Sunday, November 16, 2008
Global Warming, Recession and Other Problems
I watched Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth last night. Scary stuff! Not that I wasn't already aware of the problem -- I've considered myself an environmentalist since the 60's (when it wasn't quite so fashionable). However, that documentary with its great big graphs really delineates the problem in a brutally inescapable way. He paints a pretty clear picture for us.
In the meantime, the economy is in a tailspin with consumers who have, to a large degree, just quit consuming. Economists are trying everything they can think of to get the old spending up there where it was.
But the fact of the matter is that those old lifestyle habits were contributing to the overall problem. I believe that the general population is beginning to have its eyes opened by these circumstances. Yes, the price of gas has gone down -- at the moment. I doubt anybody expects it to stay that way. When it hit those all-time highs, people found whatever solutions they could. They cut back on driving, they traded for more efficient vehicles, they rearranged their lives. And now that those painful changes have been made, most people are going to take a cautious attitude -- not rush right back into the old situation.
In the long run, that's a good thing. We have to cut down our use of fossil fuels. There can't be any question about that. It's obvious that someday those will run out -- the only question up for debate is, "When?". There are TV commercials running right now that tell us in a calm and reassuring voice that we have enough oil left for a good sixty years. I guess that's supposed to sound like a long time. But, let me tell you, in a couple of months I'll turn sixty -- and the time has gone by in a flash! In the larger scheme of things, sixty years is nothing.
And there are other experts who say we don't have anything like sixty years. So, whichever expert you choose to believe, what it comes down to is, do you want to get weaned off petroleum gradually? Or go cold turkey?
So, back to the economy ... the high price of gas woke a lot of people up, changed some die-hard habits, and lowered our fuel consumption. Yay! However, it also cut the revenues from gasoline taxes used to maintain roads, it caused prices of everything to go so high that some serious cutting back was necessary. Add in there problems with housing markets, a couple of wars, a series of expensive natural disasters (global warming, again ...), and the whole system started to topple like dominoes. People not only opened their eyes, but when they looked around they were scared shitless!
Now here we sit, surrounded by crumbling ruins of our old world and wondering which way to turn. There's a vague (and unrealistic) hope that our fine young president-elect will pick up the pieces and put everything back together so that we can just go back to the way things were -- like waking up from a bad dream. Trouble is, even if we could, "the way things were" wasn't really the way things were. We've been deluding ourselves for a long time.
The economists want to "jump-start" the economy. By getting banks making loans, consumers buying goods, businesses doing business, families buying houses they hope to get the wheels turning and eventually up to speed ... like before.
Well, I hate to say it, but it's never going back to those days. There has been a societal shift, fundamental, down to the core. People who lived through the Great Depression developed an outlook that stayed with them throughout their lives. (My mom, to this day, will not throw out an empty mayonnaise jar or milk jug. She carefully washed them and stores them away ... "just in case".) People are going to be much more leery of buying on credit. They are going to choose smaller houses and cars. They are going to seek status by not going the conspicuous consumption route. Simple living will be in style and "politically correct". This will last for a long long time. And the ramifications will be comparable to the melting of the polar ice caps -- nothing less than world-changing.