Thursday, September 25, 2008

The silver lining

I'm feeling myself run out of steam on the bailout issue. I guess I've made pretty clear how I feel about it, and it's starting to take on the air of a done-deal. So I won't bother to link to James K. Galbraith's article in today's Washington Post calling the need for the bailout into question and calling on us to focus atteniton on the yawning local and state infrastructure needs that will continue to go unfunded as so much money goes to bail out Wall Street. Well, maybe I will after all.

But I've been thinking that there may be a silver lining in all this, if we choose to pursue it. There are in fact two crises facing our country that for me stand out above all the others. The first is the financial crisis, with its impact on the economy and on our ability to pay for all the infrastructure needs we've been neglecting as we've been trying to drown government in the bathtub. And the second is the environmental crisis and its handmaiden, the increase in price for fuel and all the things we produce and transport with it.

These crises tell us that the way we have been living is unsustainable. We can't expect to sell imaginary derivatives forever, and we can't expect to import cheap goods from China forever. It’s unfortunate, perhaps, that it takes crises on such monumental scale to call into question the way we have organized our lives and our society. It seems we will only take the steps necessary to address these issues when we are forced by circumstance, high prices, or shortage to do so. That's human nature, apparently, or at least American nature.

Be that as it may, now, because of circumstances, our society has come to of a fork in the road. We have two choices. We can hope that gas prices ease, that credit becomes more available, and go blithely back to SUV-lovin', big-screen-TV-watchin', I-phonin' ways, relieved at having the averted the tragedy of having to find a way live a different kind of life - within our means, and within the capacties of the earth. Or we can take this opportunity, as individuals and as a society, to make a different choice, a more sustainable choice, a greener choice, a more frugal choice, a simpler choice.

I know how the Kansas Chamber of Commerce would vote. As the Eagle has been reporting, they are bringing in speaker after speaker to call global warming into question, and to give dire predictions about the impact on the economy if measures like cap-and-trade are initiated. But this flat-earth approach won't help - we may be able to ignore the issue for another few years, but reality can't be ignored forever. And the same goes for the "drill baby drill" crowd.

Instead, we can use the crises that face us opportunities to look closely at the way that we as individuals, and we as a society, have lost sight of the bigger picture in our quest for an endlessly expanding consumer lifestyle based on cheap oil, cheap credit, and the despoliation of the earth. Perhaps we can begin to make choices that are thoughtful rather than rote, that speak our meaning needs rather than our greed, and that are generated by our values rather our instincts. Perhaps we can take this opportunity to begin to redress the imbalance in our lives and adapt a mode of living that is more sustainable, enjoyable, and yes - simple.

If we can, this just might be the silver lining in the clouds we see today.


Simcha Daniel Burstyn said...

The Galbraith article linked. Some of us need these things.

rebmoti said...

It was there, you didn't look closely enough.