“We’re not investing adequately or strategically in our nation’s future, and we’ll pay a huge price if we don’t change course….

“Because we’re under-investing in the areas that will determine our future dynamism and standard of living, we’ll continue to  lose ground relative to our competitors and may eventually lose ground in absolute terms as well….

 “[I]t’s hard not to conclude that the past ten years were a lost decade. We can’t afford to lose the next one.…

 “Our margin for error is a lot smaller than it was a generation ago. We can no longer afford to waste resources, public or  private, on expenditures that do not create economic or social value.” [1]

In this most recent series of posts (here and here) I’ve attempted to provide a framework of understanding as to why we need to consider the vital role our infrastructure (highways, water and sewer systems, power/electric grid, etc.) has played in our nation’s economic development, and how vital it will remain provided we understand that the infrastructure of the future will require a substantial overhaul in the age of Peak Oil. It will no longer be enough to maintain or repair what we have. A move away from fossil fuel dependency necessitates that we design and build/renovate a foundation that reflects a new energy era … assuming we wish to maintain our role as one of the dominant economic powers, that is.

The problem is that we have no coherent infrastructure policy per se. Like most national issues nowadays, we have an infrastructure that is usually at the mercy of whatever whims move a particular congressperson to seek pork for his or her district (or, to be fair, occasional legitimate expenditures to maintain, repair, or replace an infrastructure system). As we see time and again, “long term strategies” usually run from today until next election day.

This political and economic ignorance, evidence of which we are now witnessing on an almost daily basis, is going to lead us right off the edge of a very high cliff unless we smarten up. Too few of our leaders appreciate this, and 300 million of us are going to suffer because we continue to tolerate misinformation, obfuscation, obstruction, and a level of mean-spirited and astonishingly narrow-minded partisanship unlike anything most of us have ever seen.

And yes, while that criticism falls on both sides of the aisle, there is no doubt in my mind that the Right’s fear that President Obama’s success will end their reign for decades to come will be the predominant cause of our ruin. They offer almost nothing constructive (beyond hypocrisy and a generous supply of deceit and misinformation) to the dialogues we need to have. When a shameless right-wing Senator places a hold on 70 federal government appointees (!) and in the next breath claims “I don’t have any idea” if they are qualified or not, we have a problem of integrity and character well beyond all bounds of decency. [2]

Just saying “No”, arguing against spending money at a time when no other entity has the ability to do so to re-energize our economy (and yes, deficits matter … just not now), and then cutting taxes, is a collective strategy all right, but not one that’s designed with a genuine long-term vision in mind—at least not a vision with any hope of helping anyone. The Right’s borderline insane attacks on the President and their outright refusal to step away from their single-minded aim of regaining political power and instead consider joining the other side in fashioning a better future for the citizens of this country are means to a genuinely troubling end. The United States will not be alone in suffering the consequences of this political arrogance and ignorance.

If we don’t collectively agree on where we want to be not just next month or after the next election cycle, but 5, 10, 20, 50 years out, recognizing at last that we live in a different world with different and more complex challenges that require different solutions, then we might as well pack it in now. We’ll be a third-rate country in a couple of very short decades.

The issues and problems and challenges that confront us now cannot be resolved the same way we resolved problems before. It’s 2010, not 1910. The rules are different; the game itself is different. And yes, to the Right’s great dismay, government has to be involved. It’s the only institution big enough to provide the framework for what needs to be done. So the choice is to join and invigorate the debate and play a role beyond obstructing progress, or to contribute to our collapse.

“… most of the needed investment should come not from government, but from the private sector. However,  government’s role will be decisive in setting the course through leadership, coordination, regulation, and investment.” [3]

“Firms will not provide the trillions of dollars needed to develop energy infrastructure in the coming decades without credible  signals that governments are serious about instituting policies that will allow the private sector to cash in on such investments.”  [4]

It’s time to stop being stupid. It’s time for the leading voices of the Right to stop treating their followers as if they are stupid. Educate them! Frightening or misleading them instead is insane.

Start telling the truth—all of it, not just the parts that make those voices seem as if they are the only god-fearing patriots in America. They’re not. Get over it. Grow up. We have serious issues to deal with here in the real world. Join in. The door is open. (What will earn them greater respect: their insistence on a narrow-minded philosophy that clearly does not have the long-term interests of this nation at heart, or the courage to admit we have some serious issues to resolve and that we need to handle them differently and cooperatively?) Those “leaders” own that choice.

“A competitive America is also an America that finally has a smart energy policy.  We know there is no silver bullet here – that  to reduce our dependence on oil and the damage caused by climate change, we need more production, more efficiency, and  more incentives for clean energy. 

“What we can’t do is stand still.  The only certainty of the status quo is that the price and supply of oil will become  increasingly volatile; that the use of fossil fuels will wreak havoc on weather patterns and air quality….This country has to  move towards a clean energy economy.  That’s where the world is going.  And that’s how America will remain competitive  and strong in the 21st century.” President Obama [5]

The man understands….The question is, how many other leaders from both sides of the political fence, how many business leaders, how many local government officials, how many influential voices in the media, and how many of us, appreciate those same truths? (How does any rational person consider the increasing world-wide industrialization, the growth of China and India among others, and the millions of new cars on the road and honestly believe that has no significant effect now or later on our climate or energy supplies?)

Our infrastructure as presently constituted took decades to create. It will likely take decades to re-fashion one not dependent on coal, oil, and gas—although we really don’t have that much time. So where do we start?

We need to understand the importance of a vision for the future that extends beyond November’s elections. What we need is not a left wing, progressive, center-left, center, center-right, or right wing plan. We need an American plan, an American strategy that will place us at the forefront of economic recovery and prosperity in the decades ahead—decades in which oil has been supplanted by new energy sources and innovations commensurate with the demands of the future. Oil provided us with a great ride for 150 years, but it’s getting close to the end of that ride. Do we plan for the rest of our journey now, or wait until we crash into the wall before we figure out how to continue on? Planning means effort; it means vision; it means the courage to take unpalatable steps now and then, and it means spending money now.

Our success and prosperity going forward will depend on how many of us understand and accept the fact that we’ve been utilizing finite resources that by definition will eventually run out. And long before they do, the efforts to extract whatever is left will become increasingly pointless.

Making the perfect the enemy of the good is no longer acceptable. Yes, there are some concerns about the causes and effects of global warming as well as Peak Oil’s imminence. The verdicts are not unanimous. But we cannot afford to cast aside the solid and credible, irrefutable evidence that now exists just because it’s not all perfect. How many things in life ever are?! The at best disingenuous (and occasionally nutty) denials guarantee a lot of standing around. What exactly is that gaining any of us except to make the problems that much more intractable later on? We can only continue to kick these cans so far down the road.

The world is moving ahead, and changing. Do we lead, or race like hell to try and catch up because too many of us were too delusional, too ignorant, or too fearful to admit that there are enough facts, truths, and evidence (the kinds that have no political affiliations) that mandate we act on them now? More choices….

Could we all use a bit more convincing? Sure. But are we really helping ourselves by standing firm in denial and delusion while we wait? There is a LOT of evidence suggesting that the days of easily accessible, available, and inexpensive oil are coming to an end; and there is a LOT of evidence suggesting that what we humans are doing is creating a potential global warming catastrophe. It should be enough to convince rational and intelligent people to start acting.

So do we do nothing instead, waiting for perfect proofs at every turn, or do we begin the research and planning and production now, allowing market forces and more creativity to spark even more innovation? Clearly NOTHING happens if we do nothing, or wait for the perfect moment and perfect set of economic conditions….No one wants to hear it, but the truth is that this is going to be a major, expensive undertaking, and all of us have roles to play. And yes, undoubtedly there will be sacrifices along the way.

 “The contours of a resilient, low-carbon recovery are becoming clear. Underlying all these measures is a common principle:  the need to lay down now the infrastructure and the hardware to support a low-carbon recovery and the green economy of the  future.” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown

We need to start now. We need to have serious discussions involving serious people with serious understanding and a serious desire to vault us into a new era of growth and well-being. Opportunities….

Next: A Look At Transportation

Sources:

[1] http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/future-shock-0; Future Shock: Americans just aren’t equipped for the 21st century. William Galston February 24, 2010
[2] http://thinkprogress.org/2010/02/26/shelby-unapologetic/; Shelby Dismisses The Adverse Effect Of His Holds On The Pentagon, Says He Has No Clue If Nominees Are Qualified by Amanda Terkel, February 26, 2010
[3 http://globalpublicmedia.com/memo_to_the_president_electMuseletter 200: Memo to the President-elect on Energy Realism and the Green New Deal; 04 Dec 2008; MuseLetter 200 by Richard Heinberg
[4 http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/65897/david-g-victor-and-linda-yueh/the-new-energy-order; The New Energy Order: Managing Insecurities in the Twenty-first Century; January/February 2010; David G. Victor and Linda Yueh
[5 President Obama in a February 24, 2010 address to the Business Roundtable, as reported here: http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/677-e2-wire/83457-obama-smart-energy-policy-key-to-competitive-america