Sunday, December 31, 2006

Saving the world from ourselves

Many Global Warming discussions hinge upon the aggregate of political decisions of a society which are a result of culture. The culture of the US renders our nation incapable of leading the world in the challenge of Global Warming.

During a recent three and half week trip to Europe concluding an international business seminar in Munich and Paris, we met with business leaders such as the French Ambassador of the Ministry of Finance and Economy, directors from global companies like Siemens, and representatives from various Chambers of Commerce. Afterwards, I volunteered a week at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. Rarely was the topic of Global Warming discussed in terms other than as clearly in the planning agenda of the companies we visited. It was also implied that human causality was a foregone conclusion rather than a reaction to naturally occurring shifts in climate.

In terms of the opinion of regular people you meet on the street, positive and frank discussion welled forth in the pubs and bars throughout Paris, Garmische, Munich, Buckinghamshire, and Oxford. As an American though, they were rather direct in questioning me about my personal responsibility for having a president such as Mr. Bush. Bush is widely considered to be the most dangerous leader the world has faced since Hitler. I found that surprising, but like a frog boiled slowly in a pot of water, I have succumbed to our political state of affairs as the accepted status quo. It never dawned on me that he is viewed that dimly.

During these travels in Europe, I noticed people at bars and pubs find it socially acceptable to discuss issues that are meaningful (read as:religion, politics, the environment, race relations). There is little divide between having a good time and having real conversations. By contrast, at the Fox and Hound, a pub near my home in Atlanta, people may only dip their toes in the waters of meaningful discussion but rarely dive in and challenge one another, aside from drunken posturing and belligerence. Perhaps they want to appear intelligent, engaged or socially responsible. Invariably, once a boundary is passed where real urgency is laid plain, people then go to a "I don't want to think about" "eat, drink, and be merry" attitude.

The fact is that US citizens have NEVER been invaded, except for the Trade Centers. One could argue Mexico invaded. However, we garrisoned Mexico City in the 1840's. We invaded Mexico, not the other way around. Our own citizens perpetrated a similar atrocity, the Oklahoma Federal Building. Yet, one rarely hears any mention of this, so as to keep our anger focused on the Axis of Evil. We at home wring our hands that we lost thousands of people in a terrorist bombing, then we allow our government to spend 4x the money on a war in country that we know has no relation to the bombing, all the while allowing Bin Laden to literally walk out of the canyon where he was surrounded by the CIA's Jawbreaker task force. Then, the US Government tries to gag the author, former CIA member Bernstien.

The old world has been relentlessly bombed, blasted, and tortured throughout many wars over hundreds of years Europe lost millions in ovens, hundreds of thousands in bombings, and thousands to small arms fire. Besides the civil war 150 years ago that was self-inflicted, we simply cannot conceive of this reality.

Only 50 years ago, Europe was a wasteland, decimated population, divided in half with a Iron Curtain, with nukes bristling at the pickets. They truly stared Apocalypse in the eyes and perpetrated the Holocaust. (Photos from Dachau visit) They were forced to make decisions that led to cooperation and coalitions. Add to this the loss of their colonial holdings and warfare across these former colonies, you have a grim social and economic picture. Yet, they prevailed, and their Euro and Pound are now 40% stronger than the dollar over the past 5 years. All the while, the best minds say the dollar will slide even further, perhaps as soon as this January.

Americans have never faced at home the real atrocities which forced modern Europe to find political means to reconcile differences, create social programs, and develop a faculty for thoughtful listening. Instead, we have allowed our attitude to shift to the point where we have become a ruthless society that attacks anything that remotely resembles a threat to the cocktail party we live in. To avoid rocking the boat, we even resign ourselves to sitting apathetically in traffic for 10 hours a week, while at the same time vociferously denying any rail projects to alleviate the snarl and mess. Today, only 5 US cities (Boston, NYC, Philly, DC, Chicago) have extensive rail mass transit today, versus pre-1950's when US most cities had at least an extensive trolley system. During the 1930's we had a national rail network with trains exceeding 100mph. Just try to use Amtrak to go somewhere besides in the North east. The nations largest development ($2.2) of its time, Atlantic Station in Atlanta GA, is along side existing railways, .5 miles from the Amtrak station and the subway lines, yet Atlantic Station HAS NO STATION! That should illustrate how dysfunctional we are.(Rather accurate accounts of Atlanta are here.)

You have no choice but to own a car. The MARTA buses in Atlanta do not adhere to their own schedules. Your employer will fire you if you are late. Yet, Atlanta is the lowest average income earners of the 15 peer cities, where citizens on average can not afford more than $800 per month for a mortgage.

In the US, w let 30 million people go without adequate medical care. We allow people to freeze in the streets. We allow our old to face care systems in the nursing homes that are expensive and downright deadly.

Americans force welfare recipients to work two jobs to pay the rent, provide no day care services, and wonder why children show up at school with handguns, run away from home, or perform on the latest porn site. Single mom's with median jobs say earning $35k per year, must pay around $900 per month for quality childcare. Blame it on your congressman, you say? That person is OUR responsibility and so we are also responsible for thier actions.

We do have more immediate problems that some ice shelf calving in the hinterlands of Canada. Yet, we are doing little to change these pressing issues facing American society, never mind dealing with a far off dooms day possiblity that noone wants to talk about.

We bury our heads in the sand. We subsidize SUV purchases through the Farm Vehicle Tax Credit driving gas guzzling SUV's while providing little incentive to buy hybrid cars and removing electric cars from the market despite strong demand. During a time when we are fighting a war directly related to our dependence on oil, this is completely irrational. Our consumption puts our nation and our soldiers directly at risk. Yet we would rather throw our brothers and sisters into the line of fire rather than give up our Navigators and Escalades.

If driving an SUV is not viewed as unpatriotic to America during a war about oil and energy resources, then how could anyone have a hope that Americans will accept a meaningful dialogue about Global Warming, much less support positive actions to put a halt to the problem? They are happy to see Saddam hang, a man who never directly attacked us, while remaining silent and not outraged that Bin Laden is still out there plotting heavens knows what against us.

On the world political stage, the US is viewed as an adolescent with a good heart, a bad temper, inconsistent foreign policy, and with unlimited access to resources that no adolescent should ever have. The US simply does not have the motivation or capacity to face the issues related to fossil fuel based economics. We are the largest economy. We have the largest military. Moreover, if we ever interrupt our consumption patterns, we will bankrupt entire nations. "Why should we change our ways? We run the show, right? " are the thoughts driving the psyche of our countrymen.

We must look to the Old World countries for leadership is this matter. They have the skills in global trade relations, language, diplomacy, and have had to learn hard lessons about the consequences of reactionary and aggressive forms of conflict resolution. Cowboy diplomacy simply does work.

The good news is that some Americans are actively working on the problem. If you want to know about REAL alternatives to fossil fuels and bio fuels where a close friend three years ago became the first American to drive round trip coast to coast on Hydrogen. He has now created the first quad fuel vehicle, Unleaded, Ethanol, Natural Gas, and Hydrogen. Flip a switch; change the fuel. Change the world. This solves all manner of logistical problems about fuel types, distribution, and vehicle range.

Here is the rub - if Mr. Robinson at Intergalactic Hydrogen can do this in his garage without a college degree, then one has to wonder why the largest corporations in the world are withholding this technology from us, for they also must have developed similar capabilities.

For once, our pride in America may put us in the follower position in the fight to save the world. Now the world may have to intervene to save us from ourselves.

Related links:
China central bank sees risk of US dollar slide on asset sell-off

Taxpayers for Common Sense

American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 Lowers the SUV deduction from $100,000 to $25,000. Yet, $25,000 is $21,500 more than the credit for Hybrid fuel vehicles. Then add to it, the gas guzzler tax was REPEALED in 4Q'05, we clearly could care less about energy Independence and national security, much less being environmentally responsible.

Changes Effective for the Fourth Quarter of 2005 - Gas Guzzler Tax The gas guzzler tax on limousines with a gross unloaded vehicle weight of greater than 6,000 pounds is repealed, effective for sales, uses, or leases by the manufacturer, producer, or importer.

NASA's Earth Observatory

Tropical Storms and Meteorological discussion

The Digital Library for Earth System Education

Sea Level Visualization Tool
Speculative real estate investors click here! ;-)

Global Warming Claims its First Inhabited Tropical Island

Huge Arctic ice shelf breaks away

Hydrogen and Multifuel Vehicles

The Need for Better Scientific Understanding of Sea-Level Change

California Climate Change Portal

San Francisco Climate Action Plan