We face a number of challenges at present, some real and some perceived or exaggerated. Chief among those we hear most about are the credit crisis which, initiated by greed is now being seen as a reason to nick money from the future to convince people to keep being greedy. The most greedy act we can do is surely to deny others their entitlements by stealing it from their future and calling it something benign like “economic stimulus”.
Let us put things into perspective, what are the first world’s biggest challenges? I mention the first world as the problems started there and have their highest long-term impact as distinct from the under-developed world. A quick cross section of counties and issue counts reveals common threads:
- Depression in urbanised societies, leading to abuse of alcohol, drugs, gambling or indeed abuse of each other
- Anxiety caused by many factors, chief among these a bombardment of too many messages, positive and negative, and a disconnect from the natural world for prolonged periods
- Obesity and sedation among the young, the middle aged, the growing majority of the population, leading to dubious quality of life
- Education standards reducing for most and investment in public sector education dropping
- Heath care facilities improving but only for those wealthy enough to buy it
- Job insecurity as a result of the credit crisis, often opportunistic sackings by investor-oriented companies looking to use the crisis as an excuse for cutting excess staff
- Infrastructure meltdown through congestion as a result of over-reliance on fossil-fuel driven urban planning and investment
- Rate of consumption of raw materials and foodstuffs out-stripping supply creating food crisis for the poor and inflation in product prices
- Collapse of ecosystems and predictable weather patterns that have been established for several millennia, as a result of human-induced global warming
In response to these issues governments of the world have spent trillions of dollars:
- Propping up dead investment banks to reward gambling failures
- Frantically appeasing big business and corrupt governments by refusing any protectionism and keeping globaised trade open by sending cheap goods thousands of kilometers (and billions of tonnes CO2) round and round, only to find the goods are also produced locally- but cost 5 cents per rationed more
- Bailing out archaic motor companies that produce 3 tonne personal vehicles to move fat individual Americans from a home internet terminal to a work internet terminal, via a drive-through, then running over someone else’s child as they drop them off their own at school which is 20 meters down the road from home so that the children can have a “safe” arrival
- Delay and water-down emissions reduction policies and infrastructure developments which would only employ people long into the future rather then employ them for the next year or so in high-carbon industries which failed to modernise and help only to perpetuate unhealthy lifesyles
- Splashing out one-off payments to people with orders to go out and spend it IMMEDIATELY on retail goods made in another country to then stick on the shelf at home and occasionally admire
- Slash interest rates to near-zero in the hopes of solving a credit-fueled crisis by having MORE debt and CHEAPER credit
Makes sense anyone?
Hope is not all lost, after all Mr. Obama has declared $115 billion for renewable energy in his economic stimulus package. Despite the over-hyped media frenzy around him, he has at last planted the seeds for a slowly more progressive America and through media saturation, slowly the world gets his message too.
Australia? Hey we have our stimulus package too. Go spend it now! Enjoy your future tax payments now- why wait!?
Somehow, this does not seem responsible… Is there nothing else more worthwhile we can plunge ourselves into collective debt for?
Great things have been achieved in far more difficult times. The British build an unprecedented floating harbor in the height of WWII, lugged it across the channel, connected it in northern France and had it up and running on the coast of an occupied country in a few days. It stood working for 18 months supplying goods through Normandy and was critical to ending the war that shaped the modern world.
The Sydney Harbor bridge was also built during war, through great political upheaval and the biggest depression of the modern times. Its construction plunged the state and the country into massive debt- but it employed masses of people, provides an key piece of infrastructure to a great city created an icon of national pride.
What these demonstrate is our capacity to adapt at times of difficulty and that we can and should take leaps of faith and turn the looming economic and environmental ruin of our current trajectory on its head. We can spend our taxes, our labor, our ingenuity and imagination on building meaningful things of practical, sustainable use and national pride.
Right now, we could power our economic recovery by building Solar panels in the outback, unobtrusive tidal power on our coast, hydro with reversible pump stations (to deliver base load at night from the surplus solar energy for when the solar is dormant at night), renewable-electrified rail network linking all population hubs in place of carbon-intensive and noisy flying.
We don’t need to reinvent anything, we can build this all now. We could employ many people, reconnect with the rural areas we build in, leave a worthwhile mark on our time and inspire people.
Or we can collectively spend those billions on one-off purchases down at the mall. Who will remember us for that?… I wonder.