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Mine! Mine! Mine!

This month’s REFLECTION is by HUPC board member David Jorgensen.

Last year, President Obama proposed a bold agenda centered on health care, energy and education.  To liberals, the specifics of each program must have seemed maddeningly centrist.  To most conservatives, each of the programs must have made them see red for one reason or another.  To me, it almost seemed as if nirvana was within our grasp.

A year later, the vision lies in tatters.  One can list any number of reasons.  But one that needs some attention is the lack of an overall challenge to the American people to share in some form of collective sacrifice that would enable us to rise above the social, economic and ecological obstacles that have to be dealt with.

The political situation we find ourselves in today is poignantly reminiscent of a scene from the Pixar film, Finding Nemo.  Nemo is a clownfish who was captured and taken to a dentist’s fish tank in Sydney.  Nemo’s father sets out to rescue him.  As he approaches the Sydney harbor, the father encounters a group of seagulls sitting on a harbor rock.  On a nearby rock, a pelican displays a crab attached to his wing.  Seeing the crab, the seagulls yell, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” and insist that each of them individually is entitled to the crab the pelican has snagged.

The pelican expresses his disdain for the seagulls, but tosses the crab over to them anyway so that he can go about his business of helping Nemo’s father.  The seagulls continue to scream, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” as the crab sails just over their heads and escapes into the sea.

Right now, the opportunity we have to deal with urgent challenges is sailing over our heads as we fight over our ideas, money and power.

Either an unwillingness to engage in shared sacrifice of economic things or an unwillingness to re-examine viewpoints generated in large part by ideological pre-dispositions can kill efforts to rationally deal with most any large social problem.  Ideological and material selfishness burdens most every attempt to deal with issues but it is especially frustrating when it comes to global warming.

The human mind has a remarkable capacity to shut down once it has arrived at an answer that it is happy with.  So, with some awareness that temperatures have gone up and down in the geologic past, a mind can stop its analysis simply by saying that the increases in temperature we have been experiencing are natural rather than human induced.  If you do not know that undergraduate level experiments demonstrate the heat-trapping capacities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, you do not have to deal with the implications.

Moreover, the global climate is such a complex phenomenon that almost any factoid can be seized upon to justify whatever one is predisposed to want to believe.  As a result, the climate debate is now littered with an ever-growing list of objections cited as reasons for inaction.

We live in an age when information is more available than it ever has been.  “The truth is out there,” and, in the age of the internet, there are no excuses for policy-makers remaining ignorant or asserting elaborate conspiracy theories to justify their underlying world view.  Numerous reputable internet sites dealing with global warming exist.  For what it is worth, most of my understanding of the science behind global warming comes from a compulsion to look up answers to various “facts” asserted to debunk mankind’s role in global warming.

Layered on top of scientific complexity are the economic uncertainties inherent in changing our energy mix and reducing our energy use.  Projections about the economics of the cap-and-trade bill passed by the House and stalled in the Senate vary wildly.  For example, the EPA estimates that the cap-and-trade bill passed by the House would cost $140 per family per year.  The conservative Heritage Foundation puts the figure at $1,500 a year.  The Union of Concerned Scientists asserts that its more comprehensive plan would end up saving consumers money by the year 2030. All of the various models knowingly ignore the cost of doing nothing.

Yet the predictable squabble over whose economic model is best ignores the ethical problem of a society that seems unwilling to sacrifice much of anything either in the way of economics or ideology to avoid a future that is likely to be untenable.  It seems probable that dealing with global warming will cost consumers something.  It seems probable that the economy as a whole would grow at least a little slower than it otherwise would if global warming did not exist and if we did nothing to slow it down.  But it also seems to me that dealing with the issue requires leadership which asks for sacrifices on the part of the American people.

By David Jorgensen


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