Administrator’s note: Jim Lydecker’s essays have appeared previously on GIM. In this one, which first appeared as a guest commentary in the Napa Valley Register, Jim does an especially good job of tying together succinctly a number of the ecological, economic, and political crises we face. He raises, as well, a troubling question: If our elected leaders are fully aware of the challenges facing us, why are they doing next to nothing to address them?
I have written before that America is like the Titanic making her way through an ocean of icebergs. The captain and his staff keep reassuring the passengers everything is OK.
Standing on the deck, we see the bergs getting bigger and closer. Looking up at the captain’s quarterdeck, I wonder if they know what the hell they are doing? Can they be so stupid to not see the impending crises in front of us? Are they focused only on those directly in our path hoping to navigate our way through, fingers crossed?
Or do they know there is no way out and we are doomed?
This allegory is more true than fictional. America faces a convergence of crises of such magnitude that no amount of financial or scientific commitment may be enough to keep them from ending industrial civilization. The future would be less problematic if our leaders had taken on the crises before they became so large and interconnected.
The biggest crisis is overpopulation. Every problem, be it environmental, economic, social or political, is directly or indirectly connected to the 6.8-billion-pound gorilla in the room. We have known this for years but it is one of the issues no one, conservative or liberal, will touch. Instead, the official policy is one of ignorance allowing the human species to breed itself toward a massive die-off.
Last month the U.N. released official projections expecting the world population to reach 9.2 billion by 2050, an increase of 2.5 billion from today. It will never happen.
Throughout history, whenever a new energy source was exploited, human population skyrocketed. But never has it increased as quickly as it has since the oil age arrived in 1859 and the world population was a little more than 1 billion. The exponential growth in population going hand-in-hand with the use of hydrocarbons is not just a coincidence.
In just a little more than 130 years, humans have run through more than half the world’s reserves of oil and natural gas. Since population growth is contingent on a readily available supply of cheap oil, collapse is inevitable. The slippery slide down the slope of Peak Oil will be quicker than the trip up.
Without cheap oil and natural gas, the Green Revolution and the ability to feed all us billions will be history. Few industries will be affected as great as agriculture. Two that will be are those medical and pharmaceutical.
Thus, a future die-off of biblical proportions will be primarily due to starvation and disease. Throw in mass migrations and social strife and, boy, do we have problems.
Knowing this, you would think that intelligent, reasonable people would advocate strict population control and implement a cohesive energy policy. You would think they would have forethought to think of our children and children’s children. They don’t.
Another ignored crisis that lies dead ahead is the federal debt. It has reached the point where if nations stop lending us money — currently $2.5 billion daily — Uncle Sam may go broke. At the very best, the result of this will make the Great Depression look like a picnic in the park.
Virtually every politician knows this, yet nothing gets done. Instead of taking the problem on, they make matters worse by cutting taxes and increasing spending.
The Bush administration has taken action, though, on the fiscal crisis. Economists are painfully aware that the dollar losing its value as the world’s reserve currency is another, quicker road to economic Armageddon than the exploding debt. So when a nation decides to stop accepting the dollar, a la Iraq, they get a thumpin’ from our military.
Next stop, Iran.
Finally, there is global warming. Every report and study released seems to be more dire than the one preceding it. Most now say we have little time before passing the point of no return; some, including two from the Pentagon and NASA, say we most probably are beyond the tipping point and a runaway greenhouse effect is on its way.
Like the allegory, I look to our leaders and wonder if they are clueless. But the fact of the matter is they know everything we know and much more.
I believe that most politicians know the awful truth confronting us but refuse to do anything about it as it will cost them their jobs. They hope to safely navigate through the ice field, fingers crossed. If this is the case, our leaders have failed us: It is their responsibility to lead us down certain paths, regardless the pain, if circumstances demand it.
Then there is the chance that our leaders know we have passed the breaking point and we’re doomed. If so, we have to ask the ultimate question: What good will it do to inform the public?
This is open for debate.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain