Look What We Have Done

What does it take for us to confront the damage we are causing? In recent weeks, the two most self-defeating sources of energy in the United States—coal and oil—have been the sites of highly-publicized disasters, both caused by the negligence of the corporations entrusted to extract out of the ground what we want to put in the atmosphere. Will even these force us to learn?

Today, in, well, USA Today, our own Senior Editor Meera Subramanian has a powerful and necessary piece insisting that they must. We have to finally recognize where the energy that powers the modern world comes from and what havoc our carelessness is causing. It is time to take seriously the alternatives.

There are no easy choices here. Fossil fuels don’t just drive our cars. They drive our economy and will for the indefinite future. But the social and environmental costs of mining, drilling and making batteries for our hybrid cars are not evenly distributed, either within or beyond our borders.

Because of geology and politics, those who benefit from cheap and abundant energy are often far removed from sources of production, whether the North Slope of Alaska or the former mountaintops of West Virginia, let alone the Middle East. It has been easy to ignore the fact that resource extraction, especially for fossil fuels, takes a devastating toll on human life—miners buried and oil riggers lost at sea are just the latest deaths caused by our voracious quest for resources. The effects of climate change may seem abstract, but what we see in the reflective sheen of this oil spill is that our unquenchable thirst for the substance that lubricates our lives is killing us along with the ecosystems we inhabit.

Come now, let us have an act of contrition, good-old Catholic-style. But we mean it this time. Really. We see our sins before us, and there is no excuse any longer. Repeat after KtB:

I firmly intend, with your help, [God’s, that is, but insert whatever] to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.

Have mercy.