Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Overcoming Pessimism

My reading group is working our way through Thomas Friedman's "Hot, Flat and Crowded." Each chapter is rich with information from top figures in the fields of economics, the environment, and science. It seems like every day he is visiting another new place in the world and talking to another groundbreakering leader. I often feel like I have run out of ideas for sermons and this blog (notice how infrequently I write) because I am too tied down to Bowie. If we all traveled as extensively as Friedman we would all be more interesting.

Reading through his chapters on climate change can be pretty depressing. You know you are in for dire news when famed entomoligst Edward O. Wilson is quoted. On page 142 we find this Wilson gem, "Destorying a tropical rain forest and other species-rich ecosystemss for profit is like buring all the paintings in the Louvre to cook dinner." But with 1200 acres of tropical rainforest being destroyed every day, you might consider Wilson an optomist.

The real question is how to get humans to change their behavior? We know from experience people don't change because we tell them they should. People start to change when they convince themselves that they have no alternative. Since most of us don't notice the relentless and subtle changes that are occuring around us, it seems to take a crisis to get us to decide we have no alternative but to change. You know the old frog in the boiling pot analogy. If you take a frog and dump him in a pot of boiling water he will jump right out. But if you place a frog in a pot of cool water and slowly heat the pot up the frog will just stay in place until he gets cooked.

Thankfully Americans are coming to the realization that we must change our habits. The cost of oil is high and most Americans (not all) believe the high price is here to stay. After watching the Olympics we know that China is for real and with 1.3 billion people aspiring to an American lifestyle you have to be a moron to think oil is not going to be even more scarce and thus more expensive. Once again, we change when we convince ourselves it is the only alternative.

I think we will start to make some long postponed changes. As Friedman says, "later, is over." As one man in our group said, "in 10 years the two parties will be arguing for who gets credit for the shift towards alternative power." Both McCain and Obama are pushing for alternative energy. Only one of the 4 individuals on the two tickets is a climate change denyer. that is a 50% reduction in only 4 years.

The related issue is what to do about the anger that somehow we must punish those people who got us into this economic mess. You can point all sorts of fingers and be partially right. Yes, the Clinton administration pushed for greater home ownership rates for minorities. Since home ownership accounts for most of accumlated family wealth, this was a noble public policy goal. This however started the movement toward reducing underwriting standards. It also opened the door to all sorts of fraud where miniority borrowers were placed in subprime loans when they qualified for conventional loans. And yes, Alan Greenspans cheap money policy encouraged all sort of borrowing and since no one was regulating the underwriting standards and brokers were issuing bad loans and selling them to Fannie Mae and other financial bundlers who then sold them to investors looking for higher fixed income yields, the whole system got out of control. Our bad loans then got sold to the rest of the world so our financial meltdown is taking everyone else down with us. The US stock market is down 21% this year but everyone else is worse.

So here is what I say to the people like Lou Dobbs who want to start punishing people. "let the Wall Street people sufer even if i lose every dollar in my retirement accounts." "we need to teach them a lessons." If it were only that simple. Instead we need to look into the mirror. One of our greatest challenges is that we live in a society that tends to fear jdgment. The "problem" is always somewhere else other then here. The "sin" is always with people other than us.

All of us Americans seem to possess a steadfast refusal to be held accountable for our lack of responsbile stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to us.


Steve Lapp said...

"All of us Americans seem to possess a steadfast refusal to be held accountable for our lack of responsbile stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to us. "

Just Americans? Why not say
"All humans seem to possess a refusal to be held accountable

Steve Lapp said...

Thank God that we as Christians are not held accountable for our sins. Because His Son died for our sins, we are "cleansed" when we accept that grace. However, when we do become Christians, we ask God for the power to do his will, which includes caring for all earthly creations of His. It seems to me this should be our prayer.

AM Kingsfield said...

I think as long as it is everyone for himself, then we will never solve the problem. McCain's sneering at Obama's "Spread the wealth around" makes me sick. Can't everyone see that McCain's line of thinking doesn't work?