Power and Priorities

June 7, 2011 Leave a comment

“You don’t understand, the United States will not be making cars.”  The film Climate Refugees quotes President Roosevelt speaking to auto executives at the outset of World War II.  Most of us know about the mobilization of American industry to build a war machine capable of defeating the Axis Powers.  Fewer of us understand what it took.

Global war demanded the mobilization of every human and industrial resource available.  The film speaks of what it took to build tens of thousands of tanks and airplanes even as it speaks of our immediate need for tens of thousands of wind power generators.  Global Warming is thousands of times more dangerous than global war, we have demonstrated that we have the power to avert humanity’s greatest crisis – what we lack is the wisdom and the political will to make it a priority.

The following quote from Slavoj Zizek’s “First as Tragedy, then as Farce” further illustrates the point:

[A]lthough we always recognized the urgency of the problems, when we were fighting AIDS, hunger, water shortages, global warming, and so on, there always seemed to be time to reflect, to postpone decisions (recall how the main conclusion of the last meeting of world leaders in Bali, hailed as a success, was that they would meet again in two years to continue their talks …). But with the financial meltdown, the urgency to act was unconditional; sums of an unimaginable magnitude had to be found immediately. Saving endangered species, saving the planet from global warming, saving AIDS patients and those dying for lack of funds for expensive treatments, saving the starving children … all this can wait a little bit. The call to “save the banks!” by contrast, is an unconditional imperative which must be met with immediate action. The panic was so absolute that a transnational and non-partisan unity was immediately established, all grudges between world leaders being momentarily forgotten in order to avert the catastrophe. But what the much praised “bi-partisan” approach effectively meant was that even democratic procedures were de facto suspended: there was no time to engage in proper debate, and those who opposed the plan in the US Congress were quickly made to fall in with the majority. Bush, McCain, and Obama all quickly got together, explaining to confused congressmen and women that there was simply no time for discussion- we were in a state of emergency, and things simply had to be done fast … And let us also not forget that the sublimely enormous sums of money were spent not on some clear “real” or concrete problem, but essentially in order to restore confidence in the markets, that is, simply to change people’s beliefs!

We have the power, how do we shift our priorities?

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  • I’ll take global warming over global war any day. Humans will figure out how to live with a warmer climate. We’ll grow different plants and move inland and toward the poles. This is a much better situation than atomic annihilation.

  • Gibrán says:

    We definitely disagree on this one Christian – but that’s not the point. We have the capacity to mobilize resources in ways that would avert an immediate threat to the species. We are lacking in wisdom.

  • There are people doing good things on this front. We just gotta keep pushing. Realistically, I see a nuclear energy future. Energy consumption is going to increase massively as the third world develops. Nuclear is the only current technology that will be able to meet this need. I just hope we can make it safe.

  • Gibrán says:

    Between moving inland and nuclear energy, I’m sensing a pretty hopeless perspective… let’s be careful with that sort of “pragmatism,” paradigm shifts happen, consumption does not have to be the way…

  • I read something lately explaining that if underdeveloped nations reached the energy consumption of current developed nations, we would need 10 times the energy we are using now. We’re going to eventually run out of fossil fuels. Can we power the world at a reasonable level with solar, wind, and hydro? I’m not hopeless. I have hope that we will come up with great technological solutions. Maybe renewables will work. Maybe we will radically improve the energy effeciency of the machines we depend on. Maybe we will figure out how to make nuclear power safe. Maybe we will figure out how to use fusion energy. I’m truly not that worried. I have faith in human ingenuity. Just no global wars please. At our current level of technology that would be catastrophic.

  • Gibrán says:

    We can probably wrap this one up. Again – it’s not the main point of the post. There is a political analysis here.

    I think we can come up with good technological solutions, but I also think we have fetishized technology to such a dangerous point that a young man such as yourself can truly say “I’m not that worried.”

    I don’t believe we will survive without a significant re-definition of what the good life is, what comfort is, and what it means to consume in a cyclical, nonlinear world.

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