We recently started a yearly tradition at the company called “movie day”. We close the office early, rent out a theatre, and treat all the employees to a movie and overpriced popcorn. Since I’m the boss, I get to pick the films, and I tend to pick movies that have special appeal to me. Since I have a serious Pinot Noir jones, last year we went to “Sideways”. This year, since I count myself among the somewhat environmentally conscious and increasingly weather-paranoid, we saw Al Gores “An Inconvenient Truth”. Wine and global warming, two of my favorite cocktail party subjects.
Whether you are Michael Crichton or a member of the Bush anti-environment and deforestation posse, it’s getting more difficult to pass off global warming as some paranoid liberal’s sneaky attack on the right. The media allows us front row seats as our glaciers slide into the sea, the Midwest melts, cities get smacked down by hurricanes, and the east coast floats away. As a social liberal and a fiscal conservative I can sometimes at least see the rhyme, reason, and pattern to some of the right’s positions even if I don’t agree with them. But what I can’t understand is arguing with Mother Nature and common sense. Regardless of whether you think an ice age is pending in our lifetime or in a thousand years, who would not agree that clean air, a healthy environment, and a program of clean renewable energy that frees us from foreign oil isn’t best for the country?
Ah, but could it really be all about money? Are the oil conglomerates so greedy, powerful, and entrenched that they will destroy the planet for a little temporary economic gain? Is the “Fat Bastard” look-alike that runs Exxon really an evil alien that secretly wants to destroy the earth? Perhaps he and his cunning minion, the bloodless Count Cheney, plan to return to the planet Gorgonzola conquering heros after they scorch our home? Hmmm – could be.
But, I remain an optimist, committed to solutions, and somewhat skeptical of alien plots to destroy the earth. And since I also know a little about human nature, here are a couple absolutes I can impart about most of mankind:
1. Human beings do not enjoy being drowned, impaled by flying objects in a hurricane, or dying of thirst when our water supply dries up.
2. Human beings enjoy making a lot of money and buying lots of needless stuff.
And there is the ultimate solution. Global warming sucks because it kills you. And global warming provides another fantastic opportunity for smart people to exercise their brains, find a solution to the problem, and advance mankind while making a lot of money. All great reasons to fix the problem!
The most optimistic moment in Gore’s otherwise scary movie comes when he tells us it is not too late to turn the tides of global warming. “We already have the technology”, he informs us, we just need the will and commitment to use it, and if we attack the issue fast enough we will conquer the problem.
I’m fairly sure the tides are turning and we are about to mount a full scale assault on the problem, even if our leaders are not leading the way. In today’s paper I read about three separate wind farms being built in Oregon that in two years can provide power to hundreds of thousands of homes – significant in a state with just a few million people. Just down the road a group partially backed by Bill Gates is building an ethanol plant, one of several in the region. There are movements across the country pushing green power, bio diesel, “greasel”, and hybrid car technologies. These are all good business moves, and money moves towards good business.
As individuals we are beginning to learn that simple options exist that are good for the planet and our pocketbook. I just installed solar power on my house that will more than pay for itself in a few years, and replaced twenty light bulbs with high efficiency fluorescents that will last five to seven years, save money, and cut wattage usage by a factor of almost five. I’m even considering downgrading my Gulfstream G-5 to a more fuel efficient jet – maybe a little Citation! (Kidding here – I don’t own a jet – and won’t until they come out with a hybrid that runs on electricity and dung.)
We will win the war because we have to – because if we don’t it really is the end. And we will win because this situation has the potential to spur another technological and social revolution that could take mankind to new and better places while making societies very rich. Exxon will either get on board and start farming for fuel, or they will go the way of Woolworths. GM will build cars that get 80 miles or more to the gallon of (water? soy? mosquito blood?) or they will join Packard in the annals of automotive history.
And this will be a defining period for America. We can talk ad naseum about our superior form of government, how freedom always wins, how we are God’s chosen folks, etc. But the fact is we are currently in the world economic catbird seat because we are the planet’s best designers, marketers, and implementers. If we don’t actually invent it, we make it relevant and market it better than anyone else.
And the question now is – is America ready to tackle this world threatening problem? Or will we go the way of other once great societies that lost their economic grip. The country that brings to market water or urine powered cars and home heating systems powered by Spam will dominate in the future. I hope that the brain trusts that created miniscule music players, remote control missles, and delicious and creamy lattes available worldwide are working on this problem. I am sure it s a wise investment.