Sunday, March 08, 2009

Don’t Waste This Crisis

Amidst the present economic crisis and the looming Global Climate Change there are hopeful messages. This is not to trivialize that our jobs are disappearing, our savings gurgling down a drain, or that there will be real suffering from not acting sooner on anthropomorphic climate change. They are happening and there will be consequences.

As I write, the so called experts are not able to predict the bottom of this economic crisis. Nor do scientists know the full measure of what will happened to us when our present culture must suddenly exist in a dinosaur climate. Odds are, Alaska won’t simply be the new sun coast. For, not only do tourists gravitate towards warm sunny locations, so do vectors for malaria, West Nile Virus, dramatic weather changes, flooding, and methane gas from previously frozen ground. Methane as a heat-trapping gas makes carbon dioxide look like a wimp.

But, change has its hopeful side, even though it destroys. Laissez-faire capitalists (as Greenspan lauds in this book The Age of Turbulence} say that creative collapse allows for one business, say the horse buggy, to collapse while another thrives—the gas buggy. Lots of buggy makers tank, but automobile makers become zillionaires. However, it is one thing to observe that creative collapse occurs; it’s quite another to say creative collapse, or even evolution, should be the model for our behavior. Nature for all its beauty is truly ‘red in tooth and claw’ exterminating the vast majority of possible life variations in favor of a relatively few. Nature takes no prisoners and it’s been the great human moral achievement to mitigate the vagaries of evolution, not to embrace them. Social Darwinism was not only wrong, it was mean.

So, I am not advocating that we mindlessly look to benefit from our present catastrophe, by doing just anything as a result of it. Using the horror of 911 to march out the preconceived neoconservative agenda to change the political hegemony in the Middle East was such a bad decision that we will be decades trying to right it--as we now must.

But, one of our species’ best traits is to thrive despite disasters. “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Rahm Emanuel, the President’s chief of staff.

Instead of gnashing our teeth and giving in to the worst idea out there, we can use this present turmoil to do the right thing. Instead of making more highways and repairing our entire infrastructure the way it was, maybe we should rethink how we get about. Develop mass transit instead of the horrendously costly (to both ourselves and our environment) personal automobile. Bikes instead of cars. Trails instead of highways. Deconstruction (and properly reusing the parts) instead of the same old projects that go nowhere.

Instead of just creating any jobs, we should decide what jobs need saving and what jobs don’t. Right now the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) the main agency here for monitoring and protecting our environment is seriously being hampered by job loss—which is not really their problem, but ours. No monitoring and policing our environment, no sustainable environment. Instead of buttressing the media industry as it collapses (note Rocky Mountain News) and moves to the Internet, environmentalists should use this opportunity to compete on an equal footing with those who misguided and misinformed us after 911. Bad things happen, but we don’t have to react badly.

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