Endless Curiosity

September 9, 2009

Blind Spots and Cassandra

Filed under: Climate Change, Economics, Politics, Psychology — Alec @ 6:35 am

I watched a great 2008 documentary on Labor Day called Blind Spot. It’s about the problems we face as the production of oil starts to run down. The fascinating thing is how much we as a race don’t want to think about these problems. We ignore the problem, or we tell ourselves that technology will solve it. As one of the interviewees said, we should go to church, mosque, or synagogue if we want to rely on miracles.

There’s no question that there’s a finite amount of fossil fuel on the Earth. There’s some question about when our extraction of it will peak and that’s where the arguments seem to fall. We seem to adopt the approach of hoping that Peak Oil is sometime in the future, and that it will be someone else’s problem. Don’t bother me, don’t make me change my lifestyle. Let my children deal with the problem.

Of course we could change our lifestyles – after all, the incessant advertising/purchasing cycle doesn’t seem to make us any happier. If anything, we become less happy, more afflicted with envy because of the things we don’t have. As Alain de Botton says, envy is perhaps the dominant emotion in modern society because we believe we are all equal, yet all around us is evidence that we are not.

But we won’t change those lifestyles, despite the underlying dissatisfaction, because the advertising industry won’t let us. In the words of Joseph Epstein, “The entire advertising industry… can be viewed as little more than a vast and intricate envy-creating machine.”

So what to do? A while back, with a group of people I watched a DVD called What a Way to Go. After the screening there was a discussion about what to do. Despite having watched the DVD, which said there are no easy answers, people insisted on talking about changing lightbulbs and going to the Farmers’ Market. In other words, burying their heads in the sand.

You might argue that change has to start somewhere, and that politicians will only do the right thing if the people lead. Well, as Derrick Jensen, one of the interviewees on Blind Spot says in an article called Forget Shorter Showers,

Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?

Yes, I know it’s not quite the same thing because you might think that showering less or cycling to work will actually help with our use of resources, but read the article – Jensen points out the insignificance of people’s contribution against the contribution of industry and agriculture. For example, “municipal waste accounts for only 3 percent of total waste production in the United States.”

So where am I going with all this? Well, I don’t think we are going to solve the problem except through large-scale political change, and I think our children and our children’s children are going to find the world an increasingly difficult place. But I’m fascinated at what’s going to happen and how our mental processes are going to allow it to happen, and to deny it, and to look out for our own personal short-term gain. Other species, races, and generations be damned.

In fact, I’m thinking of changing the name of my blog from Endless Curiosity to The Cassandra Chronicles because I know I’ll be ignored, and I rather like the idea of being right 🙂

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