Letters | 'Known Unknowns' & 'Election 2016: A Postmortem'

Known Unknowns

James J. Sheehan’s lead-in to his review of Heather Ann Thompson’s book, Blood in the Water, caught my eye (“Our Prisons Are a Crime,” January 27). He wondered which of our “unknown” sins will be easily recognized by future generations—say in the next two centuries. His first choice of such sins would be the American penal system. My first choice would be the official policy of climate-change denial by the Trump administration and the Republican Party. Just as there are now many who recognize that we still suffer from our “original sin” of slavery, including through the racial injustices of our penal system, so there are many who recognize that we are courting catastrophe in our treatment of the environment.

If the proposed slate of cabinet nominees and high-ranking administration officials is approved by the Senate, we could be catapulted into the sixth great extinction period, the last one being 66 million years ago—the one that brought down the dinosaurs. Nominees Scott Pruitt, Rex Tillerson, Rick Perry, and Ryan Zinke are all climate-change deniers. Pruitt, the nominee to dismantle the EPA, recently used a tactic deployed by most climate-change deniers: discrediting the science behind it. He wrote in an op-ed, “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” This is an absolute falsehood. Virtually all climate scientists agree that global temperatures are rapidly increasing and the cause is our production of greenhouse gases. Climate-change deniers also put into action a quote attributed to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”

The deceitfulness of climate-change deniers is in some ways analogous to the history of the “flat earth” theory. It is now known that many people thought the earth to be a sphere as early as the fourth century BCE. The flat-earth myth persisted for various reasons, but fortunately did not actually change the shape of the earth—unlike disbelieving in climate change, which leads to the devastation of our common home. Unfortunately, it is very profitable to be a climate-change denier. It is not surprising that so many of Trump’s wealthy cabinet nominees seem untroubled by what’s happening to our planet. 

We don’t have to wait two hundred years to know that this denial is indeed a “mortal sin” of the twenty-first century.

Mary Ruth Stegman
Omaha, Neb.

Not Just Being Nice

Every issue of Commonweal has at least three to four articles that strongly attract my attention.

But your January 6 issue, from the imposing cover featuring Donald Trump to the five contributions in “Election 2016: A Postmortem” restored my calm after considering the first two weeks of this administration—especially Trump’s executive orders. I search for writers who can express my concern and outrage. Stephen Pope’s contribution especially nailed one of my personal concerns with this line: “Now is the time for justice, not reconciliation.”

Do we hear justice preached in our parishes at this time? Or, do our pastors avoid discussion of the injustices enacted nearly daily by this administration? So thank you, Stephen Pope, for reminding us of the Gospel stance of a Catholic disciple of Christ. Sweet talk of being “nice” to those who espouse unjust practices cannot take the place of looking to Jesus’ words and actions as our daily guide. Rudeness, no. But honesty and courage, yes.

Jackie Staley
Green Bay, Wisc.

Published in the February 24, 2017 issue: 
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