leaving the Curtains After He Guts Your House

Tiadaghton State Forest, construction of a new PG&E well pad, July 2014
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

Fresh out the inaugural gate, Pennsylvania's Governor Gas Wolf wasted no time signing 22 permits to continue the conversion of the state into a giganto-frack-gas factory. 

At the direction of the new governor, (reported by Energy Justice), the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP),"permitted 22 shale gas wells for five counties in just three days from January 21-23. One of those well permits, Chief Oil’s Teel 4H, is within a mile of a cluster of 19 water wells in Dimock, PA that were spoiled by gas drilling in 2008" (Bad Call: PA Governor Wolf Pursues Drilling on 700,000 Acres of State Land | Energy Justice: Shale Initiative).

The report continues:

The 22 new well permits last week were granted to operators including Chevron, Rex Energy, Cabot Oil & Gas, Chesapeake Energy, Chief Oil, and EQT. Combined, the six drilling companies have been cited for 118 well casing failures by PA DEP, according to a report by Energy Justice Network. Steel and cement well casing failures endanger water supplies across the state.
None of this, of course, is the least bit surprising

Governor Wolf has never as much as hinted that he'd strive for any other but the "have your cake and eat it too" course consistent with the gas company campaign donations, the hand-waving at what would be a disastrous extraction tax, and his promises to use the dirty dollars to fund education.

He even used the disruption of his inaugural speech to reiterate his support for the gas: "“To the protesters here
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
today, I say: help me develop these opportunities in a way that is clean, safe and sustainable.”

The governor's reasoning is deluded to be sure--especially in light of climate change--but it turns out the gas wolf is also smart like a fox.

For in a matter of hours after he signs permits for 22 more frack wells, he delivers a preemptive strike against the potential reaction-of-horror from the anti-fracking movement by bribing it with a teeny tiny "concession" reinstating the moratorium on new leases on public lands.

And we're expected to thank him for that.

That's like thanking the armed robber for leaving the curtains after he terrorizes your family and guts your house. 

That's like thanking the psychotic dictator for leaving one house standing after he torches your town. 

That's like thanking the guy who just beat the shit out of you and took your wallet because he left two of your teeth.

What do these have in common?

You've got no reason to believe that the armed robber, the psychotic dictator, or the thieving assailant are ever going to restore, repair, or return any of your stuff.

You've got no reason to believe that the gas wolf governor is going to do anything other than keep signing permits to frack the state to smithereens.

But here's the really insane part:

You'd never thank the robber, the dictator, or the assailant for leaving your curtains, one house, or your two teeth.

Yet, somehow we're being encouraged by Big Green Sierra Club, and little greenies--The Forest Coalition and Pennsylvanians Against Fracking to applaud the governor's decision to reinstate the moratorium as if being handed a few trees somehow compensates for the other 700,000 acres already robbed, torched, and beat to shit by the gassers--not one inch of which is protected from further battery.

In fact, you're expected to treat what is a straight-up bribe--no new leases on pubic lands-- as if it were a gift even though its a "gift" offered to you after you've already been robbed, torched, and beaten by an assailant who promises you he's coming back!

Even worse--you know the assailant's coming back because he's already unleashed his gasser friends on 22 of your neighbors!

How did we get to such a pathetic groveling place?

PA State Game Lands 75, Tiadaghton State Forest,
new tract cleared by PG&E for a fracking operation, 8.14
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
Answer: by allowing ourselves to be misled by greenies who are willing to work as hard as they can to make crumbs look like cake, wood-lots look like forests, and shit-diamonds look, well, less like shit.

Let's consider three examples:

1. Pennsylvanians Against Fracking: here's the PAF press release--quoted in full, ver batim:

Pennsylvanians Against Fracking regards Governor Tom Wolf’s reinstatement of the moratorium on state forest and park drilling to be an important first step in protecting Pennsylvania from fracking, but continues its call for an end to fracking everywhere in the state. 
Pennsylvanians Against Fracking Calls on Wolf to Stop Fracking Statewide After Parks Ban

Note first that nowhere in this first sentence (and nowhere in the rest of the press release--read on) does PAF include the word "new." Yet, by excluding it, PAF implies that reinstating the moratorium will stop gas drilling in state forests, etc.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and to omit that essential word "new" is plainly deceptive. Indeed, it makes out the governor to be doing something far more than he is--gettin' the gassers out of the state parks--thereby effectively concealing the tin-trinket-level bribe that this re-instatement really is.

Second, PAF knows that the governor issued 22 new drilling permits, knows what his campaign promises were, and knows who donated big bucks to his run for the governor's mansion.

So why do they keep trying to convince us that he can be persuaded otherwise? Isn't this rather like trying to persuade the armed robber to leave the expensive silverware? He's already robbing your house. Why would he leave the expensive stuff? Hell's bells-- voting for the gas wolf is like leaving your door unlocked. Trying to convince others that he's not really an armed robber is like trying to convince your neighbors to keep their doors unlocked.

But the PAF manipulation of the reader continues:

"Today's decision, just days after hundreds of Pennsylvanians rallied at Governor Wolf's inauguration for a ban on fracking, is evidence of the power of the movement to stop fracking in our state," said Jenny Lisak, of Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air, a member of the Pennsylvanians Against Fracking steering committee. “Keeping fracking out of state parks is welcomed news, but I am fearful that the negative impacts of this process will be concentrated in communities already being harmed. We must stop fracking around the state”

To claim that the rally at the Wolf inauguration had anything to do with the governor's decision to re-instate the moratorium on new leases on public lands is simply poppy-cock. Wolf had already made this promise; folks had already been suckered into voting for him on its count. 

At a minimum such a claim commits a post hoc fallacy--assuming a causal connection where there is none for the sake of retaining a self-deceptive belief that the movement is stronger than it is. 

But more likely, the claim's designed to garner support for Pennsylvanians Against Fracking--which would be great if PAF represented itself honestly. But "[k]eeping fracking out of state parks" is not an honest claim--and 700,000 acres shows it. That Jenny Lisak is "fearful that the negative impacts of this process will be concentrated in communities
 already being harmed"--also great--but clearly PAF's not worried about this enough to use the word "ban" in their press releases--opting instead for the far weaker and less definitive term "stop." So I can only assume that what Lisak really means is that fracking should be stopped--but just as the moratorium language implies--until we know it's safe.

Wolf, of course, says that's right now.

A little further down, Karen Feridun--the core of PAF and Berks Gas Truth makes this claim:

“Clearly, Governor Wolf based today’s decision on his willingness to listen to the scientific evidence we had 2010. We’re confident that if he listens to the current science, he’ll have no choice but to protect all Pennsylvanians and end fracking statewide,” said Karen Feridun, of Berks Gas Truth, another member of the Pennsylvanians Against Fracking steering committee

I doubt that anyone seriously believes this. Wolf made his decision based on the capital it would likely buy him with the self-styled representatives of the anti-fracking movement. And if he calculated the effects re-instating this moratorium would likely have--he did a damn good job. 

After all, here we are thanking the armed robber for leaving the curtains.

The notion, moreover, that Governor Wolf has the slightest interest in the science--in 2010 or 2015--has already been laid to rest in his "have our cake and eat it too" remark, so to continue to treat him as if he has anything other than what cache he needs to build to get himself re-elected is just willfully naive--or a strategy to get more sign-ons to PAF.

But what it's not is honest.

 2. The Pennsylvania Forest Coalition (PFC): In a letter sent out today to its list, PFC recommends to its members that they thank the governor for keeping his campaign promise to reinstate the moratorium on leasing on public lands: "Just say "Thanks for keeping your campaign promise." IT'S  THAT  EASY!"

So--should we then thank the governor for keeping his other campaign promises? His promise to continue "natural gas exploration" (such a nice way to put liquidation)? His promise to advance an extraction tax that will institutionalize the industry in the state's tax base? 

Isn't this rather like thanking the robber for leaving the curtains--and then realizing that we also need to thank the robber for stealing everything else and terrorizing our kids--because after all that's what he said he was going to do?

If the fella who's about to beat the shit out of me tells me first, and then does it--leaving two teeth--should I thank him for doing what he said he was going to do because he told me he was going to do it?

Isn't that what consistency requires?

3. The Sierra Club (SC): The biggest win for grotesque political pandering and unabated hypocrisy, however, goes to the Sierra Club who sent out this letter today to its members:

This is big: Governor Wolf just placed a moratorium on new leases for drilling in state parks and forests in Pennsylvania! 

This victory is an important step forward towards protecting our wild places from the oil and gas industry. It wouldn't have been possible without the thousands of letters, rallies and actions taken by changemakers like you, which showed Governor Wolf that Pennsylvanians love their public lands and want them off-limits to fracking. 

Take a moment to show Governor Wolf your support for the moratorium on leases for drilling in state parks and forests! 

By signing this executive order, Governor Wolf demonstrated his integrity by following through on a campaign promise. The governor has listened to the will of the people, and has proven that he takes seriously the constitutional mandate that these lands are held in trust for all inhabitants of our Commonwealth. 

Today's decision is a step in the right direction that Pennsylvania needs in order to move Beyond Natural Gas and keep dirty fossil fuels in the ground. There is much more to do, but this important victory should be an inspiration for Pennsylvania to go all-in on public lands protection and the transition to clean, renewable energy! 

Stand up for protecting Pennsylvania's natural spaces. Take a moment to show Governor Wolf your support for the moratorium on leases for drilling on public lands! 

Thanks for all you do to make Pennsylvania a great place to live! 

Robert GardnerCampaign RepresentativeSierra Club Keep Dirty Fuels in the Ground Initiative 

And then Gardner asks you for money.

Unlike PAF, at least the Sierra Club identifies the leases as "new." But like PAF and PFC, Gardner fails to mention the other 700,000 acres of the people's land lost to the gassers--and the thousands upon thousands of private acres that make up the sacrifice zones pock-marking the state.

Gardner also repeats the whole-cloth falsehood that pressure on the gas wolf governor from anti-fracking activists had anything to do with this campaign promise--and not just the political expediency of offering us a crumb and demanding we act like its cake.

But this claim about "letters, rallies, and actions" is especially absurd coming from the Sierra Club who not only refused to support the protests at the governor's inauguration--but tried valiantly to censor their own members from wearing SC T-Shirts to the event.

As for "listening to the will of the people," tell that to the people of Dimock who are about to be screwed--again.

The Sierra Club is, in effect, asking us not only to thank the armed robber for leaving the curtains, but is asking us to send them protection money they promise to use to get the robber to think about not robbing us. 

We have, of course, no reason to believe that an organization so worried about its public image with the gas wolf governor that it forbids its own members from wearing Sierra Club baseball caps to a protest is going to use our money to do
anything else than, for example, pay gentlemen like Gardner to write insipid letters just like this one to get us to pony up.

And what do we get for that donation?

We get lied to. Plain and simple. 

We get lied to by what amounts to the BFFs of the armed robber who not only thieves everything from the house, but then tries to convince us that the most important thing in it was the curtains he left.

But what 700,000 liquidated acres means is that what's left is  a woodlot masquerading as a forest--that the curtains--however superficially pretty--are as tattered as the woodlot is really just a cadaver of the forest already gone.

I'm not going to thank the robber for leaving the curtains, or the psychotic dictator for sparing a single house but torching the village--or the assailant who beats me to shit and then thinks I should be grateful for the two teeth he left.

And I am not about to thank the gas wolf governor for leaving a few woodlots while the rest of the state burns. For these woodlots are just like my teeth--each depends on all the others in my mouth. Once the rest have been punched out, the two remaining will not be far behind.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Charade of Unity is not Unity; it's an Abuse of Trust and a Prescription for Enduring Harm: Response to Nathan Sooy and Clean Water Action

Nathan Sooy, Clean Water Action, and Josh Fox, Gasland
Governor Tom Wolf's inauguration, 1.20.15
Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee

In his response to a piece I posted recently where I dissect Food and Water Watch's (FWW) Senior organizer Sam Bernhardt's argument  that what the new Pennsylvania governor ought to do is impose a "halt" on new gas leases until the state can
adequately study whether fracking can be done safely--an argument that sounds reasonable on its face, but in fact belies a complete capitulation to Governor Wol'f insistence that we can "have our cake and eat it too--Nathan Sooy of Clean Water Action (CWA) posts the following (reproduced ver batim):

Wendy, one problem with your theory is that the anti-fracking movement is entirely dependent on the organizational, institutional and financial resources of the larger environmental organizations. In the history of social change and in the near certainty of cases, something (new social movement activity) nearly always arises from a pre-existing organizational base. In the American Civil Rights Movement, the SNCC sit in movement arose out of the social organizational context of the SCLC and CORE. And SCLC and CORE, in turn, arose from the context created by the NAACP, the Historically Black Colleges, and Gandhian traditions brought to America by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. So, I am not threatened personally by new movements arising out of and possibly in reaction to the organizational basis of the anti-fracking infrastructure in PA that was created by Marcellus Protest, Clean Water Action, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Sierra Club, and others who had a base of funding and staff and whose staff had the time, talent, and inclination to bring activities together. New things happen. But one thing I do know. Individual acts do not a social organization make. You need infrastructure to support, encourage, and develop ongoing organization. And you need funding. If I were you, I would be spending my time organizing that infrastructure to nurture the movement I wanted to create. Wendy Lynne Lee, you are a scholar. I suggest that you take a look at all of this through the context of Resource Mobilization Theory (McCarthy & Zald). New social movement steps do not come out of nothing. It comes out of something that was already nurtured and created. (

About the only thing Mr. Sooy gets right is the line about how I am a scholar--but this, of course, is intended as damning with faint praise. 

Let's examine Sooy's reasoning:

One of the basic principles of logic involves learning to distinguish necessary from sufficient from contributory causal conditions. Causal arguments that fail to appeal to the correct cause and effect relationship are fallacious--that is, they misidentify the correct causal relationship or they see such a relationship where there is none. 

Sooy commits this causal fallacy in his very first sentence when he claims that "the anti-fracking movement is entirely dependent on the organizational, institutional and financial resources of the larger environmental organizations." In effect, he's claiming that larger environmental organizations are a necessary causal condition for the existence of the anti-fracking movement.

This reasoning is fallacious for at least four reasons:

1. Sooy mistakes contributory (if even that) causal conditions for necessary ones: as the organizing of the disruptive events inside the inaugural venue made abundantly clear, such groups like Clean Water Action, Pennsylvanians Against Fracking, and Food and Water Watch not only had no bearing on the success of that disruption, it in fact was successful despite the utter lack of participation of the leaders of these organizations. Indeed, the notion that somehow the courageous folks who risked arrest did so only because they thought they'd have support from Sooy, et. al, is ludicrous. It's like claiming that in his magnificent "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Martin Luther King saw himself as dependent on the white clergy to support the Civil Rights Movement--when precisely the opposite is the case. King chastised his clerical fellows for their lack of committed involvement, their predictable capitulation, their insistence that racial equality had to wait. King moved forward despite the apathy, cowardice, and racist attitudes of his fellow clergy--not because of them. So too, the eight brave folks who were arrested at Governor Gas Wolf's inauguration acted despite the faint-hearted dependence of these faux-environmentals on a political system that rewards them so long as we don't put an end to the fracktastrophe. Note carefully, this is not to say that the risks undertaken by the Wolf protesters are the same as those of the incredibly brave civil rights activists at, say, Selma, Alabama. But it is to say that until we are prepared to take those risks, the gazillion dollar gas industry is going to keep right on fracking and pipelining us into oblivion. And it is to say that because climate change is the global civil rights issue of the 21st century that until we get clear about that fact, we're going to settle for the dry crumbs offered us by these fake greenies.

2. Sooy's position leads to a reductio ad absurdam: if Sooy's correct that the anti-fracking movement is dependent on the bigger environmentals, then there is no movement and there has never been one. The Big Greens cannot brook the possibility of a movement--any movement--since, by definition, a movement lays claim to criticism of the system that has spawned it, refuses to be dependent on a system that generates conditions of harm, and it demands that the system change to prevent that harm or be overthrown. But CWA, et. al. not only fails to challenge that system, it actively benefits from it in the form of donors and political access. As I have argued elsewhere, these groups directly undermine the prospect of any anti-fracking movement from ever emerging by effectively colluding with law enforcement to "protest" only in designated "free speech zones," to not engage in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, and to not be any real problem to the powers that be. In so doing, they get to portray themselves as the "rational" activists against the "radicals." But the truth is that it is only the radicals--those willing to question the very system that benefits the gas industry, the corrupt political system, and the Big Greens who benefit from both--who will ever get this movement off the ground. To therefore claim that that movement is dependent on these Big Greens is to claim that there is no movement. Of course, Sooy may be right about that--but I don't think that's what he wants.

3. Sooy's argument insures that the gas industry wins, and wins big: to the extent that these smaller wanna-be greenies like CWA and PAF model their organizational structure after the BIG greens like the Sierra Club, they cannot as a matter of policy support any movement. The Sierra Club's explicit policy is to not participate in any act of civil disobedience, and while movements are about many strategies to achieve a goal--like the end of fracking--to preemptively bar members from participating in a direct action insures that unless the goals are very very small (say, moving a pipeline route from my yard to yours) they will not be achieved. No doubt the Sierra Club leadership knows this--so we can only assume that their real objectives have nothing to do with ending fracking, and everything to do with perpetuating and growing the Sierra Club donor base. In that case, of course, SC might as well stand for "sugar candies" or "soggy conjectures"--cuz' that's about as much of a movement as they can support. Nonetheless CWA, PAF, FWW are SC-Clones to the extent that what they value most are their greenie images, their donor base, and their access to whomever is in power.

4. Sooy commits the specific causal fallacy Post hoc--"After this, therefore because of this." Sooy claims that there'd have been no Civil Rights movement without a number of organizations to provide its "base."While it is possible that that is the case, there is no way to determine that it is necessarily the case. Just because these organizations did provide support does not mean that others might not have arisen to the occasion had they not, or that no organization would have provided that base, but rather more loosely affiliated citizens with the same objectives. Indeed, Sooy doesn't get his history correct here since some of these organizations became organizations in virtue of and during the Civil Rights Movement--hence could not have been its base. To claim that no movement can emerge without an organizational base is just silly. Indeed, it is virtually always in resistance to organizational or systemic injustice that movements arise--and the fact is that an effective anti-fracking movement must come to regard organizations who model themselves after the Sierra Club as antithetical to their objectives since those organizations have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Disrupting Governor Wolf's inauguration
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

At bottom, however, it's just monumentally arrogant to claim that the anti-fracking movement is dependent on groups like CWA, PAF, and FWW. 

It's like Sooy thinks these groups bear some sort of parental relationship to the decision whether to engage in an act of protest, nonviolent civil disobedience--or any strategy to bring attention to the issues. 

But Nathan Sooy is not my dad--and he doesn't get to lecture me about what I should read about movements. Indeed, were CWA so expert, you'd think we'd have seen some modest results with respect to getting the gassers out of the Commonwealth. 

And I'll bet  that if you asked, say, Maggie Henry why she was willing to risk arrest during the Gas Wolf inauguration, her reasons wouldn't include appeal to whether Clean Water Action thought it was OKAY.

The notion that the Big Greens 
are the mommies and daddies 
of the anti-fracking movement is nuts.

And it's pompous nuts.

This sort of peremptory arrogance puts Sooy in the same league as, say, state police officers who, reporting to the Marcellus Shale Operators Crime Committee, think they can intimidate folks into behaving according to a system that rewards Sierra Club-Alikes for towing the line, staying in their "free speech zones" drafting their repetitive petitions, having their one-off marches--

while it punishes real citizens for demanding to live in the democracy we were promised with the clean water and air to which we have a right. 

The proof here is in the pudding. None of the organizations Sooy sites have gotten us one iota closer to a ban on fracking in Pennsylvania. My god, they haven't even really slowed the disaster down. While they ask you for your money, the industry just keeps on keepin' on--ravaging of the state's water and air.

Lastly, Sooy says that "Individual acts do not a social organization make." 

He's right--but that redounds only to his failure and the failure of the organizations he defends. 

Had CWA, et al, organized even just 100 of their loads of sign-onmembers to join the eight arrested, the inaugural events would have seen very different news coverage. And--just to trouble shoot for one rather lame response--this isn't because civil disobedience is the only tool we have in the ban fracking tool box.

It's because without civil disobedience 
as an option we are enfeebled 
from the very outset.

Without that potent prospect,
we broadcast the message that 
we do not have the 
courage of our convictions. 

We concede that our cause 
is not sufficiently significant, 
and that we care only so far as 
we are not inconvenienced.

Nathan Sooy's failed argument reminds me of an image that epitomizes that entire day: 

As I was leaving--hightailing it home to process photographs--I walked past the building where Maggie Henry and her fellows were being charged and processed. As I looked to cross the street, I saw Nathan and Karen Feridun (PAF) strolling together away from the protest--and away from that
Maggie Henry,
Governor Wolf's inauguration
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
building. I have no idea where they were headed chatting and laughing--but what I do know is that there was no risk. They were walking free outside on the streets of Harrisburg. Maggie Henry was being booked on her part in the disruption of Wolf's inaugural speech, after which she got to go home and face the harm done to her directly by the gas industry. 

Sooy would have us believe that it's in unity with some organization to which Henry somehow owes loyalty--although it has done nothing to protect her. I don't pretend to know Henry's specific motives--but she owes nothing to an organization whose policy bars them from standing with her to protect her farm.

Not a goddamn thing

A charade of unity is not unity; 
it is an abuse of trust 
and a prescription 
for enduring harm.

The Big Greens count on folks like Maggie Henry to be the "radicals" so that their paid staff can continue to play the system as the "rational activists."
Nathan Sooy in the
Free Speech Zone
Governor Wolf's
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee 

But they are not activists, and they have no movement. 

And if you doubt this, simply look back to what Sam Bernhardt of FWW "demands":

A moratorium to study 
what we already know 
is damaging to health, 
environment, and community 
in order to determine 
whether we ought to halt 
what we already know 
must be banned.

If that's the best organizational support we can get, we're better off looking to each other and leaving the greenie beneficiaries of the status quo behind.

Indeed, anyone who works out here in the actual trenches of the effort to stop the gas companies from destroying our communities knows that while movements are partly about money--first and foremost their about experience, guts, and commitment. 

Movements are borne 
out of pathos, 
not petitions. 

They're peopled by 
intrepid insurgents,
not polite protesters.

A movement is more of siege than of soiree.

Unless you're a Big Green like the Sierra Club, or a wee little aspiring greenie like Clean Water Action.  

So, like Bernhardt's argument before him, Sooy's fallacious reasoning only shows us that we can do far better than settle for the thin gray gruel of "moratoriums" and "halts" and pleading with governor gas wolves.

The clear direction of reason points one way only: 

a ban that excises the gas industry from the state in defense of the right to clean air and water and in recognition of our moral duty to act to stem the effects of climate change for our future kin.

Anything short of that demand, and our having our cake and eating it too is throwing out the baby with the bath water.

A baby that's the planet.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mr. Luv Lizard liked Blueberries, but not Bananas

Despite the soft edges of his name, Mr. Luv Lizard was always a wild animal. 

Mr. Luv Lizard, Age 6, 2006
Photo wendy Lynne Lee
A Green Iguana, he came to live with me nearly 15 years ago, and was one of the most labor intensive, sometimes cranky-pants, animated, clever, and just plain physically strong of all my rescue critters. 

I loved him with the same commitment I love all my animals--but a wild animal is never ever anything like a pet. 

Indeed, a "pet" is a piece of property

I don't have pets; I have animals who, while they depend on me for their daily care, offer in return an entire world of irreplaceable good, of laughter, of consolation.

They are "my" rescues--but the truth is that they are my refuge.

Mr. Luv Lizard was no different. 

He ought to have lived his life in a tropical rain forest canopy--just as whales ought never to be made into entertainment, just as chimpanzees ought never to be made into surrogate children, just as my rescue parrots--Rosie and Taco--ought to be able to fly free of this room.

Ringneck Parrot
Wendy Lynne Lee
Mr. Luv Lizard came in a little plastic box, three or four inches long. His appearance was attended by intensive research about how to properly care for an exothermic animal whose kin rarely survive beyond year one in captivity.

As National Geographic tells the story, 

Green, or common, iguanas are among the largest lizards in the Americas, averaging around 6.5 feet (2 meters) long and weighing about 11 pounds (5 kilograms).
They are also among the most popular reptile pets in the United States, despite being quite difficult to care for properly. In fact, most captive iguanas die within the first year, and many are either turned loose by their owners or given to reptile rescue groups.
Mr. Luv Lizard, Age 13, 2013
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

Mr. Luv Lizard didn't die. Instead, he went through five habitats, growing virtually exponentially for his first 11 years.

Getting the heat lamps, the rainy-foresty faux foliage, the food, the space, the sleeping platforms, the climbing branches right...

Truth is, you can't

But what love says is that you try

And try hard.

Mr. Luv Lizard liked blueberries, but not bananas. He liked Romaine lettuce--but not as much the collards he needed to be healthy (I treated him with Romaine mix for one day after three days of his healthy food). He loved his jar of lizard fruity treat, and his carrots, and cauliflower--but  brocoli? He just tossed that out of his habitat.

I know that "habitat" is a polite word for cage. 

Mr. Luv Lizard's last and biggest habitat was a bunk bed frame double wrapped in soft chicken fencing. It was butt-ugly, and essentially sewn onto the frame. It had undergone various repairs over the years as he got bigger in order to make it as much like that rain forest as possible.

But what Mr. Luv Lizard loved the most were birds.

They were his rain forest.

BIrd, 2006
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
This is "Bird." She was with me for years and years. Mr. Luv Lizard sat on top of her cage (she only went there at night to sleep), and would nap there for all of a warm Summer's afternoon. All he seemed to want was to be with Bird.

She was less sanguine about that arrangement.

Bird would squawk and berate him for dumping her seed dish with his swinging tail. He'd bob his head up and down, readjust, gander at the dumped seed bowl, and drift back to sleep.

When Bird died, Mr. Luv Lizard was quiet for long while--then Rosie and Taco and Quantum came to live in the study, and Mr. Luv Lizard started to grow again.
Quantum the Cockatiel
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

This is Quantum. She's a cockatiel who lives in a big fluffy wad of Kleenex behind my computer. Her cage is my study, and one of her perches was Mr. Luv Lizard's habitat where she'd teeter along its whole length, peering down with her mono-ocular gaze fixed on an animal just too interesting to ignore--but comfortingly far enough away. 

My study is not a room.

It's a world.

But, just like for Mr. Luv Lizard, it will be a long while before I can "grow again."

The first time Mr. Luv Lizard got sick was Christmas of 2010. Kidneys--they may be the most persuasive argument that there is no such thing as god we could hope to find. 

Getting a 4 foot exothermic animal who doesn't feel well to a herpetologist veterinarian 2 hours away is no easy task. It involves a 50 gallon aquarium, hot water bottles, frequent stops to fill the hot water bottles, over-heating the inside of the car in advance because it's Winter, and a lot of help. 

Could not be more grateful for the help.

The herpetologist gave him six months--and I learned how to get water soaked up with Tums into a critter who didn't like me very much right then. 

The whole scene must have looked ridiculous. Me, sitting cross-legged inside a wrapped bunk bed frame, cradling a sick iguana to prevent him from dehydrating, and to get essential calcium to those damnable kidneys.

It was another two weeks before he pooped.

But that was the most glorious poop I had ever seen. 

It was poop that meant his kidneys could function, that meant he might live beyond eleven. 

Mr. Luv Lizard, Age 13, 2013
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

I can't even tell you how happy this made me. Mr. Luv Lizard lived, and grew, and started bobbing his head up and down again to the "Sounds of the Rainforest" and "Ocean Waves" and "Mountain Streams" I'm always playing on my little study stereo.

He began to purr and lean onto my hand when I scratched him under his gills--just like he always had.

I watched his pooping regularity hawkishly.

So, the moment it seemed off--Thanksgiving 2014--I up-ed his calcium, moved the vaporizer closer to the habitat, bought an additional heat lamp, and added more UV. 

But truly the details of the rest of this story don't matter.

What matters is this: because there is no way to euthanize an animal like this without causing them pain, because causing them pain is unthinkable, my study became the smallest biggest place in the universe.

No amount of slurry (liquified nutrition) or pedialite, no relocation of his heat lamps, no recreation of his ancestral tropics could save him from his kidneys, from the injustice of great old age. 

Mr. Luv Lizard, early December, 2014
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
But on his last night, he still opened his eyes and knew me. 

I stroked his gills, and sang Over the Rainbow to him. 
I told him I loved him over and over. 

He purred.

I adjusted his emaciated body to make sure he was comfortable. 

I moved his heat lamps again to make sure he was warm. 

I rubbed some blueberries on his lips to moisten them. 

A nearly unmoving animal--could still lick his lips and taste sweetness. 

I put on his favorite music--Mountain Streams.

I told him I was sorry beyond words that I could neither save him nor end his life without pain.

And to be very clear--caring for this animal is nothing for which I deserve applause; it is that to which Mr. Luv Lizard had a right.

I love all of my animals. Every one is different; every one a unique individual.

Every one of them feels as though they've been with me forever.

I don't eat critters, or wear them. I regard their right to exist as equal to my own. I regard their suffering as momentous and as crushing as my own. I regard their capacity for joy as fine a thing as any human person's.

I will never have another iguana--and for that fact I will miss Mr. Luv Lizard all the more. 

Mother and baby, Oregon Zoo elephant cages
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
Nonetheless, it is wrong to imprison wild animals. It matters little whether we're talking about lions or tigers or bears--or lizards or wild birds or elephants. 

A zoo is a prison, and however pretty we think we make it, a pretty prison is still a cage.

The best among us would prefer to never have seen a wild animal--knowing he or she lived out their lives in the ecologies to which their kind had adapted and flourished--than witness their diminished status behind bars or electric fences or trenches.

Mr. Luv Lizard was a noble, fierce wild animal.

And for fifteen years, he lived three feet from me while I graded exams, corrected my students' grammar, thought about ideas, wrote a blog, drafted philosophy papers, cropped photographs, sipped coffee, shooed Quantum off my keyboard, adjusted the stereo volume, got up to let out my dogs, change Lizard's water, his poo-paper, his food bowl.

And in that three feet stood a silent communion.

Good night my scaley-kitty prince.

I love you. I love you immensely