Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Even Academics Ignore our 800 Pound Gorilla

Yesterday there was a fascinating exploration of the political and security issues arising out of China's ascent to global economic supremacy. Today there's an interesting discussion at the Huffington Post on how America will respond to its debt crisis. Reading these projections is eye-opening and thought-provoking but virtually all of them have the same fatal flaw - they totally ignore the mounting impacts of climate change and associated environmental threats. We're looking at problems in isolation of realities we cannot afford to overlook and it's backfiring on us.

Huffington refers to the era we're in as the "Age of Much Worse Than We Thought It Would Be." From Katrina to Wall Street, America's problems (and they're not alone) are starting to become almost uncontrollable or at least unmanageable:

...In practically every sector of our society, the old order is exhausted. But we seem incapable of making fundamental changes without the loaded gun of a full-blown crisis pointed at our heads. For example, the financial crisis -- and what it has exposed about the behavior of Wall Street -- has caused us to rethink the relationship between Wall Street and rest of our economy.

It's obvious the old way of doing things is no longer viable. But, absent the sense that everything is about to collapse, we are dragging our feet on deciding what will replace it.
And there are some other "unprecedented," "unique" -- and potentially catastrophic -- problems headed our way if we continue to accept the old order's lack of imagination about what is possible. I'm thinking, first and foremost, of our debt problem.

...America is like a patient in danger of suffering a massive heart attack. We may be able to postpone things with a bit of outpatient surgery, but we won't be able to avoid it without some serious lifestyle changes. The economic coronary isn't quite here yet, but it's on the way. And when it hits, it will, of course, be "unprecedented" and "unique." But not unforeseen -- let alone unforeseeable. Here are just a couple of the symptoms of big time trouble ahead:

By 2020, interest on the debt alone will reach $900 billion per year.
That same year, five segments of government spending -- Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, net interest and defense spending -- will
account for an estimated 77 percent of all government expenditures. All other federal spending will have to come out of the remaining 23 percent.

...The needs of the past and the demands of the present exert a powerful pull on our attention while the future doesn't have many advocates -- it's always something we can get to later. And there was a time when we could get away with pushing our problems down the road, secure that our reserves would always bail us out. And there was a strong safety net to catch those who fell through the cracks. Well, those reserves are gone now and the safety net is frayed and full of holes.

...For a change, let's imagine a crisis that is worse than we think it will be, and take the necessary steps to avoid it. If we don't, we'll find ourselves facing another "unprecedented" disaster.

Huffington is dead right. The old order is over, we have to accept that. The 80's are gone - politically, economically, socially even militarily. By clinging to the past we undermine our ability to prepare for the future. We have to stop operating on a "best scenario" basis and stop falling back on some intangible trust that the future will take care of itself.

What she is saying is that there's an enormous leadership void today and I would argue nowhere more so than in Canada. Ours is a country led by people without vision, incapable of laying out a path for the future, ours, our children's and our grandchildren's. This is an unoccupied field just waiting for someone to answer the challenge. That "someone" should have been Michael Ignatieff but he's shown himself not up to it.


Anyong said...

Canadians live in a cocoon but yet on the other side of the coin everywhere else is better than here attitude.

crf said...


Not really a cocoon. More like everyone knows with eyes wide open that we're screwing up, but still keep on for appearances sake. Everyone knows we are getting fatter. Our children less educated especially in sciences at the graduate level. We know we buy more stuff, and that our cities sprawl. We have politics that has a "don't look at the elephant" quality. You can't get such politics without tacitly acknowledging that there really is an elephant.

I think most places are much worse than here. I don't like here either.

The Mound of Sound said...

CRF - you might want to get your hands on the June issue of the Adbusters' magazine. It deals with "ecopsychology" which holds that, like deer caught in the headlights, we in the West are dealing with climate change in a way eerily similar to how humans deal with grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. We're dealing with climate change as though it was a diagnosis of terminal cancer, a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I freely confess that the challenges of global warming and associated environmental travails and the hapless response of our political leaders truly fuel despondency. Yet there's an offsetting compulsion not to throw in the towel, to scream at the top of one's lungs, even if the likely outcome is futile.

Comrade Okie said...

From an Okie's way of seeing the World, we need to reassess many things that have been introduced in the past few decades and compare to how things were done, then decide which works best.

The only glimmer of hope I have seen recently is the brief talk on food policies. Grow local, buy local and then expand the concept. Plus discussions on GMO. Somethings Greens have been big on for some time now. Next on the agenda >> trains, planes and automobiles.

While those who still remember what getting their hands dirty was like, and the sense of satisfaction, independence and self worth which came with it, try to direct that in a constructive manner, perhaps the Wizards of finance could do some review as well. (Too big to fail, Goldman Sachs etc.)

To some, a Massey Ferguson 35 and even a tree represent something. Something other than an item to be sent to a Museum or southside for processing into X number of board feet of lumber.

Somehow concepts for living which focus on things such as multi unit pill box like habitats, simply don't inspire thoughts of a free and independant life. Without those 2 elements, it seems the most popular placebos revolve around spending power and acquisition of short lifespan consumer goods. When the entertainment value of these things wanes, the mind is left with few tangible interests and often the idle mind persues things which dull it's abilities and desire. Another popular placebo seems to be humping one's brains out in pursuit of fulfillment, which not unlike cocaine, provides a short term highly pleasurable release, but also can carry with it long term costs and ultimately has little long term value to the individual or society as a whole.

If a society doesn't nuture the constuctive nature of it's population, it will lose so very many of them on the road to happiness through trinkets. Indigineous peoples were separated from their lands largely by similar methods, and thus were separated from the single most significant aspect of what nurtured their societies. We the People, of these times, could learn a valuable lesson from this History. The entire History, right up to and including where it is now.

The things which support a constructive society are goals which have some consistency to their future, a sense of building, a sense of leaving something truely tangible and worthwhile to those you care about, the love and loyalty of a good mate, ones children, the air, the water, the forests, the earth under your feet and that which nature provided to support the above.

What in that list has not been attacked and or degraded by the new ways?

Sometimes I wonder about people. Does anyone remember that Elliot Spitzer was trying to warn people about the impending collapse of the housing bubble and the derivatives? Do they remember the 5,000 wiretaps to catch him screwing a prostitute in order to discredit and silence him?

Mound, it's the New Old Order that isn't working. Not the real Old Order.

None of which matters a great deal anyway until people refuse to accept this as normal, and realistically they will have to forgo much of what they have come to accept as their rights and lifestyle before they even consider making an effort to change anything.

To the Revolution; my Revolution doesn't include fussing over shiny things intended to distract from real issues.

que the igg and harper forces, and the inevitable nonsense.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Okie. We seem to be falling into the trap of what Jared Diamond refers to as "landscape amnesia." Over time, minor change fades from memory until we become oblivious to how much our environment has been transformed. What once was is erased from our memory and what is today is our only reality.

This struck me during the end of the Cold War. People failed to understand that the era from the 50's onward wasn't 'normal' in any sense of the word. We were spending vast amounts of our wealth on war preparation while living in the shadow of imminent nuclear annihilation. Wealth had transferred to North America not because of its inherent superiority but because we alone had emerged from WWII relatively unscathed and with an enormous, ultra-modern industrial base. There was nothing natural about any of that yet we came to accept our experience as natural and from that assumed it was the way things would be forever in perpetuity. It led Americans to explore neo-liberalism and then neo-conservatism ultimately expressed through the Project for the New American Century, a radical rightwing madness.

We have taken for granted so many things that are transitory at best and we react with surprised indignation when they change on us.

I suspect we have shackled ourselves to a fantasy of indulgence that will eventually be our undoing. Already I sense that our addiction to the material will result in the forfeiture of important poltical, legal and democratic rights. That is certainly what's going on in the US today.

Maybe we've just had far more freedom than we could handle responsibly.

Okie said...

Hey Mound,

"landscape amnesia." Interesting term.

Like a once stately brick home falling down, one brick at a time.

"Maybe we've just had far more freedom than we could handle responsibly."

I've been thinking along those lines for some time now. I'm thinking right now about the newly concieved legal status of teens as an example. As grey and confusing as it is for an adult, and as difficult as it is to find where one fits in that as one traverses the various areas this touches, I sometimes ponder how super confusing it must be for a teen to navigate.

In addition, we spend considerable time trying to introduce environmentally responsible concepts to them, yet expose them to constant commercial bombardment and encouragement to seek out and own stuff. It is almost as if our society suffers from multiple personality disorder, with one personality working against the other. Too bad we couldn't focus more on the value of simplicity, .What rewards we might reap.

The Mound of Sound said...

Okie, you deserve an intelligent response but I can't do it tonight. My kid brother, a brilliant linguist and (even by my standards) a pretty decent lawyer suffered a massive heart attack this morning. They got him to hospital in time to defibrilate him but he's been comatose ever since and it doesn't look good. Meanwhile my partner is on an end-of-semester outing with her girlfriends and can't be reached. Too many people in my life have died lately and I'm just a bit fucked up right now. I guess the only reason I posted today was to occupy time. I'm sure I'll bounce back in a day or two.

Okie said...

Sorry to hear this Mound. My best wishes to you, your brother and family.

I know the pain of tragedy only too well.

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