Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Heads in the oily sand

It's both fascinating and frightening to watch as the economy does a (so far) slow-dive into what experts agree more and more is likely to be a recession. The two key "shock" factors causing this decline, they say, are the credit crisis and, surprise surprise, oil prices.

So basically what they're saying is that greed and shortsightedness are causing problems. Who woulda thunk it?

More intelligent minds than I, that's who: analysts have been predicting peak oil for years now, decades even, warning that, contrary to what the big oil companies would have us believe, crude is not a renewable energy source and will run out.

In our rush to keep the oil companies happy, we've neglected our duty to research and develop efficient, affordable alternative sources of energy. The first people to pay the price of this failure will be those who are most vulnerable to economic downturns: those in developing countries, and those at the lower end of the income spectrum. So at first, it's easy for the lawmakers to ignore the problem, because hey, if it doesn't effect them, why should they really care? I'm not speaking for all lawmakers, of course, because there are a few delightful exceptions--but they are the exceptions, and sadly not the rule.

The greed and predatory practices of the companies involved in the sub-prime loan debacle also effect those people on the lower levels of the totem pole, but it's creeping up into the middle-income folks, too, which is probably why it got so much attention so quickly once things blew up. But it did still take things blowing up before we took notice and corrective measures began to be put into place.

We simply cannot afford to wait for the proverbial bomb to go off before we try to fix things. It may have worked to some degree in the past, but we're reaching critical mass now, when we must work to solve problems before they blow up in our face. If they do, we're at the point when we won't be able to afford the damage.

I'm not as doom and gloom about all this as I might sound. I do believe there are economically viable ways to solve our biggest problems, because smart people have been working on them regardless of what the people with money want. Wind farms. Biomass. Energy neutral buildings. Sound credit counseling for people with lower incomes. Community organizations. Youth job and school programs. The list goes on and on.

There are so many individuals and groups out there in the world and right here in our own community who are selflessly working to make things better. It's an uphill, sometimes thankless battle when there are also so many people--politicians, executives, regular joes--who, for one reason or another, are working against them.

Many excuses are bandied about as to why we can't do this or why we can't do that: it's too expensive, it will hurt the economy (because apparently super high oil prices and crappy loans won't?), it's not reliable, etc. But really, when you do the research, almost all of the arguments become pretty flimsy. If the same funding levels and drive were applied to the development of many of these clean technologies and effective social programs, their costs would come down as they grew more efficient and their efficacy improved. And if we must appeal to enlightened self-interest, the economy would be helped by creating new areas for job growth, new and more sustainable businesses, higher profits for those leading the charge, etc.

Once again, it comes down to willpower. Do we want to make the world a better place? Do we care about the well-being of our neighbors? Or are we too lazy, too caught up in ourselves and our big cars, big houses, and big bellies to notice that our world is falling to pieces? Man, I really, really hope not.

1 comment:

Avi said...

Hi Emily,

Unrelated to your post, I couldn't find your email ID anywhere.

Chanced upon your Blog, thought I'd share my post with someone who shares a similar like of History and Music.


TC - Avi

The Lost Albatross