Earth and humans: Can this marriage be saved?

By Marlene Lang

A gush of oil, a trickle of information, orders from the Coast Guard, stern words from the president. Invisible underwater pollution detected by scientists, official industry denial. Bribes and lies and brown birds that should be white.

Does anyone else share the eerie feeling that we are watching the end of the world as we know it?

I make this outlandish and hyperbolic statement not just because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the spill they can't stop. I say this because of previous oil spills, both reported and unreported, and because of the mysterious exploding wells in northwestern Pennsylvania where underground blasts release natural gas that sets well water aflame.  And because of coal ash beds leaking toxicity into America’s heartland. And one hundred other similar deadly messes.

As the oil flows, we are beholding the frightening power of energy industries to write their own regulations and then pay somebody to let them ignore them.

It’s time to take in the big picture. We can’t keep viewing every disaster as a single event. We must step back and look at the planet and ourselves on the planet and get some marriage counseling.

Humans running the planet: This was only an accident. ONE accident. She's making a mountain out of a molehill.

Planet Earth: But, dear, there have been other accidents. We don't even clean up one disaster before there's another. It's beginning to look like a pattern. It’s wearing on me.

Speaking of other accidents, does anyone remember Three Mile Island? To date, no one knows how much radiation was released before the reactor leak was brought under control. No one can prove that the cancer clusters in the plume in the years following were caused by the 1979 accident. All we have is suspicious statistics.

As my readers know, I keep an eye on the nuclear power industry and I've been called an alarmist for my insistence that it is only a question of when – not if – there will be another nuclear accident. The gulf gush underscored this for me. My prediction is not based on clairvoyance but on the pattern of small accidents and on probabilities over time. And on the fact that the high-level radioactive waste left behind after heavy metals are turned into electricity is piling up outside these plants, waiting for a starring role in the next great environmental disaster. Sorry, but nuclear power is not green and clean. It is radioactive and dangerous.

And I don't mean to pick on nuclear power and oil drilling while unfairly overlooking coal ash sludge. Generating power is dirty business, and yet we drag our proverbial feet on developing solar and wind power on any scale. Why? Oh, that's right, because the energy powers that be are in bed with the policy makers and regulators.

Planet Earth: I know he’s been cheating on me.

Humans running the planet: You can’t prove that. Look at all I’ve done for you, all the green programs in schools. It’s never enough, is it?

Indeed, we can only alter our energy habits so much, so fast. I could almost be seduced by the smooth words touted by the Nuclear Energy Institute: The American lifestyle is non-negotiable.

This rigidity, this stuck-ness in a lifestyle that demands dirty energy and lots of it, is the reason I raise a wild and far-out question like: "Are we witnessing the end of the world as we know it?" Are we going to unplug our laptops and give up our cars? This life we live is entrenched, with very little wiggle room. We know nothing else. We cannot all run off to isolated acreage in the West and build an idyllic off-the-grid life in candlelight. There are too many of us and, beside, we are nature inept.

Planet Earth: I feel like we’re strangers.

Humans running the planet: We are not strangers! We have thoroughly researched where all your energy deposits are.

Great-grandma’s gardening and canning skills have gone the way of the horse-drawn plow. And we can't be sure the earth we'd be tilling is not toxic. We've let corporations battle nature for us, and they are botching the job while we sit, glazed over in the HD glow of our favorite shows.

A lifestyle that is not sustainable is, before our news-viewing eyes, crossing some barely discernable point-of-no-return. The gush they cannot stop in the Gulf of Mexico may represent only the beginning of a long collapse, but unless we negotiate the American lifestyle – yeah, the industrial lifestyle – the collapse will come.

Planet Earth: I feel taken for granted. I’m sorry, but I just can’t sustain you any more.

Humans running the planet: You can’t do this. We need you.

Planet Earth: I know you need me. But you never loved me.