19 August 2010

Fossil Fuel Slavery

I've read several books recently on the American Revolution: Founding Brothers and American Creation among them, as well as a series of book reviews and articles. One of the things that struck me is an identification of the extreme moral failures of the founding fathers: to deal with the abolition of slavery, and to make an equitable accommodation for native Americans. These failures led to catastrophic events later in the history of the republic: the Civil War, and the decimation of the American Indian population through murder, famine and disease. The founders postponed decisions, rather than making a hard but unpopular moral choices. The south's economy was tied to the institution of slavery. Landowners wealthy enough to own slaves lived comfortable lives. Rich lands taken from the Indians allowed for the spread of the plantation system.

We see the same dithering today. Fossil fuels are our contemporary slaves. Their use will lead to catastrophic events. These events are probably already manifesting themselves now. Yet we leave the problem for our grandchildren. The vast majority of climate scientists agree that what is coming is a world that we will not recognize. This moral failure will subject future generations to the privations that the growing American republic inflicted upon the native Americans: death, famine, disease, but also natural disasters, economic and social instability. The reason we don't make the hard choices is obvious - we are comfortable, and comfort leads to complacency, and most of us are ignorant and don't accept the reality, because it would interfere with our leisure.

I know that we can change this. But I also know that I can't change this. I could move to a shack in the woods, walk to town, grow my own food, but that still leaves the rest of the 300 million in the US, and the 6 billion+ in the rest of the world. It takes leadership. It will take unpopular decisions, but these decisions have to be made.

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