One of the consequences of having been born into a post-industrial society is the sense that others have managed to set the parameters even before I became aware of them. In the summer of 2010 I learned about the Deepwater Horizon accident. Prior to that, I had no idea that semi-submersible, deep-water drilling was even possible, let alone already happily lining billionaires’ pockets. I felt violated. This is my planet too. That same year, while attending a FIRST robotics competition in Trenton, the high school kids were greeted after the event by a lone protestor wearing a sandwich board warning of the dangers of fracking. In New Jersey it is very easy to find people protesting. Sometimes their nemeses are purely delusional. “What’s fracking?” I asked one of the kids (all of whom are arguably smarter than me). He didn’t know. I looked it up once I got home, and once again had the feeling that somebody was messing up my planet without me knowing.
Sure, human habitation has a tremendous impact on the environment. It is part of the curse of consciousness. Nevertheless, at some level we must know that our actions threaten not only other species, but also our own existence as well. A story on CNN about fracking, back in my own oil-industry state of Pennsylvania, demonstrates the dangers all too clearly. I grew up in the shadow of a petroleum refinery—Pennsylvania is where the oil industry began. Unfortunately it also has a history of poisoning its own environment. The CNN story highlights the dilemma of Dimock, a tiny town with water contamination caused by fracking. Not even a hundred miles away to the south lies Centralia, still slowly asphyxiating from its fifty-year old mine fire. Our lust for fossil fuels—and more importantly, the wealth they bring—has bankrupted our sense of responsibility to our planet and to each other.
I am certain free-market entrepreneurs would characterize what I sense to be injustice as mere complaining. But there comes a point at which we have to ask if the extra energy is worth the cost. Maybe we could do with a little less. I know that’s blasphemy in capitalist ears, but it is a truth whose scars scrawl across the landscape of this nation. Just about 150 miles southwest of Dimock lies Three Mile Island, a testament to our love of power. Over on the western edge of the state sits the ghost town called Pithole. An oil boom town, it ran out of steam when deeper pools were discovered elsewhere. When I stand in its deserted streets, returned to nature after the many decades of neglect, I realize that it is a silent symbol of human ambitions. We should not give up on our earth, lest it give up on us. It is not too late. Yet.