by Handsome Matt

I just recently watched a keynotes address from Thomas L. Friedman, columnist for the New York Times and author of Hot, Flat, and Crowded. I will post a link to the full address at the bottom of the screen.

He argues that the rise and increased usage of the internet has created a platform for economics that has leveled the playing field. That the rest of the world has caught up with the United States, and will quickly surpass us.

What’s important to note are his comments towards the end of the speech. In it he advocates a revolution. And he says “I’ve never been to a revolution where no one got hurt.” He then references the IT revolution and companies that are no longer with us because of that.

Furthermore, he cites two unknown cities in Qatar and China that have eaten and negated our curbing of emissions. Our ultra-efficient, CFL lit homes mean jack squat in the world at large.

So this is my retraction. I’m sorry to have misled you that a sustainable and clean economy centered around conservation could be easy.

I think though we’re looking at a few concepts that have come to long term fruition. Some are obvious and others are not, but to highlight them, I would like to point towards two written pieces. The first is Richard Louv’s incredible work Last Child in the Woods and the second is an interview with Paul Volcker, chairman of President Obama’s Economic Advisory Board, from Businessweek. (Yes I know I’ve been using Businessweek quite a bit recently, but it’s so informative and well written).

The Bogeyman

Richard Louv points out in his book, that children no longer play outside. That’s not entirely true, children are outside quite often with soccer, football, baseball practices and games. But he’s pointing towards the idea that children no longer interact with nature in unstructured ways. There’s no exploration or discovery anymore.

The reasons for this decline are varied, but the largest one is what I would call the “bogeyman principle.” Parents are terrified that a stranger lurking in the woods is going to kidnap a child and they will never be seen again.

This is a horrible thing, and believe me I don’t want to sell short the fears and anxieties that parents live with, but the actual likelihood of this happening is slim. Most kidnappings, molestations, and rapes against children are perpetrated by someone the family knows.

The fact is, that by eliminating children’s exposure to the outdoors, we’re eliminating that connection. As a child myself, I was lucky. I went camping, hiking, fishing, swimming, and built a strong connection with the outdoors. Many of my peers didn’t have those experiences, and many before them didn’t either.

Failed State (of Economy)

Charlie Rose interviewed Paul Volcker for Businessweek. In the article they discuss the current state of economic affairs in the United States. Volcker points out a few key points.

  • The best and brightest were attracted to Wall Street
  • The financial system had failure that almost wrecked our economy
  • The financial system is basically broken
  • The government is only slightly less broken than the financial sector

The bonus system on Wall Street did attract a tremendous amount of bright, innovative and intelligent people. People who could have been working on issues that make a difference in the world around us. Unfortunately, all we have to show for their efforts are a recession and several bubbles that have or will, pop. If the bonus system is so effective at retaining talent, why did everything fall apart?

Volcker goes on to argue that the financial sector should be worried about keeping the economy stable and moving forward and as such needs a strong regulatory agency.

Furthermore, and this is important, the financial system and the government are broken! Broken!

What This Means

We’re at the formation of a perfect storm. We’ve got a broken system of government and finances, and people who have little to no real connection with the natural world around them. This has bred a violent apathy towards environmental initiatives. We don’t connect that our air and water and land are influenced by our environmental choices. We’ve forgotten that healthy ecosystems breed a healthy world, because we no longer see it.

And the systems that should be investing in these changes (the financial markets) are so wrapped up in making money and short term profitability that they aren’t. We pumped something close to $1.2 trillion dollars into a broken system, that money could have been used to fund environmental initiatives not just in the U.S. but across the world! Our research into clean energy, efficient storage and transmission of power, a hydrogen system, would have been jump started by an injection of $1.2 trillion. Hell, we’d be driving hydrogen powered cars RIGHT NOW!

But this points to the third component; our government no longer works. It was tasked with protecting us, our representatives should be making the best decision for the future of our country, not for their own political gain.

We have a president who was elected on change, and nothing has. For eight of the last ten years, the Democratic party has said time and again, that we would do it better then the Republicans, and the truth be told that even with an overwhelming majority, they haven’t done anything different.

Conservance Stance

I will step down from my soapbox and say this:

I retract my statement that environmental sustainability will be easy.

We do need a disruptive and revolutionary set of ideas and strategies in order to make this work. But this is nothing new to us we’re a nation of revolutionaries, we just lived through the tech revolution and look at how much better our lives are. Barring the feelings of sadness and all that, look at our standard of living now, as compared to ten years ago.

Now we are standing again at a crossroads, at the beginnings of revolution. These are amazing times we live in, and this I feel is our generations moment. Do we make the right decisions as our grandparents and great grandparents did, or do we cave, give in, get lost among infighting and personal vendettas as our parents did?

Our country has faced struggles before, we as humanity, have faced struggles before. But this, this is a chance to stand up, to change the world for all people, for the better. This is our moment, when future generations can look back and say “there! There were men and women of greatness.”

Or perhaps there will be nothing. Just the wind blowing over desolation.

This new frontier requires innovation, and determination if we are to win this. There is no second place, but luckily we can all win this.

Check It Yourself:

Businessweek – Charlie Rose’ interview with Paul Volcker

Thomas L. Friedman – His speech at MIT

Hot, Flat & Crowded – Thomas L. Friedman’s website

No Child In The Woods – A link to Richard Louv’s website