EM Reprint: Enemies of the Future

1 12 2009

(originally published July 31, 2007)

As much as I’d like to completely shred the interview CNN conducted with Trilby Lundberg that I read this morning, in fairness, I respect that people have differing views of How Things Ought To Be™. Though I may not agree with their point of view, I appreciate the opportunity to evaluate those views and accept or reject them as I may.

It is in that spirit that I read and re-read the following, regarding oil/gasoline consumption and attempts to conserve/replace same:

I’m hoping that consumers will see through the rhetoric about consuming less, demanding less, as faulty. It is not a given that consuming less will be good for our economy or for our personal freedom. It is not even established for our environment that we [should] deprive ourselves of gasoline for our personal mobility as well our commerce. And to suppose that it is good to do that, and pretend that we have consensus and put our heads together to deprive ourselves of this great product that makes the country go around, commercially and individually, I think is flawed. I’m hoping consumers and voters will see through that and be able to ignore some of the most extreme suggestions.

I think that there has been friendly as well as unfriendly brainwashing taking place. And when I say friendly and unfriendly, I’m talking about decades of extremist views that have now achieved mainstream acceptance. And the No. 1 item among those affecting current oil politics in Washington is the boogeyman, also known as global warming.

I don’t accept it as established fact, nor do I accept that it would be caused by petroleum consumption, nor do I accept that the human species should not affect its environment. So even if it were someday to be shown to have some small effect on the environment, I see no crime. In fact, taking into account the many, many millions of people around the world that envy our way of life, it would seem more humanitarian to wish them the kind of plentiful petroleum products and vehicles … that we enjoy … to lift themselves out of [a] backward, poor way of life.

The key point – after some of you wipe the beverage from your monitor – that Ms. Lundberg appears to fail to grasp is this: It’s not that replacing oil/gas with something else would derail our economy or drastically curtail anyone’s “personal freedom”. The economy, such as it is, will persist, albeit differently. Just as our collective way of life changed with the invention of the wheel, and the steam engine, and the railroad, and so forth, so to will it change with the advent of solar power or a massive disinterest in bagged potato chips. Ms. Lundberg seems to be of the mind that my mother attributed to Nostradamus, who in her opinion viewed the end of the world in terms of the dissolution of the Catholic church. Not being able to imagine life without it, she reasoned, he assumed the world would end rather than face such an uncertain future.

Some, mmmm, wags out there might recognize an attitude in the above excerpt that is shared to some extent by, mmmm, certain “thought leaders”. In fact, I don’t really need to name names, because this attitude is fairly common: The Thought Leader gloms on to some life – nay, world-changing thing (like the social internet, for example), can’t imagine life without it, and refuses to recognize your life as having any benefit in its absence. In the above excerpt, Ms. Lundberg can’t imagine life without oil (as if it could completely go away, considering how many things we use it for), and refuses to recognize that oil consumption could have any sort of down side. You know, kind of like how Thought Leaders can’t imagine how their Bright Future could possibly have any negative repercussions. To the point of labeling anyone who does point out flaws in the plan “enemies of the future”, hem hem.

But here’s the thing: Such Thought Leaders are enemies of a future that they themselves cannot comprehend or accept. They cannot imagine a life that favors conservation over consumption. They cannot imagine solitude being preferable to the madness of crowds. They do not value a deliberately spartan existence in the way that they measure one’s worth financially. War trumps peace, lying trumps truth, power trumps mercy, wealth trumps charity. And while I agree that extremism in all forms is no virtue, Ms. Lundberg’s romanticization of oil/gas is itself extreme.

Sadly, she can’t see it for what it is. And why should she? She has no incentive to see the world differently, having been rewarded in the short term for embracing a petroleum-rich future. Never mind the long term consequences.

It may behoove us to observe the ways of the Thought Leaders, that we may know the future that they hold so dear. And better envision the alternative, making adjustments to our own behavior accordingly.

Just a thought.

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