One of the world’s biggest lies is told in moments of societal transition by the people and organizations who find themselves being supplanted by new and better systems and organizations. That lie is that our (the public’s) well-being and prosperity are inextricably linked to theirs. A recent example of the lie goes like this: if we don’t save the Wall Street banks and investment firms our entire economic system will collapse.
You can see the same lie in energy company advertising, which threatens us with ruin if we don’t support increased drilling and subsidies for oil, gas and coal companies. “Do you own an oil company?” goes the American Petroleum Institute ad. You can find the ad here (warning it loads very slowly). The implication being that if any restrictions are placed on oil company profits or methods of operation, your pension plan will collapse and you will spend your old age in penury. (Of course, the ads never talk about the consequences of catastrophic climate change, which will render all other concerns moot.)
Choose Your Poison
The false premise underlying these arguments is that there are no alternatives. We have no other option than to pour billions of dollars into the financial firms whose greed and incompetence created the current crisis. We have no other option than to continue to consume fossil fuels. We have no other option than to invest our retirement funds in fossil fuel dinosaurs like Exxon, Chevron, Conoco, Peabody Energy etc. Of course, these are all lies because we do have options.
Many economists, environmentalists, and other commentators have pointed out that our current crises, which really compound into one overarching crisis are actually opportunities, chances to remake the world in radical and significant ways. In his latest book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, Thomas Friedman quotes Lois Quam, managing director of alternative investments at Piper Jaffrey:
“The challenge of global warming presents us all with the greatest opportunity for return on investment and growth that any of us will ever see. To find any equivalent economic transformation you have to go back to the Industrial Revolution. And in the Industrial Revolution there was a very clear before and after. ‘After’ everything was different. Industries had come and gone, civic society changed, new social institutions were born, and every aspect of work and daily life had been altered.” p. 172
An article in today’s UK Guardian, Meltdown? The ill wind is bringing ethical banks nothing but good makes clear just how big the “big lie” is:
The UK’s ethical banking sector is not only surviving the meltdown, it is experiencing new levels of consumer confidence and investment. At Bristol-based Triodos Bank, profits are up more than 50%, inflows into its cash Isa are up 25%, and the amount of money deposited by savers is up by 15% – nearly four times the mainstream bank saving rate of 4%.
So why are Triodos, and other ethical institutions, bucking the trend? “We operate a transparent and easy-to-understand business model,” explains UK managing director, Charles Middleton.
“We raise money from individual savers to fund projects that benefit people and the environment. We don’t invest in any of the complicated bundled investments, such as derivatives, that aren’t connected to the real economy, and we show exactly what we are investing in.”
Meanwhile at another UK financial institution:
The Ecology Building Society, which only provides mortgages for properties that have a positive environmental benefit, has seen the amount deposited this year already exceed the amount for the whole of 2007.
Here’s more evidence that Climaticide is not just a crisis but an opportunity and that the fossil fuel companies’ interests are dramatically different from society’s interests: Florida, Part 1: A 50% GHG cut by 2025 will SAVE the state $28 billion
The total net cost savings of all [Florida’s Republican Governor Charlie Christ’s] Action Team recommendations combined is more than $28 billion from 2009 to 2025. Additionally, the recommendations would increase Florida’s energy security by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels resulting in a total fuel savings of 53.5 billion gallons of petroleum, 200.2 million short tons of coal, and 6.394 billion ft.³ of natural gas during the period of 2009 through 2025.
As Joe Romm points out the Action Team’s recommendations are made in full consciousness of our current economic difficulties:
The Action Team completes its charge during a time of economic uncertainty. While it may be assumed by some readers that the current economic environment would hamper Florida’s progress toward a low-carbon economy, the Action Team firmly believes that the current economic conditions precisely sharpen the “call to action” first issued by Governor Crist in 2007. Now is the time for strategic investment in Florida’s low-carbon energy infrastructure if we are to be successful in diversifying the state’s economy, creating new job opportunities, and positioning Florida’s “green tech” sector as an economic engine for growth.
One final example comes from the United Nations as reported in the article: UN: Tens of Millions of New Green Jobs on the Horizon
Entitled “Green Jobs: Towards Decent work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World,” the UN report released Wednesday finds that changing patterns of employment and investment resulting from efforts to reduce climate change and its effects are already generating new jobs in many sectors and economies, and could create millions more in both developed and developing countries.
Yet, the process of climate change will continue to have negative effects on workers and their families, especially those whose livelihoods depend on agriculture and tourism, the UN report also finds.
“What this report is about from the perspective of sustainability is to show the policymakers that with the right incentives, the right research and development support programmes, there is massive potential here for new economic sectors to emerge,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said at a news conference in New York on Wednesday. [my emphasis–JR]
He noted that amid the current financial turmoil seen in different parts of the world, countries will spend hundreds of billions of dollars in coming months to stabilize the global economy.
“Imagine for a moment if some of the stimulus packages that are now being developed could be targeted towards not maintaining and sustaining the old economy of the 20th century but investing in the new economy of the 21st century,” he said.
Next time you see the fossil fuel industry’s slick ads with their lies and distortions remember that their interests are no more your interests than the interests of the whaling industry were the same as the interest of our ancestors when electric lighting was introduced. Remember that we can not only assure our prosperity by making investments in clean, sustainable energy and energy infrastructure, we can also reduce social injustice around the world. Yes, we face a crisis, but we also have tremendous opportunities. So, don’t believe the lies of those who after having enriched themselves by polluting our atmospheric commons, now want to convince you that your well-being is dependent on permitting them to continues the very actions that will ruin the lives of our children and grandchildren and untold generations to come. It is time to throw fossil fuels and their advocates on the dustbin of history. It is time to seize the opportunity and the necessity of clean, sustainable energy.
Crossposted at Daily Kos