Almost since you were born you’ve had a deep love of animals. Before you could talk you gestured desperately at the ducks that settled into the tiny pond in the park where you and I would go for walks (you in the carrier, holding onto my thumbs like handlebars), and crane your little head around to watch squirrels bounding up trees in mad rodent panic as we passed. When you were three, you and your mother rescued a stricken pigeon from the mouth of a neighbor’s cat and took the animal to the wildlife center, where it recovered, so far as I know. Later you were fishing bumble bees from standing water, building bridges for ants, and proclaiming yourself an “animal rescuer.” You wept bitterly at the death of one of our hens, the guinea pig we lost earlier this year, and the little (frankly already dead) crab you found at the beach and tried to save. You’ve always seen the beauty of the world and the creatures that inhabit it, and you overflow with compassion for them all.
But right now, several thousand miles south of here, a broken oil well disastrously sited in over a mile of marine water has been pouring thousands of barrels of oil and natural gas into the ocean while the imbeciles who built it try to plug it up with old tires, golf balls and mud. I’m not going to show you the pictures of sea birds hopelessly struggling under thick blankets of crude oil on beaches and inland marshes that make up their normal habitat and seasonal breeding grounds, because the sight would break your heart. And sweetheart, you don’t deserve to have your heart broken by seeing your world poisoned and destroyed before you’ve had a chance to properly explore it, because none of this is your fault.
Whose fault is it? There’s a lot of blame to go around. The rapacious crypto-human swine that run the oil companies own a lot of that guilt, as do the weak and corrupt government regulatory organizations charged with enforcing what few laws actually exist to constrain the oil companies’ actions. We can feel justified in pointing accusatory fingers at the “media,” auto manufacturers, airlines, various American presidents and anyone else in power who ever had a chance to do something constructive about our slavish addiction to petroleum-based energy and everything that comes with it, but didn’t. Reagan earned for himself a special place in hell when he pulled Carter’s solar panels off the White House, and he was only one of many.
But Samantha, it’s also my fault. And it’s your mother’s fault. And damn near every adult living in an industrialized society is at fault, too. Our generation and the generation before us have known for a very long time that a house in the suburbs, countless car trips to satisfy every whim, want and need, and lives based on non-stop consumption and unchecked energy use together constitute a guaranteed outcome of environmental degradation and probable collapse. To that we can add a more recently-acquired understanding of the immediately finite nature of our favorite energy source and the degree to which its depletion will impact just about every identifiable feature of our economy, culture and way of life.
And still we burn it, as fast as we can get our mitts on it. We burn it because we’ve always done so—at least in recent memory—and because our way of life makes it extremely difficult to do otherwise. My job takes me 26.5 miles one-way every day during the week. And as much as I enjoy my work, I could still choose not to go, and I could indulge in flippant rhetoric about the need for small, walkable communities, public transit and all the other wonderful New Urbanist touchstones, but the fact is that if I could find a job paying enough to cover the mortgage on our home that was close enough to walk or ride my bike, I would already have taken it. And the other options which require us to radically reduce our income are volcanic in scope, and involve selling the house, moving the family… somewhere… changing almost everything about our lives in ways that many people would not only fail to understand but would condemn as being primitive, crazy, un-American, and possibly abusive. And that’s very hard—harder, in fact, than driving diagonally back and forth across the entire city every day and looking at the hideous pictorial evidence of the environmental payback in the evening while trying hard not to connect the dots relating my choices to the obvious global consequences.
So I’m sorry, Samantha. Sorry about what we’re doing to your world. Sorry is all I can say.