Here’s to ‘Dow up, Earth down’
December 16, 2007
With the economies of the world soaring, the ecological health of the Earth is plummeting. The Dow goes up, the Earth goes down. We cheer economic growth as the hallmark of human achievement, while the global environment staggers against the ropes.
Our national security depends on more than the Dow Jones average, but we boost economic expansion at any cost, miring ourselves in the self-imposed externalities of energy, climate and debt. America is only as free as its dependencies allow, and ours are closing in.
We have sold our security for short-term comforts and pleasures, infatuated by the gewgaws and gizmos of popular culture. Cell phones and iPods are closer to our hearts than nature. We can connect instantly with everything except the natural world.
We live recklessly with nature, as demonstrated by the drought in the Southeast, where water rationing in Georgia is becoming like the Sudan. Water-intensive land development and poor planning have forced conservation on a people who don’t like to use the word.
It’s the same with “peak oil,” which suggests ” horrors! ” that fuel conservation is not only sensible, but a national security imperative. Peak oil is challenged by the cornucopians, but it eventually will gain credibility, just as global warming has. Oil has limits, just like the atmosphere has limits, just like water has limits. The big difference is that limits on water are inconvenient; limits on oil and atmosphere will be brutal.
America doesn’t do well with limits. That was made clear when George Herbert Walker Bush decreed that the American lifestyle is nonnegotiable. We would rather fight than switch, as his son has demonstrated in Iraq and now at the climate conference in Bali.
Climate looms as the granddaddy of all limits. In the philosophy of Hobbes, it is the Leviathan, an overarching force that will coerce man into compliance with natural laws. We’ve been meddling with those laws like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and now the developing world demands its turn. Our species is trashing the biosphere in a ruthless tag team match against nature, and there’s no referee.
Aspen is right in the thick of it, our every hillside proliferating with empty monster homes guzzling energy and spewing carbon. I’m not sure who’s more ignorant, the architects who design them, the bankers who underwrite them, the builders who construct them, the Realtors who pimp them or the fools who buy them. Aspen’s wealth is based on a consortium of conspicuous consumption that is beyond rationality.
Peak oil and climate change make that kind of behavior archaic, if not criminal by negligence. Unfortunately, there are no climate police to red tag those monoliths. Rather, our culture celebrates excessive, wasteful lifestyles with glamour and envy.
In pursuit of that vaunted excess, homeowners have subprimed themselves into an economic disaster that will predictably be salvaged by all taxpayers. Certainly, this country has no aversion to debt, which is crippling us with foreign obligations, now reaching $30,000 per every American. Cuts in interest rates act like a shot of steroids, pumping up the stock market at the expense of the dollar.
Each time the Dow soars and investors cheer, there is an equal and opposite reaction among those who care for the health of the beleaguered natural world. Our economic system is in no way sustainable, and nature will point that out one day with finality.
A fundamental rule of mountaineering is to backtrack when you lose the trail, but not us. We blithely march on, recklessly pushing toward the promised land of perpetual prosperity. Meanwhile, our compass needle is spinning and our map is outdated.
Do we heed caution? Certainly not! We push the pedal to the metal, racing like rebels without a cause toward the edge of the cliff in the ultimate game of chicken … hoping there is still an ambulance in the valley.