I’m a fan of the History Channel. They’ve expanded their usual line up to include a fictional series about Vikings. Since it’s the History Channel, I hope there are some facts it’s based upon. The most recent episode focused on human sacrifices made by Vikings in the hopes their gods would bless and keep their village safe.
It’s easy to think, while I sit here comfortably on my sofa watching my big screen TV, that these people were such ignorant savages. Murdering people in the hope of maintaining, or improving their standard of living, thinking somehow this carnage would keep them safe.
But have we changed all that much? To power my TV, keep my home warm and allow me to watch cable TV, I need electricity, which is frequently generated by burning coal. In 2011, an estimated 21 Americans were killed in coal mine accidents (in China that year it was an estimated 1,760). One estimate of 88 internationally, publicly financed coal fired plants put the death toll due to their pollution (not their greenhouse emissions impact) at somewhere between 6,000 and 10,700 people.
As we’ve seen in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, police officers lose their lives to keep others safe. For 2011, the FBI put the death toll for law enforcement officers on duty at 72. Those in the US military also put their lives on the line for us and our ‘way of life’. Last year, the number of US military killed was 660 (349 of them by suicide).
Because we as a nation have decided we’re unwilling or unable to provide health insurance to everyone (maybe the cost would impair our standard of living too much or infringe on our personal freedom), an estimated 45,000 Americans die every year due to lack of access to health care.
Every day, even now in the 21st century, people die so society can maintain its standard of living and in hopes of keeping chaos at bay. We may not slit the throats of people on altars to the gods, but I’m guessing we’re sacrificing people on a scale the Vikings couldn’t have imagined. We’re not caked in blood like the pagan priests of old, but are our hands entirely clean?