Steve Hochstadt: We Have Met the Environmental Enemy and He is Us

[Steve Hochstadt of Jacksonville is a professor of history at Illinois College. His column appears every Tuesday in the Journal-Courier.]

Suddenly everyone’s worried about the environment.

The Gulf oil disaster, perhaps the biggest oil spill in history, and still pumping, once again puts the spotlight on how human activity can destroy our earthly home.

Watch the news and everybody is angry. Some scream at BP, a repeat offender who puts profits before safety, their private corporate economic interests before the interests of the rest of us. Sounds just like the West Virginia mine tragedy or the financial meltdown. Free enterprise can be deadly....

Taking care of our environment is inconvenient. Just as it costs money and effort for big companies to do their work without despoiling the earth, it requires extra effort on our part to do no earthly harm. Saving water, recycling instead of disposing, reducing energy usage, and purchasing cleaner products means extra effort or money, or both. The other day I recycled a computer keyboard, a compact fluorescent light bulb, and some scrap metal. I had to drive all over town to avoid putting these items in the trash....

We have made tremendous progress in learning to think environmentally since the first Earth Day 40 years ago. But it’s not enough.

We have not yet been willing to change our daily lives, to give up convenience, to do the work that preserving the earth requires.

When will we start?

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