4. The Curious Eclipse of Conservation Policy
We're not about to abandon our solemn commitment to driving our jumbo-sized SUVs. We'd rather go over the climate cliff than give up that big shiny gas-guzzling Suburban, Expedition, or Sequoia. The number of cars in the world surpassed the one-billion mark in 2010 -- that was a billion and counting. The number had jumped by a record 35.6 million vehicles in the previous year. So far this year some 22.4 million new vehicles have rolled off the assembly lines and will soon be clogging our roads and contributing to the carbon crescendo. By the time this article appears, the number will be significantly higher. Go ahead, see for yourself.
2737_st0640_046 by David Guo's Master
There's no reason to believe there will be any slowdown in world production of cars and trucks and difficult to imagine what it would take for that to happen. What's actually happening is quite the opposite -- as population increases and global wealth is redistributed from the First World to the Third World (the Second World no longer exists), output of vehicles powered by internal-combustion engines rises at constantly accelerating rates. Even the great post-2008 global recession did not impede it (see above).
Actually, instead of recognizing the need for conservation, the trend in this country is strongly in the opposite direction. "US shale oil supply shock shifts global power balance" screams a BBC News headline. "Over the next five years, the US will account for a third of new oil supplies, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA)." We learn that in the next five years the US will go from world's largest oil importer to a net exporter. The IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven says, "North America has set off a supply shock that is sending ripples throughout the world." A supply shock, no less.
Under the circumstances, what won't be a shock is President Obama deciding not to nix the Keystone XL pipeline despite growing public opposition, including a recent letter signed by "150 high-profile figures, who between them raised millions for Obama's two electio n campaigns." The letter is worth quoting at some length:
"Your decision on Keystone may not be so weighty, but we believe it holds a comparable urgency and importance, not strictly as a pipeline decision but as a presidential choice that will signal a fundamentally new direction for our nation... Yours is the last presidency in which it is possible for America to choose a responsible path forward for itself, before climate disruption becomes unmanageably dangerous... The Keystone decision affords you a rare opportunity to pivot away from fossil fuels and towards a clean energy future in a way that signals the necessary sea change. This decision more than any other will signal your direction, your commitment, your resolve. It is the biggest, most explicit statement you will make in this historic moment, the moment when America turns from denial to solutions -- or fails to."
5. A Public in Denial and Afflicted with Severe Myopia
Nor is the dire predicament we face all the fault of a corrupt Washington and a greedy Wall Street. We elect the bums who sell us out and when they do we re-elect them. The incumbency rate for the House and Senate in the last election was over 90%, higher than in 2010 and the highest since 2004. We not only fail to punish our leaders for not acting responsibly, but on issues such as gun control and, yes, environmental protection we are at least as likely to punish them if they do.
If there's one thing we love more than our guns, it's our cars. Like guns, cars symbolize freedom to millions of Americans. In the short run, guns are arguably more dangerous. In the long run, it's the other way around. Guns kill people; cars and carbon are killing the planet.
The fact that something so inimical to our survival as a species does not make a dent in our consciousness calls into serious question whether we are, in fact, the most intelligent life form. What other species is more self-destructive? Perhaps evolutionary biologists can answer this question, but I can't think of one.
Back to the puzzle mentioned at the beginning. All five pieces are easily identified and supported by ample empirical data and a wealth of anecdotal experience. But these five easy pieces are rarely if ever connected in a way that clearly shows the depth of the impending crisis humanity is facing.
The table is set. If we don't put the pieces together, we'll never get the picture. And we'll just keep happily dancing toward doomsday.