Yesterday, after reading through an article chronicling how things are going right now on the Louisiana Gulf Coast, I came to a realization. The greatest environmental threat facing humanity right now is not the up to 3.6 million barrels of raw crude sloshing around in the Gulf of Mexico. It is a gulf greater and grander than a hundred Gulfs (Gulves?) of Mexico. It is the Gulf between the opinion of many highly visible and prominent people on what the situation should be and the actual situation on the ground in North America right now with respect to the environment.
The person who wrote the article in question is Thomas Friedman, a man whose sweeping, high level, bullet-point style writing is good enough to give you a lowdown on whatever major international issue is being aired out on the airwaves (and he usually doesn't take too long to address them), and who is worth $25 million, according to wikipedia. If there's a coast this guy should be on, it's the Amalfi, in a villa, not the most battered and bruised one in the Western Hemisphere traipsing around surveying wreckage.
But I'm not here to praise Mr. Friedman's altruism in choosing subjects for his columns nor to comment on his net worth. I'm here because this is a prominent guy, whose columns are syndicated in 110 countries, and who has been browbeating the shit out of me for two plus years about the same thing, regardless their reputed subject in the title. The message is always the same.
We're killing ourselves with petroleum. We're killing the environment. We're guaranteeing the total and utter redundancy of our economy by continuing to depend so heavily on it.
He is the most stark and overt about it. And if you're not familiar with his writing, the basic catch-all premise is that America can defeat terrorism in the Middle East and get its economic testicles back from China by becoming a green energy powerhouse. I'm not so sure that that's going to happen. But he also talked recently about a retired army guy in North Carolina who knows he should persuade his wife to give up her SUV for a bike. That sounds even more unlikely than Mr. Friedman's high-level wish for America's direction.
My point is, after him, you can literally line up the prominent opinion leaders who have dedicated their lives, or at least their public air time, to this subject, hammering the same point home so breathlessly that you wonder if they can ever take the odd column off and talk about, I don't know, kids these days, or the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Jeffrey Simpson at the Globe, Paul Krugman at the times, George Monbiot at the Guardian, Louis-Gilles Francoeur at the Devoir, Andre Pratte at La Presse, the entire Globe and Star editorial boards, plus a bevy of former world leaders, these guys are all insisting the same thing. Things have to change now or were royally f---ed. This can't go on. We have the ability to change, let's change.
And it mostly stays there, on the opinion pages, on the via satellite news show conversations, and in isolated bubbles of worried conversations between citizens who've heard a thing or two on the subject. Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore may be self-styled eco-warriors who feel validated as crusaders because their own large carbon footprints are mitigated by their advocacy and visibility. But for regular people, meanwhile, nothing has changed.
We are now in the back nine of the 2010 Year of the Awakening of the Collective Consciousness Golf Classic and we have all but guaranteed that we have to Eagle every hole to make up for fifty years of triple bogeys to escape this unscathed. And yet, people continue to use and abuse and demand cheap cars, cheap energy, cheap property, and no taxes. There is still nothing that penalizes a guy for building a 20,000 square foot home that has to be heated and cooled with fossil fuels, and parking five hummers in the driveway. In fact, the stigma that this individual may have felt a year ago is slowly waning and admiration is creeping back in to replace it, providing much needed vanity reinforcement.
But slowly, and not so surely, something is creeping up on a sleepy population with its head in the sand. What is it? Government. The big, bloated, bureaucratic hydras that are the governments of nation states in this world have been talking like the columnists I mentioned for some years now and with increasing unambiguity. Since they cannot count on the goodwill of their citizens to stop, or at least make efforts to reduce, the petroleum poison pills they are knocking back in ever larger volume, they are preparing to hit them over the head with the one hammer that will stun enough to wake them up – their wallet. It has been the ivory tower solution for some time, and the only one that will give us any kind of start, despite having its own detractors from the establishment union left (which has its own vested interests in the status quo) to the hardcore environmentalists which find it too feeble: the carbon tax. Start taxing companies, and individuals, en masse to pollute. To drive cars, have fume belching smokestacks, and consume (yes) all the parts of the cow who innocently create the methane and soil erosion that come with keeping such large numbers of them in an industrial capacity, needs to cost at least double what it does now to make any kind of dent in the destructive havoc we are wreaking.
And what is that going to do? Stir up a lot of predictable angry rhetoric from the new hilarious right wing, all these wannabe "libertarians" who call everything a "tax grab", a "boondoggle" and a "fiasco" or "scandal". People who basically think there's good money and ripe political gain to be made from defending the status quo. Maybe in 1980. Today, not so much. That's why, despite 20,000 articles a day intricately documenting the fall and failure of Barack Obama, the "Just say no" Republicans still can't crack the mid to high twenties in the polls. That's why here in Ontario, barely anybody knows who Tim Hudak is. That's why the Harper government has been hiding all summer, only emerging with bizarre spin and obtuse reasoning that has even their most ardent backers and former strategists shaking their heads in disbelief.
Believe me, this is not a partisan blog, and I could surgically gut Obama, McGuinty or Ignatieff on their gaffes, positions and own serious status quo kowtowing, all. But if people really are "mad as hell" and want to revolt against any initiatives aimed at reducing emissions and fossil fuel consumption that see the light of day, I say let them. Because Reagan was right, in a way. Government is the problem to. Government has been the rubber stamper that gave us industrial agriculture, telecom and media monopolies, and a free pass to developers to kill our prime agricultural land with suburb upon suburb that will become redundant with the demise of petroleum. Not to mention propping up entire industries that exacerbate the problems we will soon be stuck with. So they can get on the ground to quell the shitstorm, and maybe build a more sustainable society with more transit, less waste and garbage, and more restrictions on ostentatious consumption behaviour. This is what red and blue governments alike have been tacitly encouraging for 50 years.
So yes, we may have a thousand Gulfs to cross before the opinion hits the critical mass, and by then it will probably be too late, but my small seed of hope lies in the fact that if these guys so vigourously defending continual unabated expansion and resource consumption really were the real deal, they'd be getting validated with massive majorities. They're not. And even we have a major head sand plunge and they manage to once more, even, it will be the last before nature catches up to them. 2010 is the hottest year on record.