Sunday, 28 March 2010

12 step economic recovery

A year ago, many eminent thinkers were talking about how things needed to fundamentally change if the global economy was to grow its way out of recession. Specifically, the western consumerism that largely drives this economy had the plug pulled on it temporarily and people put their money in the bank instead of on their plastic. The way this problem was going to be resolved to go from a consumer, manufacturing and resource based-economy to one with "clean tech" "green jobs" "green collar workforces" "massive, large scale retrofits" and many other exotic, fresh-sounding, attractive terms that were being bandied about.

Well, needless to say, it never happened, and today we have been dragged right back down to earth, which is choking harder and harder on all the sustained consumer, manufacturing, and resource-based activity. What we have now are well-meaning "green" politicians (this shot's being taken at you, premier of Ontario) cancelling desperately needed public transit funds for a city with terrible traffic so as not to appear soft on the deficit they ran up paying public sector workers massive salaries. And yesterday's Earth Hour demonstration was healthily opposed by an anti-earth hour demonstration. When I was talking to somebody today about how his partner in the States said nobody really participated and it sounded like a "blue state" thing, and how he and myself had both noticed the dearth of recycling in recent visits to that country, I realized that as the perception of the recession and its harsh effects have worn off, so have the general enthusiasm and desire to act on the environment.

That is because there is a not just climate change, but what my girlfriend has termed an "everything denier" movement in full force. The republican party and various right wing movements in the States are not only fervently opposing taking action to curb our destructive activities, they want to ramp them up. The gentleman I was talking to today said that at least our Conservative government at home (two of whose ministers were in an exclusive Calgary audience last week to listen to Sarah Palin lambast "snake oil" climate science) at least makes some attempt to spin itself as green, something the American right evidently feels is not even worth the trouble of bothering to do.

This hodge podge of movements has gained a lot of its strength by successfully portraying people's livelihoods and lifestyles as reliant on the status quo, and the imperative of taking action as the work of some evil deluded liberal politicians and fringe activists. The media has covered them both postively and negatively, but has also probably given them too much exposure (here they are the sitting government, so they had no choice), and now they have presented them as a viable, momentum-gaining alternative to environmentalism and conservation. And it seems to have worked. Because people don't like to think or admit that what they're doing is wrong. Especially when it feels good to just keep doing what you're doing.

Not wrong in itself. I am not going to proclaim with certainty that mining uranium, burning coal, driving SUVs, eating livestock from massive feedlots, and blasting the AC with the windows open makes you a war criminal because it raises the temperature. Doing so only provides easy fodder for the deniers, who will be relying on leaked emails until kingdom come to support their claim. What I am arguing is that these activities have only been happening in earnest for a few years. Without the massive amounts of petroleum they are all dependant on they will no longer be possible. So why don't we try conserving the petroleum we have and figure out how to manage the economy more effectively for everyone? We have it in us.

Because we our own worst enemy.

Do you know the story of Yemen? Little country on the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Shit is hitting the fan there; the government is weak and corrupt, people are dirt poor, the army is trying to fight two different separtist movements in the North and South simulataneously, and the CIA is on the ground trying to get the scoop on al-Qaida, supposedly very active in this state. The country, in addition to these massive problems, looks like it will be the first on earth to run out of water, in 10-15 years. And the water they have now? Two thirds of it goes to the cultivation of qat, an herb that men there chew on non-stop that gives a light, speed-methamphetimine type of buzz. It's a deep rooted cultural tradition and bla, bla, bla, but does it not also appear to be a terribly out of whack priority? Like self-destructive behaviour?

In North America the 1% who have gone from controlling 9% to 24% of the wealth in 30 years, whose salaries have risen from 24 to 450 times the average in 50 years, the elite, continue to blabber on this crap about the recovery. A return to growth, profits, and higher emissions. Which will also bring more scandals, speculation and inequality. Because petroleum is our qat, its the lifeblood behind everything in North America (I didn't mention that it's a mainstay of Yemen's economy) and nobody wants or thinks they need to kick the habit. George Bush, no environmentalist himself, admitted America was addicted to oil. He went through the 12 steps to get off booze. I wonder if North American governments will, after the year of denial that has followed the moment of reckoning, embark on the real 12 steps to economic recovery, which inevitably involves the kicking of that nasty petroleum drinking habit.

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