Friday, October 23, 2009

the speech obama needs to (but will not) give...,

The Oil Drum | As I’m sure all of you are painfully aware, the United States, along with the rest of the world, is in the midst of some of the most profound economic, environmental, and energy troubles ever experienced by modern civilization.

I understand the deep pain, anger, and confusion many of you are feeling at this moment, and I sympathize. My goal tonight is to try to clarify our situation a bit, and in doing so, perhaps channel some of those feelings towards more constructive ends.

The economic, environmental, and energy problems we are currently experiencing are not ultimately the fault of any one person, political group, ethnic group, religious group, country, or region. They go much deeper than that. They are, instead, manifestations of the ongoing conflict -- a war really -- between a finite planet and a human species with infinite aspirations.

In such a war -- a war we are waging against our very life-support systems -- we have no hope of winning. Our best hope is to, as quickly as possible, call off the war, regroup, and fundamentally restructure our society around the acceptance of our planet’s finite nature – around limits.

My words here are, no doubt, striking to you. These are not ideas commonly expressed in “polite” circles -- in the national print media, on television, in board rooms, in Congress, in addresses from the President. They are revolutionary. But they are true and they are necessary.

Let me use an analogy from my experience as a father. As children grow towards adulthood, one of the most painful experiences – for both the child and the parent – is the child’s slow realization and eventual acceptance of limits. Such an embrace of limits is, in fact, one of the hallmarks of “growing up.” My fellow Americans, we need to grow up.

We, as a species, are now bumping up against -- slamming into, really -- some very immutable biophysical limits on a global scale. These limits and the mounting consequences for their continued violation have been predicted and well documented by our best scientists for many decades -- complete with dire warnings for the consequences of failing to change our course.

We have not heeded these warnings and we are now suffering the predicted consequences. It is our own fault.

We have reached limits in two very real and dangerous senses. Firstly, our voracious material wants have outstripped the Earth’s physical limits -- hard limits on how much and how rapidly the Earth can provide us with material and energy resources to run our industrial lifestyles. A partial list of these increasingly scarce resources includes fossil and nuclear energy sources, freshwater for drinking and irrigation, phosphate fertilizer, and various key metal ores. Even theoretically renewable resources such as our ocean fisheries, fertile soil, and forest products are being destroyed by persistent abuse.

In short, we cannot have infinite wants on a finite planet. These were childish wishes.

Secondly, the almost-unimaginable volumes of waste arising from our industrial activities have overwhelmed the Earth’s waste-disposal systems. The list of accumulating toxins is long and growing: greenhouse gases, PCBs, mercury and other heavy metals, radioactive waste, various endocrine disruptors, silt from eroded forests and farmland, excessive fertilizer, pesticides, and antibiotics from industrial factory farms in our estuaries and drinking water, as well as many others I could list. Most notable among this shameful list are the greenhouse gases arising from our civilization’s terminal addiction to fossil fuels. These have accumulated in our atmosphere to such an extent that a potentially disastrous suite of climatic changes has already been initiated – changes that may ultimately endanger our very survival as a species.

We have fouled our nest. Again, we are guilty of childish behavior – mindless, reckless, and irresponsible.

The End of Growth
Having recognized these limits, we are immediately challenged to renounce one of our most cherished beliefs as a civilization -- the idea of continuous material growth.