Sunday, November 30, 2008


Do not follow the siren of dissipation
    She will destroy you and your nation
    Licentiousness is her evil spun snare
     Only parsimoniousness defeats her dare
The practice of frugality frees us all
And spares us from the siren's maw
-don wayne davis


We have just completed the process of selecting new leadership for the future. That new leadership has promised change. Further, Barack Obama has told us that this change must come not from the top down, but from the bottom up.

The philosophical principle known as Occam's razor tells us that we should not assume the existence of more things than are logically necessary to resolve a question or issue. So, we shall keep assumptions very simple here on this matter of change and its up or down direction. Even then, the basic question cannot be ignored: What is Barack talking about? To get a clue, we should examine his statements regarding problems that our country and our world face. Notably, he has repeatedly stated that we in America are only five percent of the world's population, but we use 25 percent of the available energy!

If the suggestion is that available energy needs to be diverted to world populations in a fairer manner, the question must be why? Simply diverting more energy from America to other parts of the world as a matter of equity does not provide the answer to the question. In the present instance, equity is not a relevant question. Energy needs are, beyond population requirements for basic comforts, a reflection of economic growth in the market driven economy of the world. When the world's fossil fuel energy resources are plentiful, economic growth with an accompanying increase in population blooms where ever an economic advantage appears.

Recently the demand for consumption of energy resources reached a new high and the cost of that consumption sky rocketed even as resources dwindled. Those costs rose, and rose, until a large portion of world population could no longer afford the costs reflected in the products obtained by the use of those resources (Note that a significant component to the dramatic rise in the cost of energy and energy producing finite resources was also the greed that is rampant on Wall Street, in corporate board rooms and in the individuals seeking always to improve their position relative to others in society). As a consequence, energy usage fell in the face of faltering economic growth with a resultant drop in the cost of that energy. It is important to note that the fall in prices is only temporary.  If we do not find adequate means to produce the energy we need, or find sufficient ways to reduce energy consumption, it is inevitable that prices will resume their upward climb..

The current economic downward spiral is not limited just to America. It is a worldwide phenomenon: A direct result of increasing and encroaching excessive growth beyond limited resources in a finite world. Financially, banks and similar institutions around the globe are unwilling to lend money to those who operate in the markets with a potentially narrower margin for success. This is understandable when you consider that loaning money to continue profligate ways is a sure path to losing the money so loaned. It is not understandable when we consider that these same financial institutions reaped huge profits during the run-up to the financial crisis and are now looking to the public for a "bail out" for their own irresponsible behavior. This is indeed what is meant by the adage "outsource the profits and socialize the losses."

Yet, we, by our nature, assume that only through continued economic growth will we be able to maintain our existing standard of living. The thought of sustainability rarely enters our lexicon. It is this type of thinking that drives us to seek yet more energy in competition with a growing population in the rest of the world for the remaining finite fossil fuel resources. It is a competition that has grievous costs for all. In fact, those costs almost dictate that none of the world's people will be winners. Nevertheless, it is the fossil fuels that we concentrate upon because that source of energy is the easiest to obtain and gives us the most potential for growth in the future. Just like the rat in a laboratory experiment, given the choice between cocaine and food (or even sex), elects to continue to consume the cocaine to its mortal detriment.

Basely on his previous pronouncements, it is a fair assumption that President-Elect Obama is well aware that the core of the problem is the disengagement of the population of our country from a course of licentious behavior in the consumption and use of fossil fuels and the acceptance of the virtues of frugality that will come with the increasing use of renewable energy derived from wind and solar sources. So, if change is to come from the bottom up, how do we implement this future where we behave with greater parsimoniousness?

Humans, as a group, do not seem to possess the ability to alter the core nature of the group, absent some incentive from the governing power. Then, whether that incentive is one that comes from a fear of reprisal or from a reward for appropriate conduct, change will happen. While many of us realize that "things" don't make us happy, we continue to engage in what, for lack of a better description, has been termed "soulless materialism". We will continue in that mode, knowing we should change, until we are led to carve a new path to a better world. Perhaps the role to be played by our new President is like that of the family practice physician who tells you in the initial interview that he will "be a lot like your mother-in-law "and nag you into adopting healthier life habits. If this is the style adopted by the new presidential administration, the outcome may be uncertain. Usually, history teaches us that it is negative personal consequences that spur an apathetic individual and collective populous to action. 

Alternatively, we can be pretty well assured that Obama is unlikely to be a drill sergeant who will drive us in the proper direction through threats. Such conduct is not supportive of continued occupancy in public elective office. We need only look to what happened to a former president who encouraged spoiled citizens to turn down thermostats and wear sweaters to fight national dependence on imported fossil fuel. No, the lectures and the admonitions must wait for the second term of a presidential administration. We should expect, however, to receive the truth from the new administration in the first term, unlike the mendacity perpetuated upon us by the present administration.

This new president will be as successful as we allow him to be. We know what the problems of our country, our world and ourselves are. He will offer solutions and we should exam those solutions in the most intensive way. There will be a need for change from each of us to reach the goals that are not only possible of our grasp, but also essential to the continued survival of our planet and our species. Licentiousness or parsimoniousness; frugality or dissipation: Our species, to survive, must decide between these two very different behaviors. Come on, enough of the past and forward to a better, brighter and different day.







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