Prose meditations

The train is rumbling south as we head for New York City, and the America I see is a rusted hulk of its former glory.  Alongside the tracks, empty warehouses sit idle, as rust creeps up their backsides.  Graffiti is ubiquitous, marking the territory of boredom and decades of class warfare.  The angry howls of America reach out of the electronic media; USA! USA!  Remembering a time when that meant something, I wonder when it all went wrong.  I suppose we were always overconfident, but after several courageous fights we got soft, we expected things to be taken care of.

We built an empire of sand, which is now crumbling in front of us.  Our manifest destiny, the cry of Oklahoma!  Oregon!  Always pushing onward, for something more.  Once California was a paradise, but then we turned it into a concrete jungle.   Now our Manifest Destiny is consumption, consumption, always more consumption.  Corinthian leather, granite countertops, what does it all mean?  Meanwhile our communities are shit, we don’t know our neighbors anymore, we don’t trust each other anymore.  It has turned into a blame game, with our own vanity invested in impossible dreams, with few willing to confront the truth that USA may not be sustainable.

Exponential growth, that is what our economy is built for.  If we can only find that free energy, that impossible, magical, elixir that will drive us forward, then humanity will have no limits. Of course, what of the world outside of the good old USA?  Not the Continent, not Shanghai, not Australia, but what of the great unwashed in Bangladesh, Africa that will suffer only more under our changing climate?  What of the real danger that we might not have enough food, energy, to keep this going?  Well, the angry man cries, USA!  USA! Only alarmists need question our lifestyles.  There are no limits to what we can accomplish, right?

Mother always said you could become anything you wanted when you grew up.  Hedge fund manager with a Swiss chalet?  Now we’re talking.  There is no external cost that the world does not happily bear for the greatness of USA, the angry man says.  As we head south towards New York City, I wonder what my grandchildren will think?  What will our history books read?  Since the victors write history books, will their books be written in Mandarin?

Our President calls for America to win the future.  When people are skeptical of wind turbines and solar turbines because they are too expensive, but they happily allow energy companies to pollute their drinking water with hydrofracking chemicals, I wonder if we have it in us to win anything.  I think the future will be handed to us like a consolation prize, and our grandchildren will wonder how we could be so vain.  The angry man will cry out into the night, USA! USA! On and onward.


2 Comments on “Prose meditations”

  1. manicbeancounter says:

    I am sceptical of wind turbines not just because they are too expensive, but because I live in a country (Britain) where the highest energy use is on cold, windless winter nights. Investment in the UK in wind turbines means that there may be power blackouts in a decade – and it is the elderly and the sick who will suffer the most. Cost is important too, as the ones who suffer most from rising energy bills are the poor.

    Economic growth enables societies to care for the poor and the vulnerable. And economic growth requires cheap sources of energy. The policy costs of combatting global warming are likely to be far greater than any likely consequences of the consequential climate disruption of that warming.

    • Rob says:

      So you want to avoid wind turbines because you don’t think they will provide power during one time of day, during one time of year? Leaving aside your astoundingly rosy view on climate change costs, it seems you want to rely exclusively on non-renewable, imported, subsidized, energy sources well into the future. Do you understand the global growth of population, and that in coming decades more and more Indians and Chinese will want to eat meat and drive cars? Where do you think that fuel, water, etc. will come from? The fact is that while our fossil fuels will become more and more taxed, the planetary services like waste sinks, water, etc will not be able to sustain this level of consumption growth. Diversity and decentralization of power and fuel are critical. Wind will play a role, but so will solar, hyrdo, geothermal, tidal, etc. The age of cheap energy is dying. In any rate, there are external costs borne by the poor you worry about, like mercury emissions from coal plants. What about those costs? Cancer is expensive. If you think we can carry on into perpetuity with business as usual, then I’ve got a bridge I want to sell you. You may live in the UK, but the rest of the world will increasingly impact how you live. We must be more efficient, reduce waste, reduce materiel throughput, live smarter, live lighter. Sustainability is best understood as a global change like IT was. It will impact everything.

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