Wednesday, June 02, 2010

When "No" Should Mean "NO!"

Bob Herbert has it right:

If a bank is too big to fail, it’s way too big to exist. If an oil well is too far beneath the sea to be plugged when something goes wrong, it’s too deep to be drilled in the first place.

When are we going to stop behaving so stupidly? We nearly wrecked the economy and we’re all but buried in debt. But we can’t break up the biggest banks, and we can’t raise taxes. Now we’re fouling the magnificent Gulf of Mexico and ruining entire communities along the southern Louisiana Coast.

[...]For a nation that can’t stop bragging about how great and powerful it is, we’ve become shockingly helpless in the face of the many challenges confronting us. Our can-do spirit was put on hold many moons ago, and here we are now unable to defeat the Taliban, or rein in the likes of BP and the biggest banks, or stop the oil gushing furiously from the bowels of earth like a warning from Hades about the hubris and ignorance that is threatening to destroy us.

"BAM!," as they say.

There is a moral underpinning to the story of America in the 21st Century, one that ties in the hubris of the Bush wars with the hubris of the Gulf disaster with the hubris of the bankstas.

We just ain't all that. Our reach has more than exceeded our grasp, as Herbert points out. I think that's because somewhere in the late Twentieth Century, we became enamored with the idea that America can do no wrong, that we can never be evil, and that we can do anything.

We're fucking human, folks, not supermen.

There was a time not that long ago that the spirit of "more, more, more" was understandable, as nonsensical as it was. We had seemingly unlimited resources and unlimited space and time to waste them in the pursuit of, well, anything, but especially the almighty dollar. In the Fifties and Sixties, we started to wake up to the horror of our behavior. We started to acknowledge that prices had been paid in this country by innocent people and the very resources we used so wastefully.

And now, we're scrambling. We've given up trying to come up with the richer bounty of our nation in an effort to gather the bits and scraps of what we used to be able to do. We don't want progress, because that's scary. We want what we had, and we want more of it. It's comfortable. It's a known evil. We're used to it.

The problem is, of course, it's running out, and so is our time, unless we change course and start looking forward. We're so desperate to reclaim past glories that we'll build monuments to our greed and stupidity, like 5,000 foot deep wells that no one can fix and banks so big that their income could stabilize Greece inside of three months.

It has to stop. We have to have a meaningful dialogue, one that doesn't involve what we can do, but what we should do. Not what we can accomplish, but why.

Re: Energy Crisis
Herbert goes on to talk about the looming energy crisis over America and how he feels the Gulf tragedy will trigger Americans to call for real energy reform.
Two points I'd like to make:
1) It took effective journalism from the networks and newspapers of the 60s and 70s to trigger an environmental movement. Images of the Cuyahoga River burning, among other emotional appeals (the Native chief standing in a pile of garbage, for one) really got people's attention. I don't see that happening this time around. The pain of the people in the Gulf region, the horrendous impact of the oil slick, the imminent danger of an entire coastline being killed, literally smothered in oil, none of that has really effectively been covered. It has to be.
Yes, one sees reports and one-minute "analyses" of the impact, but I'd love to see all three networks pool resources...because goodness knows no one of them would dare risk the profits requirement imposed on them... and create a one-hour special, bringing us live and in person the devastation of this disaster.
It took body bags from Vietnam for the antiwar movement to become effective. We need that level of commitment from the people for whom "reporter" is just a way of marketing their books.
2) An immediate solution that Herbert neglects to mention, possibly because I seem to be the only person proposing it, is a $1 billion government cash grant to the company that finds a method to generate renewable energy as cheaply and efficiently as fossil fuels.
The competitive advantage that fossil fuels have is the effectiveness of power generation: they are filled with energy. The only energy source we've developed to this point that can compete with coal, natural gas or oil is hydroelectric and even that requires power plants that dwarf your average Con Ed facility and require you be near a source of moving water to enjoy the benefits.
The competitive advantage that renewables have is their ease of access and resource cost (effectively zero). It is in the conversion to usable energy that renewables are weaker than fossils.
Let's make it worth the while of companies and entrepreneurs to ramp up their efforts (do you think BP might jump at the chance to eradicate some of their liabilities, both financial and in terms of image?). A thousand million dollars, cash on the barrel, for a renewable energy source that can be converted to as many BTUs as fossil fuels, but as cheaply, efficiently, and as conveniently.