[NOTE: This is the latest installment in a new PeakOilMatters series (which started here). It’s about finding a new and better vision to get to, through, and beyond Peak Oil and its widespread impact on what we produce, how we produce, and how we live. We won’t be falling off a cliff tomorrow, and the full brunt of Peak Oil’s effects won’t be experienced all at once, either. Gas and oil do not have to disappear entirely, nor do gas prices have to rise into the stratosphere before Peak Oil’s impact is felt.
Gradually, but inexorably, changes will be in the offing, however. We need to come to a better understanding of this, and start preparing ourselves now for the lengthy transition and just as lengthy ongoing impact of Peak Oil on all of us. Many issues must of necessity be considered, and I hope to make a contribution to the public dialogue we need to have. I hope you’ll find these objectives enjoyable as well as beneficial. We have more of a voice than we think we do. Finding that voice just might be our best hope.]

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“Yet, this remains what liberals and progressive aspire to that differentiates us: we are oriented toward hopes, aspirations, ideals, and the gratification of nurturance needs. We are about generating new alternatives, thinking our way beyond old assumptions and boundaries. Of course we have no choice to deal with the world we are born into, and to deal realistically with the problems around us. But we need not be limited and defined by them, instead of being guided by our visions and dreams of what can be, even as we are informed by our thirst for knowledge of what is.” [1]

I agree with this proposition wholeheartedly, yet I’d like to believe that there are just as many conservatives who adopt a similar creed as their own.

It’s fair to say that there is a more obvious commitment on the part of many in the conservative wing to prefer a return to more “traditional” ways of living, producing, and governing (assuming there still is such a thing). It’s not necessarily a criticism of the Right that much of what informs their actions is a desire to maintain what is and has been (most notably in the area of culture and “values”) rather than to readily embrace change. Leaders who do nothing more constructive than foment needless fear of change in all its variations (largely as a distraction in order to promote their own narrow-minded and self-serving agenda) contribute little in the way of meaningful value, yet their voices too often are the loudest among us. I can only continue to hope that integrity in public discourse has not been stifled permanently.

One can also only hope that at some point (sooner, preferably) enough may come to wonder why leaders in government and industry and media have decided that sponsoring irrational fears is in any way beneficial or meaningful. A next logical question is to inquire as to what their agenda might actually be in doing so….Fear as an end in itself seems … bizarre! Promoting fear rather than engaging in honest dialogue—in doing so shedding light on the half-truths that serve as foundations for those efforts and thereby effectively eliminating the reasons for those invalid fears—will hopefully be seen soon enough for what it is: a useless, abusive, and destructive strategy whose sole purpose is to provide great benefits to too few at the great expense of too many.

So be it….” ought not be a guiding principle for our elected leaders.

The challenge that must be recognized by those initially resistant to change, and even more resistant to the great changes our continuing economic woes burden us with is that the impacts of Peak Oil and climate change will only produce more change. Whether we like or desire it will be entirely irrelevant. The determined, destructive efforts of some to turn science and facts into loose opinion will meet their match, causing us—and those promoting misinformation—great harm … unless we find a collective courage and wisdom to accept the reality of what great progress may cost us.

We’ve achieved many great things, and our work is not done. It’s important to understand, however, that what we will accomplish and innovate in the years to come will arise with and from different resources and under different economic conditions. The monumental transitions which will take place will better serve us all if we take part now in understanding the challenges we face, the options and alternatives available to us, and appreciate what today’s decisions mean for us all in the days to come. We’re not powerless nor are we dependent solely upon others to make those choices for us.

We can attempt to be ahead of those changes by understanding and then planning as best we can, or we can instead take our chances that the changes and adaptations may not be all that bad after all. That’s a dicey approach in dealing with our—and our children’s—futures.

What kind of a nation do we want to be?

Is it still within us to be better? I have no doubts!

Do we think we will be better? Can we fashion a better future than the one we now just mostly fear? Have we indeed been beaten down once too often in one too many ways? If I believed that I would not be writing all of this.

“I’m optimistic because while our political system is a mess, the economic and social values of the country remain sound. My optimism is also based on the conviction that serious, vibrant societies don’t sit by and do nothing as their governments drive off a cliff.” [2]

I stand firmly in the camp that says “despite our too-often-and-in-too-many-ways dysfunctional behaviors and beliefs, we remain the greatest assemblage of decent, well-meaning, industrious, creative, and character-driven people on this planet.” I think it’s time we demonstrate that once again.

This imposes demands and obligations on each of us, however. The combination of economic, energy, climate, cultural, and political challenges standing before us necessitate involvement by many more of us. Leaving it all to “leaders” has not been a winning strategy for too many years as it is, and the increasingly polarized and in some cases borderline insane legislative perspectives make it all the more imperative that we who stand outside the Capitol Hill arena find our voices once again.

It’s not a big commitment on our parts. There’s no suggestion here that each of us must now devote hours every day to understanding the intricacies of public policy and their economic ramifications, but just watching from the sidelines (if we bother doing even that) is no longer enough. Certainly leaving the debates to those at the far edges of ideology cannot continue.

We need to understand that it is up to us as citizens to direct the political and economic agenda. We’re the ones who suffer the consequences of poor decision-making and inept, misguided, narrow-minded leadership, just as we reap the rewards of sound fact-gathering and rational, intelligent, forward-thinking planning and visionary leadership. We need to express the better characteristics each of us possesses and become more knowledgeable so that our political and industrial and cultural leaders are better at what they do, and why. They will only be more effective if we insist upon it, and that will only happen if we are involved and aware of what is happening, and then speak up rather than allowing groups with narrower and more short-sighted interests to make all the noise. It’s okay to ask questions….

Ezra Klein recently noted (here):

“In ‘Stealth Democracy,’ political scientists John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse amass a lot of public-opinion data showing two things: First, as Jon Bernstein says …, most people do not pay much attention to American politics, and they do not want to pay much attention to American politics. But that preference leads to another preference: In order for most Americans to tune out of politics and not get ripped off due to their inattention, politicians need to be acting in an honorable, ‘non-self-interested’ way.”

We can no longer afford that tactic. As difficult and burdensome as our own lives may likely be nowadays, we owe it first to ourselves, our children, and our communities to be better informed; to ask questions and demand truthful answers. Ceding all control for our well-being to those who demonstrate time and again that they are not up to the task should no longer be a preferred alternative while we busy ourselves with the (overwhelming) demands of our individual lives.

We all have skin in the games being played, and the sooner we demonstrate the courage and wisdom we do indeed possess, the sooner we can offer both meaningful contributions and relevant instructions to the leaders with whom we’ve entrusted that well-being. Hoping that they are acting in our best interests is a sure recipe for disaster, given what little wisdom, integrity, and vision too many are routinely demonstrating.

We all want essentially the same things: security in our financial affairs and assurances that our private and work lives will continue relatively untouched by outside factors; the comfort and knowledge that we can trust leaders to engage honorably in their responsibilities on our behalf; and at least reasonable opportunities to better ourselves and the future we’ll bequeath to our children. We carry with us great fear, anxiety, and uncertainty in these times precisely because so much of those basic desires are routinely threatened.

Is global warming a “hoax” and nothing more? Should we concern ourselves at all with the current and future conditions of fossil fuel production that provides for us all? Are we better off in the long run cutting even more public expenditures that now afford some minimal assistance to our fellow citizens in need, better educational opportunities for our children, opportunities to innovate and invent better lives for all of us, and maintain, repair, and improve the infrastructure that serves as the foundation of all that we achieve? Or are we better off ensuring that instead, that small group of the wealthiest among us preserve their wealth at the expense of the many?

It may seem to be nothing more than a philosophical/ideological exercise, but the answers to those questions go to the very heart of the decision-making that will determine our future. Those decisions affect all of us, if not today or tomorrow, soon enough.

We can decide that what we’re facing will tear us down, or we can take a stand and act on what I believe is still the prevailing truth: we are better still, and we have left untapped many of our greatest attributes while wasting energy and effort fighting senseless battles about nonsense. Whatever odd purposes discussions about our President’s status as an alien socialist Kenyan Muslim were intended to serve, for example, ought to have run their course by now. Not that it ever had a place, but fueling that kind of nonsense has no place at the table now. We have grown-up problems to deal with.

Fear has served whatever purpose it was intended to provide. Let’s find our better angels now.

The conversations we have in public (and personal ones as well) must now take a different direction. For all the lamenting about whether we have or have not lost our “exceptionalism” (another silly, distracting political game that needs to find its way to the trash heap), the truth is that we still possess the greatest collection of resources and innovation and ambition and talent on Earth. It’s time we devote our energies and efforts to leading with those attributes and set aside the ignorance and nonsense that has taken center stage for too long.

We are so much better than that. Let’s show ‘em all just how much better we can be.

“Educating yourself ahead of the problem gives you the best chance of effectively coping, rather than being swept along with the current.” [3]

To be continued….

Sources:

[1] http://www.openleft.com/diary/20702/the-political-psychology-of-sanity-and-fear; The political psychology of sanity and fear by Paul Rosenberg – Nov 1, 2010
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/12/opinion/12brooks.html?_r=1&ref=opinion; National Greatness Agenda by David Brooks – November 12, 2010
[3] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-09-13/interview-bob-hirsch-his-team%E2%80%99s-new-book%E2%80%94%E2%80%9C-impending-world-energy-mess%E2%80%9D; Interview with Bob Hirsch on his team’s new book—“The Impending World Energy Mess” by Steve Andrews – September 13, 2010 [Original article: http://www.aspousa.org/index.php/2010/09/interview-with-bob-hirsch-on-his-team-new-book-the-impending-world-energy-mess/]