There is no shortage of evidence that we have the technology we need to ‘green’ our energy supply. From Pacala and Socolow’s Stabilization Wedges to 100 Miles of Mirrors, we have what we need to drastically cut carbon emissions and get off oil. The cost of acting now is vastly less than acting later – an ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure – and there could even be a huge net savings. The United States, for example, would no longer need a military ‘presence’ in the Middle East. So why aren’t we taking serious steps in that direction?
Why aren’t we moving? The answers, I believe, are denial and vested interests.
Vested Interests Protect Their Own Interests
Let’s start with the obvious: vested interests. U.S. oil, coal, and auto companies have spent a ton of money ‘influencing’ politicians to ensure that subsidies, tax breaks, and favourable legislation continue to protect their businesses. Favourable legislation includes spending on roads rather than electric trains, for example.
In addition, those same vested interests have given many millions to marketing firms thinly disguised as ‘think tanks’ to promote the theory that the market will solve all problems, and that to interfere with its workings is dangerous and even immoral. Dangerous, because interference will introduce distortions in prices so that actors in the market – buyers and sellers at all levels – will be acting on false information. (This ignores the rather obvious fact that the vested interests have been working very hard to bend the market in their favour in various ways for decades.)
And immoral, because the market has been put on a pedestal. That is, these ‘think tanks’ have been promoting the idea that the market is infallible and to tamper with it is to disrupt something sacred and pure. This is why more objective observers call such market worshippers Market Fundamentalists. Perhaps it should be more properly termed the Market.
It should be quite obvious to even a casual observer that the ‘Market’ is far from perfect. Perhaps they missed all the recent bubbles, the current recession, climate change, the huge executive bonuses for CEOs of companies on welfare? This brings us to the second, much larger problem.
Denial: Ignorance is Bliss…for now
In order to continue to pretend that the magical market will solve all problems, people must come up with all kinds of often insane justifications and must ignore – even attack – contrary evidence. The ‘think tanks’ do plenty of both, and they in turn feed the media and many individuals. Given the sorry state of the mainstream media, much of the time it simply regurgitates whatever press release or trumped-up justification for the market failure-de-jour that the think tanks send, and willing Americans, Canadians, and others lap it up because it fits with what they want to hear.
In order to pretend that everything is rosy, it is necessary to overlook inconvenient facts. For example, yesterday I wrote an article stating we should limit immigration to a level that stabilises the population in the United States and Canada. I have been roundly attacked for this by people who completely ignore facts they don’t want to know.
Some called me a racist, although I did mention in the article that my wife and many friends are Colombian. I guess I’m not doing racism right. Others just called me crazy. Maybe, but I can be crazy and right. The most serious problem, though, is that nobody addressed the main issue: Sooner or later, population growth must stop. Rather than face up to this reality, most people simply choose to ignore it and/or attack the messenger.
The same pattern is repeated with peak oil, the idea that, sooner or later, the oil must run out. Many people simply ignore that reality and pretend that either it never will, or at least not now. Any evidence that the oil is running out now, or that we should prepare for such an event, is ignored or attacked. Climate change has been turned into a political circus by shills – the think tanks and paid marketers for oil and coal companies – despite the rather obvious and growing evidence that yes, humans can and are affecting the climate.
Stop the Insanity
To deny reality is foolish, even insane, yet that is what the majority of our society does, including many so-called ‘leaders.’ Some of these people are highly intelligent, but they are sorely lacking in wisdom. Ignorance may be bliss for a time but reality’s a cold, hard bitch. When the oil starts to run short and prices spike – that’s a bit late to start thinking about converting an economy and civilisation that is totally, utterly built on cheap oil.
When the climate is changing – irreversibly and for the worse for humans – that’s a bit late to stop what’s causing the change. When population turns into overpopulation, it’s too late to think about reducing it; Mother Nature will take care of it, though.
It has been said that humans respond to crisis well, but not to long-term threats. This is one of the reasons we were able to retool our economies so quickly for World War II (after years of denying the evidence of Nazi Germany’s military build-up and Hitler’s stated plans), but seem paralysed in the face of creeping threats like peak oil, climate change, and overpopulation.
Of course, many more people might realise that these things are crises if they were not being told otherwise by the media and leaders, who are saying that because that’s what they’re being paid to say. Ain’t the Market grand?
A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste
Savvy people have used crises in the past – for better or for worse. The Bush administration jumped all over the terrorist attack of 9/11 to launch two wars, enrich their friends, and eliminate many Constitutional rights. Bush and Obama used the economic meltdown to enrich their bankster cronies. Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the Great Depression to bring in numerous social reforms that exist – and are cherished by millions – to this day.
Today, we face multiple crises, any of which could be absolutely devastating: peak oil appears to be first in line, with climate change, overpopulation, and resource drawdown not far behind.
What is it going to take before we realise that these crises are just that, and respond accordingly?